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tony h

Is cooking an art?

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I've looked at the UniChef website. It took me some time to convince myself that it was real. There's hardly a sentence that would not qualify for Private Eye's notorious Pseud's Corner. If I ever decide to go on a serious diet, a daily visit to this Compendium Cliché Production will keep my food aversion at a functional level.


John Whiting, London

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Are all paintings art? I don't think so, but artesanal technique in the hands of very very special person; an artist, is all that's needed to elevate it to art.

Art is the transcendent best of things. So why not cooking?

Cooking then, like the manipulation of paint or stone or words or even tiddleywinks, in the hands of an artist can be art.

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There is a traditional and useful distinction between arts and crafts. The Arts and Crafts Movement which centered around William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites understood this perfectly. They realized that art is the result of activity which is carried on primarily for its own sake, rather than for some extraneous purpose. (Architecture is the one usual exception.) The definition relates to the purpose of the activity, not the quality -- bad art is still art.

Crafts, on the other hand, are essentially useful activities which may nevertheless be refined to a high level of aesthetic pleasure. Insisting on the "art" of cooking opens up the word to use by any skilled activity or trade that wishes merely to honor its own practitioners. It also leads to long and useless wrangles over whether a given craftsperson is "good enough" to be called an artist. Someone, I have no doubt, is writing a treatise on the Art of Tiddleywinks.

Steve's paragraph, quoted above, is absolutely correct. Any attempt to tie the word "art" to any qualitative standard, takes us into a Looking Glass world in which words may be made to mean whatever we like.


John Whiting, London

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Steve, although I love to read your writings and think you have a very perceptive intellect, this is a case where you are just flat out wrong

OK, I think I'm in deep trouble here, so I might as well dig myself in deeper.

I disagree with Stefany, who disagrees with Steve, so I should agree with Steve, but I don't.

I can't accept the concept that something is art because the maker has aesthetic intent and he says it's art. That's semantic nonsense. On that basis, a 5-year-old who scrawls a circle on abit of paper and says "That's Mummy" has indeed created a work of art. If that's what you use the word to mean, then the word has no value in rational discussion, and I believe it's not what most thinking people understand it to mean.

Steve is wrong in saying that art doesn't disappear. Stefany quotes some examples, and the Tate Gallery has been filled with other examples.

Steve says that food is designed to be delicious. Well taste is a perfectly valid sense to which an artist may attempt to appeal. Just as much as sight or sound.

And if the intent of a chef is to create unique and new sensations of taste in his food, where is that different from the intent of a painter or musician?

Stefany stipulates that an artist must be a "philosopher and a dreamer". Why ? Says who ? In my book, a philosopher has to be a philosopher, he doesn't have to be an artist, but he's not debarred from also being that. The same applies the other way round.

Who has determined that Vincent van Gogh was a philosopher ? Not another philosopher, for sure. Van Gogh was a nutcase who could hardly string coherent sentences together for most of his life. So was he not an artist?

No, this sounds like self-importance to me. It's the arts community making out that they're important to the intellectual integrity of the world. Not that I'm suggesting that they're not important, but I think they're only important to the arts. My guess is that it's only the visual arts community doing that, the painters, not the writers and musicians and the chefs.

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Actually, Van Gogh's letters to his brother, which run to hundreds of pages, are a pretty interesting read.  John's distinction between arts and crafts is sensible, but I think it leaves a huge overlap.  I am playing the sceptic on this one.  I don't believe anyone will come up with a definition of art to which there aren't obvious and very plausible exceptions.  By all means go ahead, but I just meant to warn y'all that it'll be a long time before you can get back to the food question in any rational way.

Let me put it another way: we can all have our own opinion about what is and is not art, and why.  What is much tougher is to generate a set of criteria rigorous enough to distinguish between what is and is not art, in such a way that objects (in the broadest sense) which are widely considered art fit the criteria, and objects which are widely considered not to be art don't fit the criteria.  Personally, I think that post-Dada, post-Duchamp, post-the Viennese Aktionists, not to mention Warhol, you are in pursuit of the legendary ganso salvaje.  If you do come up with a set of criteria, the easy bit is seeing whether food/cooking is in or out.

