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Defying Definition (Part 2): An Artist’s Opinion

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

Credit: Brittanica

The previous article gave an overview of historical and recent controversies pertaining to the definition of art. Duchamp’s “Fountain,” the AI-generated piece “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial,” and Garau’s “The Air and Spirit” were highlighted and used to generate thought and conversation about what we consider to be art. In an attempt to gain further insight into the debate from the perspective of an artist, third-year UofSC School of Visual Art and Design graduate student Hope Eckert was interviewed on her opinions regarding the subject. Eckert’s passion for the arts and this topic was pronounced in her thought-provoking analysis of the three works. The remainder of this article serves to illuminate the debate from her perspective and add another layer of insight that is based on experience and exposure to the field.

Artist Opinions on “Fountain”

Eckert responded enthusiastically to Duchamp’s “Fountain” stating, “Short version of the story, in non-big girl art terms? Love it. Why? Fountain personifies the use of “readymades” -- found objects typically those lacking an artistic function – that are modified, written on, or joined together to create art.” The piece also has personal significance to Eckert as it mirrors her own interests when it comes to creating and conceptualizing art. “As an artist that creates work about money, economic issues, and American consumerism… I’m especially attracted to any kind of readymade piece because it encourages the action of recycling.” This statement provided a powerful insight into the controversy over whether readymade artwork is plagiarism.

While many argue that readymades are fraudulent because they don’t come entirely from the artist themself, Eckert reframes the perspective by pointing out how the manipulation of readymade objects can convey an original idea, stating “...despite the minimal, economic edits made to the urinal… the artist has fashioned the object into something new.” From her perspective, a work of art can be defined as such so long as the artist affirms that the piece is created with artistic intent. She only draws a line when a piece is actively harmful to someone else. “There’s art, there’s abuse. They’re different. One is wrong, one is right.” This open-minded understanding makes room for pieces like “Fountain” to fall under the classification of art.

Artist Opinions on “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial”

Eckert was strong in her response to this piece and her opinion on the legitimacy of AI-generated art. She draws on her knowledge of the field to assert, “This should go without saying, for anyone that’s had a proper education of art history: AI art isn’t cheating. It’s different from traditional art, sure. But that’s not a bad thing. To say it is… well, that’s the same, rigid, unfair argument old, bitter painters had when the photograph was becoming increasingly popular in the art world. It’s toxic. One-dimensional. Limiting, too.” Her insight highlights a notable theme that is relevant in the art world as well as in many other fields: resistance to change.

While many find the concept of an AI-generated work of art emerging victorious over works created by humans appalling, Eckert points out that this kind of hostility to innovation has been seen before, and in the end, the art world had room to accommodate it without threatening or diminishing other mediums of art. Eckert challenges opposers to this form of art by saying “Perhaps AI is the next big art frontier – in that case, who’s got the right to say that it's not art? To the traditional naysayers that disagree, I say: just because your art takes longer to make than someone else’s…doesn’t mean it’s more valid or worthy of attention.”

Though she is highly supportive of the technique, Eckert does express a hope that digital art will never fully replace handmade art. “We need the way we make art now to express ourselves. Digital art is just as important, yet exists in a different vein than crafting something with your hands.” Her view acknowledges the importance of handmade art while making room for advancements in the way that we produce and define art.

Artist Opinions on “The Air and Spirit”

Credit: News24

In response to Garau’s notorious invisible sculpture, Eckert admitted that she would not pay $18,000 for such a work, but was intrigued and excited by the concepts it provokes. “’s sparking many interesting discussions about the ridiculousness of money, frivolity, and visibility. This kind of work – that sparks outrage and can’t be appreciated like a traditional painting, drawing, or sculpture is mind-bending. Exciting.” Her opinion draws on the concept that the meaning behind the art is important but not inherently tied to monetary value. It also challenges skeptics of the work to worry less about the absence of material and craftsmanship in the work and to focus more on its symbolism and implications. “Invisibility is a part of culture, religion, and life everywhere. In that case… what’s so hard to believe about an invisible sculpture called The Air and Spirit?” Eckert’s opinion demonstrates that even when art doesn’t take traditional forms, it can still carry weight in terms of symbolism and societal commentary.

An Artist's Opinion on Art: Conclusion

Eckert’s opinions come together to form one dimension of a debate with many different perspectives. Her insights provide a thought-provoking breakdown of the definition of art that comes from a place of passion and expertise. They challenge the conventional understanding of art and are indicative of the progressive mindset that many young artists have toward the expansion of the field. Next week’s article will explore these same concepts from the perspective of a student within the STEM field in order to add another dimension to the discussion

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