A packet of cigarettes, Source: photo by elbaschid

What is art? To some, art is something seen in an exhibition, an established canonical work by Van Gogh for example, or the photography seen in published collections, to me, however visual art is everywhere.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde,  good art is art that isn’t supposed to be art. It’s this kind of thinking that inspired artists like Banksy to challenge the public’s view of graffiti, making people see it as art rather than vandalism. Was some of the world’s earliest art not graffiti?

And as I go over the road to the 24 hour off-licence to buy another pack of cigarettes, I can’t help think the bold black “smoking kills” against the bleached white background with a strong black border is sort of iconic, beautiful. Ironically supposed to warn against the effects of smoking, I think it makes the packets rather attractive.

Of course,  the idea of viewing commercial products as art is hardly new. Andy Warhol began the craze with Campbell’s Soup and extended it to multicolored portraits of Monroe. But that leads us to a discussion about the artist as a celebrity which I’m not concerning myself with here.

Art is everywhere and we mustn’t just see art as something for galleries and the celebrity artist. What happened to art for art’s sake? The designer who created the “smoking kills” slogan didn’t intend it to be visual art, but nevertheless it was no doubt designed by a professional graphic designer.

It’s the minimalist simplicity of the design, the bold statement, like a Warhol screen-print or a Rauschenberg collage. I’m not denying I’m probably the only one who does find them aesthetically pleasing.

But it isn’t just the pretty anti-smoking slogans on packets of cigarettes, it’s the way litter is piled on the streets, the graffiti on the seats of buses. Photographers for years have been exploring the concept, the way a person walks across the road, the light shinning on a cathedral or the natural geography of an open field.

Visual art can be found everywhere we look: the Coca Cola trademark, ecliptic shop fronts or collections of bric-a-brac in a junk shop.

My point is that our values towards visual arts are based on the market place and not art itself. Also, that even though some of us may never be the next Francis Bacon or Damien Rice, doesn’t mean the only art worth seeing is art approved by the establishment. Art is everywhere.

Categories: Artist Focus

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