WHAT IS ART?
This question came into my mind whilst volunteering at Leeds Art Gallery’s most recent Artspace. Artspace is an open access area with playful and creative activities inspired by artworks within the Gallery’s collection or temporary exhibition.
For one week of the Easter school holiday we transformed the Gallery’s White Room into a space for exploring the weather and emotion, in particular how you can use weather as a way of meeting with and thinking about how you feel. We’d been inspired by the David Shearing’s Weather Café installation, which had been across the street from the 1 – 20 March (theweathercafe.co.uk).
We selected three paintings from the collection to display: ‘Blackpool Siesta’ by John L. Cooper (1894-1943); ‘Leeds Canal’ (1914) by Charles Ginner; and ‘The Café Suisse’ (Café des Arcades, Dieppe) (1914) by Richard Walter Sickert. All offered insight into aspects of our project. They were hung at the very front of the White room and acted as a lure into the rest of the space which we designed to be as visually stimulating as possible.
Artspace: Weather Moods invited people of all ages but especially children and their carers to use watercolour to paint weather images over weather stories they had written. There was also an immersive mood room with a series of projected images and sounds of different weathers and comfortable seating to encourage reflection on weather experiences.
Other activities invited thinking about feelings as weather related phrases e.g. a face like a thundercloud. These were displayed as if raindrops falling from an umbrella.
Inflating Balloons we hoped would support playing with air and promote reflection on aspects of wind.
Whilst a paddling pool with books for reading about weather stories aimed to inspire children to imagine the weather when they can use such pools
As Artspace filled with participant artworks and ideas, I couldn’t help thinking about how we were making our very own artwork as-installation-in-a-gallery, and from that I began to reflect on the question ‘what is Art?’. Or perhaps more precisely, how do we value art?
Artspace: Weather Moods was installed within the same room as exhibitions generally accepted and understood as Art by formal art institutions and audiences. I wondered, is the space we had created through the interaction between ideas, materials, participants and staff any less Art than what had been displayed in the room before?
Our mood room, a sound and video combination, was shown in the same space that had previously housed a film for British Art Show 8. Did occupying this space make this installation Art? In a previous blog post I wrote about socially engaged artists such as Martino Gamper and Ciara Phillips who involve the public in their artistic processes, could our holiday Artspace be another example of socially engaged Art?
The more I began to think about the question what is Art and how we value it, the more I recognised that there is no one fixed answer. Reflecting on my thinking I have come to the conclusion that formal art institutions place value on Art for the rigor of the ideas, intention, and imaginative labour that went into its creation. (They may also value its historical significance, or because it is brand new and never seen before). In the education office we value our installation because it evidently inspired creativity, reflection and play. We value what is made by participants because it expresses their exploration, imagination and learning. I am now wondering whether comparing and contrasting these two frames may help unpack what is seen as ‘Art’.
As an Art History student I’m constantly thinking about questions like these, frequently I have more questions than answers. After my day in Artspace I came away with a renewed belief that there are many ways to value Art, and it is the multitude of possibilities that makes it so incredible.
By Corinne Fosky, Placement Student