Good luck and good night.

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Hey I like being on the same side as William Morris!

StefanyB-Gee it sounds like you know much more about art than I do. But I will bet you that centuries from now, nobody will remember art that has disappeared  :smile: And I take exception with your statement that music disappears. Ending, and disappearing are two different things. Christo wrappings disappear but they are still art. Fortunately, they don't disappear during the time they are intended for display.

So I will stick with my definition of art being something that isn't functional. Meaning, not intended by the artist for any use other than pure aesthetics. So music, films, books, paintings scultpture, dance, and a few others are art. But food is well, food. You eat it. And maybe the best analogy is the difference between dancing you watch, and dancing you actually do like the cha cha cha. And no matter how mean I do the cha cha, it ain't art. Dancing that is art is performed by "artists" who I watch, not participate with. And that is because what they do is purely aesthetic. What I do is sort of klutzy.

And I think that your point about Warhol's soup can being iconography, i.e., not functional, seems to bolster the point that his intent was purely aesthetic. And Campbell's cans are purely functional. Or maybe you can educate me about something here. What stops me from trying to sell a  Campbell's can of soup to a museum?

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Steve and I might come to blows over analog sound recording, but in this fundamental matter we build on the same firm foundation. When I "did" aesthetics at UC Berkeley with Karl Aschenbrenner, the first cliché we had to unpack was, "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like." The flip side of that spinning coin is, "What I like is art, what I don't like isn't." The identification of art with personal preference makes all subsequent discussion circular and irresolvable.

It's interesting that all the cooks so far cited as artists have been professional chefs working in restaurants. So we have at least assumed that these "artists" are *career* artists, doing it for money. Someone will immediately insist that such-and-such a domestic cook is also an artist; my point is simply that we have thus far assumed professional status. The notable exception is our quoted Zen Master, but Zen is by self-declaration outside the discipline of philosophy and aesthetics, and so is free to use the word "art" in any way it chooses, including the paradoxical.

Any object which is put on display primarily to be purchased or looked at is art. A dead animal is art if it's displayed in a museum between two glass plates; if it's served up on a single glass plate in order to be consumed, it isn't. But take that glass plate to a museum, and it *is* art.

There's an interesting borderline area. Our neighbor across the street is one of the world's leading makers of food for photography and display. Her job is to make objects which look exactly like food which is about to be eaten, however fragile, but to make it permanent. The object of her craft is, in fact, deception.

Is she an artist? Her work is on permanent display all over the world. We are into the paradoxical world of forgery. What is the status of something which pretends to be what it isn't? The label which one places on her will be problematical until a museum curator somewhere decides that her work is so remarkable that examples of it should be brought together and displayed, not to represent something else, but as, in fact, art objects in their own right. At that point she will  unambiguously and unequivocally become an artist. Perhaps someday she will be called upon to reproduce the towering structures served up by celebrity chefs in fashionable restaurants. The chefs themselves will be artists only if they design these dishes explicitly for display and then commission our neighbor to make them; at that point she will once again be demoted to craftsperson, like the workers in bronze who made the sculptures of Rodin under his supervision.

(Are my culinary perigrinations art? It's ambiguous; I've been known to eat my words.  :smile:  )


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

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Actually, Van Gogh's letters to his brother, which run to hundreds of pages, are a pretty interesting read

Sure they're interesting, but they're not remotely philosophical. They range between shopping lists, menus, requests for money, and vague rantings.

Wilfrid, why do we need to produce a rigorous definition of art ? All we need is for a sufficiently consensual working definition, and then conclude whether or not cooking in particular falls within that definition. I agree that such a working definition might then be unusable to determine whether the Chrysler Building is art, or Tracey Emin is an artist, but we don't care about those.

