"The point is that every piece of art changes your whole perception of the rest of the world for the rest of your life.
And it's not a joke! And if it doesn't, then it's not art, it's a commodity."
- Lawrence Weiner responding to a question from Liam Gillick in "Between Artists"
I agree wholeheartedly with Weiner’s words, though it took some thinking to understand just why. Art should change the way you see everything -- in that sense, when walking from piece to piece in a museum, you compare the first piece you lay your eyes on to the next, and the next to that one, and so on and so forth. Changes in perception can be subtle, but it is the evolving comparison of art in our waking lives that changes. I believe it is possible to 'step back' as well, for example, viewing a renaissance masterwork in a museum, and then going home and reading the newest copy of your favorite comic. But there are still qualities for which you can search -- line quality, value, form, perspective, and all the other elements of design -- we weigh them against each other form piece to piece. What is prevalent? What falls flat? Is nonexistent? These are all aspects of our perceptions.
When you stop looking at art is when it becomes a commodity -– it’s the ‘refrigerator syndrome’ when you look at something often enough, without thinking about it, you may forget why it’s there in the first place., like the sticky note reminding you that you had a dental appointment today. Things that are deemed kitschy have this quality –- kind of cute, mass produced and easy to overlook. You forget why you appreciate those creepy figurines of pale children, so they sit and collect dust. While all things that are created are at one point touched by the hands of an artist, or can be perceived as art, if they lose the appreciation of the audience, they lose their artistic status.
Take for example a hand-thrown mug. My mother has several of these. They have beautiful patinas with textured, porous-looking surfaces, and the rustic feel and color treatment of each makes them look similar, but unique from both each other, and the large collection of mass-produced-in-china coffee mugs that keep these few company in the shelves of her kitchen. But again, she wakes up in the morning and so long as the coffee lands in the mug, she doesn’t really pay attention to which one it is. To my mother, the art in these handcrafted wares has been lost. It is easily recovered though, by stopping and thinking about the mug – beyond the caffeine laced contents and utilitarian function.
Art and commodity can be two halves of a whole – a lot of art is created in material objects, which can be traded and sold, utilized and mistreated. But when they are treated as art, they may be on display, or archived, hidden away and preserved for the pleasure of future generations. Again, it depends on how you see and use the piece.
The duality of art and commodity is most apparent to the artist themself. While it has not been my own experience, I've known people who were mg classmates who received offers on their artwork, which was on display at a school art show. Some of these classmates were excited by the idea of having the opportunity to sell their work-Maybe they had nowhere to store it at home, or they just did it for the grade. Or perhaps their parents were not too keen on hanging it in the dining room. But others were move reserved in their experience reluctant to sell a piece that if they were to continue pursuing art, could be an invaluable part of their portfolio. And the last example: the kid who was too emotionally attached to their art to even conceive letting some stranger try and purchase it.
And why shouldn’t they be attached to their work? Not only did they put hours of work into it, but at this stage, the piece is truly an artifact of their growth as an artist. And I’m sure this is one of those universal truths: art is the artifact of the person, community, and culture that produced it.
Each piece I’ve produced(while it still feels pretentious to call my own work ‘art’) has been evidence of my growth into artism. Everything else I’ve made is just crap: unfinished sketches and comics, anything that tried neither my imagination nor abilities, I wouldn’t look at and call art. Practice, maybe, but not art. Weiner has a strong and valid point – an object is not art if it doesn’t challenge your perception, imagination, or standards for the next thing you see.