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  • Jose Arrieta

My Historiography of 'Art'

A painting can be made for many reasons. If a painter is asked to paint it and a contract is made in advance, I see this as a craft as a service. If the painter decided to make the painting based on a deep desire and a hope the painting would help in maintaining their life, I call this 'art'.


You might disagree. And indeed many do. If we visit a museum, we see crafts side by side with art. Michelangelo's David side by side with Monet's Water Lilies. The Last Supper side by side with Guernica. In part this is ok.The servitude funded centuries of scientific improvement for making crafts. Without the fund of he Medici and the Pope it is unclear whether we would have art of today. Indeed crafts were foundational to art.


It gets even more complicated when we realize that both art and craft can come from the same person, while performing different roles. An artist for me is someone that speculates. A person Who does something because of a deep desire and a hope that it might help in maintaining them alive. This definition of artistry cuts out the craft as a service industry. If I give you money to make me a painting of Jesus, there might be some artistry involved but the interaction has no deep desire, no yearning, no true individuality.


Both roles the crafts person and the artistic speculator are remunerated by society and our walls Yet, both roles build on very different ontologies. The service industry decorates the walls of museums since their inception. What institutions call art of the Renaissance is in most cases crafts someone paid to paint or sculpt. The same goes for the works of the Greeks and Romans.


The emergence of artistry as a business had a start. It started with the Protestant revolution. It started when the people who made what museums name renaissance art went unemployed. Protestants would not pay for paintings of Mary anymore. In the new era of precariousness and speculation, artist emerged.


Artists needed to think what to do for earning a living and a whole new aesthetic came about. This time is recollected by institutionalism in the Dutch Golden Era. A time when Vermeer, Rembrandt, and others made a content revolution of what could be art. Food, lay people, guilds, Meninas, could be art.


This was a time of speculation. It was unclear if the risk would pay off. But I thank God it did. I appreciate the crafts made as a service during the Renaissance. I appreciate how they improved the craftsmanship and even science of making art. But every time I go to a museum, I hate needing to rush through the crafts periods until I can reach what I call art.


Thankfully markets were effective and artists need not go back to be serviced craftspeople. Our museums of contemporary art are full of revolutions, not requests for services. In them we can see a timeline of how our views of art change. How different artists have speculated in their deep desires and how these speculations adapted the institutions.


Museums are not definite repositories of art but a historiography of art. People with power decide what they realized was "now" to become art. This is clearly dumb. But thankfully this biased view at least puts art on display and saves it from vanishing into the void of the past.


For us who are alive we can still see art outside of the institutional eye. Be it graffiti, YouTube videos, memoirs, Instagram posts or more, the market for speculation on deep desires and yearnings as ever before. True many a self-proclaimed "influencer" might provide at most selfies as a service for the Medici's and Popes of our age. But in their midst lay hundreds of courageously anxious artists who enters the metaverse heart first with the hope of making a living from their struggle.


Art is intrinsically subjective. My definition is mine. My separation from calling some pieces craft and some art is arbitrary in nature. Was Diego Rivera doing crafts when he made a mural for Rockefeller? And art when his mural was remade in Mexico after the oil tycoon disliked a picture of Lenin in his lobby? I would say yes to both. But you might not and that is ok. What is important at the end us for us to engage with the media not the buckets we categorize things.

Think of most of the important works of art of the 20th century, that is, art whose goal is not that of creating harmonies but of overstraining the medium and introducing more and more violent, and unresolvable, subject-matter. - Susan Sonntag
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