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2009-12-30
Philosophy of Art
Since it appears that "Category Mistake" is the only thread devised for the Aesthetics forum thus far, my hope is that this thread will begin an ongoing critical discussion of the philosophy of art.

There are several issues concerning the philosophy of art that I have found difficult to answer or ignore:

(1) What role does "value" play in assessing works of art? Is there any coherent principle concerning the value of works of art? If so, is it broad enough to accept new and unprecedented standards for works of art? Does a standard of value lock art into a stultifying tradition or policy? I seem to hold that there is one value in art: the value of education in developing an aptitude for engaging in the language of art. This is primarily an aesthetic education, to be taken as more than mere developing good taste, an eye for design, color, and composition, and some knowledge of the canons of art. This aesthetic capacity entails a thoroughgoing philosophical outlook towards works of art.

(2) Is the Marxist's stance the most fit for approaching works of art? In other words, is it best to place and understand works of art through our own economic conditions as well as those of the artists/societies that made them? This position, if accepted, might evoke some hostility against the prevailing institutions of art insofar as they represent and thus benefit the upper classes from an angle of cultural hegemony and superiority. As far as I am concerned, the Marxist option is rather messy and spoils the aesthetic work of art more than privileges it. Ultimately, this question asks whether we should seek to posit art through social, political and economic affairs or ignore the latter for the sake of a more magical "art for art's sake."

(3) Should art be taken by philosophers as a phenomenon amongst others and so be collected and archived, properly demarcated one among many natural phenomena (e.g. cultures, the course of history, different systems of thought), or taken as a kind of "text" that provides equal insight as much as any philosophical text?

I would greatly appreciate any insight, argument, questions, or comments concerning any one of these three questions. I realize that there is a degree of conflict between the content of the three questions but imagine that in discussion any differences can be ironed out.

2009-12-31
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
Hi John

Good idea to start a special thread on philosophy of art. I am away for a few days now but will respond when things get back to normal again.

DA

2010-01-05
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
I too think this thread is a really good idea.
As to your first issue, I am not sure how relevannt this is but there is of course a small industry in the relationship between aesthetic (or artistic, they are sometimes distinguished) value and moral value. Perhaps you already know all this but, anyway, there is 1) Ethicism, the strong view that a moral defect in a work is always an aesthetic defect and that a moral merit is always an aesthetic merit (see Berys Gaut here). The more moderate view, moderate moralism, that holds that the relations just desribed hold sometimes (see Noel Carrol) and 3) the view, autonomism, that these relationships do not hold. And there is some work of course on the idea that art (and literature in paritcular features prominently here (see Martha Nussbaum, Cora Diamond, Stanley Cavell and others)) has a role in developing our moral sensibilities.
I myself an iinterested in the above issues - the philosophy of art is a new area of research interest for me.

2010-01-05
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
Hi John:

I'm only an undergrad enrolled in my first aesthetics course this upcoming term, but here's a shot (for what it's worth):

1. It seems to me that as far as Oscar Wilde was right when he wrote in the introduction to his "Picture of Dorian Gray" that all art is quite useless, it plays no role at all by definition.  If it was useful, presumably it would not be art.  For me however, I tend to agree with people like Schiller, Read and I believe Plato as well.  Art can be a tool for teaching.  For instance, I took a moral philosophy course last term.  I told my professor that more important than being able to understand how utilitarian moral theory has twisted-and-turned to deal with criticism, and which theoretical model of utilitarianism is the strongest, I thought that a moral philosophy class should expand our moral imaginations. 

I'll never forget the film I watched in my earlier environmental ethics course which showed how animals were treated in factory farms.  That was moving, and that is what made me question whether I could continue to be an omnivore.  It was the story of Descartes taking stray cats and dogs off the street to perform open heart surgery on them for ultimately fruitless research (while their hearts were still beating!).  Whether I can tell the difference between a John Grisham novel and a Italo Calvino novel is important too, but I believe that aesthetics has many more uses than virtually all schools today are realizing.

