Episode 4 - What makes something Art? Vocabulary for giving an opinion.

Updated: Oct 11, 2019


context - 

engaged -  exhibited -  intended -  interpretation - 

materials - 


process -  related -

skills - 

steel - 

Hello everyone welcome to the fourth episode of Arty Anglais. The podcast where I talk to you about everything art-related for helping you to learn English naturally.

Hello Everyone, welcome back to the Arty Anglais podcast for our fourth episode. I'm your host, Tara. I'm Australian and I'm currently living in the south of France in Montpellier. I'm a teacher and an art teacher who is extremely passionate about teaching English as a second language and Art! Sometimes I teach just teach English to teenagers and adults. But sometimes I teach children English by doing art. I'm a strong believer in the power of learning by doing and learning things that are interesting and relevant to you. I'm also a bit of an artist myself. I love doing illustrations and urban sketches and I love to talk about art and my experiences.

I've spent the last few weeks preparing this next podcast so I'm glad I can finally share my ideas with you. If this is your first time listening, welcome. This is a podcast for Intermediate English learners who might also have an interest in Art. In these podcasts, I talk about things that interest me the most. As an artist and a teacher, I have a lot of interests and I am most passionate about teaching and helping people. In my opinion, learning a language takes time! I've been learning French now for a little more than 8 months. I've been learning slowly, but that's ok.

To stay motivated, I believe you must listen to the things that interest you. The best thing I started doing with my French learning was finding things that interest me. So now, a lot of the resources I use in French are about art. It makes me so motivated and I find the words useful and practical. I always have plenty to talk about with my French teacher each week. That's another piece of advice I would recommend. If you are learning English, it's important to practice, practice, practice speaking. It's easy to find a teacher on italki or on conversation exchange. As I mention in the first episode, I started to become more motivated to learn French when I found the podcast called InnerFrench. Hugo, the host believes that the best way to learn a language is to spend as much time as possible just listening. I must say, I agree with him. Sometimes when I am practising my French-speaking with my teacher I suddenly remember a phrase from the podcast. I can't believe how much I remember. It's like magic!

I've already started to notice a big difference in my comprehension. I don't always understand everything on Hugo's podcast, but I understand the main parts he describes. It doesn't matter that I can't understand everything because I can read the transcript to help me. This is also the same if you're listening to this podcast. If you don't understand everything, that's ok. You can use the transcript to help you. In my podcasts (just like on Innerfrench). Listening to the podcast also helps to give you an example of how I use intonation such as in the question - Are you having a good day? It also helps you to hear how certain words are pronounced or where I might put pauses in a sentence. All these things are just as important as learning new vocabulary. You can also use the podcast for imitation. Imitation means you can copy saying some of the sentences I have used and you can adapt them for yourself. For example, remember when I told you how long I've been learning French for? You could use the same sentence to practice telling someone how long you've been learning English for. I try to use language that is useful, simple to follow and you can use by adapting it to be relevant for you. For example, today I will use language that will describe how to express an opinion about something. I will also use it to describe what other people have said about the topic for today: what makes something art?

Being able to describe what you think about something is an important part of learning a language. Often, expressing an opinion will also be part of a speaking exam. The examiner or person asking the questions might ask you what you think about a certain topic. For example, they might ask you to explain why you think breakfast is the most important meal of the day (or something like that). Then you might respond by saying ' I believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day for two reasons. Firstly, I think it gives you the energy to start the day. Secondly, it stops you from being hungry. I love eating toast for breakfast.

So, back to the topic for today - what makes something art? This was inspired by my recent trip to Berlin. I went on a Street Art Tour so it was a good time to ask the tour guide my question. When I asked the tour guide 'what do you think art is? He said to me 'Art can be anything you want it to be.' I loved how simple that answer was and I wanted to talk more about it today.

He used a great little story to explain how art can mean anything or anything can be art. He also explained to the group that sometimes people like to decide what the meaning of an artwork is - they like to 'make it up' which means invent their own story.

He gave an example using Jelly Beans.

Jelly Beans

Firstly, he asked a young boy on the tour "What is your favourite candy?" (Just as a note: he was American and they call a sugar treat candy, in Australia, we call candy lollies and in England, they call them sweets!) I know, confusing! Anyway, the tour guide then made up a story to explain how sometimes people like to invent their own stories about what a piece of art means.

