What is artwork ?

11 mars 2020

A vast question, when one mulls over the variety one can come across in museums! Mostly in modern art and contemporary institutions, the exhibits can often throw off the most expert ones among us, off balance. But if the definition of artwork has been stimulating philosophers since Ancient times and right until today, it’s possible to set some bearings…

First of all, work is certainly man made, who devotes an intention. At times, this intention is part of a collective movement, like the one of Impressionists, Surrealists or even Dadaists- who willingly go to meetings and exhibitions, for the joint development of projects. Of course, other artists are solitary and don’t belong to any movement. However, they are the result of an era and a faithful reflection-like contemporary artists who use and twist current digital tools, to produce works. 

This way, artwork can take over all kinds of possible and imaginable forms, as it reflects the artists’ freedom of expression. It could be a painting which is three meters in width, a tiny bronze sculpture, a digital photo, an installation of found objects, not to mention a video, a performance or an insolent gesture. In 1958, the artist Yves Klein for example organized a completely empty exhibition, without any artwork. He triggered major scandal and this went down in the history of art!

Stravinsky Fountain, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle

Another important aspect is the context. When Paul Mc Carthy established his work Tree (2014), a green inflatable sculpture of 24 meters in height at the Vendome square in Paris, some countered by saying that it wasn’t art: they were mistaken, the status of art doesn’t lean on each person’s appreciation but certainly on the context, in this case an official exhibition, as part of the FIAC (Contemporary Art International Fair).

Tree, Paul McCarthy

Oscar Wilde definitely best sums up the main quality of a work, in the preface of his book The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1895): “All art is definitely useless”. To put it otherwise, a work only exists for its aesthetical and conceptual feature-it isn’t essential for any vital function. At times, it requires the creator to have expert technical knowledge (mainly in the arts of painting, sculpture, drawing but also embroidery, ceramic, metal working…); at times no, some artists lean on a simple or even minimalist practice-like those who practice ready-made art just like Marcel Duchamp, and lay everyday objects in museum spaces, to transform these into work, through the simple force of intention. In short, artwork is always able to surprise us!


Let yourself be surprised...


                                         6047, Cressanne                                                                                           55D, Nathalie Cubero