Beyond pretty pictures

2010 // by Robert Berry

"Good questions Katrin.  This surely is a topic of interest for me, since I find Greenberg's "Avant-Gardde and Kitsch" one of the best essays written in the last 100 years.  Greenberg separated creative processes into art and kitsch, which I agree with, but I would separate creative endeavors as art and craft.  Art is the "fine art" end of the spectrum.  Great concepts and ideas brought forth in through visual or literary aesthetics.  "Art" needs thought being it, but the end result doesn't have to be something that is visually or mechanically successful.  I'm quite fond of Cristo and Jean-Claude's ideas, and some of their end results were beautiful, such as The Gates and Surrounded Islands, where Wrapped pieces and Running Fence were only successful conceptually in my opinion.

"Craft" is the work that is time consuming, and should be either elegant or functional.  Decorative arts, furniture art, most figure portraiture, etc.  Some of these items are in the realm of "art," but most are not.  A beautifully decorative church or a detailed presidential portrait all fall into "craft" for me.  If the portrait artist turns the sitter into something else, it can be "art."  Many abstract artists do not have a concept, and just "paint to paint."  I would consider that craft.  If the artist starts with a fundamental idea, or is pushing boundaries, it's "art."  In my example, my work begins with conceptual ideas, but tends to be more "crafted" in creation.  Where does this type of artist fall into, that is up to the public and critics to decide.

If a work "only transports aesthetics," I would have to categorize it as "craft."

You have a special knack in your work, and that is its strongpoint, but you will never appease everyone.  Most of the public only likes "pretty pictures," but the artists that history celebrates are the ones who push boundaries and take chances.  I think if you chose to paint something nice, you'd be extremely successful technically, but your heart would not be in it, and it would then be defined as "craft."  Would you find it "cheesy," yes, but you would almost definitely sell more paintings.  Many "artists" make a lot of money through that notion, but it's certainly not for me.  Sure I love Monet, but I would NEVER want to paint like that myself.

This is why most artists have a "day job" for their entire lives, since they need to make money to live, but also want to make the art that they WANT to make.  Even Dali started creating "commercial" art to make money, and started signing his name to almost anything.  The honest truth is that I could make more money at the gallery by exhibiting and selling "pretty landscapes," but that is not why I'm in this business.  I'm here to promote great "art" and make a difference in the world."


Robert Berry, Director and Senior Curator of Icosahedron Gallery NY