Three mugs sit side by side, enclosed in a glass case. The sign below it introduces the cups and how each one was made. Large, red letters capture my attention and read “What is Art?” Many have described art as perceived by “the eye of the beholder,” but is that always correct? The Oakland Museum of California (OMoC) staff disagrees. “Art is only art,” the exhibit says, if “it was created by the artist with the intention of making art.”
The museum provided visitors with an audio recording of a heated debate to listen to whilst viewing the three different mugs. Voice 2 seems to be more reserved about admitting what is art and what isn’t, while her partner, Voice 1, is very open to all different kinds of art. “Who gets to decide?” Voice 1 says “Everybody thinks differently, so something may be art to me that’s simply an object to you.”
In front of the exhibit, there is a space to leave your vote: Is it art? Or is it not? This is a very interactive feature for the visitors to participate in and a smart addition to the debate. Giving the visitors who have no background in artistry the power to decide for themselves “What is Art?” provides insight to the museum as to what the general public thinks of as art.
According to the professional artists reviewing the mugs, the cup that was made by Kenneth Price was considered art because “it was created… with the intention of making art.” The mug on the far right of the exhibition was not considered art because it was “damaged by accident in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire” and wasn’t created with the intention of being art.
The cup between these two opposites was considered by some to be art and some considered it not art. Some argued it was art said that “it was designed with an artistic intention.” In contrast, some said it was not art because it “was intended to be a functional object sold for profit.”
The infamous Oscar Wilde answered the question “what is art?” in the most inspiring way possible by saying that “art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.”