Can Lego be considered art?

In The Cult of Lego, my co-author Joe Meno and I devote a whole chapter to art, both works created with bricks as well as art using more traditional media featuring Lego as the subject matter.

Despite the success of museum exhibitions such as Nathan Sawaya's nationally-touring "Art of the Brick", inevitably some people claim that Lego is not a serious artistic medium. While I don't see how someone can look at Sawaya's amazing works, or those by such mainstream artists as Olafur Eliasson and Douglas Coupland which feature the bricks, and not agree it's art, nevertheless there are doubters.

Enter Lego fan and philosophy professor Roy Cook, who wrote an essay contending that yes, Lego can be art.

From The Cult of Lego:

As Lego makes its way into galleries, it’s sure to provoke a reaction from visitors who don’t think it belongs there. Conversely, the artists featured in this chapter obviously disagree. Who is right?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Scholars have debated the concept’s definition for centuries and continue to do so to this day. However, most theorists agree that art involves three criteria: form, content, and context. Roy Cook, a Lego fan and professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, wrote an essay arguing that Lego, by this definition, can clearly be called art. He uses the following criteria:

Form refers to the medium and the skill used to manipulate that medium, Cook’s essay explains. A work must typically display masterful technique to be considered art. Surely numerous models demonstrate a high level of skill. As with any technically demanding medium, there will always be works that stand out as being exemplary.

Content is the statement the piece makes or the meaning behind it. Even if this message is so obscure that only the artist can grasp it, there has to be some sort of thought behind the piece. It seems like a given: If artists desire to make a statement with a Lego model, they can do it.

Context refers to the culture and artistic tradition into which the work is placed. Andy Warhol’s soup cans outside the context of Pop Art probably would not have been considered art. As Cook points out in his essay, there is no widespread artistic tradition surrounding Lego. Just as novels were considered trash literature in the 18th century and graphic novels battle for legitimacy today, Lego simply doesn’t have the acceptance it needs to be considered legitimate art. That doesn’t mean that Lego can’t be art; there simply is no longstanding body of formal, accepted Lego art to place a model within.

[The photo at the top of this post depicts art by James "AME72" Ame, whose work may be found in The Cult of Lego.]

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