PHIL 230 Class Discussion Folder
1. From Heather Williams 2/2/06. I had asked what would happen if someone found beauty in that which is not intrinsically good, and you told me that that person would be considered neurotic. Does this also mean that if you do not find beauty in that which is intrinsically good, you are crazy? Couldn't it just be that some people are more sensitive to intrinsic goodness (or to different genres)? Or perhaps they are responding to a beauty different from Bell's sort of Significant Form?
Let's restrict ourselves to things the admiring contemplation of which is intrinsically good. That's what Moore's definition calls beautiful, and nothing Bell says disagrees with it. That means that not everything intrinsically good need be beautiful. (Pause and reflect on this!) OK, with that out of the way, let's consider your imaginary case. If a person finds pleasant (that's what I was talking with you about) something that is ugly (something it isn't intrinsically good to like looking at), such as mouldering corpses, say, then that person does appear to be emotionally a bit twisted, not necessarily crazy but unbalanced or disturbed -- that's what I meant by neurotic (as opposed to the more serious state of being psychotic). There are lots of mild neuroses around. But that doesn't end the discussion. Here's one complication. A thing may be ugly in some respects and yet beautiful in others. So it very much depends on what the person's enjoyment is taken in. Take Cabbage Patch dolls. They are not beautiful by normal standards, but they may be beautifully suitable for kids to take care of, since their homeliness inspires nurturing. Kids may love to look at them (one sort of aesthetic enjoyment, though Bell might wince at my calling this case aesthetic) because they are so lovable in that way. That might make the kids' pleasure entirely benign. Of course if the kids insist that they are beautiful in form, physique, etc. they'd be wrong, confusing one sort of (very limited) beauty with another, more central, sort.
2. From Heather Williams 2/2/06. Another question I had was one regarding avant garde artwork. When Picasso was creating his works, people did not believe it was art -- the whole abstract concept was not conducive to their aesthetic enjoyment. Thus, the people who would enjoy it would be neurotic (as they find joy/beauty in something not intrinsically good to admiringly contemplate). It is known that Picasso had mental issues, which could explain why he was inclined to make something that wasn't intrinsic good to contemplate admiringly. Yet, as time progresses we have come to accept Picasso's works as art, so does that mean our generation is more neurotic than those which have preceded us? Or does this nullify the previous notion of beauty, as we can accept something that was once considered lacking in it?
JB: Picasso didn't go beyond the fringe until Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and even then his colleagues knew he was creating art, even if they found it awful. And of course he speedily recovered his reputation with the cubist works he produced. But doubtless lots of people thought lots of his works weren't intrinsically good to contemplate -- weren't beautiful by Moore's definition. If you could persuade them that Picasso thought they were beautiful then they would justifiably infer that Picasso's enjoyment was neurotic.But that wouldn't necessarily mean his enjoyment was neurotic! They may have been wrong about the works not being beautiful. Maybe the works have a strange kind of beauty they didn't appreciate. Or maybe Picasso never thought they were beautiful. We need more data! One thing is worth insisting on. People not grasping the beauty of a work doesn't prove it isn't beautiful. One of the blockages to popular thought about beauty is the unthinking assumption, all too common today, that beauty is entirely "subjective" -- personally or culturally so. There's lots of disagreement, but there is also lots of agreement too, given reasonable familiarity with the objects in question. And there are ways to rationally arbitrate disagreements. So I think our working assumption should be that beauty is a reality, not a subjective fiction. Until and unless, that is, it can be proved otherwise.
3. From Mitchell L. Levine, 2/7/06. Questions about Bell.
It was made clear [in the discussion section] that to be considered art that the piece must be hand made. Also the piece must contain Significant Form, a combination of lines, colors, and shapes; significant form being the only way to produce Aesthetic Emotion. This all makes sense and was generally agreed upon by the class, but when Mr. Valente stated that Aesthetic emotion is an intuition you feel when you see a piece of art, not what you feel when you just see something beautiful or a descriptive painting, I began to question this view on what art' is. Just because something is a descriptive painting, does not mean it lacks significant form. It still contains lines, colors, and shapes, and now just because it is a copy, or a descriptive painting of another piece of art does not mean it no longer evokes aesthetic emotion. A viewer of this piece can still feel aesthetic emotion, because even if the duplicate painting was made coming from a different mind set, the artist still had a mind set of his own. Only if his mind set was that the first painting was beautiful, I wish to make a copy, the duplicating artist still has a mind set capable of producing aesthetic emotion. The viewer of the duplicated artwork can very well appreciate the work put into making a copy in an aesthetic manner by appreciating how much the 2nd artist must have appreciated and enjoyed the original artwork, thus causing the viewer of the 2nd piece of artwork to feel aesthetic emotion.
JB: First some clarifications. Art can be made using machines, chain-saws,
welding torches, and any number of other machines in the case of sculpture,
for example. But yes, there does need to be fine human control. The fabrication
can be collaborative, technicians doing a lot of the work. Architecture isn't
excluded, on Bell's theory, and that customarily is made largely by the use
of machines and industrial processes.
Second, let's distinguish descriptive painting, which "copies" nature, from a copy of another painting. Bell's theory doesn't exclude descriptive painting, as I mentioned in lecture today. It just notes a problem posed by the requirements of the subject matter, namely that it limits the freedom of the artist in composing the lines, shapes, colors so as to achieve significant form.
As to copies, I tend to agree with you that Bell's position is implausible if made absolute. There is no way to prove that a copy couldn't be close enough to the original to have the same significant form. To be sure, most copies fail to reproduce the values of the original. But any candid observer of the art scene will admit that in our museums hang more than a few unrecognized copies that have fooled the experts, and it is highly likely that Bell would attribute to some of these significant form. Works vary a lot in how difficult they are to copy exactly. Bell is too much swayed by the successes of connoisseurship in unmasking forgeries. Also, even if a copy didn't capture the full measure of significant form of a masterpiece, it could very well capture enough to arouse a quite robust aesthetic emotion in a viewer.
Finally, as to nature presenting us with significant form, I commented on that in lecture today. The problem is that natural forms are immersed in an endlessly extensive environment without the sort of boundaries that give the compositional unity Bell is thinking of. There are many natural beauties, but Bell is concentrating (overmuch, in my judgment) on formal values of the compositional sort. His emphasis, however, does fit his subject, art. We do rightly distinguish art from nature.
4. From Rahul Samtani, 2/9/06, on Tolstoy's criticism of Baudelaire
I was reading Tolstoy's view on Baudelaire and I found this part interesting.
Tolstoy mentions that reading the lines of
Baudelaire's ambiguous poetry to be non-rewarding. How can he say that? One of the biggest reasons poetry differs from
prose is the lack of clarity. Finding the deeper meaning within a poem is the whole joy of reading a poem. I also believe that poems are adaptable. Sometimes you will find a certain line to mean this, and the next time you read it, that same line can mean something completely different based on our feelings and emotions. Ambiguity gives poetry its ability to adapt, and without that, reading poems would be the same as reading prose.
JB: He has more than one reason, notice. He thinks Baudelaire's whole approach is morally irresponsible, for one thing. Lots of people nowadays don't think that poets have any moral responsibilities in their works. I believe that's not a defensible position. Whether there are enough compensating virtues in Baudelaire is for me the question. But your main interest is the issue of deliberate unclarity and ambiguity, which is quite different. I think you brush off the obscurity too quickly. If poetry is a really serious enterprise, then there has to be a sufficient reason for making it obscure or ambiguous. If what the poet is trying to express is genuinely so difficult that some obscurity is unavoidable, that's one thing (maybe that's what you mean by a deeper meaning). But it can't, I think, be enough that readers like to play around with it, dreaming up new meanings to suit their moods. What kind of poet would seriously want to spend all that effort to provide that sort of entertainment? One needs to separate the things poetry teachers often say in class to encourage students to find pleasure in poetry from what justifies the high esteem in which the best poets are held. The latter depends on thinking they have important things to say and that they say them superbly well. Serious readers will want to find out what these things are and to appreciate the quality of the expression. There can be levels of meaning, of course, but all the meanings will have to add up to a rich and consistent tapestry if the poem is a great one. The clearer the expression, the better, other things being equal. Do you really disagree with that?
What else is there to differentiate poetry from prose? There's the meter (generally), there are rhymes (sometimes), sonic effects (always), a density of metaphor and other figures of speech that (non-poetic) prose never keeps up for a whole work, and a compactness that requires (and invites) us to dwell on each line longer than we do with prose.
5. From Grace Chiou, 2/14/06, re. Tolstoy's ideal of universal brotherhood.
I had a question today concerning the brotherhood of humanity. You mentioned that within Tolstoy's context criterion, there are two forms which the criterion could be fulfilled. Explicit religious content and expressing emotion that is universally sharable could both separately support the idea of the universal brotherhood. I was wondering how both could fulfill the idea of universal brotherhood. What exactly is this universal brotherhood?
JB: First, let me refer you to Tolstoy's statements on universal brotherhood, on pp. 517-8 (always go back to the material when a question like this occurs in your mind). The ideal of universal brotherhood is the state of all persons living in "loving harmony with one another." The perception underlying it "is the consciousness that our well-being, both material and spiritual, individual and collective, temporal and eternal, lies in the growth of brotherhood among men..." The practical work leading to the ideal is "the destruction of physical and moral obstacles to the union of men, and... establishing the principles common to all men which can and should unite them..." To this I can add that acceptance of the ideal implies respect for the humanity of all persons without respect to race, creed, or ethnicity, fairness in the distribution of goods and burdens (that would require the voluntary surrender of the ill-gotten gains history has bequeathed to the favored peoples of the world), modification of one's cultural habits where these keep one apart from other cultures, and a good deal of emotional self-control in regard to one's spontaneous aesthetic preferences -- so as fully to accept others whose appearance or customs put one off. Working out the details of this view is a formidable task, and a long process of negotiation would necessary to put Tolstoy's ideal into practice. Many traditional and many modern ways would have to be given up, even those now highly cherished by this or that culture.
In my view, Tolstoy is obviously right that this is the only reputable long-range moral ideal -- the best hope for the world. I say this without having any tincture of belief in the supernatural.
Your other question deals with how art that expresses universally sharable emotions could thereby promote the ideal. Tolstoy's idea is that such art helps unite humanity by appealing to their commonality. That doesn't by itself necessarily awaken the viewers to the full ideal, but it paves the way. Tolstoy thinks of the particularities of plot, character, situation as reflecting different times, places, cultures, but of the emotions generated by the work being recognizable to all as ones felt by all. The works therefore convey the lesson: all these particular cultures and people are at bottom the same, equally human, deserving of respect and consideration.
6. From Heather Williams, 2/16/06, re. Collingwood on sculpture. If the thing that distinguishes art from craft is spontaneity and no real planning, is a sculptor an artist? I know that they have to buy material and plan what they are going to do with it...isn't that like a craftsman purchasing wood, etc. to build something?
JB. No question that an art like sculpture in wood or stone requires finding and preparing materials. Collingwood speaks of arts that involve craft, and this is an obvious case. Any art that fabricates a physical object will involve some craft and some planning. Collingwood's point is that the artistic aspect of it is different than the craft aspect. There is also need for craft in making the tools the creative artist uses, the chisels the sculptor uses and the various equipment required for casting or otherwise forming metals if she is making metal sculpture. Literature in contrast has comparatively slighter dependence on craft, and notably no dependence on any craft specially devoted to assisting it. Collingwood doesn't mean to deny any of this. The question about planning, on the other hand, is subtler. Here Collingwood has to distinguish between different patterns of planning and execution. The artist plans more contingently, allowing for more changes depending on her intuition at every stage and being less sure of the outcome of a given stage until it is there to be assessed and either accepted or modified. The craftsperson can be more confident -- in industrial crafts, nearly totally confident.
7. From Earl Gray, 2/16/06, re. art, movies, and entertainment. I understand Collingwood's definition of the "art" he conceives as purely entertainment, but it seems somewhat vague. Surely a movie such as The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson, was not intentionally created to express Mr. Gibson's emotions, but was created to relate to devout Christians. (As are many christian pieces of art.) But to classify all movies as simply entertainment art, I feel, is somewhat incorrect. What would Collingwood have to say about directors such as M. Night Shyamalan or Steven Spielberg who incorporat! e their emotions into their motional picture works? ( M. Night Shyamalan used the color RED frequently in his movie, The Sixth Sense, because to him it related to the sorrow in the film. Steven Spielberg used the same color once in his black and white film, Schindler's List, because the color to him "brought the feeling of beauty into such an ugly place (The Jewish concentration camps)."
JB. I don't see how Collingwood could hold that the medium of (cinematic) film falls outside the domain of art properly so-called. His principles imply that the largest portion of feature length films are subartistic, as we might say. They are craft of one sort or another, magic or entertainment or both. But surely there is no reason to suppose film makers are never expressing their visions of life. That is just what we expect of the best of them. I'm at a bit of a disadvantage with respect to the ones you cite, since I've only seen one, Schindler's List. But I see no reason why Mel Gibson can't be expressing at least some of his take on life at large. Of course that's not the same as his expressing Jesus' emotions. No, the self-expression Collingwood is talking about will be what Gibson expresses about Jesus' suffering and all the other things that enter into the subject of the film (plus life at large). Perhaps he isn't expressing his true feeling about life. That has to be decided by studying the film from that angle, and perhaps by taking into account the rest of Gibson's work and life. Art historians rightly try to find the meaning of a given work in the context of the whole body of work of the artist in question (her oeuvre). Even if the expression changes a bit with each work, you can best perceive the particularity of each work when you see that context, just as you can best interpret the meaning of a person's behavior on a given occasion in terms of that person's prior and subsequent behavior (and, for that matter, in the context of contemporary behavior in the person's society).
One part of a case for or against self-expression in a movie (or anything else) has to concern whether the person is only revealing (betraying, Collingwood calls it), rather than expressing, her true emotion. I'll have to say more about this in lecture.
8. From Henry Magram, re. Cézanne and Bell. A visit to the Cézanne exhibit at the National Gallery last Sunday heightened my appreciation of recent class readings, while also provoking questions. Bell's essay and the Formalist aesthetic theory came to mind as I studied the blurry paintings Cézanne produced in his early career. Later in his career his product became smoother, richer and more defined. Do critics who name Cézanne a modern artist actually consider his early works of higher aesthetic value?
JB. No, it's the later works that are most admired by formalists like Bell (and by most other critics and art historians). The early works are too heavily governed by subject matter, in a somewhat expressionistic way, conveying tense and even violent emotions toward the subject matter. The subjects are heavily emotion-loaded: St. Anthony being sexually tempted or tortured, a rape scene, his uncommunicative father reading his newspaper, and so forth. It was when he became cooler, more detached, painting still lifes, landscapes, buildings, and impassive persons sitting for their portrait, that he becomes more "formalistic." This is not to say there isn't suppressed emotion. I think there's a lot that shows around the edges, but it does so largely by way of the design and facture (the small scale stuff, brushwork and color variations) and not by what's going on in the scene depicted. It's what Cézanne does with the form (design and facture) that Bell is focusing on. (This is what I am concerned with in part two of the article on the website, "Digital Technology in the Service of Aesthetic and Aesthetic Theory." Take a look.)