He said the young boy who likes Jelly beans decides he is going to stick the jelly beans on the wall for no reason. He does it just because he likes jelly beans. The next day, someone walks past the jelly beans on the wall. They stop and wonder, what does this mean? The passerby takes a photo and puts it on Instagram. It suddenly goes viral! Everyone starts sharing the picture, commenting and making up their own stories about what it means. I believe this is something that happens too often and it's interesting that the meaning of the artwork is not what the boy ever intended it to mean. It's a good little story (an analogy) to explain how the meaning of art can change depending on the viewer. I think it also says a lot about how Instagram can sometimes falsely represent art. How many likes a picture gets is also not a true reflection of how good someone's artwork is. In my opinion, sometimes how popular a picture is on Instagram is a reflection of being in the right place at the right time.

I thought for a long time how I would answer this question 'what makes something art.' I also wondered how would I make it long enough for an episode? Then I thought to myself that this question is difficult to answer on my own. What makes something art is a very subjective question which means there is no right or wrong answer. How you feel about this question will also depend on where you are from and your life experiences. So, I asked a lot of people what they thought and I got some excellent answers.

Generally, many people answered by saying this is a controversial topic. Happybicycle from Portugal commented on an Instagram post by saying this:

"Sometimes I stop and wonder that myself. Is that art? Very often I see pieces that are tagged as art and they don't really move me (make me feel anything) or make me think about them. But for many others, it might be Art! There is no right and wrong, there are only personal tastes."

I put this question to people on Instagram and some of my friends and family who were interested in the topic. Ah yes, in English we often say 'I put this question to *someone* when it's not a simple question. It kind of requires a longer answer than just yes or not. So I might say to you "I put this question to you - 'what do you think makes something art?" Which means I'm expecting an answer with more of an explanation.

So, I also put the question to some teachers from Australia to ask their art students what they thought. I'm going to share some of these answers with you today and some of the interesting things I found out. One teacher also told me she would ask her art class what they thought, but I’m still waiting for the response so you will have to wait till next time for me to tell you what they said. Before I do I'm going to share what I believe makes something art. I've structured this podcast to talk about 4 different things that could make something art.

Creative expression, the process of making art, skills and meaning.

1. Creative Expression

The way I see it is that what makes something art is different for everyone. Art is about Creativity. I believe Art is something that allows you to express how you feel. When you make something that you believe is art, it is art because you are showing someone a part of yourself and how you feel.

Personally speaking, when I do my illustrations and urban sketches I want to draw it in a way that is unique to me. I want to use my imagination to represent it in a way that is different from real life. I don't want to draw it so it looks realistic or like a photo. I want to draw it how I see it. Sometimes that means drawing things in a simpler way of using colours that are not really there. Very often when I am trying to find a place to draw when I am sketching, I like to find places to draw that might be a bit different. However, I know I can show them in an interesting way. Sometimes, I also like to draw things or scenes that someone else might not necessarily think are beautiful. But sometimes a certain place has a memory for me and I want to capture that memory in my drawing. I want to capture the emotions and represent them in my drawings.

I asked Liana on Instagram what she thought made something art and she responded:

"Art is simply an expression of the creative imagination of the soul in a form of physical creation such as music, painting, poem or architecture. Art is the core (the heart) of your soul and, it is creative expression".

An Art Teacher from Australia agreed and had a similar response when I asked her what makes something art? She said:

"Art for me is an expression of my innermost being; thoughts that cannot be put into words. I find the most pleasure in the process, not the end product/final piece"

Personally, I couldn't agree more. The process of making art is also what makes something art. For me, I believe something I have drawn is art when I was completely calm and relaxed doing it. This might be the complete opposite for someone else. Maybe they feel angry when they make art. When I am sketching I always feel like I am in a world of my own and most of the time I am happy. This means I am completely focused on what I am doing and I don't notice much going on around me. Psychologists refer to this as being in a state of 'Flow' and I want to briefly describe this as I think it helps to show that the process of making art can be just as important.

2. The process of making art & the state of Flow

There are so many resources you can find about 'being in a state of flow.' If you're interested, I suggest you google 'state of flow.'

Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi (me-high check-sent-me-high) (yes that's how you pronounce it) found that when you are in a state of flow there are eight different factors:

1. You are complete concentrating on the task;

2. You understand your goals and the rewards;

3. You feel like time is being transformed when you are engaged in the task. For example, time is speeding up or slowing down;

4. The experience is rewarding;

5. You are able to perform the task with ease;

6. There is a balance between challenge and being able to use your skills effectively;

7. You stop thinking too deeply (for example you're so busy doing the task that you don't think too much;

8. You feel like you have control of what you're doing. You know what you're doing

You might experience any of these things on their own. However, it's only called a state of flow when all of them are happening at the same time.

Artbysteve from Instagram made a great comment on the question 'what makes something art?' He said:

"I have no idea really - I prefer to do the doing (the art) and let others do the thinking. He also said that there is so much imagery/creative work around now this it is impossible to make a rational distinction between art an what is not art"

I couldn't agree more. Things like Instagram make it so easy to share images. So really, I think what Steve is trying to say is just make art and don't think too hard about if it is not. I would say the same thing. Just make it and if it means something to you, then that's what's important.

What do you think? Do you agree with me?

3. Skills - Do you have to show amazing skills for something to be art?

Art can be an idea, a concept expressed in a 'designed' "object", through a medium such as paint, photographic imagery, stone, building materials or words, movement or sound. This means that the artist has skills which have been developed over time to create something. However, art doesn't always need to be about showing off amazing skills that are extremely refined. You may have never done art in your life, then suddenly you decide one day to draw a picture. That can be art too because you're using and developing your skills.

But maybe sometimes, the artist wants to do work that can help us see the world differently. Take Picasso, for example. This guy had some amazing skills and could paint realistic figures. But he chose to paint in the cubist style. A style that many people might think is not beautiful. Sometimes very skilled artists can produce art that we think we could have done ourselves.

Malevich's black square

One teacher reminded me of Malevich's black square.

If you are not sure what I am talking about, you'll see the picture of Malevich's black square in the episode Transcript. It's a canvas painted black. Yes, it's just a canvas painted black.

The TATE Gallery in London exhibited this painting and some of his other work in 2014.

Malevich painted a simple black canvas. It was a simple shape and a single colour. Malevich removed all the things art had always been about (such as animals, people, food and landscapes). That was why it was so radical at the time! Which means it was a shock. Black Square became one of the most important works of modern art. It was so special that the painting was revealed to the world after months of secrecy and then was hidden again for almost 50 years!

The teacher (that shared this painting with me) told me what she thought about Malevich's square. She said:

"I remember once I was so annoyed by this square. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I didn't like that a black square could be art. Then I realised it made me feel things: anger. I really enjoyed that realisation."

So I guess what she is trying to say is that something is art if it makes you feel something. I believe she's absolutely right.

What do you think about Malevich's black square? What do you like about it? What don't you like about it?

Another art teacher said something very interesting. She said:

I always say to my senior students that "Art is useless stuff", meaning, non-functional. For example the difference between a sculpture and a functional object such as furniture.

And actually, I don't entirely agree with that comment. I believe that even a bicycle (which is a functional object) can be a beautiful work of art.

Another teacher agreed with me and said that art can still be something functional. She mentioned architecture as an example. She said:

"No one can deny that a Gaudi building is art and the Metro entrances in Paris come to mind as examples of functional pieces of art. Art takes us beyond literal words into feelings and a deeper understanding of 'the world' - what it is to be human, it can make us feel awe, it can shock us because it's revolting or beautiful."

Maybe it is original thought or maybe the approach, 'the design' is totally original. The marrying of materials (which means the brining of materials together) and the idea to produce an experience or a critique of something in the world. Think of a cathedral made of stone. Walking into it you don't see a series of rocks stacked onto each other. You are lifted up into this spiritual majestic place. Or another example, a sculpture of a whale made from plastic bags. From a distance it might glisten and look beautiful, but as you approach you are shocked and have a feeling of dread and urgency. The artist draws you in and then hits you with their powerful message. That's art.

