When is Art not Art?

I am sure that you have heard the question… “when a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it?”.  Well I guess that this article is one of those questions.  Before I start though…logically yes, the tree would still make a sound…because, you know, science.  If something falls over in my bedroom but I am downstairs (as happens more than you would imagine), it still makes a noise despite me not watching it.  It would still make a noise even if I wasn’t in, because the clash of two items creates energy through the movement and that is released in part by transference into sound.

The answer to “when is art not art” is much less scientific.  I was thinking about this, as I was writing an article for the publishing company that I write articles for.  I had been researching Anselm Kiefer and his studio in Barjac, France and thinking that it was such a waste to have so much art kept out of the reach of the public, as for me art should be openly accessible to all, as it is a way of telling stories, which is what culture is inherently based on although the focus has changed to leaning towards paintings to tell the stories to books and television… either way, personally I still want as many people to indulge in art as possible…. but that is my preference… if it wasn’t this would be a very odd website for me to be writing.

Before I started writing this article, I googled “When is art not art?” and I have to say I was pretty disappointed with the results.  The top result read:-

Anything that has no painterly or sculptural skill is not art, because anyone could do it” (When a shed is not a shed, Oct 18). But in most cases it’s the paucity of the concept (or, more often, the absence of any genuine or definable concept), not the paucity of execution, that most people find objectionable”.  

This was taken from an article published in The Guardian in 2005.  Now while there are many pieces of art I look at and think “I could do that”, I would never class it as “not art” because I could do it.  Neither would I say something isn’t art because of its concept… I mean… let’s take Tracey Emin’s bed for example.  My bedroom could look like that if I didn’t keep it tidy, but she portrayed feelings and emotions through everyday objects and displayed it…

This made me think about what is my thoughts on what art is, and actually it is anything that tells a story and is on display with artistic intent.   So, for me art is not art when it can’t be seen.  Stay with me – I promise I will make sense.

Kiefer’s art studio in Barjac, has been left abandoned since 2008 after some disputes with locals including those that wanted to hunt on the last that his 200 acre studio covers.  Since then the studio has been closed to the public despite some very exciting pieces being housed there.  Kiefer himself has stated that this has been donated to the people of France, but it would appear that France don’t really want it at the moment.  This could be due to the unstable nature of his work.  Kiefer likes movement in his pieces, allowing them to take a life of their own as well as leaving them to the elements, which in his mind enhance the work… but what is the end cause if no one can see it?

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For me the same goes for stolen pieces of artwork.  What is the point of a painting that no one can see?

In 1911 the “Mona Lisa” was stolen from the Louvre.  This is a ludicrous act in itself, why steal one of the most famous paintings on Earth?  Who is going to take that off your hands?

Vincenzo Peruggia craftily lifted the painting while the museum was closed, hiding in a service stairwell and removing the painting from its protective case.  He then wrapped it in the smock he was wearing and strolled out with her under his arm through the main entrance.

Peruggia worked at the Louvre, but the police accepted his alibi when they called on him that he was working at another site, while actually she was hidden in a trunk in his apartment.  He later took the painting to Italy and kept it hidden away in his apartment in Florence.  After two years of hiding her enigmatic smile away for 2 years, Peruggia grew impatient and tried to return the painting for a reward to Alfredo Geri, the owner of an art gallery.

The story goes that Geri contacted a friend to authenticate the painting, once they had done this, they negotiated with Peruggia that they would hold onto it for safe keeping overnight, then contacted the police, Peruggia was arrested and the Mona Lisa was restored to her rightful place within the Louvre.

For all this time though, while she was not being viewed, could she really be considered as art?  At this time she was a bit like Schrodinger’s Cat… maybe the painting had survived or perhaps someone using her as a doorstop.


Granted the theft of Mona probably accelerated the paintings fame to astronomical levels, but… people still couldn’t view more than a photo of her… So was she art during the time she was stuff in Peruggia’s trunk?  For me, no she wasn’t.

Art is created to convey the thought, feelings and views of the artist, no matter how surreal or abstract the piece of art may be, if it is then hidden away, then this isn’t art, but something hidden away that conveys nothing.

When do you think art isn’t art?  Why not tell me in the comments?  Like this post?  Why not share it?


3 thoughts on “When is Art not Art?

Add yours

  1. “anything that tells a story and is on display with artistic intent.”

    I hear and understand your argument. As “art” is a human invention, rather like “time”, if no one is around to experience either, do they really exist? Once we discover evidence of either, humans can then, by experiencing the evidence, claim that both might exist: that that cave painting is art, that 30,000 years have elapsed since it was created.

    What if only I view the art that I’ve created? Wouldn’t my artistic intent be enough? I took the sunset photo with the intent of displaying it on my monitor. I carved the filigree into the headboard of my bed, though it be only me who sees it. Despite the fact that they be on display for only myself, are they not art? I suspect that my scenarios’ “on display” factor might apply as the works are in fact, on display, no?


  2. Art is my oxygen, art is the celebration of the soul, the senses. Be it paintings, photography, music, sculpture, any form. Art lifts us to a higher level takes us to better part of ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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