9. From Wossen Tefera, 2/17/06, re. non-Western philosophy of art. Most of the philosophies and theories of art we are looking at seem to revolve around Europe and Western philosophers. Are there any well developed theories of art derived from Asian, African and other cultures? What about feminist theories of art, if they exist?
JB. You are right that the material in the course is exclusively Western, but there are quite a few references in the Davies book to non-Western art (as well as some to feminist ideas). Davies is a forceful advocate of not defining art prejudicially to non-Western forms, as I intend to be also. Non-Western theories, however, are not really available to us in an easy to use form. I believe the place to start one's philosophical studies, if one is in the West, is with the thinking current in Western culture. Later one can look farther afield if one has time and the contacts that are needed to get much profit from it. There is, for example, a lot of writing in the long and rich Chinese artistic culture, though there is not yet a strong tradition of philosophical analysis of the concepts figuring in traditional Chinese writing about art. Art historians trained in Western methodology, some of them Chinese, are working at changing the situation. But it will take some time before the efforts produce the sort of material that is suitable for a beginning course.
You will find a couple of articles containing feminist ideas in the Neill-Ridley anthology and a page of references to others in the Davies text. Whether there anything properly called feminist aesthetics is a subject of debate among feminist philosophers. So far, in my opinion, those who would like to develop something like a feminist aesthetics have not progressed far enough to provide suitable material. On the other hand, it is certainly of the first importance to be alert to the possibility that male bias may affect some of the thinkers we study. (Similarly we must watch out for Eurocentric bias.)
10. From Ben Wong, 2/20/06, re. Magic and amusement “art” today. In lecture you spoke of the perils of magic art and amusement art, and its corrupting influence on the consciousness of society. In your view, what is the state of improper art in American society today? One can easily point to the ubiquitous nature of Hollywood, MTV, video games, pop culture, etc. and argue that improper art has become a dominant force. I would even venture to guess that if you gave your average American the choice of going to a movie theater or a museum (ceteris paribus), the majority would choose the theater. If this simple hypothesis is true, what does this say about the moral decay of American society, and what needs to be changed to restore proper art?
JB. Notice that Collingwood doesn’t say all magic and all amusement is bad. To the contrary both can be a valuable part of life. We need songs, stories, and pictures (moving and still) to elicit socially constructive emotions, both positive and negative ones. Good magic builds a sense of community. What Tolstoy was after Collingwood would call good magic. Similarly we all need entertainment to help restore us when we are tired or stressed out or lonely or just in need of emotional exercise. The problem comes when our cultural intake gets out of balance – too much pseudo art and too little real art. Or when we begin to believe the “magic” is the gospel truth – that history was really like the legends that constitute our cultural heritage. Or when our heads are so full of romance, celebrity worship, conspiracy theories and all the other stock in trade of the entertainment industry that we never dig below the surface. And of course there is also the case of bad magic and bad entertainment – morally bad, celebrating forms of life that are morally vicious or irresponsible.
So what sort of scorecard does our current society deserve? That’s a big question, and I’ll say more about it in lecture. But here I can safely say that there is plenty of genuine art and a vast amount of pseudo art (in Collingwood's terms), and that a lot of people overindulge in the latter and neglect the former. Is the situation now worse than it was a hundred or two hundred years ago? Not obviously, at least in my opinion. There is no easy cure, unfortunately. The only short, sensible counsel one can give, I think, is straighten out your own life. Over that you have some control. As I say, more will be said in lecture.
11. From Mark Adams, 2/21/06, re. Tolstoy and Collingwood. It seeems to me that there are many similarities between what Collingwood and Tolstoy state as the "intention of art." Both describe this (at least in my understanding) as to transmit human feeling and authentic personal emotion. And also, can you clarify the difference between what each author thinks is the intention/function of art? I know Tolstoy focuses more of universal brotherhood, but are there any more distinctions?
JB. One major difference is the emotion that is transmitted. For Tolstoy it has to be general rather than highly individual, the sort that many people can easily share. He also stresses its simplicity. Collingwood on the other hand stresses its individuality, its complexity, its subtlety and its depth. Tolstoy also requires that the transmission actually work, that viewers (listeners, readers) feel the same. Collingwood holds out that hope but never requires that the actual audience response be equally self-expressive. Tolstoy would regard Collingwood as speaking for a cultured elite whereas he is speaking for all of humankind. Collingwood in turn would regard Tolstoy's theory as a theory of art as magic, even if good magic.
12. From Alexandra Tyson, 2/21/06, non-Western art theory. I too, along with Woosen Tefera wonder why the philosophical theories around art on this course are all based on Western and European thought. I read your response, and I have to disagree that there is little or no literature or information on philosophical art theory from Asian and African perspectives. I am also an African American Studies major so when I took a course on African Civilizations (AASP200), an entire unit was dedicated to art in a philosophical and theoretical manner. I find it directly insulting that these cultures' contributions to the world of philosophical art theory are always seen in such an atavistic fashion without scholarly regard. I'm sure you know that historically the philosophical theories of art as living and emotional creations by man came from non-Western cultures long before Bell or Collingwood ever existed. People of non-Western cultures were persecuted by Westerners for these same aesthetic beliefs that were believed to be demonic and or primitive.
As the professor, I think it is only right for you to include resourceful information that presents a diverse discourse on your subject and I am willing to be of aid to you in order to do so. I am aware that your texts do provide some dialogue on non-Western creations but this is different from learning about non-Western thought on these creations. For you to say that there is little or no literature or information is appalling because there are numerous authors who have written discourse that go into adequate depth on non-Western philosophical theories of art, specifically African art. Examples that I have personally read are "African Art As Philosophy" by Douglas Fraser or "Understanding African Philosophy: A Cross-Cultural Approach to Classical and Contemporary Art" by Richard Bell.
JB. I am very pleased that you are interested in African philosophy in relation to art, and I am very willing to look at whatever materials you can put in my hands. My remarks were not intended to insult anybody. Let's see what you can come up with. If possible I'll include some of it. Everything depends on how it relates to the general topics announced as forming the subject of the course.
13. From Heather Williams, 2/22/06, re. Collingwood and children's art. According to Collingwood, art is predominantly a way to express emotions in an authentic fashion. Thus, wouldn't pictures created by kids qualify as art? Kids are so blunt and sincere in their expressions, and quite often their drawings convey their emotions. Since Collingwood doesn't seem to stress the importance of form/skill, and would consider a thought to be art, it seems that childhood "art" could be true art.
JB. There's no reason in principle why children's paintings couldn't be art on Collingwood's principles. And I do remember him saying that even early utterances by babies were not just uses of language but cries of triumph (when they think they get it right). But I'm not sure he would have to say that even pretty good child art comes up to the level of real art. What isn't clear is whether they are capable of getting to the bottom of their individual emotions. They "betray" their emotions all right, and their pictures do, in a rough way, come up with fitting metaphors of fear, anger, desire, and the rest. But do they express the nuances? Do they see their feelings clearly enough in their pictures? Do they experience the liberation from confusion and vagueness that Collingwood thinks real artists do? And do their pictures enable us to see the individuality of their feelings? I doubt it, but I can't remember whether Collingwood commits himself. I can't put my hand on my copy of Collingwood's book in my jam-packed office. I think it must be at home. I'll consult it if I can find it and see what more should be said.
JB Addition, 2/24/06. In Collingwood's main work on philosophy of art, The Principles of Art, p. 80, I find the following comment about children's play, which is related to the question about their art. "the make-believe of childish games,...is not amusement but a very serious kind of work" in which the child works "at the the really urgent problems of its own life..." "Perhaps," he continues, "it is a good deal like art proper. Giambattista Vico, who knew a lot both about poetry and about children, said that children were 'sublime poets', and he may have been right. But no one knows what children are doing when they play; it is far easier to find our what poets are doing when they write, difficult though that is; and even if art proper and children's play are the same thing, no light is thrown for most of us on art proper by saying so." By "the same thing" in that sentence I think Collingwood means only that children's play may be genuine art, not that it is the only true art.
14. From Heather Williams, 2/22/06, re. If one needs to avoid the pitfalls of stereotypical, contrived means of expressing emotion, then it would seem natural to seek out new means. However, wouldn't this lead to avant garde art that many would not consider art? I guess what I am trying to ask is, if one must be original in his/her expressions, doesn't it mean that the artwork would get progressively more obscure in order to avoid post-modernism? And with this obscurity that is created to be authentic, isn't it more difficult for viewers to relate to/understand?
JB. Collingwood doesn't think radically untraditional art is needed. He doesn't rule it out either. There are so many variations possible in traditional painting and poetry, for instance, that there's no reason why one can't be authentic in a wide variety of fairly traditional styles. His stress on expression of real emotion -- that one feels toward life -- doesn't particularly suggest far-out art. I suspect he would consider much avant garde art sensationalistic or gimmicky rather than authentically expressive. But of course modernism and things beyond shouldn't be arbitrarily ruled out. The question for him is always that one about authentic self-expression. Whether Warhol and Duchamps, to say nothing of Wallinger (A Real Work of Art) and Cattelan (Novecento) -- Cf. Warburton -- make the grade for him would depend on that and only on that. If I remember correctly, most of Collingwood's paradigms are in literature, where the author gives the reader so much of herself that we feel deeply informed about her feelings about life.
15. From Heather Williams, 2/22/06, re. At the end of class, you mentioned that art just needs to be "good enough." Does that mean that if one intended to create a funny movie and ended up with something like, say, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," which truly is humorous, it would be considered art? Though it is entertainment art, it does fulfill the goal of creating a humorous movie.
JB. Some funny films certainly do rise to the classic level, the great majority don't, in my view -- notice I am speaking for myself, not for Collingwood! Silly movies very seldom do. But Monty Python films are unusually creative. They are sophisticatedly bizarre, outrageously but intelligently satirical, and full of stylish absurdities. So I think they have an honorable place in the wide world of art as I conceive it. Not quite in serious art (I think). But not too far from it. If I wanted to raise a ruckus, I'd say they are a lot closer than the anime and manga genres, though the latter are marvelously inventive pictorially (only VERY deficient in story line). But I mention that only as a provocation..
16. From Michael Kellerman, 2/23/06, re. decision procedure problem in Collingwood's theory. Yesterday we looked at Warburton's criticisms of Collingwood and one that stood out for me was that he offers no practical decision procedure for determining what constitutues genuine art. This is similar to a fault in Tolstoy's argument. He claims that artists transmit their feelings through the piece to the audience. But how does the audience know that they are feeling the exact same emotions the artist felt when creating that piece? It seems that while these men try to give definitions for art, they cannot prove without a doubt what constitutues art. Do any philosophers do this, or is it even possible to define art in such narrow terms?
JB. Taking the decision procedure question first, one has to concede that there is a problem, but Collingwood is unrepentant. So you can't tell. So what? Real art may not be reliably recognizable. Why does that disqualify the theory? Actually, Collingwood is not after an easy to use classification system. He's after the essence of creative art. That said, however, he would go on to say two things: (i) The artist knows when she has succeeded by direct introspection. The work enlightens her about herself in a convincing way. (ii) Others don't need more than probability in these matters. Of course they may misconstrue the expression, but we have no reason to think that the best critics get it very far wrong. We all belong to the same species, and when we also belong to the same cultural group, with the same backgrounds, we can appreciate what the artist feels if we attend closely, use all the evidence, including what the artist and her close associates say. After all, art history is based on that supposition, isn't it? It's difficult in many cases, no doubt. In some cases we'll never know for sure. But that's life, and a theory that denies it is unrealistic, catering to the general public's desire to have it simple and easy.
This answer deals with your other two questions too.
17. From Josh Samuel, 2/26/06, re. Greek tragedy. In Greek tragedy I was under the impression that “bad things” happen because of the breaking of order. Is this Dionysian idea of the true essence of life something that Nietzsche has put on to Greek tragedy or am I totally incorrect?
JB. Sure, some breaking of order triggers the tragic situation. Hunters in pursuit of a deer enter a sacred precinct, say, committing sacrilege even if unintentionally. Or in Oedipus' case, a man commits patricide and incest, again unintentionally. Or Pentheus offends Dionysus. Or Antigone violates the command of her uncle, the king, in order to follow her sacred duty in burying her two rebellious brothers. Nietzsche doesn't deny any of this. His point is that accidents or insoluble dilemmas arise, in spite of the best human effort. Life is not fully governed by rationality. Something darker and capricious underlies everything. Equally, great accomplishments require creativity transcending the safe, the normal, the comfortable, and conflict-free. They also require breaking the previously established order.
18. From Josh Samuel, 2/26/06, re. difficult poetry. It seems to me that a lot of these theories [of poetry] fail to address the connotative and denotative aspects of images or words. Very quickly the “lost in translation” idea is invoked and the poetry which has strange imagery is dismissed as “perverse” or “bad”. Does anyone deal with this?
JB. Sure, interpreters of poetry do their best in finding meanings, both denotative -- i.e., references (called "allusions") to persons or things -- and connotative -- i.e., suggestions, implications or associations expressed metaphorically. The great question for the obscure poetry of Baudelaire, Verlaine and others is how successful these efforts are in establishing the merit of the poems. One mustn't assume a priori that a poem is richly and coherently meaningful. It must be shown. Otherwise one lives in a dream world, not in real one. That much we have to allow to Tolstoy.
19. From Samantha DiFilippo, 2/28/06, re. poetry and poetic qualities. In lecture and my recitation, we briefly discussed poetry's place in the "What is art?" discussion. My English 301 class has also crossed this path while dealing with "What is literature?" and poetry has proved to be particularly difficult to distinguish. Many literary critics suppose that poetry does not contain poetic qualities, but in fact they are derived by paying a certain kind of attention to the text. If this is true, and poetry is only distinguishable from any other grouping of words by how the audience perceives it, how are we to separate art proper poetry from counterfeit art poetry? This is referring to Tolstoy's comment to be objective towards art and to judge art independent of the response of the viewer; how is it possible when the independent response of the viewer is necessary to deem it art?
JB. Distinguishing genres of verbal art is famously tricky, and the two articles I just consulted, out of curiosity, in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, namely "Conceptions of poetry" and "Theories of poetry," are enough to reduce any rational, analytic thinker to despair. Neither addresses the fundamental issue of how poetic discourse differs from prose. But there is hope. One of our graduate students, Anna Ribeiro, is completing a Ph.D dissertation on the subject and she holds a simple and highly plausible theory that repetition is the key. This covers all the traditional poetic traits of rhyme, meter, assonance, alliteration, and adds the ingenious provision that it is concern with repetition that is the ultimate criterion. This allows her to include poetry which intentionally rebels against actual repetition. The concern is still there (concern to avoid, to deny the need of actual repetition), and that makes all the difference. Actual repetition in its many forms is of course fully objective. Concern is psychological. But like other sorts of intentions, it is anything but inaccessible to us. Poets like other folks are concerned that their intentions be recognizable, so one way or other they manage to convey them. Accordingly intentions do not pose an insurmountable epistemic problem, contrary to the views of many literary sceptics who make a career out of making things needlessly complex and obscure.
