Is There No Art Without Meaning?

Any student who takes an art course will eventually have the professor pose the question, "What is Art?" Inevitably, the class consensus becomes a believe that anything is or can be art. While that is usually agreed upon, most people still maintain their own beliefs on what exactly makes anything art.

I'm currently enrolled in an art class at my local University and I'm having trouble accepting the validity of some of the works being studied. It's not that I refuse to believe that the works are "art", it's just that the significance and meaning behind the pieces feel too contrived in my opinion. I can understand a work that's inspired by an emotion, event, or issue, but in art courses I'm continually subjected to works that seem to be reaching for a meaning that is not inferable without the arts explaining the significance. Furthermore, once it's explained, I often find it a hard pill to swallow.

My peers and I have a running joke, within the art department, that involves taking insignificant objects or completely random effect choices and inventing elaborate significances for them. For example, if a student is asked why they chose a specific camera angle in a shot, he may begin improving a story about the meaning behind the decision - "The main character in this seen is torn between two life changing decisions and by tilting the camera seven degrees to the left I am symbolizing that the character, who is moving to the right side of the frame, is taking the path contrary to the desired choice" - though it may have been unintentional.

While this is a fun activity as students, I often feel that "legitimate" artists receive amazing praise and recognition from the art community for participating in this joke. Now I'm not going to call out any artist because I am full aware that I'm no authority to set a precedent for what can be called are an what cannot, but I believe there should be a process. I believe that your passion for the theme of your work should influence the art itself. However, I don't praise artists who chose a subject matter because of it's impact or controversial nature, and then find the most outrageous least relevant concept to construct as the symbolism for that theme.

I can accept the notion that a two marbles, one painted white and the other black, mounted on white poster board is art. I refuse to, however, accept the notion that this work represents racism. We as artists don't need to assign contrived meanings to our art. Why can't we just appreciate the aesthetics of it?

posted by Christopher Schnese