The Reasons for something being Almost-Art

There are definite reasons why an art-object might be considered "almost-art" instead of either category: art, or non-art. These reasons can help to eliminate "guesswork" associated with any gray area in between the categories of "art" and "non-art" as they are applied to a particular art-object.

Reasons Why Something Might Be Almost-Art
Code Reason Examples
AAR-1 The object being considered is only part of an art-object, and not enough to be considered art by itself. A few paint molecules in the nose of the Mona Lisa.
AAR-2 The object being considered as an art-object is unfinished (or perhaps, partially destroyed). The Mona Lisa after Leonardo just started to paint it; the Burj Al Arab hotel when it was less than half-built.
AAR-3 The object being considered is too juvenile/primitive/crude, even though there was obviously some attempt at symbolism, estheticism, symmetry, proportion, composition, harmony, etc. Some cave paintings; most paintings by toddlers; all of Henry Moore's work.
AAR-4 The object being considered is more a phenomenon of Nature than an artifice of man. Our world; a sunset; a fruit tree with the sun shining though it just so after a rain; a mountain area lake in situ.
AAR-5 The zeitgeist (or an ideology, or a society) considers the object to be almost-art rather than art or non-art (even though earlier the object may have been considered art or non-art). The crazy-straw; digital watches; a lunch box with a picture of John Wayne or Roy Rogers on the side.
AAR-6 The functional or useful aspects of the object so overwhelm the perception and consideration of the object as an art-object that it is not commonly deemed to be at the level of art. A two-year-old washing machine or microwave oven; a trite lecture; a porn film; a downhill slalom ski run; a coin in circulation.
AAR-7 There was no attempt on the part of the artificer to make the object something to be admired as art, and it shows; but still the observer might admire some aspect of what he sees (maybe even inadvertently, temporarily, or unwittingly). A crutch; a water well; a hiking path; a sentence in everyday conversation.
AAR-8 The import/significance of the art-object as an art-object is negligible. The art-object is low in artistic value (simple, or with little formal value). Tinsel on a Christmas tree, or other decoration without pretense to art; a well made martini; a wedding cake.

The following more concise version of this chart is used throughout the Exhibits (for easy reference):




















Note 1: The above chart was used to derive three other charts: 

     - Reasons Why Re-Non-Re Might Be Almost-Art on the Introducing Re-Non-Re page,

     - How to Avoid Making Almost-Art When Trying to Make Art on the For Artists page.

     - How to Determine if your Child, Monkey, Robot, or Space Alien is making Almost-art or Art on the Non-Human Almost-Art page.

Note 2: The Venn diagram on the Introduction page is included for the abstract distinction it makes, but, the mapping of the categories to the physical reality that it describes is left somewhat vague (like Freud left vague the mappings of his distinctions of Ego, Id, and Superego, to the physical realities of neurobiology). Any particular work of art will also contain aspects of almost-art and non-art. We can examine the greatest work of art so closely that all we see are atoms. So clearly, then, deep down, all art is non-art. If we examine just a portion of an art-object (say, just a few brush strokes of red paint) we may consider that part to be somewhere between art and non-art, and instead call it almost-art.

Note 3: Shifts in the zeitgeist or an ideology can change how we see an object. Sometimes a new product comes out and everyone considers it artistically rendered, art, and perhaps a whole new art-form; and then, maybe many years later, it is viewed as commonplace, and non-art. Is there any art left in the crazy-straw, or the printing press, or the passenger airplane? The very early Greeks used to consider any form of writing as art (that is, when it was also considered a new art-form), but as it persisted as a useful tool for communication some writings were considered more artistically-rendered than others (based on the order of the words, in a speech), rather that merely that they were written. In addition, some things are initially considered non-art, and only much later gain some standing with respect to artistry (for example: coins, suites of armor, early cookware, early train engines, etc.).

The Bigger the Better?

If we tidy up around the house, or improve the house in some way, then the house itself would become more "artistic" (and these activities may be enough to get the house on the cover of Architectural Digest). This would be by simply increasing the house's rating on the scores of AAR-2, AAR-3, AAR-4, AAR-5, AAR-7, and AR-8 (see the above chart).

Considering, then, the AAR-1 category, would increasing a work's size alone make it more artistic? Physically larger works by the same artist typically sell for more than smaller ones. But art apraisals involve many aspects: one of them is size, and another being the apparent significance given to the art-object by the artist themselves (AAR-7). So really, physical size has limited significance, and merely factors in to the overall consideration. The Sphynx or the pyramids were definitely NOT the equivalent of architectural doodles; rather, they were bold statements. On the other hand, the first nano-scale images were important just because of their small size.

Small works of art have the added advantage that they are usually cheaper and less time-consuming to create, they are cheaper to move, they are easier to hide (during wartime, for example), and they take up less space in a display. In other words, sometimes smaller is better.

