Friends Focus: What is art? (Chapter 3)


What's art?Event Details
Date: Tuesday 13th August
Time: 1230 pm to 1pm (brown bag lunch afterwards)
Venue: Iziko SA National Gallery, Company’s Gardens, Cape Town
Tickets:  Members free (donation welcome):  Non-Members: R50; R25 for those 25 and under

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Two unrelated incidences inspire our new series with the ambitious title of “What is art?”.  In October the international auction house Christie’s sold a portrait said to be made by artificial intelligence.  The eventual hammer price, including commission, was U.S. $ 435,200.  This raises many questions and issues, most fundamentally should the painting even be considered art?  More recently someone at one of our events said she found visiting art venues intimidating because she didn’t feel she knew enough about art – even though she was a graphics designer.  As the Friends, is there something we can say about “what is art?”

First it must be said that art history including the appreciation of contemporary art is a discipline as much as theoretical mathematics is a discipline i.e. based on its own internal logic and knowledge system.  At the same time, art history is also about human culture and therefore shouldn’t we be able to enjoy it in the same way we enjoy a plate of food we had never tasted before let alone know how to cook?  The balance we’d like to take in this dichotomy is that if we know just that bit more about the dish we’re tasting the experience will be that much more enriching.  We won’t be delivering a chronology of art but we will address some questions of what makes art “art”, drawing as much as we can on ISANG’s wonderful collection to illustrate.  In this way we hope to engage the art curious and offer a different framework for the art specialist, as well as allow discussion of the art of many cultures and histories.

Chapter 3 – Representation

In this chapter, we look at “representation”.  Paul Klee titled his artwork “Angelus Novus” (or New Angel). The work’s fame may rest just as much on its 4 past owners, who were giants of post-war philosophy, as on Paul Klee’s acclaim as an artist.  Indeed it may be better known as “the Angel of History”, a description given to it by its first owner, Walter Benjamin.  Thus in this angel’s case, it raises a question of who is doing the representing?  If we did not know either of its titles, would we have seen an angel?


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Product Description

A new series by the Friends on “what is art?”  Explored not via traditional art history/chronology but through aspects that define art.  In this way we hope to engage the art curious and offer a different framework for the art specialist, as well as allow discussion of the art of many cultures and histories.  Each Chapter focuses on 1 aspect and includes looking at a selection of works in Iziko SA National Gallery.


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Member, Non-member, 25-years old and under

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