I don't mean to minimize the subtle questions of interpretation that certainly do arise with poetry. And I freely acknowledge that many poetic qualities, which are a variety of what I have called aesthetic qualities, are psychological, being impressions of cross-categorial similarity, as when a poem is described as "crabbed," or "mellifluous" or "anguished," or "lyrical," all of which descriptions either are figurative rather than literal when applied to a poem.
Tolstoy of course is being super-demanding when he talks of art. Not all poetry would be art by his criteria. Also we have to interpret his remark about objectivity, because on his theory art does depend on the response of the viewer, doesn't it? If the work doesn't transmit feeling (which means the audience has to get it), then the work isn't genuine art. What I think he means is just that the infectiousness of real art is a down-to-earth objective fact and not some obscure metaphysical notion. I tried to find the particular reference you had in mind and couldn't. Can you locate it for me?
20. From Rahul Samtani, 3/1/06, re. Is Nietzsche a pessimist? I am currently under the impression that Nietzsche classifies different works of art as either pertaining to Apollo or Dionysis. This classification shares some bases in the fantasy or reality of the art, is that correct? When works of art embrace the idea that life is painful, and that pain is reality, then it is considered to be Dionysian art. When works of art seem to cover up the pain in life, it is Apollonian art. So Nietzsche is an extreme pessimist, and this correlates to his views on art. Is this right?
JB. By most people's standards Nietzsche would be an extreme pessimist so far as life being good, fair, sweet, kind, etc. It isn't any of these, by most people's standards. However, Nietzsche proclaims that life of the hard and rigorous sort is triumphant and glorious. That is, when one's whole being is bent on creativity in science, literature or art then the agonies of the world are, in his eyes, transcended. So his pessimism is, as he calls it, a pessimism of strength, which produces a sense of the "fullness of existence." That's clearly a mixed affair with a strong admixture of the positive affirmation and joy, not the extremity of pessimism that leads to despair or desolation.
21. From Michael Kellerman, 3/2/06, re. art of interest to tourists. I know today we were talking about tourist art and whether it is properly deemed less authentic than "older" art. Older art, however, can also attract tourists. It is questionable whether or not these tourists are going to view the art because of its intrinsic value or because it is famous. Though not specifically made for tourists, it can attract them nonetheless. My question is whether or not this older art loses authenticity if it attracts many tourists.
JB. The short answer is No, the art isn't affected by being a magnet for tourists. It is what it is quite independently of the eyes trained on it. As for the tourists, doubtless lots of them haven't a clue. The ones who don't, don't know what to expect, or what is so good artistically about a lot of the things the guidebooks say are worth seeing. But people have to start somewhere, and lots of tourists make good use of the opportunities, however poorly prepared they may be. And then there are the well prepared ones. Incidentally I don't mean to suggest that you have to take art history courses to get something out of viewing art. An aesthetically sensitive person can get lots of good experiences out of viewing things even without knowing what they mean, or where they stand in the history of the culture. That's one of the virtues of art -- or lots of art anyway (some of it appeals very broadly, some only to special taste publics).
The only respects in which art is "threatened" by viewers are (i) the physical deterioration produced by overexposure to light, moisture, or other adverse conditions incident to crowds of tourists (including downright vandalism); and (ii) restorations that may not be authentic but may please viewers. The second problem has operated for centuries but recent and contemporary museum culture has greatly raised the standards of conservation. Perhaps I should add (iii) destruction of sites by thieves who break off pieces to sell in the instiable art market.
22. From Heather Williams, 3/4/06, re. evolution vs. culture. If "common" or popular art is unoriginal (unlike high art, which is original), and we are in a time of cultural stagnation and facing a severe lack of originality (PostModernism) can high art exist now?
According to Davies there are two approaches to art; one being cultural, one being biological. Can they be roughly associated with Collingwood and Tolstoy, respectively?
JB. Not to worry. High art is flourishing, and doubtless post-modernist works are part of it (works as opposed to theories, interpretations, and the like). I spent most of Friday in the Museum of Modern Art where there are many contemporary works of high art. Some of them are bizarre, but they are certainly high art! Whether Collingwood or Tolstoy would accept them is another matter. Tolstoy wouldn't think any of them are good art because they aren't universally accessible. Their expressiveness is not understandable without a a good deal of effort. Collingwood might accept most of them as genuine art because the ways of expression are, for him, endlessly various. But in each case the expression would have to be discovered, where it exists.
As to the other question, about correlating the two general views of art with the views of C and T, we could say several things. Both think genuine art has been going on since time immemorial, since genuine expression is a central feature of human culture. So has craft and the counterfeit of art. Thus neither would agree with the "recent cultural invention" conception of art. But the two would not necessarily agree on what old and new works are the real article, and yet more about which is good and which is bad art. First, while Tolstoy talks about expression being individual, his ideal is that of rather generalized emotions, readily recognizable ones and especially the religious one of universal love of humanity. Collingwood on the other hand stresses how individualized authentic emotion is, how unique to the person and stage of her life. So it seems certain that some of the art that Tolstoy reveres would not meet Collingwood's standards for genuine expression, but would be classed as magic or entertainment. Second, the two seem to differ still more sharply on the question of good and bad art. Much that Collingwood thinks is great (both in past and present art) is far too elitist for Tolstoy's taste. And Collingwood's highly individualized expression cannot possibly be readily recognizable by just anybody without effort and could never serve as a universal unifier.
23. From Earl Gray, 3/7/06, re. intentional objects. In today's lecture you discussed the concept of the "intentional" object of an emotion. I just wanted to know if religion could be an example of this. When one "finds" God, do they reach a certain belief in which God is their "intentional" object? If so, how does this play a role in emotions?
JB. The intentional object of a mental state, whether the state be an emotion or a belief, is part of the content of the state. Any religious belief and emotion has a content, therefore has an intentional object. One such will be the things the belief and the emotion are directed at: a divine being, for instance. Another will consist of the propositions the believer believes, e.g. that God created the world. These are what the belief or emotion concerns, whether or not there is such a god who created the world. To "find" God is to have experiences with God as intentional object. Perhaps there is also a real God corresponding to the intentional object, and perhaps the believer's belief about that God is correct. But the experience itself does not by itself show either of those things. Nor does the emotion the believer feels toward God. It's real enough, but its object may only be imaginary.
23. From Mark Adams, 3/7/06, re. words and music. I am curious about what Davies says about music whose instrumentals express a sad feeling but whose lyrics express happiness. Are the words part of the music, or a separate entity altogether? Also, with regard to music, Davies refers to things in a dualistic sense of being either happy or sad. But there are so many emotions in between. Can these other emotions also be expressed by music or is music only sad or happy?
JB. The short answer is that the words are part of the song but not part of the score, i.e. not part of the music to which the song is set. All I can find Davies saying is that the words in some cases do not fit the expressive qualities of the music. There are cases, in fact, when a critic has complained of just this mismatch, for instance when in Gluck's Orpheus and Euridice Orpheus' lament for his dead wife is said to sound more like an outpouring of romantic love than a grief-stricken lament. There can be good reasons for a discrepancy, analogous to the movie background music turning ominous while the characters are still enjoying themselves, unaware of impending calamity.
On the question of how many emotions can be expressed by instrumental music, theorists disagree. Davies is cautious on this question. He thinks that generalized emotions can be conveyed -- that's where the duality you mention comes in -- but not highly individualized ones. So grief can't be distinguished instrumentally from sadness, precisely because listeners differ and there is no criterion of correctness at that level. But sadness can be distinguished from happiness. Davies does not commit himself as to where the limit is of what can be expressed instrumentally. To me that seems wise, since composers and performers are inventive and they may expand the scope of what can be expressed.
24. From Rahul Samtani, 3/10/06, re. topic #1 of the midterm. I had a question regarding the first mid-term question. The first question does not seem to be drawing from any particular theory, or philosopher. Do you want us to include a theory in our answer, or can we answer it based on opinion? Or would you like a mix of both?
JB. Various theories enter the controversies about what distinguishes art from other cultural endeavors. Bell, Tolstoy and Collingwood, for starters. But I don't want you to summarize their theories in the essay. You can refer to their main claims about art vs. those other things in passing as you deal mainly with Davies' discussion and my discussion in lectures. In general Davies disagrees with their rather narrow views, and so do I, as I have tried to make clear.
25. From Heather Williams, 3/12/06, re. "conservativism" about art.
Would it be safe to say that, for the second essay, the conservative point of view of art is the cultural perspective and Davies' arguments against this can be found in the biological perspective?
JB. It's a bit more complicated than that. A conservative of the sort Davies is talking about is described on p. 17 as one "that equates art with the highest achievements of Western civilization..." Study that whole description and catch the other references in the pages of this section. Note that the chief theme of conservatism is the "elitist" one that true art can be distinguished from popular or less sophisticated and self-consciously artistic work. As Davies says, this allows for a variety of beliefs about just when and where art has existed. A conservative may believe that the very best work of the most "civilized" of ancient cultures passes the test but that many more works from the Renaissance onward comply with it. (That is, humanity was always trying to make art but rarely succeeded until more recent times.) Another wrinkle is that conservatives may rebel against most forms of avant garde art -- the far out examples such as Duchamps' urinal and Warhol's Brillo Box, to say nothing of conceptual art. Among philosophers, Collingwood is conservative to a considerable degree, though of a rather special sort. His rejection of so much popular art as craft rather than art properly so-called is right up the conservative alley. So also is his idea that we should not include the vast majority of works that had a predominantly magical function, even when the works are in one way or other beautiful or well made. Bell is also a conservative regarding popular art, as well as much other traditional art. But he accepts a lot of early and ethnic art that he believes it possesses significant form: he thinks that even early humans sometimes were tracking significant form. It doesn't matter to him that they may not have had any "artworld" concepts or institutions.
In looking over the test topic I realize I should have referred not just to ancient and non-Western cultures but also to popular culture at any and all times. I shall make that emendation in a coursemail message.
Additional reflection. It's fair if a person asks, what's the connection between popular culture and the other two. The answer is that for most (Western) conservatives about art ancient and non-European works are popular in the sense of being woven into the fabric of everyday culture -- in rituals, festivals, public monuments and entertainments.
26. From Rahul Samtani, 3/15/06, re. emotional responses to fictions. Davies said that sometimes we feel the emotion before we even get a time to react. Although this is true to some extent, we will have time to react later. The problem is, even later, after watching the movie, or reading the play, even after we have had time to react and reflect on it, we still feel the emotions towards the characters. I dont think this can be described as reacting reflexively. Reacting reflexively would be feeling the emotion as it occured in the movie/play, but no longer feeling it after one has had time to realize that it is not real.
JB. It matters a lot whether the question is just about what sometimes happens or concerns emotional responses to fictions in general. I take Davies merely to be saying that an immediate, completely spontaneous response sometimes occurs. He does not endorse the theory that this sort of response is typical. Moreover, even when it does it isn't at all certain that such an emotional response is "hardwired," that is, that it is independent of what we believe about the situation we are witnessing or reading about. Note that that last condition (independence of our awareness of the context) is crucial for a truly reflex emotional response. On this basis it is doubtful that any of our emotional responses even during the movie are reflexive, since we are quite aware of the fictional context. So far as the later responses are concerned Davies would heartily agree with you that they are not reflex ones.
27. From Nikki Slatkin, 3/15/06, re. expressiveness. I had further questions in response to M. Adams' question from 3/7 [above #23]. Davies states that "The face of a basset hound looks the way a person's face would look if that person were sad and showing it" (pg 151). The phrase, for now, is "and showing it". A person can have a smile that spreads ear to ear but silently by crying on the inside. Even their closest friends may not know this persons' true feelings. In the case of music whose lyrics produce happiness, yet melody evokes sadness, which would do you suppose Davies would say is the front stage and which back stage? The front stage being what people are supposed to see and back stage being the actual feeling. Is it different for the composor, singer, audience, etc.?
JB. The fact that people can disguise their sadness by keeping a straight face, or even putting on a smiling one, is really not to the particular point Davies is making. We judge the look of sadness by the typical, unconstrained facial expression of a typical human being. It couldn't be otherwise. So the look is sad even if the person isn't (that is, the person looks as if sad even if she really isn't). Actors adopt such expressions all the time, which fits with your reference to stages. Your case of the disguised sadness is one in which the person is not expressing her feelings, just as a person who lies is not expressing her beliefs. A standard way to make the essential distinction is this: the look is (for instance) happiness-expressive, even though it is not an expression of happiness. This is a great example of a distinction that may seem no distinction at all because of the looseness of our ordinary usage. But the distinction itself is rock solid.
The case of words and music is a bit different, since each can be an expressions someone's (actual) feeling or merely feeling-expressive, and the feelings in question can be in conflict with each other. Such a case would normally come across as ironic: either words or music would seem insincere: teasing or sarcastic.
28. From Grace Chiou, 3/15/06, re. topic 4 on midterm. Today you went over what were in the lecture notes, "Easily dismissed explanations" and the "Three major theories." I thought I had created a good response for the question, but should the major emphasis be on the three major theories or the easily dismissed explanations? I'm just confused on what would be considered a theory because I don't know if the ideas presented in the "easily dismissed explanations" would be deemed theories. Also, Should Davies's explanation on tragedies be mentioned because many would consider tragedies to be fictional works.
JB. The major emphasis should certainly be on the three major theories. The other explanations are theories, but because they are so easily dismissed they deserve only passing mention at most. As to tragedies, the fictive ones are certainly fictions, and that includes all that are relevant to topic 4. But Davies doesn't need to discuss them in particular so far as topic 4 is concerned. The same explanations that work for dramas or comedies will work for them. Davies section on tragedy concerned why we enjoy them, not why we are emotionally moved by them. That's not relevant to topic 4.
Davies' discussion of the three major theories has a lot of interesting points in it. I hope everyone who chooses this topic will study it carefully and work in as much as possible into their essays.
29. From Kartikay Rikhye, 3/16/06, re. real and make-believe emotions and beliefs. When discussing the major theories of emotional response to fiction, Davies states that the first two, put forth by Caroll and Walton respectively, are both are based on make-belief. It seems the difference between them is that according to the first theory, emotions based on make-belief are real emotions, while according to the second, they are only quasi-emotions, because "the presence of belief in the existence of its object is essential for something's being an emotion". My question is where is the line drawn between make-belief and real belief? Are all beliefs regarding fictional events make-belief? Are all beliefs about real-life events "real"? For example, if I fantasize about winning the lottery and feel excited, is my excitement "real" because there is a chance, however infintesimal, that I might actually win the lottery? Or would it be a quasi-emotion, because I haven't actually won the lottery, and am just imagining how I would feel if I did?
