“Not Art”

My attention has been grabbed lately by the appearance of a stenciled, spray-painted, two-word at various places around the Cape: “NOT ART.”

The first time I saw it, adjacent to a sign for a big national kitchen-and-bath store, I laughed, appreciating the wry commentary on advertising and promotion, that it isn’t art, that art is something else without a purpose, or without the purpose of driving traffic and collecting money.

The second time, on the back of a traffic direction sign, I wondered. For a few moments while whizzing along at 50 miles an hour, everything in my field of vision became art — the vivid reds and yellows of traffic signs, the deep orange reflectors along the road, mailboxes, Queen Anne’s Lace blossoms blowing in the wind, the guard rail. Suddenly it was all elevated to something mysterious and powerful, raised by a two-word phrase and the question it posed (what is art?) out of the mundane and commonplace.

And of course that is what art does — the very phrase itself while denying itself to be art is in fact art, at least to me, because it caused me, if even only briefly, to see anew my surroundings, to look at them again with wonder and even reverence.

Whoever is applying these phrases may well have different ideas and intentions. But that is true of art and artists as well — they make things for their own reasons, and those things go out into the world to stand on their own and interact with others and those others will inevitably have a different relationship with the art than its creator did.

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