What is a Work of Art?

Research & Reflection

I have been questioning this more recently as I start to explore and create with different media. Is embroidery art? Or is it a craft? What is the difference, if any, between arts and crafts? Someone like Marcel Duchamp certainly challenged the distinction between art and objects!

I brainstormed a list of features that I believe art to have and then put these to the test with two famous pieces:

  • Originality – it is the result of a unique idea.
  • Uniqueness – it is a unique object, the only one of its kind.
  • It is made by an artist (the definition of an artist is also one that can be questioned).
  • It is not intended to be a functional object.
  • It is a thing of beauty (as defined by the standards of the period, as opposed to personal taste).
  • It is thought-provoking.
  • It is imaginative. 
  • It is emotionally expressive.
  • It has been made using ‘fine art’ materials and techniques.
  • It is shown in a gallery or museum as ‘art’ and is recognised by professionals in the field of art.

Leonardo da Vinci – Mona Lisa (1503)

Originality – Leonardo’s portrait introduced the original concept of ‘psychological portraiture’, suggesting the sitter’s inner thoughts and feelings rather than simply focusing on the external physical likeness.
Uniqueness – There is one unique Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris and it would be difficult to reproduce.
Artist – Leonardo was an apprentice artist in a workshop.
Non-functional – Leonardo’s was a commissioned portrait. Leonardo’s patron never received his work. Leonardo kept it with him his whole life, possibly because he realised its significance – or perhaps because it did not match the patron’s requirements.
Beauty – Leonardo’s sitter met the fashionable contemporary standards of beauty – her high shaved forehead, for example. His painting of her was a little too radical for the aesthetic standards of the time, however, as it rejected colour in favour of tone, and it took a while for the painting to be appreciated by the patron classes. 
Thought-provokingMona Lisa is so thought-provoking that new interpretations and revelations continue to this day.
Imaginative – Leonardo’s imagination developed a new format for portraiture – three-quarter view, half-length, seated with hands – as well as new painting techniques (sfumato and aerial perspective) in order to find a visual language for his new ideas on portraiture. 
Emotionally expressiveMona Lisa’s famously enigmatic smile continues to intrigue.
Fine art materialsMona Lisa is now regarded as a traditional oil painting though Leonardo used relatively new techniques for Florentines at the time. 
Shown as artMona Lisa is still in the Louvre.

Tracey Emin – My Bed (1998)

Originality – Emin had the original idea of using a still-life installation as a self-portrait.
Uniqueness – There is one unique My Bed installation (though it has to be recreated each time it is exhibited, and certain items will need replacing with time). It would be much easier to replicate My Bed in theory.
Artist – Tracey Emin is an art college-trained artist.
Leonardo’s was a commissioned portrait.
Non-functional – Emin’s bed was constructed as art to be exhibited rather than to be slept in, and was initially bought by Charles Saatchi.
Beauty – Emin’s work is not usually described as beautiful.
Thought-provokingMy Bed caused a national scandal in the popular press over the question ‘What is art?
Imaginative – Emin found a new visual language to comment on what it meant to be a young woman during the late 1990s in Britain.
Emotionally expressive – Emin’s bed is aimed directly at all our senses and makes an immediate emotional impact.
Fine art materials – Emin’s work is a carefully constructed assemblage of ready-made items to form an installation. Such techniques originated before the First World War and were well established within gallery spaces by the 1970s.
Shown as artMy Bed has been on display in Tate.

I do believe to fully appreciate a work of art, we need to know its place in history to gain an understanding of its cultural specificity and meaning. Today we tend to accept the institutional definition of art – that anything which is shown in a gallery as art is art which links back to what Grayson Perry says in his book Plating to the Gallery. It also brings into question works like Land Art that are never on display in galleries.

Tacita Dean

Coursework, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 4: Developing Methods - Traces of Time, Research & Reflection

Tacita Dean

Nationality: English
Born: 1965
Major Works: Disappearance at Sea (1996). Mosquito (1997), Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty (1998), Sound Mirrors (1999), The Green Ray (2001), Kodak (2006), FILM (2011)
Years Active: 1992-present
Medium: 16-mm film, drawing
Style: Films that resemble drawings, no narration or score, no fancy lighting “I like things to happen within the frame”.


Padlet link to research.

Tacita Dean is someone I have been aware of, mainly due to the film The Green Ray which I looked into back in Project One and also from her book Place (Dean and Millar, 2005) but before this project, I would definitely rate my knowledge as sparse.

Expansive is a word that springs to mind when I began to research her work. This one entry can never do justice to the scope and breadth of her work, so I am going to focus on what I see as some common themes that run through her work and particular pieces that caught my eye. I also want to focus on any inspiration I can take for my own creative journey.

