SYW: What is Art and What is Not Art?

Art. Three little letters which describe… what exactly? When you hear the word – art – what is the first thing which comes to mind? What does – art – mean to you? What do you consider to be art? What do you consider to be not-art even if others are calling it art? Are you an artist?

Before I tell you why I’m asking you these art-istic questions, I’m going to share an anecdote.

I used to work in an Art Gallery. This gallery mainly showcased the work of one artist – my father.

He opened this gallery because he was fed up of being treated like a factory by the owners of the gallery he had been with for decades, for whom he had made a lot of money and they often stiffed him, payed him as little as possible, sometimes didn’t pay him at all. Yet they expected him to keep being their workhorse, fulfilling their orders to churn out the same type of painting over and over. He wanted to paint what he was passionate about, and he wanted to branch out into other areas – no one in the business side of this particular art world wanted to take that kind of risk, so my father took it and paid for it in more ways than financial.

To paraphrase Sam Axe’s character in the TV Show Burn Notice: “You know those on the business side of the art world. A bunch of bitchy little girls.”

I’d use a stronger and more offensive epithet to describe them and what they did to my father when he decided to respect himself and his passion, his talent, and take a stand for himself, for his career, for his art, which he also saw as a stand for his collectors. He was issued a ‘burn notice’ by the business, was cut loose, was ostracised. His name, which once made greedy eyes sparkle with bling, became mud, and anyone who touched his work was ridiculed, shamed, and bullied into never ever touching it again.

One day, as I was working alone in the gallery, a delivery guy popped in with a package and as he handed it over he told me that he thought the artwork in this gallery sucked.

I looked him over.

He was scruffy and scrawny with wild frizzy hair, a scraggly beard, and intensely angry, envious eyes. He reminded me of a friend from high school who had recently contacted me because he was fresh out of Art College, had remembered my father was an artist, now knew who my father was and a friend like me might be useful.

So I said: “Are you an artist?”

Guess what, he was even better than an artist, he was an art student! A very unappreciated, undervalued, misunderstood, but one day to be discovered and applauded, lauded, genius with a super duper special talent the likes of which had never before been seen or experienced.

Since he didn’t have any samples of his work with him, I have no idea if he was a pretentious narcissistic twat or truly the greatest artist in the world past, present and future. This was before-internet, so no website, no blog, no facebook, no instagram, etc.

Before he finally left, he regaled me with a seemingly endless supply of what was wrong with the artwork in this gallery, what was wrong about the artist, and what was wrong with the people who liked that kind of shit.

He didn’t know that he was talking to me about my father. I didn’t elucidate him. I rarely told anyone that I was related to the artist, it was better and easier to remain anonymous.

If you’re wondering at this point what kind of paintings my father painted, and whether you’d like them, love them, loathe them like the delivery guy, think they were art or not-art…

I’m not going to share images of his work or his name (you won’t know it), for privacy, mainly privacy for me from my mother who stalks the web for any mention of his name, any sharing of his work (because now he’s dead she owns him FINALLY!!!). I went No Contact with her over a decade ago, kept it going when she resurfaced after his death because she needed to use me (those who’ve read my older posts, especially my posts on narcissists, have had an eyeful and earful of that mess), and intend to keep it that way.

A lot of people loved his work because no one needed to explain it to them, because it was ‘commercial’, because it was impressionistic even though it was sometimes abstract, because it was colourful, because it reminded them of somewhere they’d been, someone they knew, an emotion, a feeling, a sensation, a desire, a memory which had brought them joy.



Now to the reason why I am sharing this anecdote and the added extras, and why I asked those questions at the beginning.

Melanie from Sparks From a Combustible Mind, asked in her most recent Share Your World: 10-22-18 the following question: In your opinion, where is the line between art and not art?

I enjoyed reading her answer (which you can read too if you pop over to her blog by clicking the link provided to her post above).

When I was working in the gallery, occasionally people would say something similar to what Melanie said in her answer to her own question in her post. What struck me every time it happened was how hesitant they were to say it to someone working in the art business, as though it was a shameful view, as though their view would be considered stupid by those ‘in the know’, as though their view was that of an amateur, that of someone who didn’t understand art and the arty person would think wtf are you doing in an Art Gallery, get out, get out, damned spot!

A few of the people who said it to me were wealthy Art Collectors… why were wealthy Art Collectors worrying about what someone working in an Art Gallery would think of their opinion of art? Surely the client is always right, right? Especially if it is a matter of personal taste!

Because those on the business side of the Art World can be pretentious narcissistic twats, who feel that it is part of their vocation to intimidate, bully, and condescendingly instruct others on what ART IS and what art isn’t. These are the same people who make money off of those they treat like that. These people more often than not couldn’t draw a straight line without using a ruler or colour in a colouring book to save their lives. These people tend to hate art and artists, and hate art appreciators, particularly those who think and feel for themselves and love the art that they love, refuse to be intimidated, bullied, and forced into liking something that they don’t. They also hate Art Collectors, especially those who buy art based on their recommendations – they think they’re gullible idiots who deserve to be fleeced and screwed over.