2. I think Marx was right.  "Art for arts sake" sounds nice, but just as there should be no philosophy for philosophies sake, there should be no art for its own sake.  And virtually all gov'ts I am aware of fund art.  Those artists need to be able to justify their work for some social or political aim.  To speak of a purely aesthetic aim is just meaningless.  I could not imagine something completely divorced from everything else that gives life meaning; nevertheless art (maybe contemporary analytic philosophy, but that's another issue;). 

3. I  don't know exactly what you mean when you ask this question, but I believe that art is on an even playing field with science, philosophy, etc... if that's what you're asking.  The misapprehension that it is useless does not make it useless.  There may be countless uses we have not even begun to understand, however that's merely potential.  I believe that there are countless uses which can be put into practice today which are not for no good reason. 

There are certain things that prose just cannot say - equally, if not, more important things.  Poetry is sometimes required.     

2010-01-05
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
This is a very exciting topic and your questions are ones that I have pondered myself and have found solace in the dialectic between the  Enlightenment/Neo-Classical approach and the subsequent Romantic introduction of a split between the sublime and the beautiful. (ala Edmund Burke) Regarding the apparent conflict, differences are how we discriminate and gain knowledge. Certainly the three topics are related in your own mind; all you need is to find the common ground. I teach three blocks on aesthetics, looking at visual art, poetry and architecture (music could be addressed as well), a beginning philosophy course where it is addressed as one of the branches of philosophy, and a course on Romanticism as the era in which aesthetics as a discipline was fully realized. The development of these courses have been in a bit of a vacuum, so the prospect of a discussion is provocative.
My only caveat is that I am about to begin a very heavy teaching load until the end of January, so my contributions may be light. I do look forward to a lively discussion after that if possible. I will need to research Marx's stance in order to have a cogent discussion.
Thank you for bringing this.

2010-01-06
Philosophy of Art
Barham;

Edmund Burke has a great essay,"
"A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas ofThe Sublime and Beautiful" http://www.bartleby.com/24/2/  Here he notes the transition between the Enlightenment view of beauty as an objective determination and the the addition of the sublime when Romanticism come in. The dialectic opportunity gives a framework for looking at these two very different approaches to aesthetics. The introduction of the sublime begins to break down the argument made by Plato that the beautiful is identifiable with the true and the good- a sense of proportion and unity. Plato did not trust artistic expression-from visual art to drama and felt that the concept of beauty lies in the mind.

2. Those artists need to be able to justify their work for some social or political aim.  To speak of a purely aesthetic aim is just meaningless.  I could not imagine something completely divorced from everything else that gives life meaning; nevertheless art...

How can anyone make art that is divorced from everything else? Art, by definition, comes from a question; sometimes for that one person and sometimes more universal. Communism seems like it would be a poor judge of art as it favors equality over liberty.
Art for Art's Sake is a term that comes out of Modernism. Much ego-driven work was made in the last century-much will not last into this one or will exist as a curiosity alone. Some tapped into a a current that runs through the broader picture.




3. Your last words,"Poetry is sometimes required," says it all; the purpose and 'usefulness' of art (poetry, dance, architecture, theater, music) is to express in the most efficient way possible that which cannot be otherwise done so.


2010-01-07
Philosophy of Art
Thanks for the link Morgan. 

2. I don't mean that art is entirely divorced from everything else, but that some art (or, I should say, artists) do not take the social role of their artwork seriously.  Also, although, say, Richard Wagner was a great composer, antisemitism plagued his late works. It was not just that his art was still good, but the political significance of it changed, but that his art became worse during this later period as a direct result of the social significance of it changing.  He is not a great example because he was not being careless or apathetic, he was an anti-Semite (as far as I know) and presumably other anti-Semites believe his later work was better.  But if you look at popular rap music, many of the rappers are diffidently socially-unconscious.  They do not realize the impact of their music on society, and furthermore, they don't seem to care enough to inquire.