4. Meanings

Another teacher told me to do a search on Terry Barett and Arthur Danto who are both famous Art critics and they have a number of different ideas. Terry Barett the first Art critic believes that:

- Artworks are always about something

- There can be a range of interpretations of the artwork

- Meanings of the artworks are not limited to what the artist intended them to mean. In other words, just like in the Jelly Bean story from before, we might think something completely different from what the artist thought.

Arthur Danto the second art critic believes that art - shows a point of view and that the work and interpretation require an art-historical context. For example, it is important to know what was happening at the time the artwork was made because the message is connected to this time in history. It makes me wonder, would Malevich's black square have the same impact now?

Another art teacher said:

If you study “The Arts” you are also learning about science, math and history of the world. It is the one subject area that requires mammoth understand of all other subjects. It is not of itself, but of everything.

Firstly, the word mammoth is a good adjective to use when you want to describe something as being very big or vast. For example, you could say it would take a mammoth amount of effort to climb Mt Everest. When this says it is not of itself, but of everything - I think they mean art is in everything we do.

The next teacher gave me a great saying. She said:

"Earth without ART is just eh...In my art room, I have a sign that says welcome to the creative heART of the school."

This teacher also said that often they start their lessons by asking students to imagine a world without the ARTS, that includes, visual art, music and drama. It would be a very dull place. I think she is right, art can be so many things around us that it would be hard to imagine a world without it. No buildings, no gardens, no beautiful paintings, no music, no dancing no people performing, no sculptures and no interesting discussions!

I had an interesting conversation with a friend about the topic too. I asked her:

What makes something art and she responded:

'Art is anything that has been created with the purpose or desire to result in something of meaning and/or of beauty.'

Then I asked her the question 'Do you think that means graffiti is art if the maker intended it to be that way?' Then they responded again:

'Yes, anything. There's plenty of art that fits those parameters that I don't consider to be beautiful, but if they had the intention to make it meaningful for them when they created it, then who am I to judge?

Ah, this is a good expression 'who am I to judge.' It means I don't think I'm in a position to decide what things are art - I'll just accept them.

Interestingly, I asked another friend about what she thought. She responded like this:

I think it depends on how it makes you feel and if you can see the effort, time and love put into it as opposed to someone splattering paint on a canvas. I think there is a big difference between art and things created to provoke shock that some people call art.

I wanted to end on this comment today because I wanted to show that everyone has a different personal opinion. That’s why I love talking about art because it’s subjective. There are so many opinions, neither more right than the other. It shouldn’t really matter what someone says anyway. If you want to make art, then just do it.

And that's all for today. I hope it has given you some 'food for thought.' I hope it makes you think about something you might be interested in. After you listen to this podcast, I'd love to know how you would answer the question - What makes something art? If that question is a little hard or too general, I've also put a few images in the transcript and some discussion questions to help get you thinking. Use the discussion questions to start thinking about the picture. Very often it’s good to give a balanced opinion about something so even if you don't like something try and find at least one positive thing. For example, give one positive thing, one negative and explain something that might be similar or that you might prefer if you don't like it. That is what it keeps the conversation going. It would be very boring to just say you don't like something just because! The discussion questions will help you construct a balanced opinion.

If you have some ideas, and you want to practice your English do not hesitate to send me your ideas and your responses to my email info@artyanglais.com I'll do my best to respond to you as soon as I can. If any expressions or things didn't make sense to you don't hesitate to send me an email to ask. Don't worry about making mistakes that’s what learning a language is all about! Making mistakes! I'd be happy to give you some further explanation.

Also feel free to practice speaking, by sending me your message as an audio file. I'd love to hear it. Anyway, before I go - the topic for next week. Well, you may already know I have worked as a landscape architect. For the past few years, I have mostly designed gardens. I love plants and gardens so much that I could talk about them all day. But I won't do that. So next week, I will talk about art and gardens such as art in the garden, how a garden can be art, and the benefits of a garden no matter how big or small.

Thanks again for your attention and for listening all the way to the end. Have a great day, evening, weekend or whatever is coming up when you're listening to this. Until next time, as we say in Australia I'll catch ya later!

I'd really appreciate it if you could leave me a review on iTunes to make sure my podcast reaches as many English students as possible :)

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Hi, I'm Tara. An Australian English Teacher in Montpellier. You can get in touch with me by email info@artyanglais.com

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