Is It Art?

Cassandra Tondro art

Greetings Friends,

A reader generously shared some interesting thoughts about the paintings I showed you last week — the poured pieces with silicone added to the paint to create open cells. Here are her words:

Although these works are interesting you can’t really call this painting as the accidental nature of the process is great for experimentation but shouldn’t be an end in itself. If you used it as a background or worked into the shapes and patterns created then it becomes an original work with the artist’s mark. This technique is too gimmicky. I would like to see you take it further than just the initial pouring of paint. I’m sorry to be critical but it’s the sort of technique that viewers would say maybe unfairly ”my 2 yr old could do that” You have to make it your own.

Her comments got me thinking about what is art and what’s not art.

How about Damien Hirst’s spin paintings? He has taken the technique of spin art, which many five-year-olds have done, and elevated it to fine art. His spin art paintings are considerably larger than the average five-year-old, but other than that, it’s the same thing. Is it art?

Art collectors seem to think so. Damien’s original paintings sell in the six- and seven-digit price range. And his work is in art history books. Are art historians the authority on what is art? Who gets to decide?

Here’s how Damien describes the spin paintings on his website:

The works are described by the artist as “childish … in the positive sense of the word”. Whilst the chance spontaneity of the spin paintings stands in stark contrast to the formulaic spot series, both explore the idea of an imaginary mechanical painter. The results of the spins are controlled purely by the artist’s colour choices and the motion of the machine. Hirst explains the simplicity of their appeal: “I really like making them. And I really like the machine, and I really like the movement. Every time they’re finished, I’m desperate to do another one.”

He really likes making them, and he really likes the machine. Not exactly a lofty concept, but one that I can embrace and identify with.

So called “accidental art” is an exploration of process, learning to work with materials and using techniques that aren’t easily controlled. When I have complete control, it no longer interests me.

I like the serendipitous results of the pushing and pouring techniques that I use. I try to keep these paintings simple and fresh looking without a lot of extraneous marks.

As for children being able do this work, it was Pablo Picasso who said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

So what do you think? Is it art? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts. You can share them with us in the comments section below.

P.S. – I want to show you a couple of necklaces I made out of the poured cell pieces set in wood. They look like miniature framed paintings! How cute is that? I’ll have them available for the holidays later this year.

Cassandra Tondro art necklaces

With love and appreciation,



  1. If you edit the initial pouring,focus, emphasize,add,delete,extract certain elements it will become intention and therefor art,I think.I believe you are already doing some of that by framing parts of it.

      1. I think the question might be ‘why art’ –why do I do art? I don’t always do art for the finished product –I have art inside of me and I have to get it out. Sometimes that’s with paint, other times I might knit or even do different poses in yoga! Sometimes I hit a homerun & my painting is lovely –other times, I have escaped into a different world of colors & simply enjoyed the process while the end result might be a ‘do over’. But I have loved the process. Art originated with our Heavenly Father, whom we can know through Jesus Christ –so think of each individual person on earth –and the earth –wow. We have to almost giggle at God’s creativity. You and I are God’s work of art! Maybe that’s why there is art inside of us that must come out –in whatever form.

  2. First of all I would say to the viewer who said “ your views would say my 2 year old could do this”please speak for yourself since you can’t possibly know what others will think about this piece of art. I love the colors you chose, Casandra. The texture is so interesting. Certainly it could be used as a background fo another subject but i like it alone too.
    Ps purchased your leaf print booklet and it has been so helpful.

  3. Need I mention Jackson Pollack pouring paint from atop a ladder? Of course it is art! Art can be conceptual never hitting a substrate! It is useful to remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And I do love the new necklaces. I still make leaf prints, as any child can do, from an article you shared several years ago. The journey that any of us are on, including the evolution of one’s art, is a fascinating experience. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

  4. Heres a definition of art from “The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.”

    Poured art is influenced by the artist in the choice of colors, mediums, surface, and by manipulation or tipping. The cells and the look of the finished product are also influenced by nature. All art in my opinion is influenced by nature in one way or another even if in a minor way in some cases.

    Some say its craft more than art. However, how many “craftsmen” have been called artists? Many.

    Your pieces are art. They are you and nature combined to make us smile, wonder, think, and appreciate.

    Art is a communication.The artist does their work and the viewer feels something, sees something they never saw before, or discovers something about the artist or themselves. It creates some sort of emotion such as happiness or just a smile. Beauty has an impact on most of us. It reminds us of something or some time in our past.

    Your necklace on the left reminds me of lichen on tree bark I used to love to look at in the yard of my old house . The one on the right reminds me of stones laid at random in a patio I admired many years ago. Its all there if people would just look at art as children do life.

    Thank you for this thought provoking post. Keep up the good work!

    I loved the Picasso quote.

  5. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, everyone! I’m not sure how this debate about art versus craft and art versus non-art got started, but it still seems to be out there. I don’t usually think about whether or not what I’m doing is art, but every now and then the topic will come up and it makes me wonder how we make those distinctions. I want to share this comment that was posted on one of my YouTube videos the other day — the one where I’m pouring paint and pushing the canvas into it:

    “Chimpanzee give paint, it will also create a ‘great work’.”