A purely aesthetic work of art would be one like gangster rap.  It may be that rapping about killing, raping, etc... is aesthetically pleasing in some way, but as Richard Rorty paraphrases James: "truth and reality exist for the sake of social practice, rather than vice versa."  And in this same line way of thinking, I believe that aesthetics exists for the sake of social practice, rather than vice versa. 

Anyways, I know this last claim is controversial with regards to both aesthetics and certainly truth/reality.  I would welcome someone taking me up on this point.

      

2010-01-07
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Craig Taylor
Craig,
Your post interests me in that it invokes the question: what relevance does intention have to a work of art? In other words, how should we gauge moral defects and, if we except ethicism or moderate moralism, thus aesthetic defects? Determining or attempting to establish any theory of value in art seems at once to abolish art altogether. Does not finding defect, moral or aesthetic or otherwise, in a work of art assault the work of art's very being, demands that the work be some other way? The same holds for the artist's intention, any defect thereof implicitly asks that the artist's intention be different.

As per autonomism, it might hold true that there really is no relationship between moral and aesthetic value. A work of art that is intended to promote some moral good may fail and yet that would not be a moral defect but a very limited aesthetic one. In this particular case, the aesthetic of the work of art is its promoting moral good. The work can lack in many ways (e.g. compositionally, emotionally, intellectually) yet if it was intended to excel morally and does then it also succeeds on an aesthetic level. Yet now we're back at intention. 

Thus it is fair to say that an intentional defect is an aesthetic defect. If an artist intends x but fails to provide x, then the artwork fails aesthetically as far as x is concerned. In this case, the spectator would not demand the work be some other way but, if aware of the artist's intent, see how it fails at being the way it ought to be. However, awareness of what the artist intended is altogether not necessary in either understanding or engaging with the work of art. This is perhaps why I find value and intention in art so questionable.

2010-01-07
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross

"What role does "value" play in assessing works of art? "

What exactly do you mean by value?  Moral value, aesthetic value, didactic value, economic value, cultural value, religious value?  I think that "value" or "values"  play a vital role when assessing works of art; after all when we assess an artwork we we do so using some standard of value. However, the role(s) is fluid and dynamic depending on what value we are primarily using to assess the work. 

"Is there any coherent principle concerning the value of works of art? If so, is it broad enough to accept new and unprecedented standards for works of art? "

One could assess an artwork for moral value and formulate a coherent argument that could apply to new and novel artworks or types of art, and maybe one could do the same with other values like didactic or religious values. However, when it comes to aesthetic value I'm not sure that there could be one overarching priniciple, especially as new technologies become available that allow artists to express themselves in ways that are today unthinkable.  And I think this is why aesthetics is such an interesting area of philosophical enquiry.

"Is the Marxist's stance the most fit for approaching works of art? In other words, is it best to place and understand works of art through our own economic conditions as well as those of the artists/societies that made them?"

No, I don't think that there is any one stance that is "most fit for approaching works of art."

"Should art be taken by philosophers as a phenomenon amongst others and so be collected and archived, properly demarcated one among many natural phenomena (e.g. cultures, the course of history, different systems of thought), or taken as a kind of "text" that provides equal insight as much as any philosophical text?"

This need not be an either or question.  Philosopher can and do look art art in both ways as one phenomenon amongst others and as a text in itself that allows one to gain insight into the culture that produced it.




2010-01-07
Philosophy of Art
""Art for arts sake" sounds nice, but just as there should be no philosophy for philosophies sake, there should be no art for its own sake."

Why not?

