12 July 2018

Five creatives visually respond to the question: What makes something art, anyway?


12 July 2018


It’s Nice That has teamed up with Converse and JW Anderson to celebrate the launch of their latest collaboration. A sculptural tribute to colour and gloss, the new collection sees the classic Chuck ‘70 reimagined in ultra-slick vinyl and conflicting graded colourways. High-energy and provocative, the project explores the intersection of art and fashion, questioning what art is, and can be.

In a series of articles, It’s Nice That will be exploring this topic further. The first, launching today asks five creatives to respond both visually and verbally to the question, “What makes something art, anyway?”

What makes something art? This is, clearly, a contentious question, one that’s difficult to answer and that is hotly debated. Primarily, it’s a verb: something which can be “done”. But its existence beyond the physical act of making or doing is much greater than this; it’s a vacuum for self-expression, communication and can help forge a shared perception or understanding of the world. It bleeds into every facet of our existence, influencing the way we think or act as individuals and a society, prompting change or dictating trends.

Art’s crossover with the world of fashion is undeniable, with exhibitions on fashion becoming a staple of many museums’ and galleries’ programming. It’s in the intersection between these two creative realms that fashion designer Jonathan Anderson sits, known for his ability to haul art out of the gallery and onto the runway of his namesake brand, JW Anderson. Now, the British designer has collaborated with Converse to continue this venture, producing a range of shoes which redefine what art is, and can be. The range is a sculptural tribute to colour and gloss and sees Anderson reimagining the recognisable shoes in a vinyl with conflicting graded colourways.

In order to further explore this wide-ranging topic, It’s Nice That reached out to five creatives, posing the simple question: “What makes something art, anyway?”, asking them to visually respond. Below, find out what illustrators Kate Prior, Peter Judson and Fran Caballero, as well as graphic designers the Yarza Twins and artist Jordy van den Nieuwendijk, make of the question.

Illustrator, Peter Judson

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, be it the old-school ideas of immortality and creating a legacy after your death, to the medium as a communication tool for expressing ideals, views, emotions etc,” responds illustrator Peter Judson when asked about his initial response to the question. Ultimately, however, Peter honed in on the personal journey that is the process of creating something imagined.

Peter’s image depicts a maze, spelling out the words “it’s the journey, not the destination,” with its walls. “I think a maze perfectly reflects the process and where I find joy in art, as you often have a goal in mind when starting a piece of work but you can get there in many different ways,” he remarks. “Turning left, right, straight on, sometimes you have to give up and start again. Once it’s done you know and sometimes it’s a beautiful fountain with a nice bench and then sometimes it’s an overgrown patch of grass. It’s the intention to create and the act of creation, not the piece in and of itself.”

Illustrator, Fran Caballero

For Fran Caballero, the question prompted childhood memories of apple prints and colouring books but also the social aspects of art: “viewing and presenting work, and if these actions validate a piece”. Despite these concepts offering him a starting point, Fran’s explorations into them only resulted in imagery of tropes to do with making, such as pencils, paint brushes and canvases – elements he wanted to avoid. “I began to think about the question on a more personal level, and in particular the process of making,” he outlines, “I wanted to visualise the notion of generating and picking ideas. Ultimately I wanted the design to be a physical representation of this mental process.”

The resulting illustration features a gumball machine as its focus. “There’s something quite anatomical about the way it empties itself,” Fran explains. “I felt like this had some tie to the process of generating ideas for work — the gumballs like little physical manifestations of ideas that get used up or discarded out of the machine.” Reaching into the machine is a young boy, trying to cheat the system and pick out his favourite colour in an act that represents a “goofy” portrayal of ideas as physical, attainable objects. “When you break it down, ideas make art, and gumball machines make ideas,” Fran concludes, “or something like that.”

Illustrator, Kate Prior

London-based illustrator, Kate Prior, initially settled on an idea about getting your hands dirty but the “gaping abyss” created by such a question soon sent her into a bit of a spiral. For example, “I thought about the depth of art, the behind the scenes of a pretty picture – like a beautiful delicate flower but with big beefy roots underground,” she recalls. “After I calmed down a little bit I decided to bring the question back round to my own practice and the fact that a lot of my inspiration comes from misheard words and mis-seen objects.”

Kate’s response to “what makes something art, anyway?” features a series of bananas repeated across the image with one resembling the face of a dolphin. “I’d actually doodled a dolphin as a banana whilst on a beach last month and I thought this was a perfect opportunity to give him a platform! I think it’s a good representation of seeing things a little bit differently and having fun with art,” Kate adds, “two things that I always try to remember when working on a brief (and also a daily reminder to get your five a day and be kind to dolphins).”

Artist, Jordy van den Nieuwwendijk

Jordy van den Nieuwwendijk, an artist based in The Hague took an extremely personal approach to the question, basing his piece on his love of drawing certain everyday objects. “I enjoy playing with what I think art is,” he explains. “I, for example, enjoy drawing peppers. After drawing many many peppers, these objects have become something else. I find it hard to say what they have become exactly and why I enjoy painting peppers but gee, do I enjoy painting them.”

His response to “What makes something art, anyway?” is indicative of exactly what it is about art that he loves so much. Amidst his signatures swirls and lines sits an artist painting a pepper, despite the fact that another person – perhaps a more traditional subject – sits in front of him. “I very much believe that we all see everyday things slightly differently, and I guess you could say we also think of everyday things differently. I enjoy capturing them. Preferably with a one cm thick brush on a stick in bright colours.”

Graphic designers, Yarza Twins

Graphic design duo, Eva and Marta Yarza AKA the Yarza Twins, have produced a poster in response to their own struggle answering the question, “What makes something art, anyway?” Having looked at traditionally good art, the pair travelled through history to understand how each new movement redefined and reshaped what art is. From the impressionists all the way through to contemporary artists such as Marina Abramovic. They describe how, “We were discussing how to define art and, after a lot of crying because we couldn’t find a definition, this came into our heads: ‘you cannot define art, art doesn’t have a why’.” Using this statement as a springboard they solidified the phrase, resulting in “Art is not why. Art is why not?”

The Yarza Twins’ poster features GT Walsheim, a typeface designed by Grilli Type for its simplicity. “We didn’t want this poster to be too trendy,” they explain, “we chose this font as it is a bit chubby and looks kind of friendly.” The type is spaced in four equal rows, bolstering the importance of their chosen phrase, bringing in a subtle red border and star motif.

Look out for more news on the upcoming Converse x JW Anderson collection on Monday, in the meantime head over to the JW Anderson website for exclusive colourways on the Converse x JW Anderson Logo Grid Chuck Taylor.

Share Article

Further Info

About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.