Common Themes

As detailed on the padlet research board, I have looked at a variety of Dean’s work, although I feel I still have only scraped the surface. There seem to be some common themes that run through them which I would like to reflect on.

One thing that is clear from pieces like Mosquito (Magnetic) (Dean, 1997), Kodak (Dean, 2006) is a determination to keep older means of producing art and video alive such as 16 mm film. There is a nostalgia for the past and the way we used to create and a focus on keeping these industries alive. Dean herself says:

“There’s something in the emotional language, the emulsion, and the movement and the breathing that makes film a very alive medium, whereas digital projection is inert.”

Tacita Dean

Dean writes in an article for The Guardian (Dean, 2011) about her wish for celluloid film to maintain its presence in art and video and her sadness at the last 16mm lab in England closing. She talks of her process of creating films using 16 mm as being “intrinsically bound up in the solitary hours of watching, spooling and splicing” and how there is a “magical transformation” with analogue techniques that digital can’t replicate.

This has made me stop and think about the importance of the method used to create as being equal in stature to the end result. Modernity seems to continually look for shortcuts, we now have apps such as canva that turn everyone into a graphic artist with ready-made templates and images to snap in place. Is this art? Or in taking all these shortcuts are we losing true creativity and is everything becoming a cookie-cutter replica of each other. There is something about a hands-on, slow and arduous process that reflects in the final piece. Would Dean’s work like The Green Ray (Dean, 2001) have the same impression if it was filmed and edited digitally?

I think people are starting to appreciate times gone by and the processes we used to have. Recently there are movements such as “Slow Food” which has a focus on slow, traditional methods over mass production. There is a sense of loss when old industries die out and artists like Dean are highlighting this with the use of materials such as 16 mm film.

It brings me to think again of Katie Paterson’s Future Library and how the world will look in one hundred years. By reflecting on the past, we jump to thoughts about the future. That is what thinking about Time does, it seems difficult to only think in one direction.

Another common theme I see is this technique that has been described as “drawing with film”. This in some ways seems to contradict the idea of keeping to the old ways. In bringing film into the idea of drawing, are we losing traditional drawing techniques? This idea is explored to some extent in Ed Krcma’ Tate paper (Krcma, 2010) who suggests that drawing is more aligned with analogue technologies like film. Interestingly in this paper a comparison to William Kentridge’s work is made which is a link I han’ tmade previously but I think it is a very valid one as both do use film and drawing together to create something very new.


One piece by Dean I was immediately drawn to was Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty (Dean, 1998). The Spiral Jetty is still something I keep coming back to for inspiration and so my interested was certainly stimulated when I found out that Dean shares a similar fascination. Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty is a sound piece that Dean recorded when travelling to the United States to visit the Jetty. She didn’t find the Jetty but recorded her experience, analoguely of course.

Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty, Tacita Dean

Building on this sound recording, Tacita Dean made contact with JG Ballard who was also a great admirer of Smithson and they exchanged a series of letters over a period of time. This lead to the making of the film JG (Dean, 2014) hich features images of the salt lakes intertwined with Smithson’s Jetty and Ballards short stories. Tacita Dean said of the project:

“Both works have an analog heart, not just because they were made or written when spooling and reeling were the means to record and transmit images and sound, but because their spiraling is analogous to time itself.”

Tactita Dean

In order to mix the landscape and time in the same frame, Tacita Dean used a technique that “used various purpose made masks of different shapes to mask the gate aperture rendering an effect of stenciling, layering the filmed images” (Galerie Marie Goodman, 2014).

I think of Dean using Smithson and Ballard’s work as a basis in a similar way to the Ekphrastic poems. Creating something using a very different discipline based on an earlier piece of work. This has given me a lot of ideas and inspiration about how I may keep Smithson’s work at the basis of something I could create.

Inspiration and Ideas

When I first cames across Tacita Dean in the introductory lecture with her Green Ray film, it wasn’t one of the works I was initially drawn to and I didn’t look too much into it at the time. However, now having spent some more time exploring her work it has given me a lot of ideas and inspiration for how I could develop my own work.

One approach I want to experiment with in the next few days is using film as a drawing technique. I sadly don’t currently have access to analogue filming equipment to fully appreciate this style but am hoping I can create something digitally.

In the future, I want to experiment with analogue photography and filming. I remember the anticipation as a child taking photos where you had to wait and see what returned from the developers and you didn’t have the chance to take 100s of versions of the same shot to get a good digital photo. I will see if I can get hold of a camera to allow to do this.

Looking at Tacita Dean’s work has also renewed my interest in the Spiral Jetty and land art. Perhaps there is a way I can combine “cinematic drawing” with taking photos of spirals in the local environment.


Life Drawing

Images, Other Projects, Sketchbook

This was my first attempt at drawing a life model in person, it is not something I have experienced before and it taught me a great deal.

