A few years ago, a critic in my hometown was reviewing a local art festival, which has become a huge community event for our city. He was complaining about how he felt the nature of the event had become somewhat plebeian, where art was subjected to the votes of regular people, and those regular people tended to gravitate toward the “fun” pieces instead of the “thought-provoking” ones. For example, one artist placed a loch-ness monster-esque creature in the river that runs thought the city. People were delighted by it, finding it quirky, creative, and eye-catching, and it of course made it into the top ten final pieces of the festival. The critic was lamenting how other pieces were overlooked, such as striking portraits or daring pieces of art that were on display in our museums. Why subject tasteful pieces of art to the insatiable desire of common people, who only want to see what’s big, loud, and colorful?
In a sense, what the critic was saying was, “That’s not art.”
I visited ArtPrize, now entering its eighth year of exhibition in Grand Rapids, this past weekend, taking in all the details not only of the art, but of the culture of my city that I never saw before. After eight years, ArtPrize has grown from a simple exhibition of different pieces of art to a celebration of the Grand Rapids community – food trucks from local businesses lining the streets, people from all over the community spreading their crafts out on the sidewalk with handmade signs boasting cheap prices, buskers galore –
But all I saw was art.
I saw art in people walking down the street, their clothes, their faces telling their stories. The air smelled like art – elephant ears, artisan coffee, pizza by the slice. And the main event, the actual art, was all around me too. The art museum was full to the brim of the quintessential and the quirky – a spaceship made completely out of household materials right alongside modern renderings of Mary Magdelene.
I didn’t walk past one person, one food truck, one painting, and say, nose in the air, “That’s not art.”
We were created by a Creative Being. When He separated the light from the darkness, he saw two huge murals, one illuminated, one in shadow. He then began to paint on those murals. Everything you see was meticulously crafted together by skilled hands.
“There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence,” said Abraham Kuyper, “over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!'”
So to say something isn’t art is heresy. It’s to say that God doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as the absence of art. Leave your definition of art at the door. “Art is a painting.” “Art has to be sophisticated.” “Art is cultural.” “Art is a luxury.” Throw these away. Because everything you see is art. The people you see, the food you eat, the paintings you admire. Art.
I want you to know that my definition of art is one that you might not have heard before. Everything can become a work of art. Everything can be redeemed.
The next time someone tells you that something isn’t art, ask them, “Then what is it?”
Every square inch.