JB. Beliefs about fictions aren't necessarily make-beliefs, as is obvious from the case of believing that a fiction is exciting or dull or badly written, etc. (Equally, not all epistemic states regarding actual things are beliefs, since we can make-believe about real things.) The key to make-beliefs is that they involve imagining or pretending that the fictive events are happening (or have happened or will happen). Then my state is one of making believe, not actually believing. That brings us to your example of the lottery. I agree that the possible epistemic states can be various and sometimes are rather nebulous and hard to figure out. You may believe that you will win, disbelieve it, be entirely neutral or you may waver between belief and nonbelief, or you may not be sure whether you believe or not. Hope figures importantly in such situations, and one's hope can be high or less than that. High hopes when at all rational combine desire with belief that the chances are good. The latter is belief not in the fact simply, but in the probabilities. Such belief is universally conceded to be sufficient for an emotional state (optimistic suspense, say). Walton wouldn't call that a quasi-emotion. But all the epistemic states just mentioned are different from make-believe. When you make believe you will win you are imagining (entertaining the thought of) winning, of what it will be like to have won, and so forth. That's strictly what Carroll and Walton are talking about, because that's what seems to them most relevant to fiction. When we follow a fiction we don't believe the events in it are real, we don't believe they probably are real, and we don't have any hope of their being real. The dispute between them about real vs. quasi-emotions turns on what particular epistemic state is needed for a real emotion. Carroll thinks make-belief and make-desire suffice. Walton disagrees. And of course Neill throws in the additional possibility of a real belief concerning about a real fact within a fictional world being basis enough for a real emotion.
30. From Ryan Derenberger, 3/15/06, re. an omniscient narrator in painting? In the same way that there is an omniscient narrator in certain works of literary fiction, a being that sees all and knows all, can't there also be an omniscient narrator in the case of paintings? Take impressionism for instance, where the paintings go deeper than the image itself. Monet's style often affords a snapshot of ultimate reality, like in the famous “Impression: Sunrise” where aesthetically, one can be sucked into the painting, transcending dimension and showing us more than meets the eye. In such a case, the omniscient narrator may be Monet himself, but then again, he could be called an “omniscient painter” instead. In either event, is such omniscience available for a painter to use?
JB. This is a nifty idea, in a way. But will it work? An omniscient narrator in literature has to narrate. The omniscience refers to the fact that the narrator tells things that no actual character in the story knows, or that only a single character knows about himself or herself and may never reveal to anyone else in the fictional world. In painting the narrative possibilities are quite limited. Single scenes are shown that have implications as to before and after, but this showing and implying doesn't commonly include unspoken thoughts or other secrets within a fictional world. Also the painter can't move around seeing everything the way an omniscient narrator can. So omniscient narration doesn't seem to apply in a straightforward sense. What you refer to seems more a case of the work suggesting or symbolizing some idea or belief. For instance Raphael's Disputa can suggest the grandeur of sacred history (the historical unfolding of God's purpose in the world). I use this example because it's clearer than your idea of what Monet's Impression: Sunrise suggests or symbolizes. Raphael's painting arguably does contain that religious meaning as part of its deep content, as opposed to the surface content of various historical figures gesticulating and standing or sitting around an altar while overhead on a raft of cloud Jesus, Mary, the evangelists and prophets sit and overhead God Father is surrounded by circling angels, etc. The deep meaning, note, is not meant to be fictive but really true. This is like an author conveying her view of life in a poem or novel. Whereas the omniscient narrator is normally authoritative over the fictional world, the author (or the work itself) is not at all authoritative about what she (or it) suggests about the real world.
31. From Steven Williams, 3/15/06, re. wording of topic #4. I was wondering if for Midterm Exam Topic #4, where it says "Where Davies argues against a theory, give his reasons.", does that mean that you want us to present a theory that he argues against and give the reasons or does that mean from the 3 major theories (Lecture 10, 1C), you would like us to say where Davies argues against one of those and give the reasons?
JB. The sentence means wherever Davies argues against a theory, give his reasons. In the present case he holds his objections until the last paragraph of the section (6.5). He has a criticism of Neill's theory and one that relates to all three theories. The larger part of the essay should be devoted to explaining the theories themselves -- how they answer the questions that arise about our emotional responses. The most complex of the answers is given by Neill, so pay close attention to it.
32. From Justin Ahmanson, 3/15/06, re. emotions toward past events. When looking at the three theories of emotional response to fiction, I was wondering if they emcompassed the emotions that past memories bring. A person can feel strong emotion from remembering past events (like that of a family tragedy), yet they are not experiencing the event first hand. Does this equate more with fiction or reality?
JB. Emotions can certainly be evoked by memories, famously so in post-traumatic stress. No one doubts this. The fact that the events are not present doesn't affect our belief, and it's the belief question that provokes the controversy about emotional responses to fiction. Even when our memory tricks us, we still believe what it tells us and respond accordingly. In such a case an outsider might say the memory was a fiction, not a fact. But that doesn't matter as long as the person with the apparent memory believes it. Equally, if I mistakenly think a fictitious account is a factual report of actual events, there's no problem about why I can respond emotionally to it.
33. From Scott Clattenburg, 3/15/06, re. justifying cave art as art in our current sense of the word. In Davies' book, a response he comes up with in relation to the question of whether pre-17th century art is really art as we know it, is the fact that because we are humans and the artists of past cave painting were also humans, we can approximate their idea of beauty. My problem with this response is the fact that my idea of beauty and my next door neighbor's idea of beauty are completely different. Therefore, how can we, with any degree of accuracy, know what a caveman thinks of beauty? This cannot be a valid argument for pre-17th century art.
JB. I am well aware of the prevalence of the saying that everyone's idea of beauty is completely different. The problem with this is that extensive research disproves it. There are many, many different sorts of beauty, and people have all sorts of personal preferences, but the differences in sober, reflective judgments of beauty among people who are familiar with the kind of beauty being judged evaporate like mist when the matter is put to a fair test. There are a lot of complications and pyschological hang-ups that need to be cleared away, and the whole subject of beauty needs careful sorting out, but I am convinced that in the end humans are pretty much the same when it comes to their basic capacity for appreciating beauty. On this basis I agree with Davies that when artifacts have been carefully crafted in such a way that we find beauty in them, we have good reason to believe that the people who made them found pretty much the same beauty -- and that under optimal circumstances those makers and we could iron out any residual differences in our aesthetic judgments.
34. From SungYup Kim, 3/16/06, re. the "cult of authorship" in relation to art. Davies mentions the cult of authorship as one of the enabling factors that helped distinguish artists from artisans in Europe. I am reminded of Michel Foucault's essay "What Is an Author" and am curious as to your thoughts on his conclusion that the "author function" -that is the beliefs which affect the publication, dissemination, and classification of texts based on authorship- may soon disappear. It seems difficult to arrive to that conclusion when the primacy and authority of a name attached to a work of art, fiction, or movie is ingrained in our culture.
JB. There's no question that focussing attention on the author/artist was important in the evolution of the concept of fine (or high or elite or serious) art. And for good reason, where the work is good enough for the creator to deserve the interest of the public. Artists also thought more of themselves, and strove to be make their art more revealing of their personal values, when they were looked up to. The craft element was balanced by the self-expression factor. That's the essence of the "cult" of the artist-creator as a factor in the concept of fine art. (It really isn't all that much of a cult, not at least to those who know much about the artworld. Artists still collaborat with assistants, often repeat themselves instead of pushing forward with each new work, often produce clunkers, etc. They're fallible human beings, after all.) Predictions of the death of the author are, so far as I am concerned, so much hot air, inspired the intellectual's need to be radical in order to garner attention. No doubt the professionalization of the whole publishing enterprise affects art -- particularly literature -- more than it once did. Editors intervene and authors agree, sometimes grudgingly, to collaborate with them, so authorship is somewhat less of a solitary enterprise than it once was (say, 200 years ago). But the author still has the lion's share of the credit and blame for what gets published. In some fields, conspicuously in film, the collaborative nature of creation is HUGE, so that indeed there is no one "author" of the film. Directors and film editors change what the scriptwriter wrote all the time. There's no way to untangle all of this. But this is NOT the universal model. Literary theorists make all sorts of assertions about "the work," "the author," and the like that in my opinion wrap everything in obscurity -- e.g., the reader and critic become co-authors, the work ramifies into reader's responses, blah-blah. I consider this unhelpful and perverse. So my message is, there is still an author, there is certainly still a painter (sculptors and printmaker have to have collaborators for best results, depending on the kind of work, more than painters do). The less theory the better. Describe things as they are and the old concepts still cover the facts.
Daniel Marsh, 3/16/06, re. fine art music. In his first chapter, Davies discusses the argument of museum-based art versus community-based art. When I read this discussion, I automatically think the visual arts. But is it possible to find a similar divide within live performance art, such as music? How could one draw the line?
JB. Indeed it is possible to make a comparable distinction. "Fine" music (the expression isn't common, but I'll use it because it's better than "classical" since the latter doesn't cover all the right things) is music composed by persons trained in conservatories where they study the works of previous composers, music theory, and the like; that is normally played in concert halls, museums and other venues designed for maximum musical effect, by performers trained at conservatories where they study not only the musical tradition but also the performance practices of the best masters; that is played to audiences who sit silently concentrating on catching every part of the music; that is often from much earlier times or if contemporary is expected still to be played long in the future because it will still be worthy of being listened to, despite the fact that it bears the signature of its culture of origin. Such music is intended to be of deep human significance, suggestive of the finest human qualities both intellectual and moral. It is also intended to be worthy of serious analysis and interpretation.
With this description in mind, I think you can see how the myriad forms of other music fall outside of the category. The situation is complex, and the scene changes over time. The most highly regarded jazz, for example, has been adopted by the "fine" music world.
36. From Eric Marshall, 3/29/06, re. deadly "games." Concerning Wittgenstein's family resemblance concept, and the game example in particular. How would Wittgenstein classify activies that have a risk, even a significant risk, of extreme injury or death? Activies such as Russian Roulette seem to obviously not be games, but what about activities such as American Football or Ice Hockey where serious, even debilitating, injury are very possible results. They are certainly not the focus of the activity like Russian Roulette, but they are a reality associated with it. Where would the line be drawn between games and things that are too dangerous?
JB. The way to handle these cases is to stipulate that nothing is a game if the criterion of success or failure involves serious injury or death. In no sport do you get points for causing these things, do you? Even in Roman games where the loser was often killed, the killing was never the criterion. The criterion was to outfight one's opponent, reducing him to helplessness. The risk was considerable, and serious injury or death was fairly frequent. But neither was the criterion. In modern times boxing customarily inflicts injuries and occasionally death, but again, no points are awarded for either.
Actually I think we could strengthen the requirement somewhat. A contest that always, predictably inflicts serious injury or death seems not properly called a game even when the scoring is not on that basis. For instance, contest in automobiles the object of which is to run one's opponent off a high cliff. I think that's a duel, not a game. Here the predictability of those consequences is enough to keep the contest from being a game. Note that one or both contestant can turn a game into a mortal contest by carrying the risk too far -- even when the criterion of success in the contest is not injury or death.
37. From Heather Williams, 3/30/06, re. defining art.
It seems as though the disjunctive condition is a nice compromise amongst all definitions of art, as they can all be included in the theory. Why is this not adopted as the true way to define art? Is it because the criteria which one might include in the list of conditions can vary so?
Also...I am still a little unclear on the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions. I have had it explained to me in the past, but I would really appreciate if you could summarize the differences for me.
JB. Philosophers tend to want a simpler definition, or else to give up on definition altogether. Like most other people! Beyond that, there's no assurance that good reasons can be found for spelling out in a precise way the different art-recipes, so to speak -- the separate sets of art-making conditions. One might say, there's so much work to be done on the details, I can't stand it!!! What is forgotten by people who throw up their hands at the complications is that in coming to grips with the details, you learn a lot about the various forms of art and near-art. That's a reward -- even if you don't finally manage to develop an integrated theory. And you might find that the details can be worked out. Just don't expect it to be easy. That's the answer I would give to skeptics.
A necessary condition is just a condition which a thing must meet in order to fall within a given category. Like male for bachelor. A sufficient condition is one that guarantees falling with the category. For instance, being a bear guarantees being a mammal. In well-behaved, Aristotelian concepts the sum total of all necessary conditions adds up to a sufficient condition. Being an unmarried, marriageable male human is a sufficient condition for being a bachelor. (It's also a necessary condition, since no one can be a bachelor who doesn't meet all those conditions.)
38. From Mark Adams, 4/2/06, re. games. I was wondering if certain activities can become games merely by adding a rule? For example, rolling down a hill isn't considered a game, but if it were made competitive by saying the first one to get to the bottom wins, isn't it now considered a game by most standards? Also, some things such as the first one to swim three laps in the pool could be a game, as far my understanding of lecture went, while the individual task of swimming laps is not a game.
JB. Rules can direct an activity so that it becomes a game, but the rules have to be game-like rules. Consider your example of rolling down the hill made into a competition. You'd have to have a rule governing starting, a rule against fouls, a rule saying what sorts of descent were allowed and which sorts were not (what counts as rolling), a rule setting the finish line, and so forth. The point of rules is to promote the development and exercise of skills in performing activities that are enjoyable to perform well. They differ from rules of procedure in "serious" activities, science or medicine or business, the aim of which is not just to exercise skills that are enjoyable to exercise. Games don't need to have an association or written rules or referees and commissioners and leagues. They can be informal, governed by understandings among players, understandings that can be changed by mutual agreement on the spur of the moment. Games also vary greatly in quality along a number of dimensions: the excellences attainable by the best players, the satisfactions yielded to players and viewers, the contribution to the player's health, and so forth.
38. From Mark Adams, 4/3/2006, re. definitions. I also had a question about open and closed concepts of art. While I do understand that one can have an open definition of art that can cover new subsets of art as they arise. Warburton critiqued Weitz's thoughts on having open subsets as well. Does this mean that he would make, for example, "landscape painting" or "abstract painting" a new subset instead of including it in the subset of painting. It seems like even though Weitz would like open subsets of art, he wouldn't include everything in the painting category like photographs, etc. I'm just confused on what Warburton thinks is wrong with open subsets or is it that they are just unnecessary?
