Is wine art?

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The response of most people to the question, ‘is wine art?’ will be, ‘who cares?’ But I think it’s an interesting question, and it’s one that floated around in my mental space on a dog walk yesterday.

What is art? What is an art object? I recently had a look round a display of contemporary art at the Almenkerk winery in Elgin, which is curated by a South African academic. One of the pieces was a bit of gum stuck to the wall, while another was a section of piping with a tap in the middle, lying on the floor.

So what is it that transports these mundane objects into the realm of art? Is it the intent of the artist? That’s an unsatisfying answer. Of course, there’s potential for a digression here. Does something being classified as ‘art’ indicate that it has some merit? Is there good art and bad art? If I were to take six stones from a beach and arrange them, and call this art, is it really art? Would it make a difference if these six stones were arranged by a professional artist?

I think a much better answer is that something is art if it has meaning to an observer. If I go to a gallery and see a painting or an installation, then if it has meaning to me beyond its physical constitution or nature, it is art. Going back to the earlier example, the pipe and tap is art if it means more to me than simply being a pipe and tap.

Art is something that is experienced by our senses. So does art exist across all the sensory modalities? Traditionally, the proximal senses of touch, taste and smell have been excluded from art, as these are seen as being secondary to the distal senses of sight and hearing.

With food and drink, the act of experiencing them consumes and thus destroys them, which also counts against them as being regarded as art. But now we see that perception is a unity, and that breaking up the senses into separate modalities is illogical (most perception is multisensory, and subject to lots of hidden brain processing), then maybe we should rethink whether smells or tastes can be ‘art’.

As for wine, most of it is consumed without too much thought. It is just wine. But fine wines – those wines that prompt commentary or conversation – are different. It could be argued that the experience of some wines, including the setting, the presentation, the label, the theatre of opening and pouring, and then the act of drinking, could be classified as art. Some art forms are participatory, and with the experience of fine wine, we join in. We bring a lot to the wine tasting event, and it is our participation, and the meaning that we derive from the wine, that I think allows us to consider wine as art, in some settings.

10 comments to Is wine art?

  • I believe art can be anything and everything. It is always a matter of intent, however. It is not art without someone intending it to be. One can look at something and be puzzled: Is this art?’ A joke? Am I missing something? This means of course that there is good art and bad art and I decide for myself. The world and critics also decide for themselves. Kind of like wine. If I’m a winemaker and I claim my wine is art then I’m inviting people to judge it on several levels and I might not like the conclusions. To judge wine as art throws it into the purely subjective without any pretense to objective criticism or analysis.

    Glad to see your mental space is occupied in such a way.

  • For me, art is defined by anything and everything that happens to your senses and intellect after the first instant you experience it.That is all filtered by influences and frame of reference. Leaves beneath an elm in winter, a flight of starlings glimpsed for a blink, a Vermeer, a poem. Kanye West, an XKE are all the vehicle of art. Does an individual view it as art if it doesn’t appeal to them? Maybe. I have a strong preference for Art Nouveau. yet have no interest in Asian art even though the latter influenced the former. Wine as art? It all relies on understanding the underlying significance of the moment. Some people may make mimosas with Salon while others take their ‘pillow wine’ to French Laundry and pay the corkage. Which is viewed as art? You get six collectors together with some 45 Bordeaux, or 59 burgundy and you have people appreciating art. If I look at a Monet, I know it is a Monet, and it is art. If I look at a bottle of red wine, it is simply a red wine until I realize it is a 61 Latour and then it is clear it was never going to be a match for this bag of Doritos

  • Keith Prothero

    I spot an Olerasey :)

  • if wine is art, who is the artist ?
    winemaker ?
    terroir ?
    vintage ?
    hum …

    to make thinking that wine is art gives opportunity to have incredible price level.

    the only genius is terroir. Art is a view of spirit. Some good winemakers have the chance to make wines on very great terroirs, to make great wines. But it’s process and not art.

    regards and sorry for bad langage

    J Pérez
    http://www.lapassionduvin.com

  • Most wine is ART when captured through my microscope. I have been photographing the incredible beauty in wine for decades. Some are amazingly complex in their expression, others not so much. And the images of the inner art of wine show that a wine grows up – tiny geometric shapes grow larger with age, until…… Check out this page to see the art in wine. http://sondrabarrett.com/wine/ Lots of wine portraits here – http://sondrabarrett.com/services/.
    Even without the photography I believe that wine is a blend of art and science bringing out the spirit of the vine.

  • Patrick

    Here’s a better question: Do winemakers express themselves? If so, to what degree compared with artists? Are winemakers like graphic designers? Potters? Abstract Expressionists? Winemakers could actually answer this question, unlike the question originally posed.

  • As a philosopher currently working on a book on the art of wine, I would argue that art is anything primarily intended to produce an aesthetic experience and that exhibits a requisite level of creativity. It seems to me we value art as an accomplishment because it is a product of creativity.

    Wine is peculiar because the vines themselves contribute to the creation, although it’s important to remember that in all art, the nature of the materials matters. The fact that the winemaker has a collaborator, nature, does not disqualify some wine from being art. As to the ephemeral nature of wine as an art object, the fact that it is consumed and thus disappears in the process of appreciating it should not be a defeater. Otherwise, performance art would not qualify.

    Some wines express the vision of the winemaker; others express the nature of a particular location. Both can be art if the expression is distinctive.

  • hi Jamie: though there’s lots of controversial stuff here to take issue with, I wanted to push back on the narrower issue about sensory modalities. surely you’re right that it’s silly to stipulate experiences from so-called proximal senses out of the realm of the aesthetic. but you make a much stronger claim in taking the the multisensory character of (and post-receptoral processing in) most experiential episodes to support the idea that “breaking up the senses into separate modalities is illogical.” there are, of course, different forms of multisensory integration — some are and some are not well-modeled as summations of independent unisensory components. but even allowing that there are some cases not well understood in this way, this doesn’t show that there is no explanatory use in distinguishing the modalities. it just shows that the taxonomy is going to be subtle, and will have to take account of different kinds of interaction effects. no?

  • Pat Neville

    Why do I get the feeling that Alan Sokal is out and about again?

  • That is a very sensible and well argued position. But what if all experience is a unity? Should we emphasise single sensory modalities in the way we have in the past? I’m just thinking out loud. Of course, you can have a purely visual or auditory experience. And if someone loses receptor function this shows that importance of that input. So maybe I was overstating things.

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