One of my favorite stories is about Fountain by Marcel DuChamp. He found a urinal, wiped it down (or not), signed it “R. Mutt” and dated it. He then entered it for acceptance into a Salon. At the time in France these Salons determined whose artwork “made it” and whose didn’t. He entered Fountain as a joke, as a commentary on the very definition of art being reliant on a small group of people. The funny thing is we still see that today.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

I just taught a class on defining art for TOK, a philosophy styled course in I.B. curriculum. I asked students with little or no artist training to consider their own definitions of art and recognize how their life, values and experiences contribute to their definition. Many people, not just adolescents, struggle with the question, can everything be art? If each individual perception (did you know we all see color differently?!) contributes to our definition of art, does that mean art is different for everybody? And if it’s different for everybody, how can anyone define anything as art at all? Would not art be everything and nothing all at once?!

Tough questions. Even for adults with training and experience in the arts.

Several students were especially indignant at this notion of art being determined and defined by an elite, special group of people: “I don’t want some old person to tell me what is and isn’t art…”

Yes! I said, yes!! I completely agree. And do you know how we can stop this elitist trend? By participating in the arts. By engaging with our arts and educating ourselves about artist tools so we feel confident with our definitions of art and have the means to support our opinions.

Girl drawing back to school by cienpies at

If we all sit on the side of the road, waiting for someone else to call AAA about our flat tire, how long will that wait be? Would it not be faster to call AAA yourself?  To do that, you have to make a choice. You choose to sign up for the program and have the information to make those decisions yourself.

We ALL have a right to be involved in the arts, but that means we all need to get off the side of the road and actively engage with our visual culture. Do you want to wait for someone else to call about your blown tire? Who else is to blame but yourself if you choose not to educate yourself, learn and improve?

That choice the apparent majority of us make maintains a select group of people with influence and decision-making power. Time to sign “R. Mutt” to your own Fountain.

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: What can you do to help? Retweet this. Share my e-book, ArtSpeak, published this July 2011. Read How to Discuss Art.

Food for thought: What do you think the role of everyday people should be in the arts? Do you believe art is undefinable? Do we all have a responsibility for our arts?