JB. The idea is that the subconcepts don't have to be open. Closing them needn't cramp creativity if new subconcepts can always be adopted to accommodate the works that don't fit any prior subconcept. Landscape painting can be closed in the sense that there have to be recognizable landscape forms in it. Suppose then that an abstract expressionist comes along and paints big fuzzy paintings that have some slight suggestion of a landscape about them -- such as Mark Rothko (see the examples in the Phil Dept. Lounge (Skinner 1119) and seminar room (Skinner 1116). Critics connect them with 19th Century American landscapes of vast open spaces and say the new works express a similar sublimity ("the abstract sublime"). Do we have to count Rothko's paintings as landscapes? Not at all, since we have a subconcept of abstract expressionism, one subconcept of which is the landscape-suggestive abstract expressionism. That's Warburton's point, and I think it is correct. Weitz isn't around to say whether he agrees, unfortunately. He didn't think of that angle when he wrote the article. But philosophers often revise their view when a better solution is found for the problem the view concerned.
39. From Heather Williams, 3/4/2006, re. art experts and subjectivity. Does Dickie account for the subjectivity in art by claiming that the things determined/labeled as art by the "experts" can be good or bad? This seems like it would allow for the non-experts to be able to interpret the art for themselves.
JB. A number of different issues are mixed together in your question and comment. (1) Non-experts can always interpret art for themselves, independently of whether the works are good or bad. But this fact doesn't mean they interpret them correctly, or that there are no valid standards of interpretation. (2) Dickie doesn't actually say anything about the experts deciding what is or isn't art. In his first book Dickie doesn't say much at all about who is a "representative of the artworld" or whether any "conferring" could be disqualified by the artworld at large. Warburton criticizes him for this, and I think does so rightly. In his new theory Dickie goes into much more detail about all the understandings, conventions, roles, etc., that go into the artworld. But he still doesn't zero in on the essential question of what exactly determines the acceptance or rejection of a work as genuine art. If he thought that artworld experts decided the 'Is it art?" question, I think his theories would be better than they are. Of course, he would then have to say what made a person an expert, and what sort of negotiation among experts resolves disagreements. Ultimately any satisfactory account would have to invoke conditions like Gaut's -- expert must be good at recognizing and appreciating art-relevant properties. This approach will introduce what Davies calls a functional approach into the definition project, not as the total solution but as a crucial part of it. (3) When you speak of the subjectivity in art I wonder whether you refer to the fact that many art-relevant properties are psychological-response properties. This fact doesn't imply that they aren't intersubjective properties (as sensory colors are) -- therefore not "subjective" in the sense of anything goes. (4) Perhaps you mean that decisions by the artworld as to what is/isn't art are subjective in the sense of arbitrary or capricious. In that case my response is that the decisions are not actually subjective. The decisions that hold up over time are reasonable even when they don't appear to be. On this basis all you could say is that they are often apparently subjective (i.e., arbitrary or capricious).
40. From Mark Adams, 4/4/06, re. painters, dancers, etc. In lecture today, you talked about how quality plays a role in whether something should be considered art. You also stated that one who dances on the side occasionally, but not necessarily with a large amount of skill, should not be considered a dancer in the proper sense. If one devotes all their time and effort (making it their "occupation" so to speak) to an art form such as painting or dancing but have no skill at all, are they considered a "dancer" and a "painter" even though quality is an important factor?
JB. It's not easy to imagine a sane person persevering for years who is so lacking in skill or talent. But if someone did, wouldn't it be more accurate to call her a would-be painter or dancer, an aspiring dancer, or something like that -- the French expression would be artiste manque', a failed artist? Or maybe an idiot! But actually, plenty of people paint or dance pretty well without being painters or dancers in the relevant sense. Language is complex, of course. Recreational painters, even fairly decent ones, if asked what they are, will not call themselves painters. They will rightly have too much respect for the art they enjoy practicing on a casual basis. Of course if someone asks who painted one of their works they will admit to being its painter. But they won't claim to have the level of accomplishment implied when one refers to oneself by that art form.
Incidentally there was a famous case of the sort you imagine, in the world of concert singing. I can't recall her name, Florence something, I think. She trained diligently for years, performed here and there on her own initiative, and finally, being wealthy, hired Carnegie Hall to display her talents. Music lovers around New York, knowing how awful she was, flocked to hear her disgrace herself because they found it hilarious. A record was made, which still sends people into hysterics. Was she a concert singer -- i.e. a musical artist?
Please understand that I'm not suggesting that amateur or recreational painting or dancing or singing is to be scorned. Far from it.
41. From Nikki Slatkin, 4/6/2006, re. Levinson's proprietorial condition. In lecture today we talked about Levinson's proprietorial condition. The main point I don't understand is how can any object truly be fulfill the proprietorial condition. Although the Empire State building is not a work of art, I think many people, artists and non artists alike, would agree that there are various paintings and photographs of it that are worthy of the title of art.
JB. The proprietarial condition is that the artist own the object that is the work of art. Photographers own (until they sell) their photographs. Duchamp owned the urinal he displayed as his artwork, Fountain. Only if an artist tries to make things she doesn't own into her artworks by simply declaring them to be such, would Levinson's condition kick in.
42. From Nikki Slatkin, 6/6/2006, re. Warburton's claim of the futility of trying to define art. I do not mean to be cynical, but I feel that even Warburton feels a sense of despair at the end of the fourth chapter. He states that "This is the pessimistic conclusion of this book: all recent major philosophical attempts at defining art have been inadequate to some extent" (118). Since this course is a CORE class one of it's objectives is to give students a broad sense of a different subject outside their major, but it seems like it's just a big, frustrating circle. We find a theory that we may actually agree with just to have the next page shut it down. Although I enjoy the course, I was just wondering what your opinion is on this course being taught as CORE rather than major-specific.
JB. I agree that it would be a bad idea to teach Warburton alone. Equally, to end up in total confusion about what art is would be inappropriate for any course, CORE or major specific. The rationale for spending time on the definition question is that people out there in the world are always raising it, even if often to dismiss it. The hope is that in considering ways of defining art students will get a fairly well-rounded idea of the things that count as art and (to some extent) why they count. Warburton's book mentions quite a few ideas that contribute to this positive aim, Davies and the other authors add more, and I try to fill out the picture. I personally do not think the project of defining art is a lost cause, and I try to explain why Warburton's pessimism is premature, to say the lease. But there is enough pessimism around to make it important to give students a taste of it -- and to explain why such pessimism is tempting. I'll say more about this in lecture Tuesday.
43. From Kenneth Melville, 4/7/2006, re. artist's intention. Do you consider the artist's intentions to be an intrinsic property, or a relational one?
JB. The standard view is that the intentions of the artist are not intrinsic ( in the sense of inherent or non-relational) properties of the artwork, but a relation that holds between the work and the creator. Otherwise, how could the work conceivably fail to fulfill those intentions, a situation which seems entirely possible (the possibility of failure is a logical consequence of striving). Perhaps what makes you uncertain is that intention is part of the definition of an artwork. W is a work of art only if made (or in some cases selected) with an artistic intention. That makes intentions essential rather than nonessential. The work won't be art unless it has that relation to the artist. In ordinary philosophic discourse "intrinsic" is used in both senses: i. inherent (non-relational) and ii. essential. So your question is a good one. I should have emphasized the difference of meaning.
44. From Mark Adams, 4/9/06, re. procedural criteria of art. It seems to me that if things such as racing horses, dead sharks in tanks, and piles of bricks are to be considered art, that one must have a procedural definition of art opposed to a functional definition. Like you stated in lecture, if these things were taken out of context there would be nothing intrinsic about them that would allow people to identify them as art. Are there any counters to this argument that would allow for those three works, for example, to be defined as art using a functional definition...because to me, there isn't anything instrically artistic about those works?
JB. I think each case has to be considered carefully in order to answer your sort of question about it. Damien Hirst's shark in the tank involves preparation and a mode of display that adds up to an artifact devised to fulfill an artistic intention, as is confirmed by the title (The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living). And Hirst's artifact fulfills an artistic intention because of its functional properties, that is, because as assembled, titled and displayed it has the capacity to create the artistically relevant impressions on properly clued-in viewers. Its particular functionality cannot, I think, be exercised so well, if at all, by an artist standing by a display in a natural history museum that has a similar shark declaring that she has given it the same title -- though if the artist bought the natural history display cabinet and displayed it in an art museum with that title it would acquire a somewhat different functionality. One difference comes from the fact that this last case brings with it its natural history museum origin. (Note I haven't explained what specific artistic functionality Hirst's work has, I've only said that I think it has enough to count as art.)
Objects not made to be art often have enough aesthetic functionality to serve as art in the right context, just as stumpy sections of tree trunks do to serve as chairs (or ottomans, if you prefer). It's when they don't satisfy this condition that the institutional theory has to carry most the burden of explaining how they can be art. This applies to Duchamp's urinal and snowshovel, which have come to be accepted because of the artworld's interpretation of their place in the context of Duchamp's whole body of work. This is helped along by the fact that the urinal can be sufficiently isolated from its practical function to act as if it were a piece of sculpture or good design. Wallinger's A Real Work of Art, on the other hand, has plenty of aesthetic functionality. But I think it should not count as a work of art because so many of its actual functions are in conflict with the functions of art works. Wallinger's horse is a beautiful horse (let's suppose) but it is beautiful as a horse, not as a work of art. Thus, even though some of its equine appearances are good to look at: its running, jumping, playing, posing for pictures, etc., these don't lend themselves to art-relevant display. Further, it also gets sick, munches and excretes, rolls in the dust, drops its ears and looks stupid, gets old and dies. Given all this, it isn't at all clear what Wallinger or the artworld thinks entitles him to put it forward as a work of art -- that is, what is artistically good about it. Wallinger's "work" looks to me like an empty gesture rather than a real work of art. But I'd need to know more about it before staking my life on this conclusion.
45. From Josh Samuel, 4/10/06, re. martial arts. I was thinking recently about martial “arts” in relation to art. The most obvious parallel is the art of dance. Movement is the medium and ryuha (traditional school) is the subject matter. This corresponds quite nicely to ballet (restricted movement and a dramatic interpretation). However, the obvious difference concerns the ultimate goal of each. Ballet ends with the expression of an emotion (a bit like a dramatic play) whereas the martial arts transcend expression of an emotion.
A martial art is based in martial tradition the goal of which is for the individual to kill another person. In modern times this has become more a method of subduing and controlling the other. We can call this goal self-defense. The method is kata, a set of ritualized movements. This is probably the aspect most similar to dance: a set of rehearsed movements that often express an ideal of the human body. It involves training and rote memorization, and as anyone who has been involved in combat can tell you, the worst thing you can do is think. You want your body to act and your mind to be empty. This leads nicely into the idea of fudoshin, which is a “zen” state of mind which also fulfills the concept of munen muso, “no ideas, no thoughts, and no desires.” This state gives one physiological and psychological advantages over an opponent, and transforms the individual in accordance with the ryuha of the art. This changing of the student does not seem to occur in other arts
This leads to an interesting question as to whether the student is the artist or the instructor is the artist and the student the medium? The path of learning a martial art is much like that of learning any other art. You study under a series of teachers, each with a higher level of mastery. You must learn how others in the past have done things before you can truly understand what is going on. Through this the individual makes the martial art his own, but is also changed by it. Perhaps I am mistaken as I have never seriously studied other art forms.
The major difference of martial arts compared to other forms of art seems to me to be the transformation of the individual and the competitive aspect, which relates to the original mortal intent even if this has now become more a sport than a deadly combat. Does the presence of this martial aspect, or even this aspect of sport, keep it from being art?
JB. Unquestionably there are aspects of artistry in martial arts, as there are in sports. But in my view the competitive goal does indeed get in the way of their being art. Note that competition here is different from competition in, e.g. ballroom dancing, where the performance aims simply at dancing more beautifully, not in physically beating the rivals. There is another difference, I think. Martial arts push the performers to ever higher levels of risk, as competitive ice-skating and gymnastics also do. Ballet and modern dance keep risk at a comparatively modest level for the sake of relieving the audience from that tension that always is present in high-achievement sport. We can’t enjoy ice-dancing the way we can ballet and modern dance because we’re always on edge for fear of a fall. Falls do occur in dance but they aren’t an ever-present menace to our peace of mind. We can therefore concentrate more fully on the aesthetic properties of the performance. Also, the performers can give more attention to expressive subtleties since they don’t have to be quite so preoccupied with avoiding falls.
What about competitions in the arts, e.g., in piano or ballet, or in film? The entrants are judged as art, certainly. In fact, the aspiration inherent in fine art to practice the art well entails that there can be competitions and that artists to some extent always compete with each other implicitly. But their primary aim is to be faithful to the composition (the music, the dance) or to the ideals of the art (in painting, sculpture, poetry). Formal competition is never the primary performance or creation situation for any art, is it? In sports and martial arts it always stands at the center. It is this, rather than the transformation of the individual, that distinguishes the category from art from the others. For the arts also transform the creators and performers. Their arms and fingers and bodies and minds also perform in a zen-like manner, at least to a significant degree.
46. From Catherine Hoffer, 4/12/06, re. non-essentialism. I thought that the essentialist view of art was the idea that we can use logical properties to define art. If this is true then why is the Cluster Theory which utilizes the disjunctive definition is classified as a non- essentialist view?
JB. The original idea of the cluster theory was that it was too open-ended for any set of necessary and sufficient conditions to be formulated. Even when the possibility of a disjunctive definition was mentioned, it wasn't taken seriously. But later people began to experiment with new sorts of properties -- intentions or aspirations rather than achievements and art-theoretic ideas rather than representation or expression -- and the possibility of a closed set of disjunctive conditions began to sound more plausible. You are right that a closed disjunctive definition would be "essentialist" in the sense of being applicable to all and only artworks.
Perhaps I should also mention that, as with many other terms, philosophical usage of the term "essence" is both various and contested. Aristotelians and some other metaphysicians think that disjunctive properties can't be essences (can't be real properties). So one may need to ask a philosopher who says disjunctive definitions are "non-essentialist" what exactly she means.
47. From Adam Foltz, 4/14/06, re. photogranpy as an art. You said that there is a debate over photography as an art but that it is usually not considered art. I would challenge that because its much harder and expressive than just snapping a photograph. Serious photographers spend so much time taking these photographs over and over again with different shutter speeds, exposures, etc. and I believe that it could be a form of art because of its different expression of reality, despite being an imitation. So would photography in this sense be art despite being purely an imitation of reality? Or would it be considered a craft according to Collingwood because its kind of a learned skill?
JB. I said that philosophers still raise questions about it, in the context of the question how to define art. I never said that photographs by master photographers are not art. Indeed that is beyond dispute so far as the art world is concerned. Witness exhibitions in major museums, analyses and interpretations of photographic works, books analyzing photography as an art, and so forth. And a clear majority of philosophers also accepts the proposition that photography is an art and works away at explaining what justifies this proposition. Clearly not all photographs are art works. Most are not, just as most paintings are not. The photographs that are art are those that are expertly and imaginatively planned, chosen, and printed. They qualify as art because of their much better than average aesthetic functionality and content. The great photographers artists by the same criteria as apply to other visual artists. And like representational paintings, photographs are not "imitations" in any common sense. The compositional and expressive qualities of photographs are quite different from the (necessarily 3-D) scenes they represent, just as is the case with paintings. Art-aspiring photographers devote themselves just as intensively to making art-grade photographs as similarly ambitious painters do to making art-grade paintings.
