Part One – Exercise 1.3 Art and Other Things

Before looking at the specific examples from the exercise I am wondering even more about

What is Art? 

Reading the course materials and some reference books it seems that art can not be defined accurately nowadays. Highly subjective and perhaps rather a social construction – an institutional fact as J. Searle would say, based on agreement, rules, and with an assigned status function of power applied to it. (Searle,1996, 95-101).

Perhaps one can ask what is not art? I found some more or less humorous definitions of art at:

There are assumptions and ideas about what it could be related to (Pooke, 2007, 5):

  • Art academies (fine art) with distinction by function (display or technical use and design)
  • Producing aesthetic value (film, performance, architecture)
  • Institutional theory of art (by artists and institutions)


The example of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) comes to my mind. Duchamp submitted in 1917 under his pseudonym ‘R.Mutt’ an urinal and titled it ‘Fountain‘ to the open exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York. As expected by Duchamp the work was rejected on the grounds of immoral, vulgarity and plagiarism as a piece of plumbing.

For him the artwork was based on taken away the significance of an ordinary object with the new title and creating a new thought by this. (Lippard, 1971). For me the first time I read about creation in context of art (not mentioned on the course material).

I find the expression by John Cage from an artist perspective quite insightful though challenging: “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it” (Ward, 2014, 166-7). Gombrich went the same way as Cage and articulated 1984 that “there really is no such a thing as Art. There are only artists.” (Pooke, 2007, 4)


In what sense could be the following items works of art? Take a speculative approach to this question. Don’t say whether you think they are, or should be, considered as art. Rather say how someone might see them that way.


Dyson vacuum cleaner:

Dyson Ball Multi Floor (Formerly DC39 Origin)


The unique bagless vacuum cleaner by Dyson with a patented engineering design (1978) can be seen in the context of the Dutch design movement ‘De Stijl‘ founded 1917 in Amsterdam and with Piet Mondrian as the pioneer of the movement. They put an emphasis on abstraction, form and bright primary colors (MetMuseum). The term neo-plasticism was created and expressed by Mondrian in his essay ‘Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art’ (Tate):

“As a pure representation of the human mind, art will express itself in an aesthetically purified, that is to say, abstract form. The new plastic idea … should find its expression in the abstraction of form and colour, that is to say, in the straight line and the clearly defined primary colour.” (Piet Mondrian – Tate)

A similar movement with focus on combining design, craft and fine arts was the German Bauhaus (1919-1933).

One can see how the key aspects of that movement were applied by Dyson in their design of the vacuum cleaner in emphasising the unique functionality of it. The Dyson vacuum cleaner can be considered as art based on its visual appealing form of a mundane object with beauty derived from the straight functional lines and shapes and the limited use of bright color.  Though an ordinary practical and daily household item it would fit well in a collection with CocaCola bottle. Quite in the spirit of PopArt.

One could also link the Dyson vacuum cleaner back to the Greek origin of ‘τέχνη (techne)‘ that supports the skillful craft of an object with a clear purpose (Pooke, 2007, 6) – in this case to suck dust at home.


Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland:


John Tenniel (1820 – 1914) was a British illustrator, graphic humourist and cartoonist. He contributed regularly to the magazine Punch with political cartoons. His woodblock engravings for the book publication of Alice in Wonderland could be considered as art for its visual conscious depiction of imagined scenes in a narrative drawing style. As an artist Tenniel explored various characters in society and eventually the grotesque characters form Alice in Wonderland and translated key features into pictorial images. He applied his artistic skill of line drawing and tonal shading to represent an imaginative and illusionistic scene that conveys the written story into a pictorial form with a unique sense of atmosphere that delivers a story in visual form.

Public domain images are available from: 


The Nazca lines:


The Nazca lines are geoglyps (design on the earth made from durable objects from the natural environment e.g stones) in the desert of Southern Peru. They were created by the Nazca culture in the period between 500 BC and AD 500 (see: Wikipedia, Unesco). There are two categories of glyphs: representational  (zoomorphic and phytomorphic designs) ones and a group of rather straight lines.

They can be considered as art as a form of LandArt, earthworks, where nature is the surface and material for sculptural shapes. LandArt became popular in the 1960s with main focus in North America (e.g. Robert Smithson ‘Spiral Jetty‘, 1970). The unique and fascinating expression of the Andean’s cultural desire to leave a mark in the world of exposure to its immediate environment. The Nazca lines do act as a mean of visual communication in the sacred religious context. The glyphs do represent a symbolic meaning. A good example of non-western aesthetics although it would fit well in the formalist theory of art articulated by Clive Bell (1881 – 1964) who focused on the formal aspect of artwork (appearance, composition) (Pooke, 2007, 12)


Online images:
[all accessed 27-28 Jan 2017]



  • Harrison, C. en Wood, P.J. (red.) (2002) Art in theory, 1900-2000: An anthology of changing ideas. 2de editie. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Lippard, L. (1971) Dadas on Art Englewood Cliffs, NJ in: (Harrison, 2002, 252)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art ( ) ‘DC02 De Stijl” Vacuum Cleaner‘  Available from:
  • Popova, M. ( ) ‘What Is Art? Favorite Famous Definitions, from Antiquity to Today‘ BrainPickings. Available from:  [accessed 22 Jan 2017]
  • Pooke, G. en Newall, D. (2007) Art history: The basics. London: Taylor & Francis.
  • Searle, J.R. (1996) The construction of social reality. London: Penguin Books.
  • Tate Gallery ( ) ‘Neo-Plasticisim‘ Available from: [accessed 27 Jan 2017]
  • Unesco ( ) ‘Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa‘ Available from: [accessed 28 Jan 2017]
  • Ward, O. (2014) Ways of looking: How to experience contemporary art. London, United Kingdom: Laurence King Publishing.
  • Wikipedia ( ) ‘Nazca Lines‘ Available from: [accessed 28 Jan 2017]
  • Wikipedia ( ) ‘John Tenniel‘ Available from:  [accessed 28 Jan 2017]


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