2010-01-08
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
Hi John, some thoughts on your post about intention and morality in art. If an artist intended a work to make a moral point and failed then that would be, we might say, an aesthetic defect (simply because the work failed to achieve what it set out to achieve), but of course it is not essential that a work has that kind of intention. A work may be intend to produce many different affects on its audience - that reminds me of an example in Noel Carroll's argument about moderate moralism. Suppose that an artist, a film maker say, intends to make a kind of positive or sympathetic biopic about a public figure. For the work to succeed the audience will need to admire this figure. But the artist in producing this effect will need to take into account the moral sensibilities of his audience since there are some things that people simply cannot find admirable (like the 'final solution' of the Nazi's). So such a biopic about Himmler is bound to fail since the artists intention of getting us to admire Himmler will fail. Here the moral defect is also an aesthetic defect, or so Carroll argues. This indicates one way in which intention figures in our assessment of a work, and the point is not restricted to moral defects; you could make a similar point (as Carroll does) about a superhero action film in which a director casts as the lead, say, Mr Bean. Mr Bean is just not just a plausible action superhero so the audience will not enter into the world of the film. Such an act of casting would again be aesthetically incompetent. So basically I agree with your last paragraph including that we need not be aware of the artists intention. I am not, let me say, defending Carroll's view though. I also don't think it is necessary that artist do have the kind of very definite intentions outlined above; artists are not like essayists setting out to make some specific point moral or otherwise - which is why it may be not particulalry useful to get a visual artist say to talk about the meaning of their art. An artist may most fundamentally work out and communicate what they want to say through their art, that is we might say their medium (which is why I say they are not like essayist).

2010-01-08
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
Hi John

Just a reply to your third point which was: "(3) Should art be taken by philosophers as a phenomenon amongst others and so be collected and archived, properly demarcated one among many natural phenomena (e.g. cultures, the course of history, different systems of thought), or taken as a kind of "text" that provides equal insight as much as any philosophical text?"

Art, in my view, should be approached as an object/activity sui generis.  One of the major failings of much contemporary aesthetics - especially "analytic" aesthetics - is precisely that it tends to treat art simply "as a phenomenon amongst others" to quote your words - ie it assumes that the nature and purpose of art can be adequately explained via the same kinds of general philosophical categories and analyses one might apply to any other object or activity.  So, in effect, it is saying that, for philosophical purposes, there is no significant difference between a Rembrandt and a road sign.

Second, I would argue not that "provides equal insight as much as any philosophical text" but that art provides "insight" of a quite different kind.  That is, art and philosophy are quite distinct areas of human endeavour, with quite distinct natures and purposes.  (I saw a book in a book store the other day called "Shakespeare's Philosophy"  - I think that was the title. There is no such thing - any more than there could be a stage version of Descartes Meditations.)

DA   


2010-01-10
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Craig Taylor
Hello Craig;
Thanks to everyone for this thought-provoking discussion. Taking your statement that essentially states that the artist's failure to communicate the desired message is an aesthetic defect (true) and then moving to your remark (ala Carroll) on the hypothetical filmmaker's work on a controversial figure that equates a moral defect with an aesthetic one, it seems in the latter claim that there is an implication that art is supposed to be inherently moral. It seems that we need to find common ground as to the source from which aesthetics arises; the viewer, the artist or the work. Modern art and especially Postmodern art has a distinctly different relationship to both the viewer and the society in which the art is created, at least in the mind of the artist. It would be difficult to critique a work before the Enlightenment in the same way as that which comes after. The emergence of the permission (if you will) to create as a form of self-expression is given during this period. This is the crux of "Ars Gratis Artis." It would follow then that if some Modern or Postmodern  art is pure self expression then morality and aesthetics could be equated as the work could be seen as an extension of the artist rather than a work to be considered on its own.

Barham;

I am afraid I am going to have to disagree that aesthetic is a social practice. The making of art and recognition of said work as art might be social practices, but it would seem that aesthetic consideration lies in the viewer. Indeed the viewer judges, and is influenced by the society in which that person is raised but ultimately the decision rests in the viewer. ( I supposed I tipped my hand a bit here against determinism).