Each pose was only held for 10-minutes and so I had to adapt to quickly observing and drawing what I saw rather than taking the time to make detailed observations. It allowed me to focus on quickly observing shapes, tone and positions without being too concerned about generating a refined drawing at the end.

I have a lot to work on!

Analysing Art Workshop

Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Research & Reflection

I had the pleasure of attending an analysing art workshop which has provided me with many new ideas for how to approach works of art and has made me reflect on how I have been analysing pieces previously.

As part of the workshop, we chose from a selection of images of artwork to analyse. I was drawn to a sculpture by Adrian Villar Rojas:

Image from Adam Thompson’s Padlet

Step 1 – Initial Response

In this, we were challenged to write down five words that come to mind when looking at the piece. Then, spend more time looking and come up with three questions about the piece.

Five Words

  • Sandwich
  • Destruction
  • Man-made
  • Trapped
  • Regeneration

This was a powerful exercise to me as it made me contemplate the gut reaction you get to a piece of art. Often, we jump straight into analysis without thinking about why we have even been drawn to that piece in the first place.

Three Questions

1. Were the plants put in there or has it been left to grow naturally?
2. What are the top and bottom made of?
3. What do the embedded objects represent? 

Again, I found this powerful as to me, good art should make us ask questions. To me, it is what makes art interesting, the thoughts and ideas that it arouses in us. However, I don’t feel like I have ever written down these initial ideas and questions like this before and it is something I am going to do with pieces in the future.

Step 2 – Description

The crux of the idea here is to describe what you are looking at to someone who can’t see it. Imagine you are talking to someone on the telephone about the pieces of art in front of you.

From the photo, it seems like a massive structure that fills a large section of the room. From the objects embedded like the trainer, you get a sense of size.  It is a multi-layered cylinder structure that seems to have a top and bottom made from concrete industrial waste like sections of a concrete tank. Between the top and bottom are sandwiched in layers, dirt, stones and what looks like more concrete. Growing in the dirt are different plants, some saplings, a bulb, grass and leafy plants. They don’t look planted but as though nature has retaken the object. Also embedded are various items of clothing, trainers and rope and some objects that could possibly be a football? Again these are scattered randomly as if they have been dumped or hidden in a rush. The trainer is a Nike, brand name and looks new. We don’t know how it has ended up there. Maybe not quite perfect from a factory and left with the other waste?

The whole structure is a mix of nature, industry, waste and consumer products. It looks like it could have been dug up from the ground and we are left wondering who made the objects and how have new items being left discarded like this? 

My thhoughts in the workshop

Step 3 – Context

Now comes the research stage. This made me contemplate the order I have analysed in the past. I tend to jump straight to this step without completing Steps 1 and 2 first. We did have some discussion in the workshop about this, and I agree with another participant that it comes down to confidence in many cases. I don’t think I yet trust my own judgement without referring to other people’s thoughts first. When I reflect on this, it doesn’t make sense. Art is subjective and we should all have our own opinions and emotions about it, we should never rely on someone else to interpret it for us. Reading others’ opinions is important as it can challenge our thinking but it should never be at the expense of our own thoughts.

Name – Adrian Villar Rojas
Nationality – Argentinian
Title of Work  – Where the Slaves Live
Date of completion – 2014
Dimensions – 240 x 550 x 24 cm
Medium – found materials
Where can it be found – La Fondation Louis Vuitton Gallery

“intended as a living sculpture”
artists own materials are embedded.

The idea that the human becomes part of the ecosystem. The Anthropocene period. 

Confronts the idea of human extinction.  

“where the slaves live” as a title – who are the slaves it is referring to? – “whose title recalls the Latin root of the word “vernacular” but also a indication of France’s history with slavery?

Context research from workshop

Step 4 – Interpretation

In this step, you start to pull together the first 3 steps and place the art in a context with interpretation. We didn’t really have enough time on the day to do this step fully as I feel like this could be the step that takes the longest time and has the potential for the most in-depth work.

There are many ways to go about this step and we have a whole series of questions to prompt our thinking.

I think when considering this piece alongside his other pieces the common theme seems to be the impact of the Anthropocene and potential human extinction.  It gives us a feeling of what might be left behind when we are gone. As if some time in the future a time capsule has been dug up and someone’s life just ended and their belongings were left behind. 

This invokes a feeling of inevitability about life and can make us stop and reflect on how we are impacting the environment and what our mark that we leave behind will be. Do branded trainers really matter when they are going to be left behind to just rot in the Earth.

There is also a strange feeling of optimism that no matter how much we destroy the environment, it will start to take over again. There is a feeling of the plants growing to heal the scars left by man. 

My interpretation from the workshop

Step 5 – Judgement

In this step, we are making a subjective judgement. Do we like the piece? Is it successful? What would we change about it?

