the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

You Call This Art?

taken in Queens today

I don’t know how to define art. Some say it is all in the intention of the artist. Others say it is whatever elicits a response.  I googled “What is art?” but Google, being a prankster,  instead showed me the search results for “What is arthritis?” Considering that it is my birthday in March, I wonder if the search engine was making a snide remark about aging.

Ha Ha, I just told you a little story.  Is that art?

Many have attempted to define art.   Here are two famous folk quoted on the subject

Thomas Merton:

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

Charles Eames:

Art resides in the quality of doing; process is not magic.

Not very satisfying quotes, are they?

My favorite statement on art comes from the Italian director Frederico Fellini:

All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.

I take that as a big fuck you to the idea of defining art.


I’m in Queens now.  Not in New Zealand or Los Angeles.  I’ll talk more about my life soon, but not today.  Right now, it is more life, less art.

It is rainy and cold today in NYC.  California has made me soft; I’m not as used to the dreary weather.   Looking for some comfort, I took a walk to a nearby Chinese restaurant to get some won ton soup.

As I meandered along Kissena Boulevard, I passed this garden apartment with an old-fashioned black metal fire escape.   Perched on one of the levels was a red ball.  It sat brazenly, his arms were crossed, peering down at me like that drunk former Merchant Marine who was neighbor back in 1988, feeling disdain at all of the yuppie neighbors moving in.


Red is an evocative color.   Images of Love.  Passion.  Cherries.  “The Red Balloon.”  And my former neighbor.

“But is the red ball on the fire escape “art?” I thought.


No.   Not unless an clever performance artist placed it there on purpose.  In all probability, it was simply left there in August by George Lanza, age 6, a playful but forgetful, brown-haired little boy, who was called in for dinner (meatballs and spaghetti, of course, since it was Tuesday) by his single mother, Juanita Lanza,  age 42, a United States postal worker.

I just made that up.   But something like that.


I took some photos of the red ball.  So, now — is it art?  Maybe.  Who knows?   Who cares? Fellini would say that the photos have less to do with the red ball, than they do with me.


  1. Sheryl

    No, the ball is not art. But your photo of it is definitely art. I think art is any form of expression that nourishes the artist and the audience

  2. Sarah Piazza

    Neil the philosopher!

    And… looks like art to me.

  3. magpie

    Yes, it’s art. Art is in the eye of the beholder.

    Also, perhaps you need to read (re-read) Benjamin: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I’m thinking I do too.

  4. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    So the red ball is autobiographical art born out of your struggles? No offense, but I don’t want to know about your red ball. {cough, cough}

  5. Lisa Golden

    This has all the elements that I believe are art. But who am I to decide?

  6. Jennifer

    Art is in the heart of the beholder.

    That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

  7. The Honourable Husband

    Take the red ball in context with the blue pail. The red ball alone might have been placed there with artistic intent. But the haphazard arrangement of the blue pail suggests that both were just left there at random, perhaps by a kid impatient for summer, pretending the fire escape was a beach.

    Which would be a story, but still not art.

    Just because it has meaning, doesn’t make it art. And something doesn’t have to be art before it can have meaning.

  8. alejna

    I love that last photo, especially. And I’d put your photographic interpretations of the scene in the art category, if not the ball and fire escape themselves. Not that all photos are art.

    I like Fellini’s idea about art, too. I’ll have to think about that some more.

    I find myself thinking about how not all art is necessarily good, or necessarily appeals to everyone. Just because something is *bad* doesn’t mean it can’t be art. Just like some autobiographies are poorly written. Or boring.

    While I’m sorry that you are unhappy to be away from New Zealand, I look forward to seeing more of your photos from New York.

  9. Elizabeth Aquino

    I imagine that anything called art just deepens mystery, and so you have done so here with the red ball.

  10. Nance

    Well…I know what I like, and I like the last photo.

  11. Sara

    That’s the thing about art though, isn’t it? It really doesn’t matter what others think about it. The oyster does not make a pearl to please anyone – it makes a pearl to please itself; because it has no choice…because it was born to do it. And if someone likes it, all well and good but not really relevant. So I guess I think art is about the artist 🙂

  12. Megan

    Apparently art is a lot like pornography: We know it when we see it.

    I’ve always thought of art as taking that which isn’t necessarily beautiful, something mundane, and making it beautiful, interesting or thought-provoking.

  13. Levi Kiely

    Albert Einstein once compared Art with Friendship. He said that friendship, like art, has no survival value rather it adds value to survival.
    Regardless of the subject and quality Art is Art.
    Monet was most likely legally blind and Beethoven was deaf. Instead of trying to define Art, llive it and enjoy it!

  14. Kevin

    Does it move people? If so, I’d say it’s art.

  15. Lily from It's A Dome Life

    Art is defined by relationships.

  16. Alma

    I’m sure the way you hold your phone is art. Like the way my husband hugs the wheel with his pinky while driving. Sometimes its the things that are natural, things that make you …you.

  17. hello haha narf

    i have no doubt that your photos are most definitely art in my eyes.

  18. gkgirl

    the photos…definitely art.
    the words you wrote “brazenly, his arms were crossed, peering down at me like that drunk former Merchant Marine who was neighbor back in 1988, feeling disdain at all of the yuppie neighbors moving in.”

    also art.

  19. ozma

    Everything is art.

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