So usually size is of secondary consideration, . . . but fluff. But, we still tend to notice large fluff.

An art-object's size and the "subpart" consideration above are related. The Venn diagram depicting "art, almost-art, and non-art" on the Introduction page of this web site might be considered as a whole by itself, or a subpart of this whole web site. By itself it might be considered to be less artistic than the web site as a whole might be rated. A metropolitan city contains works of art, but it is so large that the non-art within it might be said to dilute the consideration of the city itself as a work of art so much that we only rate the city as a whole as almost-art . . . and the world, still, as non-art.

Artfulness Degree

Within each category (above) we can consider the degree to which something is art or artful. In order to include as many art types as possible in the taxonomy (see the Taxonomy page), some of examples probably do not rise to the level of art the way that most people think of art, but are nevertheless included in the taxonomy to show where they fit in. For example, mixology, and your favorite drink, might be considered to be on a local peak but mere hill on the landscape of art, a peak much lower than the "mountains" of painting or music at some distance on the same landscape. (See the Comparative page.)

It would be relevant to consider whether, on the one hand, a work is considered by the extent to which it qualifies as "art," or, the reverse, the extent to which it qualifies as "non-art." One could, and probably should, use the above chart to consider the object from both angles. The categories above are not independent of one another (a crude attempt at something might also be considered to be rendered as simple and unimportant, and, by society in general, not worthy of the "art" label); but with this potential complexity, still this chart makes it easy to compare attributes across genre and types, and it is usually easy and not difficult to pinpoint why something is not appreciated like the most esteemed works of art.

If we were to rate each potential art object, we might assign a number between one and ten for each of the categories above. Considering reason one (code AAR-1), one could say that any object large enough to be admired as art based on the other categories is a ten, and that a single molecule of paint is a one, and that just the Mona Lisa's nose by itself would be a three, tops.

One could then do some simple arithmetic. The numbers could be added together and divide by the number of categories used (in this case eight) to give the work an overall rating as to how artful (an average). One could use the median value of the ratings. Also of interest might be the highest number given, and the lowest.

While this might be an interesting exercise, these numbers would be based upon a subjective determination (as given by an individual, or a group), it would be subject to change based on the inclusion or overlooking of aspects that play into that subjective determination, and would change over time as various ideas about art influence the zeitgeist. (Just like stocks, art-objects can become "hot properties," a "buy and hold" sort of affair, perennials, and "stinkers.")

For this reason, using numbers to describe art is not ideal, and descriptions and categories have a hard time "sticking to" most art-objects. Art has always been somewhat slippery when it comes to classifications. Even proposing a middle category between art and non-art is only important where useful.


Just for grins, I'll compare three "art-objects" and show how this numerical approach might work out. I'm going to choose for examples the three objects: the Venn diagram depicting art, almost-art, and non-art on the Introduction page of this web site; Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and the City of Miami, Florida (the real city, not any depiction of it).

First, my Venn diagram scores for the above categories: 10, 10, 1, 10, 1, 1, 1, 1. The average score is 4.4. The median score is 1. The highest score is 10. The lowest score is 1.

Second, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony scores for the above categories: 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10. The average score is 10. The median score is 10. The highest score is 10. The lowest score is 10.

Third, the city of Miami scores for the above categories: 10, 9, 5, 10, 5, 6, 4, 4. The average score is 6.6. The median score is 5.5 (averaging the two middle scores because there is an even number of scores). The highest score is 10. The lowest score is 4.

From the above (and other examples) one may conclude that what we call art would typically score high on most if not all categories. Also, what we call non-art would typically score low in most categories. And what we call almost-art would have some artistic qualities, but the numbers would be all over the scale, and there might be a broad range of values indicating something was not quite right.

Further Distinctions

In addition to those of "art," "almost-art," and "non-art," we already have some distinctions of level within art that sometimes apply. For example, the terms "low art," or "lowbrow art" might be used in comparison with "high art" or "highbrow art." Although the diagrams above are just meant to be useful tools for discussion purposes, we can refer to them one more time and say that within the realm of "all art:" 10 denotes "high art," 9 denotes "art," and 8 denotes "low art."

(referring to the iceburg diagram: We might then consider averages of 4 thru 7 to be almost-art indicators, and less than that being indicative of non-art.)

All It Takes Is One

Note that in the above considerations, if a work is complete and man-made, then it automatically scores high for AAR-1, AAR-2, and AAR-4. Each category or reason is there to catch each of the ways in which something can fail to measure up to our threshold for art. A failure in just one of the categories is reason enough to consider the work to be something other than art.

In the Exhibits, the plaque for each object lists the reasons why that object should be considered almost-art instead of art. (For example: [AAR-3, AAR-4, AAR-5, AAR-7, AAR-8].)