So far, I think there is consensus that art has to contain the following  elements:

Aesthetic motivation

The ability to generate a sensual response from human beings

Human creation

There is not yet consensus on :

Innovation

Emotional input

Emotional response

Intellectual meaning

but I don't think it will take long to reach consensus on these minor elements  :wink:

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The identification of art with personal preference makes all subsequent discussion circular and irresolvable

John, that's a major cop-out. On that basis, you can't hold any intelligent discussion because of the possibility of semantic differences. A Rembrandt painting is art, and an ant is not art. No-one in the world will disagree with that. As you add things to that list of two, some things will immediately be accepted as art, and others immediately accepted as not art. At some point, the consensus will get less and less as you go from 100% agreement down to 0%. Those things on which there is inadequate consensus are acknowledged as unclassifiable. So what ? You still finish up with a valid definition of art, and there is no serious problem with holding discussions around that definition.

It's interesting that all the cooks so far cited as artists have been professional chefs working in restaurants

Nothing at all remarkable about that. Why would anyone refer to a cook that no-one had heard of ? You're drawing an invalid conclusion here, John. Art is not in any sense a solely professional pursuit.

Any object which is put on display primarily to be purchased or looked at is art

(I'll assume you mean "and" not "or" which clearly couldn't make sense)

Nope. On this basis a piece of plain wallpaper is art.

A dead animal is art if it's displayed in a museum between two glass plates

Why ? Just because the museum says so in order to justify itself ? What about the fly that accidentally got into the showcase and died from lack of oxygen. Does that then become art ?

..if [a dead animal is] served up on a single glass plate in order to be consumed, it isn't. But take that glass plate to a museum, and it *is* art

This is pure syllogism. You just want to prove that discussion of art is circular and irresolvable. I've already indicated above why the second postulation is suspect. The first has not yet even been addressed by you, much less indicated.

Your closing example misses the whole point. The question of whether a photograph is art or not has nothing to do with the object being photographed, it has to do with the photographer's capability to produce a response from the viewer of the photograph. Your use of the word "deception" is both disingenuous and unnecessarily emotive. The artist presents his perceptions or emotions or thoughts with the object of showing these to others.  Is that deception, is it wrong ? Sometimes, the artist may be trying to persuade others, but that is a specialised sub-form of art and does not come close to the generality of art.

Whether your neighbor's photograph of a steak is art or not depends on how, and with what purpose, she takes the photograph, and what effect seeing the photograph has on a viewer. To say her job is to make something temporary permanent is meaningless - her job is no such thing. She is deceiving only if her photograph is deliberately not representative of the steak she is photographing, but she claims that it is.

Your use of the word forgery is way off the mark. Her photograph claims to be exactly what it is. It claims to be a photograph of a steak. Are you saying she claims that it is a steak ? If so, she must be a helluva photographer.

You then go on to say that she will become an artist only if some museum curator so decides. That's a terribly elitist and quite invalid presumption.

John, I think you laid out your position in the your sentence, and you've just engineered the rest of your post artificially to meet your proposition. And no, I don't think that postal engineering is art  :wink:

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We are trying to reach a consensus where none is required. Does it matter whether cookery is an art? Only if one assigns to art an inflated and irrelevant importance. One may say enthusiastically, "That meal was a work of art!" It doesn't have to be defensible as philosophical truth, anymore than the statement, "I'd drive a thousand miles for a meal like that!" must be followed by a demonstration of its veracity.

In other words, we should allow ourselves our enthusiastic exaggerations without being required to logically defend them. We know which of our friends delight in hyperbole and so can easily determine the ration between their enthusiasm and their discrimination.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

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Macrosan, your posting is so full of misreadings and self-contradictions that I haven't time to deal with them. "Art" and "good art" are not synonymous. Any logical structure which doesn't start from that fundamental fact topples of its own accord.