During a dinner party, I had the incredibly tedious pleasure of sitting next to the owner of one of the top and well-respected Art Galleries in London. He told me that he’d requested to have me seated next to him so that he could tell me the same disparaging joke about my father every fifteen minutes (like a goldfish swimming around in a tiny bowl). His adult son was sitting beside him looking more and more stricken with a case of the embarrassing-dad-itis. When he wasn’t saying that, he filled in the space with boasts about all the artists he’d made and destroyed, all the collectors he’d convinced to buy shit by telling them what a good investment it was, and how foolish they were to trust him as it wasn’t worth anything, and all the Art Critics he had under his thumb whom he used to make and break artists, and fool Art Collectors.



It was not an unusual conversation to hear behind the scenes of the beautifully poncey facade of the Art Business. The Art Business is basically The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Although that was a very surreal dinner party, a bit like something from a David Lynch film. On my other side was a priest who kept confessing to me about his hate of people, his disinterest in God, and his fetishistic obsession with old religious books. Opposite me was a famous film director who kept staring at my lips, and later on he demanded that I move and sit next to him so he could tell me that he wanted to make a sofa of my lips and lie on them. His wife of several decades was sitting next to him when he said this, but she was away with the fairies (I would have been too if I had been her). There was also an ex-spy, and his girlfriend (our hostess) who was the director of a well-known modeling agency, she kept asking me if when I entered people’s homes I checked out their artwork like she checked out faces and bodies, and judged people based on their art collection (she was basically trying to get me to tell her what I thought of her based on her art collection). The food was a Moroccan feast prepared by an ex-hippie who had lived in Morocco.

What I can’t recall is whether this was before or after I bailed on working in the Art Business because I couldn’t stand it anymore, it was killing me… for a long time after I left, never to return, I couldn’t stand art of any kind, and if someone said to me: “I’m an artist…” I’d want to throw up and/or throw them as far away from me as I could.

I’m not as traumatised as I used to me about it. I can enjoy art now, and… I still shudder a little bit when someone tells me they’re an artist (and I always hear those words farcically exaggerated in my head = I’m an AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRTeeeesssssT.

So, in answer to Melanie’s other question in her SYW post: What is something that really annoys you but doesn’t bother most people? I’d say when people say they’re an artist but they haven’t actually created any art yet. Don’t talk about it, do it. I feel the same way about people who talk about being writers, and talk about writing, but who never seem to have the time to write yet have plenty of time to talk about not having time to write – shut up and write. Live it!



I really, really, really think Banksy is a frigging genius with a super duper special talent the likes of which has never before been seen or experienced (and I really, really, really love that Banksy doesn’t give a toss what I think of him, his art!). He lives it! Love the most recent stunt, don’t get me started on Auction Houses and their shenanigans, and love the stunt even more because it went a bit wrong and the painting didn’t fully get shredded. I like that the heart survived. It was perfection!

I had a chat with Melanie on her post, and these words of mine: “What popped into my mind while reading your words about art was blogging – think of each post as a painting, and each blogger as an artist. Some posts are rants = shit thrown at a canvas, perhaps? Some posts express the loves of the blogger, like the one you wrote about books which inspired you = a portrait, a beautiful scene, a Georgia O’Keeffe. Some posts like this one are meant to be shared and enjoyed = perhaps a Banksy stunt which entertains.” echoed in my mind afterwards, and therein I expanded on the comparison between painting styles and genres, and blogging styles and genres. The paper is the canvas, and the words are the paint, if there are images, photographs, videos, it becomes a collage.

In many ways, we’re all artists with the way we live our lives and share ourselves… and we’re all art critics too.

I agree with Melanie that art is something which inspires the eye of the beholder… what we see in art can reveal to us more about the beholder we are, what resides behind our own facade.

Melanie, inspired by Teresa of The Haunted Wordsmith, also wanted SYW-ers to: Name two books that have influenced you and share how. Since this post is about art…

Recently in a secondhand bookstore – Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols – found me. One of the chapters is titled – Symbolism in the Visual Arts by Aniela Jaffe.

I had quite a bit of an argument with Aniela Jaffe while reading her section because (I tend to get into arguments with most of the books I read) she kept calling one artist’s work disturbing, nightmarish, gloomy, depressing… and I couldn’t see what her eyes were beholding in his work but I could see it in her words throughout her section. I tend to scan my own words for insights into myself, if I react to something like she did to that artist’s work I spin around and look at myself because I’m projecting and transferring, but something about my interaction with Aniela Jaffe’s words influenced me to shift how I did it and see differently. The viewer of art is as much of an artist as the creator of the work.

