All in the mug, maybe

I have this mug I got from my few of my friends in the Netherlands. It’s without a doubt the best mug I have, and it’s in constant use to the point of my drinks colouring it from top to bottom, inside and out. The mug is a licensed product from Raja ceramics for Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum. I intend to do a review of the mug’s design at some point in the future, it’s that good, but the mug raised an issue with me; does art live between method of productions?

The split of modern art from the old views came with the industrial revolution, and to this day really haven’t managed to solidify What is art into a proper, wholesome answer. An argumentation that I heard from an ex-art history student was that art is defined by the intention of the artist. That is a good view on the subject, but I find it lacking, as other don’t consider, for example, advertisement as an art form due to its inherent connection in commercial trading. Yet, movies, comics, books and other forms of entertainment and utility products may be lumped into art category despite their ultimate aim, despite what the PR department is telling you, is to make money so the provider can live. A painter may be intending to paint what his heart rumbles about, but in order to live, he would need to sell that painting. There is never just one intention behind a piece, and if there is no one intention behind any piece, then what about products that are made by whole slew of people?

People understand a face. A rockband usually has one big star that eclipse’s the others, boy- and girl groups being a notable exception with them having a carefully planned out group of people. Unless the band really is one guy writing, composing and performing all the songs, he is not alone in there. For movies a lot of times I see director being coined as the creator-above-all, despite the writers, actors and the rest of the staff being there. Simplifying a piece to its smallest elements, with movies it often ends up being director and actors, helps people to get around the matter. In reality, every thing’s a group effort and movie is not just a form of art (if you even consider it that) but a collection of different forms joined together, all having the same end goal through different means. Taking just one screens shot from a television show or a movie showcases multiple fields that went into the piece, but also lacks some. A screen shot can’t tell how the acting is, it lacks special effects and music. Something is always lost in translation from a form to another.

Of course, commercial art is a thing to many, and many don’t consider it as an art at all. Years back I saw someone arguing that art for the sake of art is the only true definition, but reality doesn’t support this, as that can’t really be the only intention. So maybe art for the sake of art that can provide a living and has an intention to be whatever the creator intended is something we could see as art, but that inherits the problem that anything is potentially a form of art if one chooses so to see it as.

I had a customer who called my silver weaves as a form of art, when I was more actively doing them as custom order jobs. She could not understand how a lump of metal can be turned into something so complex as a byzantine chain, to which I responded busting out some of my spring, showing her how it’s sawed into links and how the links are being linked together. At that time I noticed her face slumping, as the magic was gone for her. She understood that what she had paid for was, ultimately, nothing special. Outside freak exceptions, anyone can produce what anyone else can. Some people never lose their fascination with art and opt to dig deeper into whys and hows, but modern world doesn’t really support any other notion to art than the very obfuscated multi-explanation view we have.

But back to the mug. What is the difference between a mug made by a craftsman and a mug made via mass-production? For the sake of argument, let’s say the end result is a mug with same design. For the craftsman, he would need to produce it largely himself, whereas a large company could mass-produce the same mug with their machines. In modern view of art, the craftsman’s mug would be considered art, whereas the mass-produced one wouldn’t. The end intention is the same with them both; to produce a mug that’s good enough to be sold. Maybe, the original designer of the artist and his design is the art from where commercialised pieces are produced, but design is not an art field, so that fails.

Maybe it’s in the eye of the beholder what is art in the end, but then every thing’s art, and  that leads everything to become worthless outside perceived personal values, which means art is an opinion and not a fact. Maybe what something requires to be art is uniqueness, and the more there is of this unique piece, the less value it has. Y’know, the usual supply-and-demand train companies roll with.