John Whiting, London

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John, I can't find any reference to "good art" in either of our posts, so I'm puzzled by your comment (with which I totally agree, and which is exactly what I said in my earlier post in this thread)

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I’m going to retract most of what I’ve written about art and start again. We’ve travelled so far from the root meaning of the word that I had forgotten it. It comes from the Latin word “ars”, which, according to Lewis’ Latin Dictionary, means simply “practical skill”. Skeat’s _Etymological Dictionary _  says that the word in its present spelling, derived from the genitive “artis”, first appeared in Middle English and means "skill, contivance or method". The _New Oxford Dictionary_ of 1993 begins its long list of definitions as follows: “1 Skill as the result of knowledge and practice. b Technical or professional skill. c Human skill, as opposed to nature.” Then comes “2. The learning of the schools; scholarship.” Only after this root meaning does it go on to include “3 The application of skill according to aesthetic principals.”

The word “artist” starts out with a similarly broad application, but jumps straight into the realm of scholarship: “1 A person who is master of the liberal arts; a learned person. 2. A person who is a master of a practical science or pursuit; a medical practitioner, astrologer, astronomer, alchemist , professor of occult sciences, chemist, etc.” Only at this point does a modern connotation enter the picture: “3 A person who cultivates or practices one of the fine arts, now esp. painting.” Well down the list comes “6=artisan. obs. A person who makes his or her craft a fine art. M17.” – in other words, obsolete since the middle of the 17th century.

So we may refer comfortably to "the art of cookery", but we should be aware that, if we also insist on assigning the label “artist” to a chef, we are going back to a usage of the word not current for 350 years. My own feeling is that “art” and “artist” are words whose usefulness diminishes if we attempt to broaden their definition so widely as to make them even more ambiguous than they already are. They should not be epithets of status bestowed on a craft or occupation merely as a seal of approval. Otherwise, we are into the indiscriminate world of Alice in Wonderland, in which “all shall have prizes”.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

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Aesthetic motivation

The ability to generate a sensual response from human beings

Human creation

Macrosan, I tried to warn you, but here we go again  :sad: .

Just to deal with your three consensual points:

Art must be aesthetically motivated.  Tautology.  It's like saying an activity is "cooking" if it is "culinarily motivated".

Must evoke a sensual response.  Well, yes, it must be possible that someone, somewhere can see/hear/touch/smell or taste it (note smell and taste, there).  But that's hardly draws a line between what is art and what isn't.

Human creation.  What about found objects?  Anyway, hardly distinguishes art from non-art.

So the consensus thus far evaporates like the air in a gougere.

And the functional thing again.  Major art galleries in New York have recently exhibited motorbikes, clothes by Versace and Armani, and the building plans of Mies van der Rohe.  Functional gear?  damn right.  Not art?  Who made you (and that's addressed to all of us) the art police?  Or does a motorbike  become art once it's wheeled into the gallery and parked up for display?  If so, it would be consistent to acknowledge that a meal would become art if it was served in a gallery rather than a restaurant.

Disappearing art?  Stefany is right and there are a million examples.  Performance pieces (which are not necessarily recorded), walks, happenings, and - increasingly - art works actually created with the intention that they would decay and vanish.  Stuff made out of chocolate for instance.  

As I stated last time we addressed this, I am an agnostic about whether cooking is an art form or not.  And I do not necessarily disagree with some of the views here expressed about what art can and should be.  My role in this thread is anarchistic (by which I do not mean pettily disruptive).  I just plan to point out that art exceeds any boundaries you are likely to try and draw around it.

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LOL Wilfrid, I think you play the anarchist rather well, but that doesn't enable you to get away with logical murder  :wink:

"Aesthetic motivation of art" is only tautological if you have already accepted that art is aesthetically motivated  :biggrin:  and the key is the word "motivation". So if someone accidentally drops blobs of paint on a canvas (no, that's not a dig at 'modern art') even if it looks like art, it doesn't qualify under my definition.

Sensual response alone obviously doesn't draw a distinction between art and non-art. It's not suggested that it does. I simply say that it's one necessary component.

My point about human creation goes to exactly the point you raise. Painting doene by a chimpanzee is not art. Found objects are not art. They may imitate art, but that's about it.