I chose this piece as it was unusual and I wondered what on earth it was. It intrigued me and I immediately had lots of questions about it.

After reading about it and looking at it more closely I am not sure “like” is the correct word. It is an ugly piece aesthetically and in that ugliness, it leads me to question the impermanence of humans and the impact we are having. The ugliness is depressing to look at but also depressing to think about in a misanthropic way. 

In this way, the piece is successful as we need to be asking these questions of our species. 

Judgement from the workshop

Painting Based on The Road

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 2: Encountering Time - A Critical Analysis, Research & Reflection, Sketchbook

After reading The Road extract I wanted to create something in response to the imagery.

I only used burnt sienna acrylic paint to pare back the colours and add to the atmosphere.

I am pleased with my composition as it draws you along the road and the loose nature of the surroundings add to the atmosphere. It feels like the world is closing in on them but the road is giving hope.

Feedback from others

Great work on the shadows on the road!

Great atmosphere and draws your eyes to the distance really well

It reminds me of Russia!

Kirstie Macleod – The Red Dress

Creative Arts BA (Hons), Exhibitions, Other Projects, Research & Reflection

A 12-Year, Award-Winning, Global, Collaborative Embroidery Project by Kirstie Macleod

The idea of uniting people and women from all over the world.

Forst stitches were in 2009, since then it has travelled around the world.

OCASA event had the artist Kirstie Macleod talk about her work which I had the pleasure of attending recently.

British textile artist Kirstie Macleod began the Red Dress Project in 2009. Initially, exhibiting the dress as an installation, wearing it as she sat in a clear cube working on the embroidery. During the next 12 years the dress took on a life of its own, becoming a platform for women, particularly refugees, the impoverished and those living in war torn countries, to express their feelings and tell their stories. Embroiderers from across the world used stitches that reflected both their culture and country, making the dress an international and multi-cultural piece of textile art.


Assignment 2 Feedback

Assignment 2 - Encountering Time, Assignments, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Research & Reflection

I received my assignment 2 feedback last week and thought it would be useful to reflect upon it.


  • My work is thorough and organised.
  • I demonstrate excellent research skills and critical reflection.
  • I am learning from a wide range of creative disciplines and broadening my knowledge and understanding.
  • I am expanding my critical and theoretical competencies.
  • Using a Venn diagram in a creative way to display research more visually.
  • My research observations are excellent in compiling historical, contextual and observational information.

Points to Improve/Consider

  • My analysis can be sometimes too broad in scope. Consider narrowing down to the specifics of what types of art etc.
  • Begin to establish a clearer idea of my creative direction.
  • Experiment with ideas and materials alongside contextual work.
  • Do more making and less written reflection.
  • Activate research in a way that draws connection to my creative ideas.
  • Look at Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate to compare to Aitken’s Mirror.
  • Write reflections for assignments using the learning outcomes for 1.1 Experience Creative Arts.
  • Include access dates in references.


Overall I am happy with the feedback I received here. I was aware that time was an issue for this assignment and I neglected some of the more creative responses to just get to the submission point. I am pleased that my tutor thinks that I have good research skills and that my referencing has improved. I do feel this is a real strength of mine. I do need to continue forwards trying to incorporate a more creative way of tackling each exercise and to include more images of my own sketches, ideas and creations.


Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Project 3: Understanding Interdisciplinarity, Research & Reflection

I thought it would be useful to write down some of my ideas about what interdisciplinarity is before I properly embark on this unit, to see how my ideas evolve as I learn more about it.

For me, it seems a modern phenomenon to separate out ideas into academic subjects. When you look back at ancient times in the early days of academia, people studied far more holistically. The greats of Aristotle, Plato etc weren’t experts in one subject, they interweaved ideas to make new areas of study. Then over time, we seem to have become more and more streamlined in our thinking. In doing so, I think we have lost a lot of creativity and thinking.

Interdisciplinary working uses a range of disciplines to create something new. It involves transforming and creating a new language out of an integrated approach to both thinking and working. Its practical nature reaches outwards and therefore requires us to form connections with ideas from a broader cultural context.

OCA learning materials

This is getting back to a purer ore innate way of looking at the world. It is how children discover new things and learn. Young children don’t do “Art” and “Maths”, they make marks in the mud, count buttons, construct sculptures from sticks, make music using spoons and their plates.

Interdisciplinarity Definitions

Image from learn.oca.ac.uk

I like this visual image on the oca learn site to explain what interdisciplinarity is. It goes beyond a cross-discipline (viewing one discipline from the position of another) and multidiscipline (working with different areas of study at the same time as separate entities) to more integrative practice.

Interdisciplinarity is the study of two or more disciplines with concepts from both the arts and broader global views with the aim to form something new (hybridised).