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About this blog: John Barry is the creator of trAction Painting, a process/performance genre in which he applies paint to large surfaces with bicycles, roller skates, and other wheeled conveyances. With Bill Carmel and other associates, he has bro...  (More)

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But Is It Art?

Uploaded: Apr 26, 2021
By John A. Barry

When David Letterman hosted “The Late Show,” he periodically presented a segment entitled “Ape or Artist?” An abstract painting would be unveiled, and bandleader Paul Shaffer and announcer Alan Kalter would guess whether the piece was painted by a Sapiens or a simian. In this youtube clip, the segment starts at the 7:25 mark.

Many people think that much modern art is a joke, and anyone can make it. That premise was explored in a 2007 documentary entitled “My Kid Could Paint That.”

a sentiment no doubt expressed frequently.

Rudyard Kipling also explored this territory in “The Conundrum of the Workshops”:

When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mold;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, “It’s pretty, but is it Art ?”

So, what is art? One person’s masterpiece may be another’s random blobs of paint on canvas. I personally find the most cogent answer to that question coming from Canadian media critic Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan (1911-1980) is acknowledged as a guru of media theory. Two of his seminal works are “Understanding Media” and “The Medium is the Massage.”

McLuhan is credited with coining the aphorism “Art is anything you can get away with.” Andy Warhol is sometimes noted as the saying’s originator, but the general consensus is that McLuhan is the author.

The two men had much in common, according to this website.

I’ll leave the final word on what is art to Woody Allen and McLuhan.

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