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In my Video Art class a couple of weeks ago, we got into a discussion (slightly off track for the topic of the day) about what is art and what isn’t art. That’s a big, hairy subject that has no real answer and that brings out ferocious opinions in a wide variety of people.

As it was a class about Video Art, the discussion was mostly about “Video Art” versus movies and TV–but it got broader than that at times. Toward the end of it, I wrote in my notebook:

Reflective emotional response vs. Reflected emotional response

What I was trying to capture¬†is the difference in the responses that creators of media are trying to elicit. Commercial media (movies, TV, Web videos created by big companies) wants you to feel something. Usually what it wants you to feel is a gaping hole in your life where the sponsor’s product belongs. Or, in the case of movies, it wants to overwhelm your senses and activate primal brain functions that will make you tell your friends how utterly awesome watching it is.

Capital ‘A’ Art, on the other hand, wants you to feel something philosophical. Or, to satisfy my own definition of art, it makes you engage your brain and come to whatever emotional response naturally follows.

In my view, both kinds of media have about the same chance of really affecting you. Most commercial media is brainless and unengaging, and what real art slips in happens by the subversive power of the creator, not because the money wanted it there. Most Art is either bullshit or too obscure to mean anything to the majority of people.

Either way, as consumers, we should train ourselves to think critically about what we’re fed.¬† Think. Draw your own conclusions. Consume what engages you. Will it be “Art”? Who cares?