And I'll repeat that I believe there is very wide consensus on those three elements.... except for declared anarchists, of course  :raz:

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I’m forced to retreat even further. Looking up “Cookery” within another context, I find the following in Alan Davidson’s _Oxford Companion to Food_:

“SKILL, ART OR SCIENCE? This question is sometimes posed. The answer must be that cookery can be any or all of these; it depends on who is cooking, in what context, and for what purpose.

“The language used in medieval cookery texts (mostly manuscripts) is consonant with the skill view. Yet there is also a touch of what would now be called ‘science’ in some of them, because they assume that the choice of foods and combinations of foods is a branch of medicine, or at least a close ally thereof; see GALEN and FOUR HUMOURS.

“Next, the art view. This necessarily has to be combined with the skill view. If cookery is an art, then according to the normal usage of the terms ‘art’ and ‘artist, it is only done well and properly by a limited number of people—corresponding in practice to the great chefs of the time. They are the artists, who stand out like mountaintops among the foothills. Lower down come the vast majority of the practitioners, who go through similar but less complicated and subtle motions in their kitchens, and who are no more than artisans.” [Note Davidson’s condescending use of this word.]

He then goes on to trace this view through history, and then deals with the science view, culminating in Harold McGee. The final summing up reads:

“The 20th century has seen, on the whole, an increasing tendency to treat the most prominent chefs as artists. At the same time, however, the works of McGee and others . . . have reminded readers that much of the art displayed has to rest on a scientific basis. And, of course, the vast majority of people have continued their lives on the tacit assumption that cookery is a skill, which some people have more than others.”

In other words, whether you choose to call a chef an artist or an artisan or a scientist or an entertainer – or a charlatan - you  will find a substantial number of people who agree with you. Who am I to argue with Alan Davidson?


John Whiting, London

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So if someone accidentally drops blobs of paint on a canvas (no, that's not a dig at 'modern art') even if it looks like art, it doesn't qualify under my definition.

Come on Macrosan, these are half volleys  :smile:

Found objects:  what John Whiting said.

Accidental blobs of paint?  You have eliminated a galaxy of modern artists, and I don't just mean Jackson Pollock and the rest of the abstract expressionists.  Francis Bacon avowedly introduced chance drips, blobs and brushstrokes into his paintings - so does that mean that part of a Bacon painting is art and part isn't?  And what if we get into music (John Cage, various Fluxus composers) or literature (automatic writing, found texts)...?

Chimpanzees.  Well, no disrespect to the so-called "outsider" artists, but the art works (ranging from quite elaborate productions to frenzied scribbles) produced by schizophrenics fetch a tidy sum on the market these days.  Galerie St Etienne in New York specialises in this field.  What the intentions and motivations of these unfortunate people are, you are free to speculate.

Note, I am not saying your opinions on these topics are wrong.  Not at all.  I am just pointing to the fact that there is by no means a consensus even at this basic level - in fact a healthy school of opinion on the other side.

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I find flaws in Wilfrid's arguments about Motorcycle's, Armani etc., and his arguments about disappearing which include substantial portions of StefanyB's argument.

First, when the Guggenheim displays motorcycles or Amani, they display them as functional objects where enough aesthetic has been included in the DESIGN. It is similar to the Metropolitan Museum having an exhibition of Richard Avedon photos that were shot as advertisements for fashion magazines. No matter how much Avedon intended that the photos be art, the art was COMPROMISED by the need for the pictures to serve another purpose, i.e., they were not purely aesthetic. So that would make a difference between a Rietfeld chair, or one made by Philippe Starck that you can sit in, and a chair made by someone like a Warhol that is merely for looking at.

This obviously raises the question of what happens when something is designed for a PURPOSE and over time, the usefulness or functionality ceases to exist. Rietfeld is a perfect example because if you are fortunate to own an original chair, chances are you would only display it, and not dare sit in it for risk of damage. But all that point expresses is a statement of value. And that's because the Rietfeld is worth so much money that the value significantly outweighs the function. And to prove this point, after the Guggenheim's motorcycle exhibit is over, and after the Armani exhibit ended, donors drove off on their motorcycles while wearing their Armani suits. Quite a different reality than someone taking something away from the museum that hasn't any function. Unless, you have seen someone wear their Van Gogh as  body shield.

As for diappearing art, there is no such thing according to the definition that John Whiting and I are using. To restate it for clarity, art is something without functionality that is created purely for aesthetic purposes. So anything where an ending is written into the art, qualifies as part of the artists purpose for the aesthetic. So music, books, movies, etc., their ending (or disappearing the way people are using it,) is created as part of the aesthetic. It's not a function of the audience in any way. This aspect reaches to conceptual art as well. As I said about Christo, when he wraps the Pont Neuf, it isn't intended to last for ever. And when it disappears, it disappears in reality, not in concept. He can always wrap it again. But it never ever disappears as a matter of function. It doesn't wear out from use the way a motorcycle, suit, chair, or entree for that matter does.

So nobody is disputing that art can exceed any boundry that we can draw for it. But that boundry is limited by what artists can define as purely aesthetic. And so far, the food I've seen that is art is not for eating. It gets sprayed into permanance. Then it becomes art made out of food. Otherwise, it's merely food and it gets eaten, even if it has an important aesthetic to it.

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As I said about Christo, when he wraps the Pont Neuf, it isn't intended to last for ever. And when it disappears, it disappears in reality, not in concept. He can always wrap it again.
Right. And the "reality" continues in the extensive photographing which usually accompanies such projects.

Another example is Andy Goldsworthy, the creator of truly beautiful structures made of leaves, twigs, ice and other fragile materials, usually in isolated locations. He photographs them and the photos then become a permanent record of the ephemeral.


John Whiting, London

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I've seen photographs of some of Goldsworthy's works. The earlier ones were beautiful and often of a small scale. Then they starting getting bigger and bigger. I think he wound up doing things that look like burial mounds. Do you know anything about that, John?


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Re Goldsworthy: I haven't kept up. I was introduced to his work years ago by Ann Hartree of Edinburgh, who was acting as his agent. Nobody had heard of him and he was working on a very modest scale -- his lonely constructs looked as though nature had produced some utterly remarkable accident. Since then he's become famous, and I wouldn't be surprised if relative prosperity has enlarged his horizons. If he builds the Taj Mahal out of birchbark, I don't want to know about it.


John Whiting, London

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Jinmyo--I, too, enjoy the small-scale fleeting sculptures and feel that they work best.  He has at least 5 books by now, and "A Collaboration with Nature" (1991) remains the best for me with "Wood" second.  But I have family members who disagree and find charm in his others.

The burial chambers are in "Time."


Steve Klc

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Quote  

A dead animal is art if it's displayed in a museum between two glass plates

Why ? Just because the museum says so in order to justify itself ?

I think you misunderstand the role of Museum's and Galleries.  Their primary roles are (amongst other things) to preserve their objects, increase awareness through education and to research/curate their collections.  

Large public Museums & Galleries don't reallly set trends but reflect what's going on now or enlighten us about the past.  Smaller privately run galleries can set trends by finding new artists but rarely do major public galleries show untested or unknown artists.

The media & critics (real critics, not just hacks) probably have more of an influence in deciding what's worthy of seeing or talking about.  And if no one talks about you how do you get known?

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Quit so, BLH, but I think you've slightly missed the point at issue in the quote you've pulled.

By displaying an object, an (art) museum is stipulating that the object is indeed art. It's using its name and reputation to validate that judgement. My point is that some such museums first decide that they want to exhibit something in order to attract publicity, maybe notoriety, and thereby crowds. To justify their headline-grabbing display, they have to claim that their exhibit is art.

I just don't trust museums, with the financial pressures they have, to be the guardians of the English language. And my lack of trust is continually confirmed by the antics of galleries such as the Tate.

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