    Actually, I’m a big fan of the chimpanzees who paint as well as the elephants who paint. I aspire to paint like a chimpanzee! I don’t think that’s what the viewer intended when he left this comment, though!

  6. This post really hit a chord with me. This is something, as a fiber artist, I grapple with too. I used to feel I wasn’t an artist because I don’t draw, paint or sculpt. I feel differently today. According to the definition of art that Michelle posted, my work is art and I certainly view what you Cassie do as art. Your work is so creative and full of energy and movement. I look forward to seeing what new creation you will come up with next!
    PS Love the miniatures in a frame you made into necklaces!

    1. Hi Pam! Yes, I think lots of us go through that struggle of thinking that we’re not artists. I applaud you for coming to the realization that your work is art. Bravo! It most certainly is art.

  7. Hi Cassie,

    This is an interesting topic that came to my mind just yesterday while I was standing in line at JoAnne’s Crafts. While I was waiting I noticed a kit with a few canvases, bottles of paint and sparkly bits. It looked as if there were instructions similar way to the same process that you use Cassie. For just a moment I thought, ‘that’s not fair, that’s Cassie’s art,’ and realized how silly that thought was. And so, for the minutes I stood in line, I thought of the question posed today. My first thoughts were about how you have taken these ideas and run with them. That’s what makes your work original. You have changed up the materials to use only recycled house paint and you are not afraid to go BIG! Also, your sense of color is exquisite and you have learned how to lift and move the canvases to create some effects. This comes from experience and experiment, and people are drawn to them.

    But thinking about art in general….It is a curious thing that folks think that art has to be difficult and and saved for only a few gifted humans; that if a child could do it, it is somehow not art. I think of art as a visual expression that somehow draws me in emotionally. On my own walls I have art that was done my my friends, my husband, myself and among these is an abstract painting done by my daughter when she was around seven. It is absolutely lovely and it holds up just as well as any other framed piece on my wall. And yes, sometimes I go to a modern art museum and wonder how a piece can be called art. But isn’t that what folks said about the impressionists?

    Once an art teacher of mine started her class with an essay assignment. The question was “Why make art? There is already so much of it in the world, surly there is enough. What is it that calls us to make more?” I think that the answer to that is man’s inner need to create and express. Visual art is one way to do this, to show a bit of what is within ourselves to the outer world. However that is done, if it speaks to the artist, and perhaps the viewer, it is art.

    Thank you Cassie for sharing your art and your process with all of us.


    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Celia. Very well said. I know most people don’t realize how difficult it is to do the poured paintings, but that doesn’t even matter. Like you said, why does it have to be difficult to be considered art? Some of my favorite art is work by other artists that is done quickly and spontaneously. I like the expression of the spontaneous gesture.

  8. A child can manipulate the shutter of a camera, but the photography art form is much more than pressing a button. It’s about form, color, texture, etc. And isn’t art somewhat in the eyes of the beholder??

  9. Hi Cassandra
    Just finished reading your last letter. I want to express my feelings about what is art.
    For me, art is a way to express myself. You don’t always have to follow the “rules”. Some of my best paintings (sold) turn out to be “happy accidents”. Two years ago I started literally dropping paint on a canvas. Little did I know how far I would go. When I went to a gallery to see if there was any hope for me, a customer came in and bought one of my paintings. I had not even entered into a contract.

    So far what I have learned is that my art means something different to everyone who sees it. A few times I have been ready to give up on something I am working on, only to have someone say “I really like that”. Some color combinations are better than others, some don’t work at all, but this is what makes it interesting and challenging. So many methods, styles, etc. Who’s to say what is art?

  10. Hi Cassie – at the risk of sounding dogmatic, re: spin, splatter, poured paintings’ being art or not: WELL, YEAH! So many have posted replies that all sprang to my mind – that artmaking, ultimately, is about aesthetic, expressive, or emotional resonance (or a combination of those), so it’s immaterial how hard or easy it was to create. Mozart composed in finished 1st drafts – does the fact that he didn’t agonize over a dozen revisions mean his music isn’t art?

    Pollock has been cited as refutation, already — and your obvious conscious decision-making & how that makes it more than “happy accident” alone, also. I heartily agree. When I overhear, in art museums in front of a Mondrian, for instance, the Philistine-esque harrumphing of the old, “Well, heck, my 5 year old coulda done that!” I’m always tempted to say, yes, but she would have had to think to have done it, first.”

    Part of what makes it art is the oft overlooked sheer damn audacity, courage, and gleeful risk-taking required to dare the attempt in the first place. You are a model of the willing g explorer, and therefore an inspiration & encouragement to all makers you reach with your art & news of your processes & reflections.

    Thanks for all of it!

    1. Thanks, Charisse. I appreciate your well-thought-out comments. In a way, I don’t even care if my work is considered art or not. I’m just having fun. Let the world make of it what they will! But I do find the discussion interesting, and kind of wonder why it persists.

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