The notion that photography can't be an art comes from the idea that it is easy to make photographs that present a naturalistic image of subjects. The last is true enough, but making recognizable photographic images is not by any means enough to make art-grade photographs. It isn't even necessary, since many art-grade photographs give highly misleading images of the objects they depict, even though they are bound to be accurate depictions of the light array reaching the camera's lens (providing there is no distortion produced in processing, and especially no digital transforming).
48. From Jess Jacobson, 4/14/06, re. comic strips as art. Today (4/14) you talked about Lichtenstein's art. It sounded to me that you were implying that Lichtenstein's work was art and that the comics it was based from were not art. Is this what you meant? If so, why? It seems to me that comics meet the criteria of most theories of high art. They are creative, expressive, and intentionally artistic. I do not see any reason that a skilled cartoonist could not produce images that are aesthetically pleasing and/or have significant form. In fact, I have seen as much asthetically pleasing art in (select) comics as I have in any art museum. Could the reason that comics are not considered high art be because they are so... repetitive? And wouldn't that imply that that the underlying characteristic of art is uniqueness (being unique within the art world)?
JB. You're right about my believing that comic strips are not art in the sense under discussion. That sense of art applies only to work that has a higher artistic aspiration than comic strips have. There is, however, a much broader, less selective use of the term that does apply to comics -- as in the terms popular art, media art, advertizing art, illustration, and the like. Lichtenstein's work belongs in the more demanding category, comics in the less demanding one. The key question is not how much aesthetic pleasure the images produce, but what that pleasure is based on. If it comes from subtle aesthetic discernment, grasp of complex and difficult meanings, and serious reflection on significant human problems, etc., then it is characteristic of our response to art of this "higher" -- more demanding -- sort. It's ultimately a question of how much intelligence, acuity and taste is needed to fully appreciate the work. You're right that the repetitiveness of the comics is a disqualifier. That's because it implies the lack of high-grade aesthetic and intellectual functionality. The term "uniqueness" is often used to convey the presence of such functionality. But strictly speaking everything, even carbon copies, are unique in some respect, so being unique in the undiscriminating sense isn't to the credit of anything.
Along this same line I think it's important not to confuse aesthetic pleasure with aesthetic admiration. Much aesthetic pleasure is derived from things that don't arouse admiration, wonder, or a feeling of profound respect. Art at its best is capable of arousing the latter. Do you find yourself similarly moved when you look with pleasure at comics?
It's not too difficult to imagine a comic strip artist developing her strip into art in the relevant sense by a turn toward enhanced aesthetic functionality, deeper content, etc. It would become comics for art lovers. This would slow down her production a lot, arouse protests from her publisher that the strip was now too "heavy" or "intellectual" or "arty," and finally lead to its cancellation. She'd then begin exhibiting in galleries, almost certainly with larger images -- that is, presuming her work had what it takes to attract the art crowd.
49. From Jess Jacobson, 4/14/06, re. Pollack and Duchamp are considered great artists because they were influential, they were influential because changes in the art world are attributed to them (In December 2004, Duchamp's Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 of the most powerful people in the British art world. ~Wikipedia). Obviously, the first to do something publicly usually gets credit for it. However, if one is to accept that taking real things and presenting them in the art world counts as art, one will still have to deny that an identical urinal to Duchamp's, put forward by me, would be an equally good piece of art. Maybe if I broke it to make a statement (making it unique) it would count for more. What if I presented a framed Escher print? Escher's hard work would become part of my art just as the hard work of the urinal factory's workers went into Duchamp's. What else might keep these (extreme) examples from being art?
JB. Historical influence is certainly part of works regarded as in one way or another great. Sometimes this is because of radical novelty (Duchamp's Fountain, Picasso's Demoiselles of Avignon) even if the quality of the work is not stratospheric. (Note that the survey didn't pose the question of quality, only influence.) In other cases the greatness doesn't lie in extreme novelty but in bringing earlier innovations to a consummation. The work will exercise a lot of influence even without introducing any radically new departures. Raphael's tapestry cartoons are a case of this kind.
Clearly, for you to try to follow up Duchamp by submitting another urinal would fall completely flat unless your entry had something about it that is as radically new as Duchamp's had in his time. Breaking the urinal won't suffice unless the artworld can see that as having some extraordinary meaning, relating to the artworld, perhaps. What meaning might you propose? Ditto for your framed Escher print. "Statements" that are empty of significant content are not art-making. (Recall the comment about uniqueness in #48).
Because viewers often can't see the point of works like Duchamp's, they imagine that there doesn't have to be any, that any old object could be set up as art without any significant functional properties, manifest or hidden. But that's not true. Nobody would celebrate Duchamp's Fountain if they didn't think it had such properties, even if they can't tell you what they are.
50. From Jess Jacobson, 4/14/06, re. replicas. Replicas and mass produced items are often disregarded as high art by many theories, even though (in my mind) a replica could be better painted than the original (have more significant form, etc.). Furthermore, descriptions of art, especially in art museums full of halls of art of one style, tend to focus on what makes one work different from another. I may simply be overemphasizing the due respect given to creativity and creative works. Do you, or other philosophers, have an opinion on uniqueness as driving, if not defining, force in art (in some or all cases)?
JB. Reproductions of art works have a special status. Art historians distinguish between routine copies and first-rate or top quality copies. The latter are given considerable respect, are exhibited in musems (generally when the original has been lost). Major artists have made copies of prior works by other artists, sometimes introducing their own style. Rubens added strokes and highlights that "Rubenized" drawings by earlier artists. This is all quite natural and normal in our artistic tradition. To this extent "uniqueness" is not made as much of a shibboleth by the artworld as some philosophers have claimed. Artists do aim at achieving a style that is significantly personal. But this is something they achieve more or less well, and it is often possible to imitate an artist's personal style well enough to fool the experts.
Same-size reproductions using the same media should be distinguished from photographic reproductions (of paintings) or mechanical reproductions of sculpture. Multiple originals (prints or castings) should be distinguished from both. We'll talk more about these next week in connection with Davies' Chapter Four. Another relevant class of objects is that of works in a highly traditional culture which repeat established patterns over and over. Even if there is not much, if any, novelty in the work of successive generations, selected examples of the work are typically accepted as art in museums of art. Uniqueness in the aesthetically loaded sense (see # 48) is not a factor at all.
51. From Adam Foltz, 4/14/06, re. intrinsic and relational properties. (Paraphrased) Can you explain more thoroughly the distinction between intrinsic and relational properties? Can you also comment on whether it is easy to establish the border between these two in the case of art works?
JB. First, look at what I said to Kenneth Melville in #43 about "intrinsic" and see if that helps clear up the matter. Then continue with this: I use "inherent" for non-relational, but "intrinsic" is also often used for the same idea. However, art works are defined not simply by the inherent (non-relational) properties of the object, but in part by that artist's intentions, which are properties of the object by virtue of its relation to the artist. Since these are essential, I call them intrinsic. Since there's no uniformity of usage on this point, one simply has to explain one's meaning, as I have just done. Now the distinction between non-relational and relational is clear enough. But there can certainly be questions as to just what properties, non-relational and relational, are essential (intrinsic, in my terminology) to the artwork. Whatever answer one gives regarding a particular object, there will plenty of other relational properties that are not essential.
52. From Heather Williams, 4/16/06, re. the institutional theory of art. In the institutional theory of art/artworld theory, if an artist makes his/her name as an artist with truly magnificent artwork, can he/she get away with mediocre, avant-garde works because he/she is already an established artist?
JB. That would be a situation consistent with Dickie's new institutional theory, in the rather vague form in which it is stated in his book. (I ignore the old theory since it is so easily refuted.) But aside from Dickie, I believe it is a consequence of any adequate hybrid theory that such works count as art if the artist is at all serious about them. What operates here is a principle of trust: a proven artist is trusted to have an artistic motivation. But if we or our successors discover that such motivation was lacking -- it was all a joke, for instance -- then we would revise our opinion. Even if the creator was not a well established artist and the works seemed absurd when first displayed, with the result that they were not taken seriously as artworks, they would be accepted into the artworld if they were later seen to have sufficient artistic merit. But this outcome would require our finding good reasons for such a judgment. Among the reasons would be that the creator created a significant body of work which collectively possessed artistic merit.
53. From Heather Williams, 4/16/06, re. theories of art.
If what is art is determined by which theory one believes, isn't it true that there is no way to falsely classify something as art if one has a theory with which to substantiate said classification?
JB. Before deciding whether a theory of art can make something art, it's needful to ask what qualifies as a theory of art AND what justifies believing that a theory of art is true or even plausible. Bad theories of art certainly don't justify a claim that a thing is art any more than a bad zoological theory justifies a claim that whales are reptiles. Theories of this sort are supposed to give true, or at least credible, explanations of why things should be included in a given category. Mere belief that a theory is correct proves nothing. It is often easy to show that a thing does not belong in the category of art because there is no credible theory that could make it so.
54. Mark Adams, 4/20/06, re. Warburton and Wittgenstein. In Chapter 5, Warburton claims that "the most plausible hypothesis is that 'art' is indefinable" and I was just wondering the distinctions between his views and that of Wittgenstein who also thought art was indefinable (right?). Am I correct in assuming there is a distinction between the two?
JB. Wittgenstein expressed the view that lots of terms don't have definitions but only looser rules for use that are woven into forms of life. I take it that Warburton is taking this view toward art -- in the spirit of, this is the most plausible hypothesis. So for practical purposes we can say he adopts a Wittgensteinian view of art, without being able to be more specific. Since Wittgenstein never heard of the sorts of nontraditional definitions of art Warburton examines -- the institutional, disjunctive, historicist and hybrid definitions, it isn't possible to say what he would say about them. We shouldn't assume he would agree with Warburton. All we can be sure of is that he would have something interesting to say!
55. From Ben Wong, 4/20/06, re. improvisations. Does the artworld place more value on improvised or premeditated works of art? In the case of an improvised musical performance, you get a raw, unedited, piece of work that cannot be replicated. Jimi Hendrix's rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock comes to mind. But with a studio or recorded version that spontaneity has been removed. However, one might end up with a more refined performance that has been edited to perfection.
JB. I don't think there is any consensus on which is better. Both have advocates. For many live performances are more exciting, authentic, and satisfying. Others long for the perfection of which you speak, providing that the appearance of spontaneity is there -- when one puts aside one's knowledge of the studio manipulations. I think it matters a lot whether the manipulations are audible. If you can detect patchwork then the performance won't have the feel of a spontaneity. Normally studio refinements aim at this degree of seamlessness. Of course if a studio production does things that couldn't have been created live, that's another matter. Then there's no pretense of spontaneity and the producer must be aiming at compensating for its absence by foregrounding other values. I see no reason why such compensation couldn't succeed.
In short, this is a case where the reasonable consensus in the artworld would seem to be that while personal preferences may differ, the two types at their best are of equal artistic value.
56. From Michael Kellerman, 4/20/06, re. artwork identity. Today when talking about ontological Platonism, we wrestled with the idea of an artist "discovering" a work that was already in existence. The work was then presented by the artist in whatever form was acceptable. But what if two people independently discovered a painting, for example, on their own at different time periods? If the paintings were exactly the same, are both equal works of art? -Michael Kellermann
JB. The circumstances are crucial in cases like these. If the discovery is of the same Platonic universal but without knowledge of someone previously having embodied it as her work of art, then sure, then the Platonist will say the new embodiment is just as much that person's artwork-presentation as the previous one was of the other person. It's the same artwork being presented again. Neither created the work, only the vehicle that presents it. On the other hand if the second person knows of the first presentation then her painting (the presentation) will be a copy of that first person's painting. Independent discoveries are bound to be more creditable than appropriations.
A non-Platonist will be able to say that the work itself is new, not just the presentation. For that thinker, if qualitatively identical paintings (or musical compositions or whatever) were independently created, they would be quantitatively different -- they would have different identities. To me that seems the more reasonable view. Of course the chances of such a thing happening are next to zero, especially if one insists that full qualitative identity requires the same meanings, not just the same color-pattern (sound-pattern in the case of music).
57. From Sean DiBlasi, 4/21/06, re. historicism. Being that the historicists regard art in terms of what has previously been considered art, do they accept the biological theory previously studied in class as a reason for art's beginnings?
JB. There's nothing to prevent a historicist from accepting the evolutionary account of art, and it would be a stretch for them to opt for the cultural invention theory set forth in Davies' first chapter. Certainly historicists such as Levinson trace art far back to ancient times -- ur-art is meant to include primitive art. No need for anything like the complex artworld of the 18th C. cultural invention theory. On the other hand, the historicist is not bound to any particular account of the reason for ur-art springing up, such as sexual selection.
58. From Rahul Samtani, 4/21/06, re. Levinson on secondary intentions. I had a question regarding Levinsons proposal for a secondary intention. I dont understand that. If the author or creator of the works created the works so that it does not fulfil any of the criteria of art, how can a work be art? What separates meaningless craft that doesn't share anything with art, to secondary intentions of something that is considered art?
JB. Read again what he says on p. 233 in Neill-Ridley. The artist does intend that the viewer regard the work in a way that has been correct for some art in the past. That primary intention is needed to make the thing art. But the artist also intends (this is the secondary intention) that when the viewer tries to regard it in such a way, she finds that it doesn't work at all well and is led to see it in a different way, which makes the work a lot more significant. Thus if an artist presents a bit of writing in medium size letters on a gallery wall, she may intend people coming into the gallery to regard it as a kind of abstract design -- like a piece of calligraphy (primary intention). Calligraphy is prized in some cultures, esp. in Asian cultures. It's made by hand, of course, and has lots of intriguing complexities of form and texture. The new work differs from that in being standard print, without any striking decorative or expressive properties. So when the viewer regards it in the way appropriate to calligraphy she finds it completely inartistic. So she concentrates on the meaning, and over time finds that becoming both interesting and different from the same thing in a book or pamphlet. She begins to see it as a new form of art, conceptual art. This fulfills the artist's secondary intention.
As to a particular example, consider Jenny Holzer's text (one of a series):
59. From Rahul Samtani, 4/21/06, re. art works as discovered vs. created. When reading over yesterdays notes on Davies' view on creation vs. discovery, what is he implying? When Da Vinci created a masterful peice of artwork, such as the Mona Lisa, did he simply discovery an innate set of brush strokes? Was he the first one to discover this set of brush strokes? If this is true, then anyone who mimics the Mona Lisa in quality and completness has also created a Mona Lisa. I don't think that anyone can say that people "discover" art. All art is created in the mind of the artist, and "discovery" of art just seems to be an inane argument.
