The never-ending quarrel over what is Art

Posted on May - 22 - 2016

The door opens, and you enter a white and sterile room, a space that came to be known as the “white cube.” This term was coined in the seventies and specially discussed by the artists and theorist Brian O’Doherty in his essays “Inside the White Cube.” Although he mainly discusses the postwar art world, most of his statements and observations stay true still in today’s gallery space ideologies, such as the notions of creating an isolated space where the outside world cannot come in, thus allowing art to be free to create its context.

Indeed, the white cube became and still is the dominant model of exhibiting art, especially contemporary art, where its strangeness and sometimes eerie appearance suits best with the nonreferential quality of the container space. Since the seventies there was this abrupt shift from the seemingly last traces of modernity into the new realms of postmodernity; thus, the white cube’s exclusion of time and social value best combines with the new forms of art that have since proliferated, like installation and other space-defying forms of art.

At some points in a gallery-goer’s life, there was a moment when first encountered this intimidating building and found himself feeling estranged and awkward, due to its overall form and content. Contemporary art has had an exceptional career at making the spectator feel uncomfortable, through its use of materials, the depiction of unnerving imagery, dealing with controversial subjects and so just about any other trick in the book. This discourse that has been presented by the art world still seems strange now, although they have been in the making for more than 40 years.

There is no doubt that some comfort is found in beautiful and serene works of art that present a picturesque scene, composed portraits, any work where the manual abilities of the artists can be openly admired or a colorful abstract painting that could go well with the living room decoration.


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The contemporary art world still seems like a hostile environment, rejecting any of the too ignorant spectators that can’t understand why any of these random-looking objects can be considered art. A subject that many scholars have written about, such as Arthur Danto and George Dickie among others is this specifically: what is art? Who says what is art? That is a question that nowadays still causes controversial talks, discussions, workshops, books and so forth and can resonate to the 17th century of the quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns. There is always a dispute over tradition and innovation, the classic and the subversive. But that same debate works as fuel for this great cultural machine to keep on moving and going forth.

So, what would be the correct answer? A two-dimensional, colorful painting, massive multi-disciplinary installations or gruesome performances? The answer maybe is just both. Art has transcended the line of tradition into the realm of infinite possibilities, all exhibited in a quite and solemn white cube.

By: Gabriela Martinez

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