Arts Vanity: What is Art? A Definitive Answer

Tianxing V. Lan

After all, it is 2016. It is no longer about modernism. It’s not even about post-modernism. It’s post-art anti-aesthetic late-capitalist nihilism—in one word, apocalypse. We know for a fact that God is an overweight middle-aged white man eating burritos and watching “The X Factor,” who spends way too much of his time on social media. Jean-Luc Godard put it well: “First there was Greek civilization. Then there was the Renaissance. Now we're entering the Age of the Ass.” So as art enthusiasts, we inevitably find ourselves facing the question: If it is truly the Age of the Ass, why are we still concerned with any art that is not ass?

We certainly don’t make art to impact society. If the purpose of art is to change something, then it should be evaluated by how much it changes this something. Most great artists, however, separate themselves from the mainstream culture, and most good art never reaches—not to mention impacts—ordinary people. If one really wants to spread a message around the world, she should resort to YouTube instead of museums and become a porn star instead of a sculptor. Of course, artistic media such as photography and film remain powerful weapons for social activists, but those people use them in different ways from artists. Admittedly, there’s an intersection where good art is accessible to the general public, but no one should confuse the two as the same thing. Which is to say, while art might sometimes give a damn about positive impact, it usually doesn’t, really.

Art is about not making an impact. We’re really tired of it—impacting this, impacting that, impacting each other so that we can all go and impact the Third World. We find this whole vicious cycle kind of dumb and want to just chill for a bit and find something fun to play with. We decide to give a name to this thing that we are playing with, so we call it “art.” At first we play with things that are beautiful, but then we run out of beautiful things or we get tired of them, so we start to play with unbeautiful things. Some people call these things “modern art,” and others call them “I could have also created those Mondrian paintings. Why can’t I earn five million dollars from that?” It is because he came up with it before you.

Many artists are sensitive. Some of them are extremely kind; others, absolute assholes. Either way, they need to pay great attention to the world around them while keeping a proper distance from it. They need to spend a lot of time on their own, thinking and feeling. After one year of contemplation, they finally get to work and write down three sentences or film one shot. But those three sentences and that one shot are so beautiful that they make us want to take a pause from our busy and often confusing lives and to have in mind nothing but these little artistic fragments. When such moments happen, we think art is worth it.


—Tianxing V. Lan is the outgoing Campus Arts exec and incoming Film exec. He never watches/listens to/goes to anything he reviews, and just tosses a coin to determine whether to call it “provocative” or “lacking a unique aesthetic.”


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