Nigel;

I appreciate your remarks and find myself largely in agreement with them. It is a curious question regarding Marx and the value of art tied to personal economic conditions. Much art is made by those without money. It seems that art has, at least, the possibility of transcending economic conditions.

2010-01-15
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Nigel Dawson
Nigel,
I meant "value" in the broad sense. It could be any you mentioned: religious, didactic, economic, &c. Most of all, I meant for "value" to be taken as the judging a work of art good or bad (in any sense, religious, didactic, &c.). It seems that this kind of judgement limits the artwork since it confines it to the rigor of that which is judged good or that which is judged bad (or even that which is judged good by x but bad by y and neither good nor bad by z). The work of art is here trapped within a circumscribed nexus. The question is, then: what does it mean that, say, Botticelli's works are widely appreciated as good? There might be no meaning behind this judgement or ascription of value. In developing a language for art it doesn't seem necessary that we adopt words for value; rather, the language reveals how a work of art works (works is not to be taken in the sense of what is or is not successful or efficient, but as delivering some speed or intensity, as Deleuze has written). For example, as a poem is being composed the poet changes some words not because they are "not good" but because they don't work- they do not produce some speed or intensity in the poem. 

So far, this seems somewhat contradictory. How can something deliver or not deliver a speed or intensity yet be neither good nor bad at providing that speed or intensity? In, say, painting a horse, the animal's legs can be depicted as anything or nothing, a gray blob, a checkerboard, a spider's web, patches of light, untouched canvas, &c. and yet the painting would stand however it is. Aside from any work on what is a horse or horseness, the painting of a horse with x for legs is a painting by virtue of its being a painting of a horse with x for legs, good or bad or whatever we judge it to be. The horse's legs (however they be painted or depicted) simply provide some speed or intensity regardless of any necessity. In this way the painting necessitates itself no matter how it's valued. It's not that the painting of a horse is not good for its producing, say, a checkerboard for the animal's legs since nothing necessitates the production thereof: no "good" is sought in the painting of the horse with x for legs. If the legs are painted a checkerboard there is no convincing evidence that they should be a spider's web or untouched canvas or something else unless the intention of the artist was known (e.g. the artist wanted to paint a spider's web but it turns out to be so poorly painted that it looks like a gray blob); however, I am not so sure that the intention of the artist has much relevance. Even as much as it appears that there should not be a checkerboard in the painting (it works against color and design harmonies, it doesn't make sense, it's ugly, the spectator prefers a gray blob) there is nothing that can determine that its being the way it is should not be, even if it's titled "Horse with spider's web-legs".


2010-01-15
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Derek:

I think you have got it right, but if you treat art as a distinct and valuable area of the humanities (which I think it right) how would you define what art is, or should become in order to be as valuable to human life as possible? 

Perhaps it would be good to take a specific form of art and focus on it at this point: I would suggest music (just because that's what we're covering in my aesthetics class at this point).  So, would anybody venture to explain how/why "Requiem For A Dream" by Motzart is important to any aspect of human life?



2010-01-15
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Nigel Dawson
Hello!
It seems that there was no question of 'art for arts sake' and the question of 'meaning of art' until art became profane.
Especially when it became an object exhibited in galleries and saloons the question arose. Until its purpose was outside it - to express values of some religion or of something that we call 'mythology' today, there was no doubt about the value and meaning of art.  
Anne

2010-01-15
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Nigel Dawson
Hi!
I mean, to my mind, the problem occurred when art became secular, 'profane' is a too strong word.
Anne

