“'Art is never having to say you’re sorry.' This is the snarky answer that I remember back in Grad School from David somebody (I don’t remember his last name) when we were asked this question in Aesthetics Seminar back in the 70’s. It was funny at the time, a pun on “Love is never having to say you’re sorry,” the sappy punch line of what was then a wildly popular movie, Love Story, and strangely enough, for 30 something years, I’ve continued to think about it. “Love is never having to say you’re sorry” is, of course, wildly untrue. As anyone who’s ever been in love can tell you, apologies, begging, and bargaining of all kinds are part of the territory. It’s a childish wish for unconditional love, which doesn’t really happen between adults. Art, by contrast, is all about conditions.
David’s quip defines art in a variety of ways. The inverted statement itself appropriates popular culture, refers to the ready-made and then expands the notion of art into the domain of “not art”--contrived Romance movies out for a buck. But there is a link. Like love, art is also a search for boundaries. It wants to incorporate everything around it, test it, reach for it, and contextualize it. This is the frame, the condition, the consciousness that makes the magic, a transformation from “non-art” into “art.” Smithson’s Spiral Jetty was in part an effort to leave the commercial and confining “frame” of the NYC gallery world, and yet it is still art because of his intentions and consciousness. The frame is now one of reference, and Smithson’s purpose of expanding the possibilities for sculpture into nature, and into the world at large is now imbedded in the visual impact of the experience. And, like love, you can feel its power instantly."
Mary Jones is a painter based in New York City. She also teaches painting at RISD and is a contributor to BOMB Magazine. View her work on her website.