This has been the week of the Arts Festival at the seminary in which I work. I have some pretty close friends on the Arts Concerns Committee, and used to be the chair of the committee myself a few years ago, so I generally try make myself available to help out.
These events often give me some cause to ponder the nature of art. Not so much "what is art?" but "what is 'good' art?" Clearly, just because something is popular doesn't make it "good." On the other hand, I often find myself biting my tongue (or not) when so many artists around me seem to criticize art that happens to be popular for being "bad" or "cheesy." Often, I agree with the assessment, but other times, I wonder if the art is being criticized simply because it's popular. I don't claim to have any answers here. Besides the fact that what constitutes "good" art is subjective, I myself still struggle with this question.
For example, some of my friends would suggest that "good" art must cause the viewer to wrestle with the world in which we live. I certainly don't dispute that this is one valuable function that art fulfills, but is art that is simply nice to look at not good art simply because it does not challenge anyone's expectations, but is merely pretty?
Another question: is there a difference between being "creative" and creating "art?" I like to "create" things all the time. For example, I made this custom Transformers package recently for my brother's birthday (see picture at right). The figure inside, I hasten to add, was not created by me. Only the packaging, which I designed to look as if Hasbro (the toy company that produces the Transformers in America) had created it back when this kind of figure would have been created in 1990. Clearly, very few of the ideas here are mine. The aspect of my "creativity" was in bringing it all together in this way. Some might argue that this is the very definition of art. But is it? There's no deep meaning here. Just a gift I created for my brother with the hopes of it being a bit different and special. What if I created such a package (as I'm actually looking to do for other customs) with the intent of selling the custom on eBay (which I may or may not do)? Does that affect it's status as "art?" And if it is "art," is it "good," beyond being technically proficient?
Or, to look at the question of "good art" from a different angle, what makes certain art "cheesy?" This is an assessment I myself have made on occasion. For me, I'd probably call something "cheesy" that "takes the easy way out." That is to say, not just that it is "popular," but specifically that it caters to popular culture (or in the case of "Christian" art, the popular Christian sub-culture) in such a way as to be "safe" and "easy" and to not have any real meaning for the people who look at it. Especially in the case of "Christian" art, I see so much that Christians use to escape from the secular world. If anything, Christians more than most people need to be challenged. We need to know how to engage the secular world, rather than run from it by developing our own sub-set of "art" that allows us to avoid the aspects of the rest of the world we would just as soon not deal with. But for all of that, am I not still engaging in some form of "artistic snobbery?" Where is the line between something that is merely technically proficient and good art? Should I even make such a distinction? Or am I failing to be properly engaged in the world (artistic or otherwise) if I don't seek to make such a distinction?
And so the pondering continues....