2010-01-15
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Nigel Dawson
Nigel,
I meant "value" in the broad sense. It could be any you mentioned: religious, didactic, economic, &c. Most of all, I meant for "value" to be taken as the judging a work of art good or bad (in any sense, religious, didactic, &c.). It seems that this kind of judgement limits the artwork since it confines it to the rigor of that which is judged good or that which is judged bad (or even that which is judged good by x but bad by y and neither good nor bad by z). The work of art is here trapped within a circumscribed nexus. The question is, then: what does it mean that, say, Botticelli's works are widely appreciated as good? There might be no meaning behind this judgement or ascription of value. In developing a language for art it doesn't seem necessary that we adopt words for value; rather, the language reveals how a work of art works (works is not to be taken in the sense of what is or is not successful or efficient, but as delivering some speed or intensity, as Deleuze has written). For example, as a poem is being composed the poet changes some words not because they are "not good" but because they don't work- they do not produce some speed or intensity in the poem. 

So far, this seems somewhat contradictory. How can something deliver or not deliver a speed or intensity yet be neither good nor bad at providing that speed or intensity? In, say, painting a horse, the animal's legs can be depicted as anything or nothing, a gray blob, a checkerboard, a spider's web, patches of light, untouched canvas, &c. and yet the painting would stand however it isAside from any work on what is a horse or horseness, the painting of a horse with x for legs is a painting by virtue of its being a painting of a horse with x for legs, good or bad or whatever we judge it to be. The horse's legs (however they be painted or depicted) simply provide some speed or intensity regardless of any necessity. In this way the painting necessitates itself no matter how it's valued. It's not that the painting of a horse is not good for its producing, say, a checkerboard for the animal's legs since nothing necessitates the production thereof: no "good" is sought in the painting of the horse with x for legs. If the legs are painted a checkerboard there is no convincing evidence that they should be a spider's web or untouched canvas or something else unless the intention of the artist was known (e.g. the artist wanted to paint a spider's web but it turns out to be so poorly painted that it looks like a gray blob); however, I am not so sure that the intention of the artist has much relevance. Even as much as it appears that there should not be a checkerboard in the painting (it works against color and design harmonies, it doesn't make sense, it's ugly, the spectator prefers a gray blob) there is nothing that can determine that its being the way it is should not be, even if it's titled "Horse with spider's web-legs".

2010-01-15
Philosophy of Art
Hi Barham

The question you raise is an important one, I think - perhaps the most important we can ask about art. The traditional answer - inherited from the 18th century - is that art is valuable to human life because it gives us something called "aesthetic pleasure', standardly supposed to be generated by things that are beautiful (which can include natural beauty too, some argue).

Personally I reject all that.  Not that I deny that art can sometimes described as beautiful (though it frequently can't reasonably be so described). But I do not accept that beauty and "aesthetic pleasure" - a vague notion anyway - is the fundamental purpose of art. Apart from anything else - and there is a lot else - I think that claim trivializes art enormously - turns it into a kind of entertaining pastime. (This kind of thinking is probably one of the main reasons why aesthetics is normally regarded as a fringe area of philosophy: its subject matter is not regarded as "serious".)

I have not answered your question - ie what do I think the purpose of art is - because that would take too long. I am a strong supporter of Andre Malraux's account of art, which I outline in my recent book (sorry, that sounds like a commercial). He also rejects the "aesthetic pleasure" explanation.

As for the musical piece you mention, I don't know it, I'm sorry. But I think, in any case, that you question is best asked and answered not in terms of any particular work but in terms of art in general - assuming one agrees that such a thing as art exists. (And if we don't agree to that, there is no problem to solve anyway.)

DA



2010-01-29
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
I just finished with publication on the main idea of Art and could be very glad to know your opinion.
http://vip.db.dk/signs/Articles.htm

2010-02-06
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
Perhaps I could venture a basis for the use and value of art. I suspect the biological advantage that underlies art is that it is a sign of human mental prowess that attracts others to a venue of such prowess and binds communities in the way that displays of physical prowess bind communities of social animals (dolphins leaping, swifts circling towers, lion cubs fighting). You survive better as a human if you are in with the movers and shakers. 
Art often makes use of pleasant sensations, perhaps most directly in cuisine, but these do not constitute art. And unpleasantness is often a salient ingredient, whether in a crucifix or a discordant passage in a Schubert piano sonata. I agree with Derek that art is not beauty or even 'rightness of design' as in the 'decorum' of 'mere decoration'. That is why a perfect copy of a Raphael portrait has zero art content, but nobody can recognise that if they think it is genuine. 

