What ‘s a work of art anyway? This is a question that can be answered in many ways. Two well-known misconceptions are: Because it takes artistic skill (“My little sister can make this, too”) or because it is inside a museum (Duchamp put a urinoir in a museum which turned the thing into a work of art). I heared Gijs Frieling talk about modern art. He quoted Joseph Beuys: “Every man is an artist”. How are we to understand this? I think we become artists when we start looking consciously at the world around us. When we see the world from a aesthetic perspective which is a welcome change from the rational view we commonly take.
Priming for the beauty of art
There’s is a phenomenon in psychology called priming. It means that you respond quicker to something, because you have your eyes open for something. For instance, I have started a Pinterest board called “Surfaces”. It has a selection of pictures of surfaces like, eroded paint, barks of trees and corroded metal. Ever since I started this board, I look more intentionally at the world, seeing surfaces everywhere. I am primed for surfaces.
Even more interestingly, I worked for a while at a paint factory as a consultant. I began collecting pictures of spilling of paint on floor and patterns of paint inside vessels before cleaning. When I first showed these to the managers I was working with, they looked at me blankly. They didn’t see the beauty in any of the things I had photographed. Over time this changed. They started to point me to photo opportunities: they became primed for the things I liked. And they also began to see the beauty of it!
Learn to look as an artist
I understood something important had happened with these people. Quite by accident. People had begun to look at their work environment from a new, aesthetic perspective. At that time there were many issues at the plant. All these were addressed with left brain energy in projectsplan, schedules and charts. But now, for the first time, however small, there was a group that was developing an eye for colours, lines and patterns. A small band of ‘artists’ turned their factory into a museum. Filling it with pictures they had no idea had any value. Maybe this is what the function of art is nowadays: to learn to see that art is everywhere. In everything we do, in all we make and in the way we look.
Let’s talk of a system that transforms aal the social organisms into a work of art, in which the entire process of work is included…sometimes in which the principle of production and consumption takes on a form of quality. It’s a Gigantic project- Joseph Beuys
I take this quote to point out we will improve the quality of our society and of all we produce and consume, when we consciously learn to look as artists. Then we become artists with a purpose: to change the quality of our lives and the quality of what we make and take in this world. Like the people in the paint factory who change the world they work in, by changing the way they look.
I am endebted to Gijs Frieling for his talk at The Bovenverdieping and to the people at the paintfactory for their courage to change.
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