I also love – The Earth From The Air 366 Days by Yann Arthus-Bertrand – it’s a photographic marvel, every shot is a painting, the art of planet Earth. I saw Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s documentary about how he took the photographs in the book, which influenced me to buy the book. But it took a long age for me to buy the book because I was going through a phase of never allowing myself to have what I wanted… buying the book was a big deal for me. It was the beginning of a new phase.

“I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said, ‘That’s clever. It’s an anagram of art,’ and I had to pretend I’d known that all along.”

― Banksy, Wall and Piece



  1. Marvelous! I do believe (if it’s okay with you) that this needs a re-blog. It’s a most erudite description of how art SHOULD be perceived IMHO. And what our criticisms say about us.
    To answer your questions about Art:

    “Three little letters which describe… what exactly? When you hear the word – art – what is the first thing which comes to mind? What does – art – mean to you? What do you consider to be art? What do you consider to be not-art even if others are calling it art? Are you an artist?”

    Art (to me) is something to be admired (first thing that popped into my head). Art uplifts, inspires, energizes, makes one FEEL something (IMHO). I’m eclectic about ‘my’ own art…I have classics and old masters (well posters of the same); but I also have colorful abstracts. I have a picture of Christ that I did, hanging on my wall right near my computer. Non-art? Anything that degrades or is the vessel to spread hate and I mentioned (in my answer on SYW) what I think of certain mediums (the physical stuff one uses to create “art”). Am I an artist? Maybe…I used to try awfully hard to be a certain kind of artist – the cartoonist (it’s an art form); but my efforts were largely unappreciated; I’ve painted (using acrylics and oils) and I can say that I ASPIRE to paint, but I’m not terribly good..I was so awful at the oils that I’ve never tried them again…my vision and my output might have been on different sides of the planet, the acrylics work much better. These days my ‘medium’ are words. In this I’ve been told I’m adept; but the old adage remains “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”.


    • Wow! Thank you very much, Melanie 🙂 It’s more than okay if you feel like reblogging, it’s a wonderful compliment!

      I love your answers ❤

      You have a very clear and passionate view, guided by your heart.

      And the old adage is right, all you need to know about art is what you like.

      Being a cartoonist, imo, is one of the hardest visual arts on so many levels. It's one of my favourite genre of art!

      You are definitely an artist of words, as I said before, your writing is alive!


  2. I liked the story of the dinner party and your days in the art gallery. I could just imagine the S A art student who came in wonder what happened to him.


    • Thank you 🙂

      Hmmm… well, if the art student when he left art school managed to make it through the gauntlet of trying to make a living in the real world as an artist, and went on to be an artist, then he’s probably in his studio grumbling, ranting and raving about what a misunderstood genius he is, how stupid everyone else is, how all other artists are untalented hacks, how collectors don’t know art, how his agent/gallery is fleecing him, how difficult it is to create a website to showcase and sell your work online and how he refuses to do it properly because he’s not a sell-out like those other artists he stalks on Facebook who have adoring fans with whom they interact, are successful, and seem to really enjoy what they do.

      Most of the artists I’ve known do some version of that, even the ones being lauded and applauded for their genius, even the ones who appear happy and easy-going. It seems to be part of the art. You do need a bit of a crazy ego to make it as an artist, if you don’t have one before you begin, you’ll eventually get one because the business drives you nuts, because other artists have one and will crush you with it, and because it may be the only thing to keep you going.

      What was that film, watched it fairly recently, it was a biopic… ah, yes – – it’s based on an author’s account of interviewing a famous artist. It is a brilliant insight into the art world, particularly the artists’ side of it, the artist in public, in person, in private.


  3. One if the things I like to do when I visit London is to go to the art galleries. One of my best friends is quite a good photographer and it’s so much fun to go with her.

    Art … I respect most art, even if I don’t like it. It’s like poetry, so compact, and I appreciate how clever artists can be about exposing the many facets of a single idea. I like art that has depth.

    I really like Banksy, and especially what he did with his balloon picture. 🙂


    • Thank you for sharing 🙂

      That does sound like fun!

      Art galleries these days tend to be more enjoyable and less stiff. It’s a really nice change. I read this news item about a gallery owner who jumped into a river to save an artist’s easel and painting – and it wasn’t a stunt to get publicity :O

      I used to love visiting museums when I was a kid. The National Gallery had these challenges for children to make the artwork more interactive and get you more involved, they’d give you this booklet with details of paintings and you had to find the painting. I still remember looking for this dog… the one from the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck.

      Art history can be fascinating, particularly the dramatic stories of the lives of some of the artists. Like Caravaggio… I mean, wtf, dude!?! In ye olde days art was one way of recording history, taking a photograph before cameras, or taking a selfie 😉 it was also used sometimes as a way of making a protest – like Banksy. It isn’t always about being liked, sometimes the point is to not be liked. It’s intriguing.

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