Friends Focus: What is art? (Chapter 1)


Friends Focus - What is art? Chapter 1 Intentionality
“Portrait of Edmond de Belamy” as made by an algorithm adapted by the art group Obvious and sold at Christie’s in October 2018. Reproduced under creative commons license

Event Details
Date: Tuesday 26th Feb
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 1 – Intentionality

I’m sure we’ve all heard someone say about an artwork that a 3-year old could make that.  The difference between a seemingly arbitrary slash of paint across a canvas by an artist and that by a 3-year old is intentionality.  To be clear the 3-year old did mean to put crayon to paper, however did the 3-year old consciously, purposefully mean the mark to be the length, width, depth that came out?  Did the 3-year old deliberately set out to explore the materiality of the crayon and paper in a new way and or some inner conceptualization in an artistic language?  This question of intentionality can be asked of the portrait painted by artificial intelligence sold at Christie’s?


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Members’ tickets are free but please book so we know to expect you; Please also book non-members’ and under-25’s tickets through the drop down menu below.


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

Event Details