JB. Strictly the second person has presented not just a Mona Lisa but the Mona Lisa, the very same one as Leonardo presented. The argument is all about identity. What makes the second different from the first as a work of art? Nothing, says the Platonist, since all that matters is the total ensemble of brushstrokes. Only properties possessed by that ensemble matter artistically. Not the fact that Leonardo presented them. So one and the same work of art is presented. And if so, it can't be the presentation that gives the Mona Lisa its identity as art.
Of course, the Platonist agrees that Leonardo's presentation is unique. But the presentation is not, in her view, the work of art. Compare this case with that of a poem, which is a sequence of words presented in countless copies. The copies are only presentations. The poem is an abstract object. Abstract objects exist independently of space and time. Like numbers. You are right that "creators" conceive them in their minds. But that's a discovery, as a theorem is a discovery, not a creation. So saith the Platonist. It may be wrong, but it isn't inane because it's not easy to disprove.
60. From Hall Anthony, 4/24/06, re. ontological Platonism. Ontological platonism says that the artist is basically just a discoverer and not what most would say an "artist who creates art"..so how would the artist's talents and feelings that went into the work he "discovered" be explained? Does this view say that he just happened to discover the art and that he doesn't actually have any personal relation to the work other then its discoverer?
JB. Discoverers of important things, such as cures of diseases or mathematical theorems don't just happen to find them lying around. They generally have to use their talents and their energies to the maximum. So it is with artists on the Platonic view. As to the relation of artist to (eternal) artwork, that's not essential to the existence of the work, which exists independently of that creator. But just as a theorem may bear the name of its discoverer, as with the Pythagorean theorem, the eternal artwork may be referred to by the name of the discoverer. Even for the Platonist discovery in the case of art requires creative imagination because one has to imagine the eternal artwork and create the presentation. So also in the case of a geometrical or mathematical theorem. That's because the artwork or theorem doesn't get presented in the normal course of events. It's not like a pattern in, say, a sunset, or a new species of animal, e.g. the duck-billed platypus, things that do get presented. In short, the Platonic theory can't be demolished at all easily! To do it justice one has to think up answers to the obvious objections (i.e., use quite a bit of creative imagination!).
A really good case for the Platonist is a creative move in chess. Such a move is obviously "there" all along, that is, implied by the rules of the game. But wow, does it take creative imagination to think it up, that is, to discover it.
61. From Heather Williams, 4/25/06, re. translations. Since, when a novel is translated to a different language, some of the words are changed, does that make the translator an artist because he/she puts his/her own "spin" on the words?
JB. Translators have to use artistic criteria when they translate, yet they are not generally ranked with artists. They certainly are not novelists just because they translate novels, or poets because they translate poetry. They are translators of novels or poems. That's a special category because the job is a special sort of job, related to but not the same as, or at the same level of creativity as, that of the novelist or poet. I think we ought to say they practice a minor and subsidiary art form. There are many such forms. Consider that of the editor who advises a novelist, suggesting zillions of improvements. Or the lighting designer for a stage production. Or a film editor. These are all jobs that are artistic and to some extent creative. But they are not major art forms and they are definitely subsidiary.
Heather Williams. Also, according to Platonism, any type of photograph would be considered art, correct?
JB. Platonism doesn't hold that all eternal patterns are art. If that were so, grocery lists would be artworks. Platonism doesn't get off the hook of defining art just because of its ontology.
62. From Ryan Derenberger, 4/25/06, re. Platonism. My understanding of Ontological Platonism is that there can be different levels of purity (different intensity levels of reflection from eternal, abstract patterns). The greatest artists would therefore be the ones who totally lose themselves, operating on pure intuition and insight to solely reflect the eternal. Other artists may put too many conscious elements into their work, distilling the purity instead of enhancing it. If I am correct in asserting this idea of levels, what is considered “art” could theoretically spiral into everything. Arguably, every human creation could then be considered art, just art that isn't as strong aesthetically or as strong of an artistic reflection. Is this concept of "levels" possible, and if so, does it hurt the theory by allowing for anything even remotely creative to be considered art?
JB. The contemporary Platonists about artworks don't speak about levels of purity. That notion fits things Plato says about the Forms, which get more or less fully exemplified by space-time particulars. But this notion would imply that abstract patterns were ideals, that is, were the very best subtypes of a given type of pattern -- the most beautiful enigmatically smiling woman pattern in the case of Mona Lisa, for example. Contemporary Platonists about artworks hold that any pattern is a universal, beautiful or not, perfect or not. Being an eternal pattern doesn't imply anything about quality. Of course all patterns will have some level of quality (positive or negative), but that won't make everything art. See my comment to #59.
A related idea easily confused with the ontological one is that of an artist struggling to produce a work that measures up to the conception she has in her mind. That is not essentially Platonic or contextualist or anything else. Every theory makes room for it.
63. From Shahroo Yazdani, 4/26/06, re. performances as artworks. Last time in lecture you spoke of how each time music is performed it can be considered an original piece of work. Would this be true of other works as well? For example what if someone were to recreate a Christo & Jeanne-Claude work? Would the recreation also be considered an original piece of work?
JB. I said I thought improvisations, like typical jazz pieces, should be considered original works. That's because each performance involves significantly different note-sequences. (Davies in contrast doesn't count an improvisation a work, since he thinks works have to be intended for repeated performance within the composer's guidelines.) Performances of compositions, on the other hand, are importantly creative in various respects, so they involve artistry, but the performance as a whole doesn't count as an original work of music because the creativity is focused on fidelity to the composer's intentions. In the case of drama, productions as well as individual performances call for artistry, no question about it. But they too are not original plays. However, a production or performance may be an original production or performance as opposed to an unoriginal one. If we call things by their right names, a lot of confusion is avoided.
A "recreated" Valley Curtain or the arches in Central Park would be just a replica rather than an original work, something Christo and Jeanne-Claude wouldn't (and shouldn't) do. If someone else did it the artworld would rightly view the replication with deep aversion. Those works were essentially one-time affairs. The artists left an appropriate record, the totality of which could be considered a subsidiary work.
64. From Mitchell Levine, 4/26/06, re. artwork indestructibility. In class on April 20th one section of the outline mentioned the 'Indestructibility issue': if something is art then it is always considered art. How then is the Brillo box or the urinal just now being considered art? If one were to accept the 'Indestructibility thesis' then many contemporary artworks would not be considered art. Much of the abstract modern art just recognized for its aesthetic pleasure is just now being considered art, how then can one believe in the 'Indestructibility issue', if it is art now, it has and will always be art. That means the first urinal invented for bathroom use and the brillo box first used for sale is art. Yes they are made with different materials, but still if the urinal and brillo box are art now, then they have and always have been art.
JB. There are two indestructibility theses. The Platonist thinks that artworks can't be destroyed because they are timeless abstract patterns (including event-patterns and context-related patterns). Davies and I reject this artwork ontology. So I'll assume you are not concerned with that. You appear to refer to things gaining or losing the status of art, which is entirely separate from the ontological issue. I said (Davies doesn't take a position on this) that our concept of art, in a late stage of a long tradition, is such that if a work was accepted at any earlier stage as art, then it retains its status. We honor the history of art. Earlier works don't have the same status if done outside their proper period. We don't honor retrograde anachronisms. And the status of an earlier work won't always be as high in the all-time-great rankings as it once was. But it will always be art.
Your examples, however, are different. They're cases where something that is now art wasn't in previous stages. So they are not covered by the indestructibility principle that I proposed. A Brillo carton B.W. (before Warhol) was not art and never becomes art unless it is individually picked out and made into art by a specific artist in accordance with accepted (or to-be-accepted) artworld practice. The intention is crucial and also, in my view, the uptake is crucial. Neither Warhol nor anyone else can make all ordinary Brillo boxes art.
Abstract painting is a different case. If an artist acting with artistic intention painted an abstract painting and the artworld wasn't ready to receive it until much later, then in my view it is unacknowledged art -- that is, it is art, just unacknowledged. But the intention has to be right, and that's not easy for an artist to possess unless the artworld is close enough to accepting such things.
65. From Mitchell Levine, 4/26/06, continuing #62. Furthermore on the matter of the brillo box you had mentioned later that class that the definition of art in 1750 was different than it was defined in 1970. If that is so then does this mean all art is dispensable? The Mona Lisa? The Sistine chapel? All of Mozart's compositions? Bach? If the rules of art are forever changing, how then can something stay art forever? Yes, certain pieces and artists have indestructible qualities but how does fabulous art of the time remain to be considered art in hundreds of years?
JB. Most of this paragraph is answered by the previous response. But one part needs further comment. The definition that was given in 1750 clearly never envisaged a work like Brillo Box. That's because people didn't imagine anything like the actual future development of the artworld. Had they been enlightened about this and given time to absorb the enormity of it all, I think they could have been brought to see that even Fountain and Brillo Box would have enough continuity with 1750-normal art to be art, even if not the most normal or paradigmatic sort of art (even in 1950). The radical avant garde art is related to the earlier easy-to-love art as descendant to ancester. Parent art gives birth to strange and unexpected progeny, but enough of the genes are retained to make the development intelligible. (This is the family connection that counts.)
66. From Kenneth Leftin, 4/27/06, re. mathematical proofs as art. To what extent can an elegant mathematical proof be considered a work of art? On one hand, there's a certain amount of creativity involved in the discovery of a proof (and creating it as concisely and elegantly as possible), yet there's also no ambiguity in whether the proof is correct or not.
JB. This is an interesting case, because, as you say, creative thinking is needed to devise an elegant proof. And yet mathematical proofs are not artworks. Why? The requirement that they be valid does have something to do with it, but not so much as the requirement of simplicity or brevity. A valid proof could be playfully inelegant, wandering all over the place before it arrives at the conclusion. So far as I know, no mathematician has ever played in that way in pursuit of a package of art-like properties. Simplicity and validity taken together put a damper on the already limited possibilities of expressiveness, especially of a vision of life or reality. Mathematical proofs, like countless other things (objects and events), are valued for their beauty without their having to be richly suggestive across a range of experiences and concerns. Compare them with poems or with music, or even with speeches or prose discourses, and the difference of capability is striking.
67. From Adam Foltz, 4/27/06, re. games and art. I notice that there is a juxtaposition in lecture 12 of games to work in the beginning and then to art: game-like properties are set in relation to art. Is this juxtaposition another way of looking at Collingwood's separation of art and craft? There seem to be a lot of parallels with this analogy.
JB. Sure, artistic creation/enjoyment is in many ways like playing/watching a game, especially a game that requires creative imagination. On the other hand there are differences. Normally a game has a definite goal, e.g. to score more goals than one's rival. Even the fact that one plays against someone (or in the case of solitary games against the wall or the cards) is disanalogous. And yes, Collingwood would call skilled game-playing a craft because of the goal being definite and preestablished. There are rules of sorts for art, but the goal is less definite, appealing as it does to quality. Sports approach art to the extent that artistic values play a larger part, as they do in ice-dancing, for example. But there's always some difference, though that difference can't always be explained by saying it's craft, not art.
68. From Mark Adams, 4/29/06, re. recordings. Yesterday in discussion we talked about what can change the identity of a work of art. Technical advancements (recordings, computers, etc.) was a factor with regards to music that we discussed. Before we recorded music, the "identity" of the music was that of the written composition. However, the ideal identity nowadays is the recorded version of the song. Obviously you can't have more than one version or interpretation of a recording like you can with the written works of Mozart and Bach. So is the identity of the new recorded music, the actual recording or the notation of the music being recorded?
JB. A recording of a composed work is a recording of a performance more or less engineered by studio technicians, so it's not identical to the performance (live or studio). But of course it is causally related to the performance and thereby related to the compositon. Through the recording one does gain access to both the performance and the composition. It's an adjunct to those things, one that gives one a pretty good facsimile of the experience one would have listening directly to the performance itself. I don't think there's anything further to say about its ontology.
Davies also mentions works that are written on a computer for playback by a synthesizer. There's no performance here, only playback. The computer program is the counterpart of a score but unlike the normal score it's not for playing -- where the performer interprets the work and each performance is different from every other. So the ontology differs. If one made a recording of that playback it wouldn't be a recording of a performance but of a playback. True, there can be different recordings of fully programmed electronic music that are somewhat differently engineered. So you can have (slightly) different recordings of the same work even there. But those variations won't hold a candle to the interest music lovers take in performances.
69. From Samantha DiFilippo, 5/3/06, re. the mimesis theory of pictures. Although we have discussed that the Mimesis theory is no longer acceptable as a complete explanation of representation, it is impossible to deny that it no longer has any legitimate part of the explanation of art. Are there any types of art which the Mimesis Theory still holds true perhaps more than any other theories and are there any types of art which specifically rally against the Mimesis Theory by purposefully looking to not mimic reality at all? Do you think it would be possible for the artworld to revert back in time to relying on the Mimesis theory?
JB. Assuming there is no Armageddon, the chance of the artworld reverting to past styles, let alone to entirely mimetic visual art, is frankly zero. Abstract art is too deeply entrenched. But of course a great deal of visual art is still mimetic in a general sense, i.e., having recognizable depiction-content (the Wyeths are a case in point). It's just that accurate depiction with captivating narrative or descriptive content is no longer the criterion of excellence in painting or sculpture. Note that the mimetic ideal flourishes in both still and cinematic photography. For that very reason it isn't ever going to become dominant again (let alone exclusive) in painting or sculpture. Incidentally the traditional mimetic ideal was never sheer accuracy but visually and imaginatively stimulating (and expressive, etc.) depiction, so it was never a simple imitation ideal. As such the ideal will never entirely go out of currency. It will just be harder for artists to gain as much distinction by following it as they used to be able to do. On average, however, the chances of making a reasonable living by painting are better if one paints in a fairly traditional naturalistic style than if one tries for artworld fame by more advanced styles. There are plenty of American realists to prove the point.
70. From Heather Williams, 5/7/06, re. importance of content vs. style. What would you consider to be a more important factor in art: the actual content and meaning behind a piece of work, or the fashion in which it is created (style)?
JB. There's no way of assigning greater value to aspects as general as these, in my view. All one can say at that level of generality are things like the following. For a work to be counted great, it has to be good in both respects, and no work can be of much account that is poor in either. That leaves unanswered almost all questions of real importance, which are questions about how much or little the content or style contributes to the value of particular works, or of fairly narrow types of work. Like many other "big" questions, this one is just a cover for a mass of smaller ones.
Also please note the point made in the last lecture about content and style being relative. Given a task of telling a story or depicting a scene, the particular way (style) one devises will determine many features of content -- the details that are left open by the general plot or scene. Given the detailed plot or scene, the verbal or imagistic ways of presenting it will be style relative to that content. At any given level there will be a clear distinction between style and content, but the work as a whole cannot be divided cleanly into content plus style.
