MotW: What is art?

Author: Benjamin Franz 


Ralf Langer's model shows us an abstract art exhibition and the different understanding of art. He asks no more modest question than that of what art actually is.


So hopefully we are now all in domestic quarantine. In the meantime, it is simply necessary. As necessary as it is, I also miss meeting my friends, going to the library to celebrate and of course visiting museums. What is there left to do? Just reading and surfing on the internet? Ha, as LEGO enthusiasts we have something different. If we can't see the world, then we create our own. 


A world full of joy, friends, action, beautiful architecture and of course culturally ambitious. If we can't visit cafés, bars. clubs, libraries, museums etc.,  then these places comes to us. Perhaps Ralf Langer, the creator of todays build, will have thought of that while building his newest masterpiece showing an exhibition in an art museum. And as I really miss visiting exhibitions he offers me at least to write about his LEGO built abstract art exhibition. Thanks for that my friend.


So it's time to take a closer look at Ralf's "The Art of Greebling". For behind this humorously designed model, there is a fundamental question of modern society: what is art?



"The Art of Greebling" by Ralf Langer. 

Is the model just a little joke or is it rather a serious question of what people actually see as art?





First of all isn't that a really fantastic build? Yes, it is. I have seen quite some attempts on depicting museums with LEGO bricks but this is clearly my favourite so far.  I mean just look at those textures on the wall and of course on the floor as well. This is just brilliant but doesn't surprise because it's the same artist that made the "Magnum Opus Fachwerkus" build which deals with medieval plagues. Scary how current this topic got now.


To put it a little more objectively. Ralf simply knows how to deal with different building techniques. You see, he knows which ones can be combined well. Ralf uses here different SNOT variants. The different works of art hanging on the wall show this most clearly. Impressive is also the deviation in the ground, which shows something that can be imagined in many especially older museum buildings. The mosaic in the middle, this area that is white from the outside, appears typical. But what is anything but typical is the skilful representation.


And overall: just pure love for these uneven walls made out of bricks and tiles. 



The never ending question


Ralf is not only one of the most advanced LEGO artists I know. He also puts meaning into his buildings. Ralf actually builds all his models with a certain intention. In this one he asks the modest social question, what is art actually? He shows this through his intergenerational representation. And as we see, the answer differs.


The older man says the sentence: "They used to have naked chicks here when I was young." Ralf makes it clear that the model is by no means misogynistic. He shows this with the reaction of the young girl in the foreground with her teddy bear. Her facial expression screams for external shame. She is clearly embarrassed by the statement of her grandfather(?). The relationship between the two is not revealed. Also the other characters present (mainly female read), seem to have noticed this comment of the man and look over to him. We as the recipients of this model are encouraged to laugh briefly at the joke but also to understand the clear message that art is more than "naked chicks".


What does that show to us? We see that there is supposed to be an age difference that influences what is perceived as art. Apparently the old man can't handle too much of the abstract art exhibited there. He has always perceived art in a different way than the representation that is now probably presented to him here on this Sunday excursion with his granddaughter. 


And this is certainly not his individual fault.

We see the way we look at art and what is declared as art varies from time to time. There is no clear definition of what is art. To call something "art" means to attribute a certain social relevance to the object. So this question is  always about sovereignty of interpretation and power struggles. This means it's a social product of his time to see art in that way. Although I would like to say that this view is very exaggerated in this model. But that shouldn't stop the old man from learning a little more.


Historically, there are enough examples of this. If we pick out the declination of "entartete Kunst" (degenerate art) from the Nazi era, it becomes clear that an attempt was made here to collectively record what was considered art and what was not. Under the Nazi regime, all works of art and culture that could not be reconciled with the National Socialists' understanding of art and ideal of beauty were considered "degenerate art": Expressionism, Impressionism, Dadaism, New Objectivity, Surrealism, Cubism or Fauvism. See for example the exhibition "Entartete Kunst" from 1937-1941.




Now back to the build and the builder. Ralf shows us that art can be viewed differently. In his model he shows an exhibition of "greebles" as an exhibition of abstract art. But what is greebles you may ask. Well "greebles" in the LEGO community are a building technique to detail surfaces.


"Essentially, greebling is detailing that helps to give a LEGO model a believable and interesting appearance, while working together with the color-scheme and shape of the MOC." 


So they say on the There you will find a wonderful, detailed article about this construction method. So Ralf's artworks really fits under a common understanding of abstract art. He himself also calls it "his approach to abstract art."

Final thoughts

Ralf therefore acknowledges the existence of other art. 

But if we recognize that there is no precise definition of art, can we then define everything as art? Yes and no. On the one hand, it can be defined as such by individuals or groups, but recognition as art requires a broad social acceptance. The LEGO brick is a wonderful example for this. Twenty years ago, LEGO models would hardly have been considered art objects, but that is now a more common practice.


So I certainly use the term "artist" when referring to model makers. But only if a certain intellectual level of creation can be attributed to the model. If everything is called art, then art has no value, because it becomes random [1]. On the other hand, we should be open to what certain people, groups etc. regard as art and listen to their arguments. Otherwise we will get into a situation which Ralf probably clarifies in his post on Instagram. 


"On the one hand art has become less accessible, elitist and in my opinion too often just trying too hard to get attention using absurd concepts. On the other hand thinking art is "nude chicks" is at the other side of the spectrum."


And I don't think we want that.




[1] Thomas Bauer describes exactly this phenomenon in his wonderful essay on ambiguity intolerance. Ebd: Die Vereindeutigung der Welt. Über den Verlust an Mehrdeutigkeit und Vielfalt, 11th Ed. Stuttgart 2018.



The concept: MotW (Moc of the Week)


I would like to introduce my "Moc of the Week" to you weekly. (I guess it wasn't hard to guess the time frame with that name.) The whole thing shouldn't be longer than today's article.


Why I start this series has two specific points: First, I want to get back into writing. Because of the Corona crisis I lost my main access to literature and therefore articles I was working on in the meantime are on hold for an indefinite time. However, I still want to write actively again and so I think this is a good compromise.


Second: I have been observing for quite some time now that there are a lot of LEGO blogs, but most of them don't really deal with the models. To put it mildly, in most articles only the pictures are distributed and on the basis of this, money is earned. For me, this is a kind of robbery. It can even happen that the builders of the models don't even know that they are being written about. I consider this to be an absurdity. 


But to do justice to the LEGO brick as a medium for art, for example, you need to reflect on the individual models. And those whose models I am discussing here have simply earned this. In our so fast moving internet, models have disappeared as quickly as they came and can rarely create a lasting impression. This is also due to the fact that the engagement with the builds is much too superficial. If it is more intensive, we can gain more from the whole thing and that's my goal to achieve. Taking the works of others seriously and appreciating the time they have spent to show us their beautful builds.