Friday, February 25, 2011

What's The Difference?

One of my Facebook friends had an interesting status the other day. It read, "What is the difference between art and decoration?" At first I just hit the "Like" button, considering it a nice ponder, but the question has been with me all week. What makes art "Art" and what makes other art simply "decoration"? It's the same question I ask myself about my favorite TV shows, "American Pickers" and "Hoarders" -- one man's trash is another man's treasure.

(Photo: Case Study #22 by Julius Shulman, Circa 1960 - Art in three styles: Architecture, Image, Photography Style. This image moves me.)

I think for me to answer the question honestly, I have to look at the effect each has on my heart and mind. I consider true art to be a very high calling. I don't necessarily have to like something to consider it art; actually the fact I don't like it may be the very thing that places it in the art category. Art always stirs emotion. There should be a visceral reaction to its form or color or subject -- or the lack thereof. Art has a tension to it. Consider Monet and Picasso, who painted things as they saw them, not as they actually were; there is the tension. Even masters of realism like Michelangelo and Titian created great tension in their work, drawing the viewer in, making us question why or how. Decoration, on the other hand, is neutral. It fills space and may be pleasant to the eye but it doesn't affect the heart.

Like most of you, I have many things in my home. Some items are there simply to keep the space from feeling empty and to add form and balance to a room: decorations. Then there are those pieces that capture my attention: art. These are the things I look at and ponder, their significance, my significance. They turn on that seldom-used part of my brain that searches for answers and craves beauty over clutter. I can look at them a million different times and feel a million different things. They are timeless and will not end up as garage sale fodder in the next few years as trends and tastes change.

How would you answer the question, "What is the difference between art and decoration?"