Art is a mechanism through which humans express themselves, and due to the way it is perceived, the definition of art itself is nebulous: it means both the specific art that we associate often with sculptures and paintings while it may also signify any portrayal of creativity that includes music and literature. This unclear definition naturally brings forth controversy regarding the boundaries of art: what is art and what is not?
Although Andy Warhol’s pop art may be one of the most widely known pieces that challenged the boundaries and expectations of art, it definitely is not the only one. For instance, John Cage’s piece 4’33’’ , composed in 1952, was one of the first recognized experimental pieces of music that disputed the conventional perception of music. The piece had a not so comprehensive score that simply instructed the performer to signify “the beginning of the piece by closing, and the end of the piece by opening the piano lid” (Cage 1). Cage even stated that the piece may be performed by any instrumentalist for any range of time. To this day, this piece challenges the definition of music in that not a single note was played in the duration of four minutes and thirty three seconds, and yet Cage was extremely intentional in his composition in that he had clear reasons for him to create such a piece of art. 4’33’’ , to John Cage was a medium of expression which further complicated the dispute.
Another artist that tested the boundaries of art is Guillermo Vargas, an artist that starved a street dog, named Nativity, in the name of art. His challenge to art is disparate from that of Cage: can such an unethical decision be considered art, and if so, is the act justified? The display was set up in such a way that the malnourished dog was surrounded by dog biscuits that spelled out Eres Lo Que Lees, which means you are what you read, but was tied to a pole so that the dog biscuits were out of reach. Reportedly, Vargas admitted to the death of Nativity as a result of such an exhibition, however some reports claim that Nativity managed to escape the exhibit. Whether the dog managed to escape or not, the stunt definitely brought controversy to the ethical boundaries of art and whether the public has a right to intervene or not. Do his means justify the ends? Are and should his actions be protected under the name of art?
The aforementioned controversies parallel that of other fields. For instance, any form of literature may be considered illegal and persecuted accordingly if the content of the speech if it is defamatory, discloses confidential information, or is a part of any other illicit actions. Science, a completely different field, is constantly challenged with ethical considerations even though scientists are not held responsible for the repercussions of their discoveries or inventions. The parallels to separate yet related fields brings forth the question, what differences set each fields apart in the judicial system, and are those differences justified?
Cage, John, and Peter Pfister. 4’33” (No. 2): (0’00”). Hat Hut Records, 1991. CD.
Harris, Paul. “The Artist Who’s Leaving a Dog to Starve in the Name of Art”. DailyMail. 25 Apr. 2008. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.