In theory, there’s not a lot of difference between these words. Except that one implies a certain kind of grace and the other implies a certain kind of cunning.
There are a lot of reasons why I mull over the word ART as much as I do – I don’t harbor the illusion that I’m going to be Changing the Definition. I’ll come up with my own more or less satisfactory take on the word that’ll stick for a few years and that’s it. Merriam-Webster will not come calling. Separate issue.
One of the reasons I do mull it over is the baggage that the word carries around, the idea of transcendence and grace that our Platonic ideal of ART keeps with it like a little cloud on a leash. Named Art.
There are a couple of media in which ART is unambiguously ART (bear with me, this is going places): sculpture, painting, architecture (not a complete list; add to make yourself feel better).
Art is only ambiguously Art in photography, writing, and acting (again, not a complete list).
Dance slants towards unambiguous; singing slants towards ambiguous. Do you not believe me, the prosecution would like to submit exhibits A: Dancing with the Stars; and B: American Idol.
It’s not that we don’t appreciate good writing or good singing or good acting – it’s pretty clear that many (most?) of us do. Part of a good execution is not showing how hard you worked, though. I’m not a good photographer, for example. I don’t know how best to frame and compose a shot. I have a rudimentary understanding of how light and shadow make a picture interesting to look at. But any yahoo can buy a camera, and nearly every yahoo has one on his/her phone. Anyone can stand up and pretend to be someone else (Look at me! I’m schmacting!). Anyone can put pen to paper.
It’s not that those forms are less Art – it’s just that they’re easier to imagine being good at. Think about it this way. You read a great book. You hold that book in your hand and look up at Michaelangelo’s David.
The statue is probably more impressive. Thus: ambiguous, unambiguous.
Yesterday I read Josh Olson’s “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script.” (I recommend it.) Relevant story about Picasso in there, true or not. Got me thinking about this.
See, the unambiguous works tend to stand on their own as a form – with limitations. Realistic sculpture (David, above): art and artful. Abstract sculpture:
There are so many bad books out there, bad books that are published by one of the Big 6 houses, that we know agents aren’t being entirely straight with us when they tell us they just want good writing. There are so many bad films it’s hard to imagine how they managed to get so bad. There are bad dance performances, bad plays. Where’s the fucking gatekeeper? Where are the Art Cops?
And then someone remembers, oh yeah. The Art Cops? That’s me. Time to roll up the sleeves, call a spade a spade, write a letter to the editor, cut off funding to that crap. Because someone just pulled a con.