what is art and what is not art?

My friends and I were having a discussion after the Murphysboro School of Art  on German Expressionist painters and how they were influenced by African objects viewed in ethnographic museums.  A discussion began around the question, what is art and what is not art?   Does the intention and original purpose of the object determine whether something is art or not art?  Or can one take an object and place in a setting to be viewed as art and in doing so imbue the object as art?

African objects that influenced Kirchner and Schmidt-Rotloff were not considered art by Western culture or by African cultures.  They were considered cultural objects and displayed for comparison to other cultures.  Of course they were also displayed by Western cultures for Imperialist reasons;  I have always thought mostly to display what Western cultures were not.  The Bangwa sculptor that created the Bangwa Queen was not creating art.  His intention was to create a religious object to serve as a surrogate home for the spirit of a passed revered Bangwa Queen.  Now I’m not saying that the sculptor did not work within an artistic canon that fell within his cultural social parameters[caption , because of course he did.   But another hook in all of this is,  I believe the world renowned Bangwa Queen statue was commissioned by the German Merchant Agent, Gustave Conrau, as part of an order of objects purchased for the Museum vor Volkerkunde.   Meaning that she was not really an ancestral statue and the sculptor’s  intention was not to make a religious object.

So what part does intention play in the determination of what is art and what is not?  Can the viewer change the purpose of an object by their intentions?


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