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Pleasantly infuriating: Germaine Greer
Wes Brown responds to Germaine Greers' "Now please pay attention everybody. I'm about to tell you what art is"

Some thoughts on Germaine Greers' latest article in the Guardian. Now please pay attention everybody. I'm about to tell you what art is.
What is art? Art is anything an artist calls art. An artist is someone who makes or does something she or he thinks of as art. Making pictures can be called graphic art, but it is quite likely to have nothing to do with art whatsoever. Take the pictures that hang every weekend on the railings of London's Hyde Park, hundreds of them. No art involved. A graffito on a railway bridge is more likely to be art, most probably bad art, but art just the same. Most art is bad, but you don't get the good art without the bad. Our best artists make stuff they know is bad; the difference is that they destroy it themselves. Tracey Emin didn't wait to be told to destroy the paintings that earned her an MA at the Royal College of Art. There are a few dealers around the place who would kill to get their hands on them; she has made sure they never will. That's the kind of thing real artists can be expected to do.
How much of a definition is this? If everything can be art, is anything art? Do the aesthetic qualities of art exist or don't they? Or is Greer suggesting that artistic appreciation is subjective?

Art doesn't have to be an "absolute truth" to be objective. There is a pragmatic truth of consensus that has guided us well - what Ronan McDonald calls "the excluded middle". For, like moral judgements, absolute truths may not exist, but we can still create a reasoned middle-ground that is more useful than a problematic free for all. 

For instance, if there can be no measure for art, the grounds for arts funding, academic grades, editorial selection are almost entirely arbitrary. Do we honestly believe the work of TS Eliot is no better than a shopping receipt? 

And how is Greer judging between "good art" and "bad art"? Is it a moral argument? If I were to find incredibly inventive ways to sexually abuse people, would this be art? I shouldn't think so. But under Greers' prescription, it may well be art, just "bad art". 

In the same vein, 9/11 is another work of art. Just "bad" art? Or does "bad art" include work that is genuinely shit? Like my attempts at making music? 

In the haste and directness of her writing, Greer has failed to make these category distinctions. 

Later, Greer makes the claim that Sacredness is separateness:
For most of human history, the artist has had no duty to record what things or animals or people actually looked like. The subject of art was more often something that could not be seen, such as the energy of the monsoon, depicted in the rock art of the Australian Kimberley region as the wandjina. In that case the artist was a person apart, a senior lawman who inherited the responsibility of keeping the sacred images fresh. Before he could lay a finger on them he had to travel to the sacred site by a special route and bathe in the clean, cold water of the deep gorges. Sacred is just another name for separate.
But isn't the purpose of this "Sacredness" to commune with the tribe? Don DeLillo's intention to, "the write the whole picture, the whole culture" is a latter day example of this. In primitive societies, the shaman was also a doctor and spiritual guide. These labours have been divided and specialised in a late capitalist age (the many branches of doctors, religious leaders and kinds of artists). I don't believe artists create art to be separate. On the contrary, it is a form of communion. 

Amazingly, in the same article, Greer goes on to say:
The kids who get up at midnight and head out to a derelict wall to begin working on a graffito are working within a demanding tradition that requires the sequence of execution to have been worked out in detail in advance, before any mark can be made. They can make no money out of what they do. There are no prizes for them. They could go to jail. There is no truer example of the sacredness of the art enterprise than this.
So is this sacredness, the sacredness Greer likes separating or not? Aesthetics is pleasantly and notoriously problematic. Keeping great minds occupied for centuries. And it seems Germaine Greer's solution is no solution at all.

Wes Brown is a 25 year old writer based in Leeds. He blogs at The Information.


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