What is Art? Who determines what Art is? Who has the authority to attribute a particular interpretation to a work of Art? Why do we reject certain works as not being Art and accept others? Mary Anne Staniszewski, the author of Believing Is Seeing, says that â€œ[t]o question Art and to see it as something that has a specific history and belongs to a particular era can tell us so much about our culture and ourselves.â€ Consequently, she wrote this book in order to determine â€œhow things come to have meaning and valueâ€ (1). As a result of changing values and the way in which institutions affect how values and meanings are arrived at, contemporary art is viewed today very differently from the visual work of the past.
Stanizewski defines Art as an invention of the modern era. She says, â€œArt, as we know it is a relatively recent phenomenon and is something made to be seen in galleries, preserved in museums, purchased by collectors, and reproduced within the mass media. When an artist creates a work of Art it has no intrinsic use or value; but when this artwork circulates within the systems of Art (galleries, art histories, art publications, museums, and so on) it acquires a depth of meaning, a breadth of importance, and an increase in value that is greater proportionately than perhaps anything else in the modern worldâ€ (28). In other words, it is not until a work of Art is put in the public eye that it is truly considered â€˜Artâ€™ and given meaning and value. Institutions have become the ruler with which we measure and define what is or is not Art. For example, a urinal is seen as something functional in its natural environment; yet when Marcel Duchamp placed a urinal in an art exhibition in 1913 and called it Fountain, it was transformed into sculpture. Duchamp himself described the conventions by which we measure Art today, saying, â€œIt is we who have given the name â€˜artâ€™ to religious things; the word itself doesnâ€™t exist among â€˜primitives.