Is art just a global conspiration of Emperor’s Robe makers? Are there questions that can finally be answered?

Two years ago, I visited the Tate Modern, a museum in London. As I stood near a work consisting of two layers of bricks arranged into a rectangle on the floor, an annoyed visitor asked his friend, “Why is this art?” His hands were on his hips. He was clearly irritated by what seemed to be an attack on his intelligence. Why is that art, then?

Picasso has been quoted saying, “It takes me four years to be able to paint like Raphael, but it takes a lifetime to be able to paint as a child.” This is a reference to the Mona Lisa, which was painted between 1503 and 06.

Studying the Mona Lisa Coulter Sunderman/Flickr

Most artists will end up with the same results if they use perspective, shading, and other Renaissance techniques and rules.

After 400 years, these rules and techniques became stale. Around a century later, avant-garde painters grew tired of copying what they saw. What would you do if you threw out the tried and true Renaissance rules?

Picasso began to look at other sources, such as the tribal marks of Africa (which appear frequently in his works). Jean Dubuffet was interested in the alternative techniques used by mentally ill people. Paul Klee, meanwhile, was attracted to the rawness and simplicity of children’s artwork. The artist likely intended for a modern masterpiece to look like a child created it.

There’s an art to drawing a furry dog. But what are some other, more interesting, and unique ways of depicting dogs? This is a real challenge that requires a different type of creativity than drawing.

Oleg Kulik, a Russian artist, took this idea to heart in 1997. He spent two weeks in a New York Gallery, naked and living in a “dog house.”

It may seem a little extreme, but it captures a lot more about what a dog really is than a still and flat arrangement of graphite.

Four (better!) ways to look at art

What are some better questions to ask if you’re confronted by a piece of art that doesn’t make sense? Terry Smith, an Australian art critic and academic, proposed ” four ways of looking at art” a few years back. Smith’s simple four questions ask about art: “what,” “how,” when,” and why”.