Back in March of this year, Transpositions hosted an extended book review of John Carey’s What Good are the Arts?. In the first chapter, Carey tackles the question ‘What is a work of art?’, eventually providing his own definition: ‘A work of art is anything that anyone has ever considered a work of art, though it may be a work of art for that one person.’  For Carey, this is the only feasible definition one can hold within a secular framework. A recent piece of performance art in New York City has raised the question of the definition of ‘art’, particularly in relation to the degree to which ‘artistry’ is fundamental to our humanity.
In late October, performance artist Marni Kotak gave birth to her baby boy in an art gallery in Brooklyn. The piece of performance art began weeks prior to her due date with the transformation of the gallery space to accommodate ‘The Birth of Baby X’, complete with a birthing room and midwife on hand to help with the labour. Spectators could sign up to receive notification when labour started in order to rush to the gallery to view the event. The birth of her son sets the stage for her next piece of performance art, ‘Raising Baby X.’ 
Kotak offers her rationale for her art as this:
I hope that people will see that human life itself is the most profound work of art, and that therefore giving birth, the greatest expression of life, is the highest form of art. This child is the greatest work of art that Jason and I could ever make together. So often I find that people overlook how our lives are full of the most amazing, shocking, challenging, beautiful, and disturbing experiences — far more interesting than anything anyone could put together as a “performance.”  The overall message that we will communicate to the child is that he or she was born in an art gallery because, as artists, that is our sacred space, and in doing this we are telling the world and our child that his or her life is a precious work of art. 
While it’s clear that Kotak views her performance as art, the public had mixed reviews, including:
This isn’t art, its just a couple of sickos making money off a baby before and during it being born…giving birth is the most personal experience a woman can have, doing this in public for “art” is nothing short of disgusting….’
‘Is it truly the highest form of art if it happens millions of times a day all over the planet?’
‘I love it! I wish I could have seen it in person… Good for her! It’s too bad there are so many ignoramuses out there who don’t get how frickin’ cool this is.’
‘Wonderful for her! The more people that get to witness a “real” natural birth as a beautiful work of art…the better! I’m sure the people who witnessed this incredible moment would agree. 
One could use this example of contemporary performance art as a starting point for critiquing Carey’s definition, bemoan the state of the current art scene, or ask questions about whether the public is an appropriate ‘venue’ for something as private and special as a birth. One could also ask whether or not this is devaluing childbirth and the parenthood that follows by making it an object for consumption. However, I wonder if one can see Kotak making a profound theological statement about the relationship between humans and artistry.
To my knowledge, Kotak offers no reference to Christian theology in describing her reasons for her work. And yet, to me, there seem to be natural links between her perspective and Christian theologians who would view art as fundamental to our human nature and a characteristic that is shared between humanity and God.  Perhaps Kotak has understood and demonstrated even more deeply that being an artist is what it means to be human, and embedded in human nature are opportunities for artistry that transcend our traditional categories.
What do you think? Is Kotak’s birth in a gallery to be lauded or discouraged? What are the implications of broadening the categories of ‘art’ to include a shared human experience such as childbirth?
 John Carey, What Good Are the Arts? (London: Faber, 2005), 29
 Childbirth as Performance Art (NY Times); Woman Gives Birth at Gallery as Part of Art Performance (NY Post); For a Gallery at the Edge, Fame is Born Tuesday (NY Times)
 Marni Kotak, Artist, Will Give Birth at Microscope Gallery, for Real (The Village Voice)
 NYC Woman Gives Birth on Stage, Calls it Performance Art (Opposing Views)
 Woman Gives Birth at Gallery as Part of Art Performance (NY Post) (comments section)
 See Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (London: Methuen & Co, 1941), 17.