What …. is Art?

by Phillip Wong

   Art is broken down into several distinct areas: fine arts, applied arts and decorative arts and crafts, but there are various elements that come into play with each of these elements, and there are elements that cross over all elements.

Fine Arts

Fine arts is a category that evolves with everything over time – but essentially, fine arts usually has no practical or immediate use for anyone other than the creator. BUT, it has tremendous value because it, theoretically, is a pure form of intellectual or emotional exploration of a singular point of view.

All arts share certain values of coherency, complexity, unity and truth. The closer an artists comes to achieving those elements, the higher the quality of art. I used to say that “great art is great thought, or great heart,” and “good art is good thought, or good heart.” The craft of fashioning that thought, or heart only comes into play if the artist is incapable of conveying either thought or heart to the medium which they are using.

These are not random criteria invented yesterday, but have been considered and explored by centuries of artists and critics from Aristotle’s Poetics, to E,M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, to Charles Baudelaire in the 19th century throughout time. Verve Fashion Magazine was created with the timeline of fashion, beauty and art, in mind.

Charles Baudelaire wrote “criticism should be partial, impassioned, political— that is to say, formed from an exclusive point of view, but also from a point of view that opens up the greatest number of horizons”. And that “the true painter, will be he who can wring from contemporary life its epic aspect and make us see and understand, with color or in drawing, how great and poetic we are in our cravats and our polished boots”.

I have a background in literature and photography, so these are areas I look to, but I see “Art” expanding to other areas as well, so we will highlight those areas.

Applied Art

From the 1960’s to 1980’s in America, there was a heightened awareness of art, but no real awareness of how it’s value impacted society and the world. Then, in the 1980’s with Ronald Reagan’s America, we began a slow steady decline in dampening and diminishing art.

Art can not, and does not exclusively come from an organizational sense – but larger forms of art – architecture, urban development, civic statues and murals, plays and film – needed the reality of money, to develop, grow and flourish. While governmental support eroded, corporate and commercial support expanded – by necessity.

While every Conservative rails about the importance of the individual vs. society, the importance of the individual voice is lost in the wilderness. There are millions and millions of individual voices online in blogs, and comments everywhere, but the application of coherency, unity, truth and complexity is often missing.

Many people think to themselves: “I am not an artist, therefore I can not judge.” Or “I am not a scientist, and therefore I don’t know.” Wrong. There are parts of our world that are too big, or small , that we can not see. There are parts of our world that we have no experience with, or have not come into contact with – but our experience in life, brings us into contact with SOMETHING that connects, and with that, we can see the essence of Truth. That essence allows the artist to connect with the audience, and the audience to connect with the artist.

   The true greatness of an artist comes with their ability to bring vast, and complex truths to all of us. To present us with a reality which we recognize in our own, individual worlds. The greatness in music, in dance, in poetry – sometimes forms in which connections to our world are not obvious or evident, confuse those who do not have the time or patience to fully watch or listen, or understand. And these are also areas, in which the artistry of others – to see, to feel, to understand and communicate, becomes much more important.

Applied art, in architecture, can be four walls. Or it can be a useless design, or a useful design. It can be a comment on the world, the elements, on privacy or public displays of a private world. But once we begin to create art that demands resources, (money, manpower, tools, supplies), we have an obligation to those we ask much of, to create something that returns.

My father was an architect. He studied and worked for 17 years with Mies van der Rohe, who was the Dean of the Architectural department at Illinois Institute of Technology, but had also been the last director of Bauhaus in Germany between the first and second World Wars. Mies coined the phrase “Less is More,” and the other lion of architecture at that time was Frank Lloyd Wright, who coined the phrase, “Form follows Function.”

I gravitated toward those ideals, and my photography has elements of both – which is why I see “Fashion,” and “Photography,” as having an importance. But commercially, I also see how our communications have evolved and changed because of MTV and Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, Jay-Z and on, and on, and on.

The Arts of the world, affect and guide our world. It comments and explores our need for individualism, and our connection to the societies in which we live. But without the essential elements of coherency, complexity, unity and truth, we are just geniuses sitting alone in our closets talking to ourselves and anyone else equally removed from reality.

Art IS the essence of reality. Even in fiction, the essential truth connects with children, centuries and across cultural and linguistic lines.

Great art has the ability to be commercially viable. Why? Simply because it seizes on a truth that others recognizes. Why is our freedom of speech so valuable? Because it constantly allows and encourages the views of individuals to explore and seek expression that may, or may not, be recognized by others. And why are platforms like this one (Verve Fashion Magazine) important? Because our goal is not primarily commercial, but primarily to serve as a platform for truth.

Fashion that simply seeks money, has a short lifetime. Just as books, or music, or the plays without essential truths, have limited lifetimes. Art NEEDs essential truths, to last and define a culture, a time, and a people. But while women might complain that a design is not wearable, not all comment needs to be, nor should be, “wearable.” And the support of designers creating “wearable” pieces, and the responsibility of designers to comment on the world around them is as real today as it has been in the works of Coco Chanel, Rudi Gernreich, and the women who wear them (and define their world) like Twiggy, Cindy Crawford and Iman.

We don’t ask writers at the New York Times or Washington Post to be “creative,” just as we didn’t ask J.R.R. Tolkien to explain nuclear options. And for that, I would look at fashion in similar ways – as expressions of integration, exploitation, explanation, and comment on our times, the people who wear them, as well as possible utilities in our everyday lives.