Spend five minutes with the “search” function of any art forum, and i guarantee you will find a “What is Art?” debate. Odds are you won’t even need to search; there’ll be one right on the front page. It might be cleverly disguised as “Is anime Art?”, “Are comic books Art?”, “Are ‘arts and crafts’ Art or a whole separate thing?”, but it’ll be there.

A while ago i started thinking it might be a good idea to just through everything which could possibly be considered Art by anyone on some sort of scale, maybe a bit like the Kinsey scale for sexuality: on one end there’s entirely hetero, on the other entirely homo, with bi smack in the middle and ace sort of off in orbit. If we put Art on a scale, Art Geeks could just say “That’s a 2 on the art scale.” People trying to figure out if anime is art or not could just look at the art scale and say, “Okay, it’s a 6, which is a pretty gray area but whatever.” It wouldn’t actually change any of the arguments over what’s Real Art and what’s not any more than the Kinsey scale shuts up Westboro Baptist Church, but it could simplify at least a few artistic conversations.

My freshman year of art school i started developing a scale based roughly on animal domestication. Freeflow, random, exotic street-art would be “wild.” Fancy pretty art designed to Look Good, Be Quiet, and Not Scratch the Furniture would be “domesticated.” Most commercial art – designed to look cool and appeal to people but not something anyone’s likely hang on the wall – would be “feral.” An Art Geek following this scale could describe emself as “tamist-feralist” to mean ey like fine and commercial art, but not graffiti art; a tamist would prefer only museum art, etc.

It occurred to me yesterday this system is a bit flawed, as it leaves out one major feature of Art: how “ordinary” it is vs. how “outlandish” it is (these are probably not the best words. I’ll sort out better ones later. “Boring” and “So shocking it’s cliché” come to mind…) A art student’s painting of a bowl of fruit is pretty tame, but many people wouldn’t consider it Art, just a practice painting. Likewise, the guy who starves dogs as “art” isn’t quite as wild as most street artists, but i know many people who consider street-art to be Art but starving dogs to be douchebaggery (self included).

So this is my “scale” as it stands now (sine curve not necessarily an actual part of the scale; i’m just too OCD to graph points at random).

Art Spectrum

Pencil, 3½×5½ in. » ©2008 Sharon Rosa

In theory, if you could graph everyone’s opinions on what Art really is on this scale, it’d be pretty heavily concentrated in the middle of the Tamist side, getting fuzzier as it went out. I haven’t actually drawn my own opinions on the scale (yet), but it’s kind of rhombus-shaped, a bit wider at the Tamist end but with still a good-sized bit all the way to the Wild end (and not all the way to the top or bottom anywhere).

I’m not sure how useful this would even be for artists; it’d probably be more useful for art critics than the creators themselves. Still, it’s an idea i like and want to play around with a bit more.

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