More Nonsense on Wine and Art

art and wineIn an otherwise interesting comparison between the fine wine market and the market for fine art, the wine research institute Areni Global claims that wine is not art. As is usually the case with such claims, the arguments are risible

The question of “what is art” is an ancient one that can be endlessly debated. But at its most fundamental, it’s a unique work of human hands that’s intended to be appreciated for its beauty, emotional power, or insight. Craft, on the other hand, is something based on skills and techniques that can be reproduced. Contrary to art, it does not seek to generate deeper thinking and to invite reflection on who we are as individuals or society.

This is just confused. There are many ways to appreciate wine but surely one way to appreciate the very best wines is for their beauty, emotional power, and insight. Wines express vitality, attitudes toward nature and culture, toward time and its depredations, the tension between stability and change, predictability and contingency. Wines can be aggressive, sensual, playful, dignified, brooding, tense, or calm.

The (unnamed) author suggests that winemaking is a craft. Indeed it is but almost all art is also based on craft. It takes great skill to manipulate materials in the way that painters, sculptors, and environmental artists do, and these skills and techniques are reproducible.

Of course the creation of works of art requires more than reproducible skills. What is that additional element? The writer suggests it is the ability to “generate deeper thinking and invite reflection on what we are as individuals or society.” Some works of art invite reflection on such matters. Picasso’s Guernica invites reflection on the horrors of war, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks on loneliness, Munch’s The Scream on alienation. But some works of art have no particular subject matter. What is Pollacks Number One about; or a color field by Rothko? They don’t comment on individuals or society. It isn’t obvious they are commenting at all.

Thus, inviting reflection on a subject matter is not a necessary condition for something to be art. And in any case wine also invites reflection on a variety of themes.

The author adds:

Winemakers bring something of themselves to the wines they make, but ultimately their job is to get out of the way and let the site express itself, or to reproduce a blend. Wines from the same site made by different winemakers will have a lot in common with each other. This is not a small distinction. It has enormous ramifications for the secondary market.

The implicit assumption here is that art is about the self-expression of the artist and thus each work of art is unique.  Indeed some works of art are about the artist’s point of view or inner life. But some works of art are about the materials used to make the work. Textile art and environmental art explore materials just as a winemaker explores the potential of the grapes used in a cuvee. And of course works by artists working within the same genre will have “a lot in common with each other.”

I have yet to find an argument that wine is not art that is even remotely persuasive.

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