Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Is origami art?

Is origami art?  Of course it is.  End of post.

But pardon me saying, you wouldn't expect to see origami in an art gallery.  I mean, it wouldn't be very conventional anyway.  Is this because art galleries are not properly fulfilling their role as gatekeepers to "true" art?  Or is it that galleries are not supposed to fulfill this role in the first place?  If the latter, is origami one of the art forms that belongs in a gallery?

This is more than theoretical for me, since someone recently asked me if I'd like to display some of my origami models in an art gallery.  So we have to add some real world particulars to the question, like the fact that this is my origami we're talking about, and this is the kind of gallery that also offers art classes for all ages.  It's also difficult for me to approach objectively, given my impulsive modesty.

Origami is different from the "canonical" art medium, painting.  Origami is much more like that other canonical art: music.  People "compose" origami models by creating them for the first time.  Then they may write it down in coded origami notation.  Then other people like me may "perform" these compositions by recreating them.  I am not the only one who has made this comparison--origami artist Robert Lang says the same thing.

This presents the problem of who gets how much artistic credit (although it's not as bad as it is for other art-forms like TV, movies, or video games).  I often think that the composers deserve the bulk of the credit, and that I don't add much artistic input.  Take this model:
Perovskite, based on Tomoko Fuse's Dual Triangles

Tomoko Fuse is sort of like a composer of jazz, in that she allows the folder a lot of freedom to improvise.  She just shows a way to make octahedrons, and a way to connect octahedrons.  So relative to most models, I made a lot of decisions:

-I decided to make connected octahedrons, out of all the things I could have made from all my books.
-The octahedrons are in a perovskite structure.
-I used kami paper in the color arrangement shown.  Note that there are 4 pieces per octahedron, and 24 connectors, for a total of 56 pieces.  But I chose a coloring with low Kolmogorov complexity.
-There are many ways to orient the connectors, but I oriented them as shown for stability.
-I scrapped Fuse's connector, because I felt it was more complicated than it needed to be.  I made my own connector, based on hers.  The main thing is I need a right triangle of exactly the right size, with tabs in the right places.

Art?  Or function?

Some of these decisions might be artistic, but some of them are simply technical or practical.  Even when I invented a new module, it was really just a practical shortcut.

Other models are even worse, with coloring being the only personal input I have.  The rest is skill and time.

Origami is a sort of mass-produced art.  It's not mass-produced like movies, or even like prints of famous paintings.  It's mass-produced in the way that the compositions are out there for anyone to fold.  Modular origami is readily accessible to all.*  And while accessibility would tend to be a strike against it being considered Totally Serious And Legitimate Art, I think accessibility is a good thing.  Accessibility means you can do it while working on a PhD.  Accessibility means you can teach it to kids. 

*I wouldn't say the same of origami tesselations or anything that requires crease patterns.  That stuff's difficult.

Does origami belong in an art gallery?  Sure, and it's been in art galleries too.  But I feel less sure about things like my reproduction of the WXYZ model.  The WXYZ is a classic, but my recreation of it wasn't exactly an exercise in creativity or anything.  It's art but I don't think it's my art.