Because art is confusing and we don't always know it when we see it, we at HuffPost Arts & Culture are inaugurating a new series called "Is It Art?"
Episode 1: Internet cat videos.
In case you haven't heard, cat vids have officially gone from creepy-cute to classy. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis held its first "Internet Cat Video Film Festival" yesterday, where 70 carefully selected cat videos played for over 60 minutes. (Stop and think for a moment about an entire hour of cat videos; this is not for the faint of heart.) The event drew over 100,000 visitors, according to the Associated Press. While this turnout is astounding for a first time art event, it pales in comparison to the 80 million views garnered by some choice cat videos. The flick that took top honors at the Walker, "Henri 2, Paw De Deux," currently holds a relatively modest 4 million odd views. We can only imagine that number will multiply.
Henri 2, Paw de Deux, over 4,000,000 views.
The feline fest is part of the Walker's summer-long Open Field program, a single site festival with the stated mission to encourage "relaxation," "imagination," "recreation," and "exploration." The place is the field, and the goal is lofty: The cat film fest in particular is meant to test "the social boundaries of the online community with a live, off-line event as [attendees] attempt to gather in physical space and real time." Will the art fair/social experiment transform the viral kitty experience from hours spent hunched over a laptop eating Cheetos all alone, to an evening of Pinot Noir and heady analyses of camera angles, with people? We're throwing in with the "yes" camp, and here's why:
If a pre-requisite for art is to split opinion, chalk a point in favor of the videos. Gawker's Neetzan Zimmerman encapsulated the main criticism of the film festival, by casting it as the beginning of the end...of civilization. His take? Participants are no less than "actively precipitating the downfall of modern society." AnimalNY's Jane-Claire Quigley offers up a rosy vision of the downfall: cat film fest as harbinger of institutionalized whimsicality, a world where a "PhD in feline film studies" is a real thing. Quigley is pretty open about her allegiances. Like everyone else who's ever gone online, she's watched her fair share of cat videos. But she's willing to wave her flag. "Finally a glimmer of formal acceptance," she writes.
Cat mom hugs baby kitten, over 47,000,000 views
Cat videos aren't, of course, the only genre to inspire advocates. This April, PBS' mini online documentary "Are LOLCAts and Internet Memes Art?," concluding that everyone from Aristotle to Warhol would answer yes. (Fittingly, the video went viral.) Goes host Mike Rugnetta: "People are creating images and sharing them with strangers for the purposes of communicating their personal experiences? That, my friends, is art. Plain and simple."
Memes racked up additional cred this summer when Los Angeles' Gallery 1988 dedicated an entire exhibition to the medium, titled simply, "Memes." Featuring Nyan Cat and LOLCats along with other viral hits, the exhibition elevated the low-brow form at least to the level of "pop-culture art," the gallery's field of choice. Here, perhaps, we can all agree: Hipster Ariel and Honey Badger are probably more recognizable these days than a great deal of contemporary artworks... even the big ones.
Of course, what is popular is not always art. So what is? Fating the text for infinite posters yet to come, Warhol famously called art "what you can get away with." Modern master Damien Hirst, speaking in the era of cat videos, defined art to the Guardian as "childish and childlike." By those parameters, Breadcats still aren't out of the running. Then there's a truly compelling defense from composer Jean Sibelius, who called art "the signature of civilizations." Millions of YouTube comments attest to the fact that cat videos are the John Hancock many of us are practicing these days, at least in the privacy of our homes.
We've said our piece. Cat videos = art. But what do you think, readers? Are our brains just addled from too many cat videos? Let us know your verdict in the comments.
Read more quotes from great artists defining art below: