“What is Art?”

In 1964, Ben Vautier stood in a street in Nice, France, and proclaimed on a sign: “Look at me. That’s enough. I’m art.” Was he right? Could he be a work of art as such? Defend your answer.

Ben Vautier is technically right, depending on how you approach his statement. If we were define art as something that is created by man, according to what George Dickie regarded as the “ordinary dictionary definition”, then he would be incorrect. Following along Dickie’s imitation theory, which suggests that anything can become art when subjected to the scrutiny of the public eye, then Vautier would be incorrect once again. Dickie’s imitation theory, which is an early version of his institutional theory of art, would regard Vautier as incorrect because art is made by man, and even then only becomes art when it can be viewed by the public. If we wanted to be stubborn and persist that Ben Vautier was indeed made by man due to biological means, then perhaps Vautier would have a chance at being right. However, due to the context of something being “man-made” in art‘s definition, then Vautier isn’t made by a man and cannot be art, unlike the sign that he wrote on to declare himself as such.

If we were to introduce the idea of a perceptual shift, using the thought process behind the driftwood test, then Vautier would have a higher chance of being correct. If a person had gazed at Vautier that day and decided to show disinterest in that fact that Vautier was a human, and looking at Vautier as a series of different colors, lines, and curves, then he would have agreed with Vautier’s statement. But surely one person would not be enough to regard Vautier as art? I think it would be. There are millions of paintings the public eye has never seen, simply because the artist has never released them to the public, but to the artist, they are still art. I think the same could be said for Vautier, even if only one person agreed with him and especially if that one person was himself. I’m certain that Marcel Duchamp found a man who agreed with him when he turned [a] urinal into art, simply by starting the perceptual shift in his own mind first. But even if Vautier could find someone who agreed with him by accepting the perceptual shift their mind indulged in, due to trying to accept Vautier’s statement and turn it into a fact so they could agree with him, we are still back to the original problem: art can only be made by man.

This is where the idea of a “sentifact” comes in, the theory that art can be made by any living thing and isn’t limited to only humans. Vautier can be regarded as a sentifact, if we’re allowed to include biology in the explanation. However, we run into a problem with using the term “sentifact” as well. According to John Valentine, an object becomes a sentifact when it fulfills the three necessary conditions: the art must be an artifact, a perceptual shift should still take place, and when creating said art, one of the intentions is that the art is being created for someone else to see it*. This last statement can cause a problem for those who consider unseen masterpieces by famous artists to still be considered art, even if no one except the artist has seen them. This can be easily debunked, simply because the artist can make a painting for only themselves to gaze upon.

Vautier’s final problem with reaching the status of being “art” is the notion of a human being created with the intention of being viewed by others. Yes, a good percentage of people in the world were conceived by parents who wanted children, but Vautier’s problem is that he was created to be viewed by others as art. Once again, if we go with science, then he could be presented as art, if intentionally created by his parents, which most likely wasn’t the case. I don’t think anyone conceives children with the idea of parading them around city, or even a museum, proclaiming their offspring to be art.

I believe that Vautier couldn’t be regarded as art, unless he could say that his parents created him for him to be called art. Perhaps, he could be, if he was the child of a famous celebrity and they were prideful enough to declare themselves as artwork, even masterpieces, but that isn’t the case with Vautier. This fact alone is what keeps him on the same level as the rest of us. Vautier is a fellow human being, but not art, unless we declare that there is a God. In that case, we all are art, and therefore, none of us are.

*That was where I had misquoted him.



My professor thought I brought up some “interesting points”. I’m taking this victory.