What is Art?

Vine installation by Maika‘i Tubbs

Talking art with TCM showcasers, Maika‘i Tubbs and Scott Yoell.

Vine installation by Maika‘i Tubbs

“Tsunami” by Scott Yoell.

The Contemporary Museum hosts countless exhibits geared to its namesake genre annually. The museum’s Biennial is perhaps one of the most significant, showcasing some of Hawai‘i’s most innovative and talented contemporary artists. TCM’s pilot biennial was launched in 1993, conceived to offer a plenary perspective of the island’s annual juried shows. Over the years it has become one of Hawai‘i’s most important exhibitions, serving as a snapshot of some of the most influential and substantial contemporary art being created in the islands today.

In the wake of enthusiastic preparations, I couldn’t help but return to the age-old question: What is art? As TCM gears up for their fourth round this September, I was lucky enough to get a chance to sit down with two participating artists, Scott Yoell and Maika‘i Tubbs with hopes of answering the enigmatic question.

FLUX: What are your personal definitions of art? No pressure.

Maika‘i Tubbs: Can we just look it up on Wikipedia?


Scott Yoell: The definitions are endless! For me art is just a means for human expression. I’ve always found that I could speak better with my hands than with my words. Art is definitely about getting my ideas across to people as well.

MT: Art for me is a great visual language to getting a point across. It doesn’t discriminate, and that’s one of the best things about it. You can find some way to relate to art no matter what your background. That makes it an incredibly powerful medium. Art traverses boundaries and permeates barriers to get to people. I can’t think of any other field that can do that.

FLUX: I’m sure we’ve all heard someone say, “I could’ve done that!” in reference to a contemporary work of art. If art is becoming more and more conceptual, that means it’s increasingly being based off of concepts, theories and ideas. Everyone has those. Does that mean anyone can be an artist?

MT: When art becomes institutionalized, people begin searching for ways to measure things. They are essentially searching for a standard set of rules. Like you just said, if you don’t have these, anything can be art. Quite frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I wish that was how it was! I think there would be tremendous benefits to this kind of shift in mindset. But I understand why people would want to put restrictions on it. Like anything else, to make it measurable.

FLUX: Can you talk a little about your installations at TCM’s upcoming Biennial exhibition?

SY: “Tsunami” is going to be a giant wave-form constructed from 5,000 four-inch tall, business-men shaped figurines. A tsunami is really similar to our present economic state, symbolic of this massive force that comes down and destroys everything in its path. The sheer volume of the same business-man figure is symbolic as well, as if we’ve mass produced all of these things and ideas.

MT: I’ve been really interested with plastic as a material. It’s an excellent representation of the world that we live in. It’s the material of our time, where I can go to the store and an entire aisle is dedicated to plastic cutlery. Both of my installations are made from plastic utensils. My vine installation is inspired by the wood rose, which has become an invasive species in Hawai‘i. People tend to find that it strangles other plants. I’m also doing a snail installation outside based on the apple snail, which finds its way in to kalo fields, leaving the fields open to infection.

FLUX: Where do you think art is headed?

SY: Who knows? I’m going to have to quote Mel Chin on this one: “Art is always the same. It’s the same as it was a hundred years ago: That is, it’s never the same.” Art is always changing and evolving. We’re in a constant state of flux!

The Contemporary Museum’s Biennial exhibition features contemporary works by local artists reflecting the range and diversity of work being done in Hawai‘i today. The exhibition runs from August 28 through January 9. For more information click here.

For more information on the artists visit:



My Cart Close (×)

Your cart is empty
Browse Shop