mOp-Ed:  Art or Soup? 

Damien Hirst’s diamond-studded skull” by Aaron Weber licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Mark Oppenheim

Is it art when one person conceives, others plan and still others execute?

Is it art when one painter envisions and paints? And is it still art when a collective of assistants paint and then wait for the master to finish and/or simply approve?

Is it art for Damien Hirst to sketch a diamond covered skull that others manufacture?  If later crafts-people follow Hirst’s plan, or Dale Chihuly’s for that matter, then is it still his work? 

Is the art in the idea, or in the planning, or in the fabrication of the object?  And if the art is the idea, then shouldn’t collectors and curators give more focus to the idea itself and to sketches and documentation of those ideas, rather than largely focusing on an object that may have been fabricated by others? These are important questions for museum leaders considering how they will balance investment in exhibition, education and public programming surrounding the art they present. 

In an mOppenheim.TV interview, Hirshhorn Interim Executive Director Kerry Brougher points out that “…the goal of real art is to shake you up a little bit and make you think in new ways.”

The provocative consequence of such reasoning is this:  if what we are viewing, hearing or seeing does not elicit a shift in your soul, heart or head… then however others define “art”, it may not be art to you.  And if it is art, then the art might not be the object we can touch.


Mark Oppenheim is an unrepentant nonprofit wonk who runs nonprofit search and media organizations.  Click to learn more about m/Oppenheim Executive Search and our Nonprofit News Initiative.

mOp-Ed pieces reflect diverse opinions about the nonprofit world and we welcome yours. If you would like to be a guest writer for mOppenheimTV, please contact us for more information

Arts Media & Culture, mOp-Ed, News
Arts, Media & Culture, mOp-Ed, News