71. From Jeffrey O'Toole, 5/7/06, re. the definition of art. I believe that the closest thing to a substantial definition of art that we've studied in this class is the one presented by Levinson saying that a work of art is a thing intended to be seen as a work of art. Although it is very simplistic and does not go into any physical characteristics such as Bell's definition or any aspects of the feelings or emotions given to the viewer such as Tolstoy's definition; I believe it is the most encompassing yet compact... I was wondering your thoughts on arguments against this definition and some similarly abstract definitions.
JB. First, be sure you understand exactly what Levinson is proposing -- the stress falls on presenting a work for regard in one of the ways that past art has been regarded. That's more specific, and somewhat less circular, than "intended to be seen as a work of art." As to the issues, the chief ones are emphasized in the texts, Warburton's and Davies, and Levinson attempts to answer them in his article in Neill-Ridley. As to my views, they are indicated by the lecture outlines 16 and 18. For me the essential task is to specify, as Levinson's approach does not, the aesthetic functionality which is the core of art in any given age, including the bare beginnings (ur-art) as well as the radically innovative periods. I am confident that if we understand what art did for its creators and its public in each age we would find substantial common threads of connection that distinguish art from the many other forms of aesthetic enterprise. The result would be a comprehensive theory of art. This approach would remove all suspicion of circularity. No simple formula can do that and still cover all past, present and future forms of art.
In foregrounding lectures 16 and 18 I don't mean to say that the other lectures on the question (on Dickie, on Danto, etc.) don't also contain relevant material on the very large question. They do.
72. From Hall Anthony, 5/8/06, re. ontological contextualism and historicism. Ii have a question on the difference between ontological contextualism and historicism. Ontological contextualism says the identity of artworks are generated by the socio-historical context in which they are created. In comparison, historicism says that something is art if it stands in the appropriate historical relation to its artistic predecessors. These both seem like they are very similar theories. the only difference seems to be that ontological contextualism looks at the SOCIAL history only, while historicism looks at all of history for a relation to the work of art. Is this the case or am I missing more aspects to these theories..?
JB. You haven't got it quite right. The two concepts do different jobs, so they aren't rivals. Ontological contextualism concerns what type of thing a work of art is. Its rivals are Platonism, idealism (Collingwood's theory), and the process theory of Currie (the work as a process of creation). Levinson's historicist theory deals with how to classify things as artworks rather than hardware or industrial cartons or wallpaper or whatever. That's what we've been calling the definition question. Rivals to Levinson's theory are Dickie's institutional theory, aesthetic functionalism (making use of Gaut's list of art-relevant properties), and a hybrid theory that combines elements of the others.
Whatever ontological theory one adopts, one will have to decide the classification question from scratch, since many nonart things will fall into the same ontological type. And equally, adopting a classification theory (a definition of art) leaves the ontological question unresolved. The difference between the two subjects is reflected in the exam questions. Everyone has to write on the definition question. The ontological question is listed quite separately.
73. From Wossen Tefera, 5/11/06, re. effect of context. When dealing with contextualism and its use in defining art, can we conclude that a given art can have different meanings by analysing different contexts that it is located at. Eg. if an art is taken into a differnt cultural setting and is understood in a different way becuse of cultural differences, the value of the art might go up or down. Some advertisment items have been given different meaning by different socities due to the different cultural meaning they give to gestures, colors and even words. I take advertisments as works of art beacuse of their creativity and the message they pronounce and do we see them form the contextualist perspective?
JB. I take the meaning of an artifact to be the meaning it has in its culture of origin. When another culture misunderstands it, they are taking it to have a meaning that it doesn't have. And naturally, if they do this they may think the work has a value different from the value that it really has. On the other hand, there is also the remote possibility of a work being designed with two cultures in mind and planned to have different meanings. In that case the work would be ambiguous, that is, have two meanings (and perhaps two values). But that is definitely a far-out possibility.
In the material we've studied, "context" (or "contextual properties") refers to properties works have because of the artworld context within which the work was created. When we discussed ontology there was also discussion of the idea that works acquire different properties at different historical times. Davies argued against that view, and I agree with him, as the previous paragraph would suggest. We didn't go into this question nearly as fully as we would have if there had been more time. Many people in literary theory disagree with Davies (and me) on this point, preferring to say the work itself evolves over time. Davies' view is that this is just sloppy thinking. All that really happens is that people's views of the work changes (or its significance does), which is quite another matter. This ontological dispute doesn't affect the definition question, however.
74. From Heather Williams, 5/11/06, re. immorality in art. If an artist were to objectively, accurately portray something highly immoral, i.e. the Holocaust, would the artwork be less valuable because of the immoral subject matter? In this case, the artist would neither be condoning nor berating the event.
JB. Everything turns on the point of view of the artist: is that immoral? Your case is one of an artist withholding her attitude. If the provocation is grave and the artist merely observes the question still remains, why does the artist choose this subject and treat it in this way (there is always a way in which it is treated)? If an artist treats the Holocaust clinically, perhaps it will turn out to be a way of stressing the horror, which would be morally appropriate. If somehow the artist treats it so as to imply her moral indifference, that would be morally reprehensible, don't you think? It isn't necessary for the artist to preach or speak out. There are subtler ways for it to convey an attitude. Perhaps it's possible for the artist to be inept in expression and convey indifference when she means to be sympathetic. But absent that difficulty I think the attitude will come through. But remember that you may have to know the artist's style and past work to make an informed interpretation of the moral attitude present in a work.
75. From Shelby Mays, 5/12/06, re. the future of art appreciation. Chapter Eight talks about how valuable art is, and how so many people value art and appreciate it and how it enriches their lives. However, it seems that lately art, especially in education, is beginning to be pushed aside and ignored. Do you worry or think that even though art is appreciated here and now, in the next few generations it will just dissapear? I understand that this may be a purely American phenomenon, but I just wanted to know what you thought.
JB. If you go to one of these big museum shows you won't believe that art is on its last legs. They are mobbed. I don't think that there's less interest or respect for art now than there was, say, a hundred years ago. Perhaps there is more. Art has greatly diversified, however, so the public divides into more "taste publics" than before. This is especially true of popular art -- think of the movies and music -- but it applies to high art as well. Although there are theories about art being dead, the fact seems entirely otherwise. Don't forget that we have to include world art throughout the ages. A lot of people who rail against "art" really mean the radical avant garde forms, not all those beautiful traditional works. Their complaint is generally motivated by love of those older forms, which remain very much with us, given all the museums and publications in which they are featured. Art education in the public schools is another matter. Whether or not the government is stingy, the students when grown up will admire art of some sort or other. The educational aspect of our culture is very, very robust if you include all the relevant cultural phenomena. But I don't mean this as an excuse for underfunding art in the schools.)
76. From Scott Clattenburg, 5/12/06, re. photographic transparency. When it comes to the issue of transparency I personally believe that paintings are not transparent because there is no way that a human can exactly capture what was occuring during that moment without messing up at least one minor detail. It also seems that it is agreed upon with most people that photographs are transparent if they are taken and developed without any "tricks" but I will have to disagree for the same reasoning. I do not know much about the developing process but there is no way that photos have the exact same minor details as the real-life moment (i.e. color). I was wondering what your opinion is on the matter.
JB. I wish you had raised this earlier so I could have responded to it before the exam. To be transparent an image doesn't have to reveal every feature of the subject, since perception doesn't do that either. Even if we see a thing in bad lighting conditions, or when it's partly blocked by nearer objects, we still do see it. If we have fuzzy perception for one reason or another, the same is true. Ditto for deficient color vision. We won't see all the details, but we'll still see the object. Likewise the photograph doesn't have to reveal all to be transparent. Photographic tricks are a more complicated matter. Some don't compromise transparency, only mislead the unwary viewer. For instance when two photos are combined to make it look as if both persons were present. But others do lessen transparency, as for instance many forms of digital alteration. Then the photo becomes more like a handmade picture, only representing the subject, not allowing us to (indirectly) perceive it. Walton is fully aware of the great variety of ways in which photos can be altered and adjusts his notion of transparency accordingly.
77. From Justin Ahmanson, 5/11/06, re. transparency of photographs. I would just like to comment on the transparency issue. I believe that both photographs and paintings are not transparent, because there is some type of developmental stage. Film has to be developed before it can be seen, and a painting needs to be painted completely before it captures the image. If transparency is supposed to be a directly iconic relationship, then I think the only way for something to be transparent is when you view the object it is via the original light beams that bounce off that object in the first place. In which case, only optical enhancement devices such as glasses can be considered transparent. "And that's all I have to say about that" ~ Forrest Gump
JB. Maybe that's all Forrest Gump has to say, but there is much more to be said. For instance, there may be gradations of transparency, so that TV images and sound recordings would be to a considerable degree transparent -- like seeing somewhat unclearly or hearing through interference (background noise). You mention the variations that can be introduced by processing photographs. Some of these merely increase or decrease the information yielded, but perception also yields variable information. At the very lease one needs to account for the difference of impact of photographs and pictures. In general photographs are more credible (introduced as evidence for example) and give a stronger sense of presence than any image that was fabricated according to the beliefs, desires, and skill of the creator's hand. That needs to be explained somehow. Even if photos are only traces, not strictly transparent, they differ from handmade pictures.
78. From Alyssa Wegner, 5/12/06, re. Schopenhauer's philosophy of art. I realize how late this is to be asking, but while preparing for the final I've been thinking about Schopenhauer's aesthetic theories, how they apply, and why they aren't mentioned with any real detail in any of our texts. Although,I can see how they may not always apply, especially in regards to the complexity of his theory of the Will. Still, I'm planing on relating his ideas in one of my essays, which I hope will be accurate and applicable, so even though it will be in hindsight of the exam, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. I haven't had to much exposure to the depth of his work, but I'm very interested in his philosophies.
JB. There are quite a few philosophers we haven't been able to fit in. I don't like to name drop any more than I already do! Schopenhauer separates visual and other non-musical art into the representational sort, which he thinks conveys Platonic Ideas (essences), and music, which he thinks conveys the irrational and irresitable force of the Will, a Dionysian power that lies at the bottom of all striving, art and everything else. Having this power expressed in music allows us to escape into will-less contemplation, liberating us momentarily from its power. I can imagine various ways in which you might bring this into some of the exam topics. But I hope you will not do that at the expense of the material covered in our texts.
79. From SunYap Kim, 5/12/06, re. transparency of photographs. The contention between Walton and Davies' position on the transparency of photographs reminds me of a somewhat similar contention between the philosophers Baas van Fraassen and Ian Hacking. While van Fraassen contended we do not 'see' things that require the use of instrumentation (such as stars through telescopes), Hacking held that a continuity between the senses and objects was not neccessary (for example, we can still 'see' things through windows). While this argument may not exactly parallel our studies I found it interesting that similar strands of discussion emerged in other realms of philosophy. I wonder if Walton would maintain his theory on the transparency of infrared photographs. While the mechanism for capturing the image is the same, the counterfactual dependence is not verifiable by humans. That is, IR film translates the wavelengths of infrared radiation but we cannot 'see' it without the aid of the photograph.
JB. That's an interesting problem. Infrared photographs match up with perception we would have if we were sensitive to infrared wavelengths without optical aids. But wait, there are sniper scopes that enable our eyes to respond to wavelengths we don't respond to without aids, aren't there? Then why can't we say we are enabled to perceive via infrared photographs? In general I certainly agree with Hacking about delayed reception of signals. I think that perception is not even indirect. If we required absolute simultaneity we wouldn't see anything, would we? The way you present Van Fraasen's view, it doesn't sound at all plausible. Sounds like a philosopher's paradox (i.e. like sophistry).
80. From Daniel Marsh, 5/12/06, re. morality in documentaries. While reading Davies discussion of morality in documentaries and fictions (pg. 225) I was reminded of the "documentary" Grizzly Man. It is comprised of footage (edited/narrated by third party Werner Herzog) taken by the "Grizzly Man" Timothy Treadwell of himself illegally interacting with bears in an isolated part of Alaska as part of a "mission" to save them from human threats. Strangely there is also some evidence that Treadwell attempted to dramatize these events for commercial entertainment. How can we attempt to evaluate the impact of various immoralities (e.g. Was Treadwell immoral in interfering with the bears? Was Herzog immoral in using/publicizing this footage?) on artistic value in such a peculiar situation?
JB. I saw the film. One deliberates on the morality of the subject and Herzog's treatment in the same way as one does for any action. One asks, what principles apply to such a case and to what extent are they complied with or violated. Of course that can be a complex and subtle business depending on the case! Treadwell thought he was doing a good thing but he pushed the envelope too far, losing balance when he stayed on into the dangerously unpredictable late season. The latter, considered in relation to his safety, was imprudence rather than immorality. But he let his companion stay one with him, and that was certainly questionable (but presumably she shared the responsibility).
I don't see Treadwell's basic mission, conducted within more sensible parameters, as doing much harm to bears or humans, but it can be argued that he was tempting others to put themselves at risk more than he was cultivating their constructive sympathy for wildlife (this last is presumably a good goal). But even if that complaint is correct, his moral failing is comparatively slight, in my view, about comparable to an employer not being very considerate of his employees or a producer not being entirely honest about his products.
If I remember correctly, Herzog not only includes the views of Treadwell's critics but steers clear of endorsing Treadwell's actions, limiting himself to wonder at his courage and commiseration for his and his companion's fate. Is it bad for Herzog to make a movie about this eccentric? I don't see the grounds for thinking so. I for one was grateful that he took on the project. It was certainly educational (in various ways!). The story deserved to be chronicled, I think. And it wasn't sensationalized -- though it certainly was gothic. One is led to reflect deeply about the relation between humans and wild (undomesticatable) creatures. The theme is related to others in Herzog's oeuvre. He is fascinated by the pathos of humans at the limit. Are you familiar with his film about Kaspar Hauser? That concerned the human capacity to overcome catastrophic learning deprivation.
81. From Henry Magram, 5/14/06, re. artistic insincerity. In the last lecture you said that the act of art appreciation doesn't necessary include art creation. You added that art creation implies appreciation. I wonder if it's possible for a artist to be motivated by his lack of appreciation for the art. Do artists ever create with arrogant motivations?
JB. Is it possible? Well, lots of things are possible, I suppose. But your question is not entirely clear. Do you mean motivated by something altogether different than liking what is produced -- that might apply to some cold-blooded copying or to a commission that required the artist to glorify something (a person, an event) that she found detestable. Or do you mean motivated by the desire to produce a painting of something of no artistic worth whatever? Once one spells out the supposition, it looks pretty far-fetched. Why would one do that? It sounds self-wounding, since others are not likely to think it's any good. The first is more a case of producing under constraint. It's not arrogance, certainly. Whatever may be possible, I don't think we are justified in thinking it true of a given work unless there is no other credible reason for the work turning out so badly.
Artists have certainly made things that struck viewers as being horrible. But in one way or other the artists saw redeeming good in them, sometimes an expression of indignation or disgust at something they think bad, sometimes a strange sort of beauty that others need time to come to see.