But is it Art?

A colleague responded to the work I doing with the representation of blood but noting that he had come across an interesting book entitled ‘But is it art?’ by Cynthia Freeland which has a chapter on blood and beauty, and suggested it might be of interest.

Well Camberwell’s e-library worked well here and I now have a access to an online copy of the book.

The chapter on blood was interesting. Freeland notes:

  • its similarity to paint and its aesthetic qualities
  • its common use through the ages and places in art citing aboriginal and South American art
  • its use in ritual and its symbolic value
  • its use in fiction and horror

She notes though that in Modern art is different from its use in ritual. There is no necessary shared belief between maker and viewer as there is in ritual and goes on to suggest a cynical view might be that its use in modern art has more to do with entertainment, novelty and profit.

I don’t disagree with this so far, but when she states. “Artwork that uses blood or urine enters into the public sphere without the context of either well-understood ritual significance or artistic redemption through beauty” I begin to sense a like minded soul. She goes on to explore taste and explains in in terms of harmony and then explains how this idea was developed by others into ideas of beauty as significant form and harmony where both subject matter and its form play more of less equal parts.

Freeland then come to discuss Serrano’s Piss Christ – its large size and how small reproductions in books deny something of its original quality in terms of rich colours and gloss. But in both we are told that the urine is not recognisable as such. Notwithstanding this Freeland notes how people have discussed the image as beautiful and that their definitions of its beauty appear to come from three aspects:

The first is its natural qualities (piss and blood)

The second is its intended meaning (attacking the institutions of the church not spirituality)

The third is its intended meaning and inspiration behind that

Freeland then moves away to explore Goya’s works and attempts to show the similarities between the works of Serrano and Goya based on the above three criteria and thus demonstrate that art can include works beyond those offering formal (traditional dominant?) forms of beauty.

It’s is difficult not to agree with Freeland, But does she go far enough? Beauty can be learned and seen in many things but artistic beauty – where we remove and re-represent things created, reinterpreted or repositioned by artists – we create political aesthetic statements that work in all sorts of ways and on all sorts of levels.  But all art I can think of is re-propositioned where the artists takes one thing or idea and places it in a new artistic context and people then view it with these expectations.

Thus for example my Project 6 A Picture of Health is not seen as a documentary document by rather an aesthetic commentary. Whether it offers any beauty (horrific, fetishist or other) is for you to decide – see it here.


C. Freeland (2002) But is it art?’ Published by Oxford Paperbacks


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
This entry was posted in Project 6: A Picture of Health, Project 7: Blood and Shit and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to But is it Art?

  1. paul490280 says:

    Wow! That was a quick turnaround of an in depth review!


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