The mental prowess we value above all is innovation. We survived because our brains are peculiarly good at producing new syntheses. So I think a central quality of art may be that it combines disparate elements. This may seem odd. What is disparate in a lifelike Holbein portrait? The disparacy is in the generation of a lifelike image from a panel of wood and a narrow range of mineral pigments that have nothing to do with flesh and which have never been made to look so like flesh before (?or since). Combining disparates, or just being different, is, however, no good in itself. it must in some way 'make sense' or resonate with the viewer's existing ideas or maybe archetypal sense of beauty. That brings significant subjectivity, but within the Art Historical world it is recognised that what is generally regarded as great art tends to have the ability to make the right connection in many people, at least if educated in the mode of art concerned. 

Of course, the creation that embodies such mental prowess that it continues to be directly useful as an object tends not to be considered 'art', but there are obvious exceptions with furniture, architecture or maybe even cars. 


I also think the dimension of time is crucial to art. Art functions to create social continuity so what was and what will be are important. A simple aspect is the awe of being with a physical object created by someone with innovative prowess. Historical reference is another, crucial to religious art etc.

There are obviously lots of caveats and complexities but I would suggest that the value of art lies in bringing people together to celebrate and thereby cross-fertilise and motivate further acts of mental prowess and that things labelled as art rather than useful tend to be things that do this in a rather indirect abstract way that makes use of, if not sweet flavours, at least often, in part, certain 'feelgood' sensory components. Maybe 'art' is for 'art's sake' with the latter art being in the sense of communal artfulness. It zips people up to want to do or be part of something new, even if not on canvas.  

2010-02-06
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross

I would posit that "art for art's sake" is an illusion.  While the concept of "art for art's sake" may be possible in intention, it is simply not possible in effect.  Putting aside for the moment the issue of whether something does or does not fit one's definition of "art", once the work is created and experienced by an observer, a real world alchemy is created, regardless of the conscious intent of the artist who produced it.  The observor responds to the work with his/her biology, neurology and psychology, which is altered in some way. The work is absorbed into these systems. Since Human Beings are memetic creatures, we are constantly modelling, observing and reacting to and for one another. This is how we make sense of the world, and of our existence. One can not abdicate participation in this process any more than one can chose a different biology. A sports athlete (or an artist) may claim not to be a role model, but it is not possible to be human without being a role model; we are all role models. Art is not, and cannot be, outside this process.  It is a piece of communication by a human being about what it means to be a human being, and the artist can either be conscious or unconsious of that fact, responsible or irresponsible to it, but art cannot help but instruct and signify a point of view in some way.  Since human beings are really human becomings, and since our dialogue, dialectic and modelling significantly help to shape our path, art serves a purpose in our survival and in our evolution no less functionally utilitarian than that of science, medicine, or politics.  


2010-02-07
Philosophy of Art
Hi Jonathan

Your post raises the question of the origins of art which has been a minor fashion in the philosophy of art recent years (Dissanayake, Dutton etc).  I thought I might comment briefly.

In essence, I think speculation about the origins of art is a distraction. For two reasons:

(1) Arguments typically take the form of: Art began because it promoted x or y human skill/capacity. The obvious question then is: Is art fundamentally about x or y human skill/capacity? So the first and fundamental issue is not: Where did art come from. It is: What is art?

(2) The question of origins will always be guesswork. The evidence is simply not there.  We don't know even roughly when art began (It could have emerged 50,000 years ago or 1000,000 or even more) let alone why. Theories that art began as magic etc are sheer speculation and always will be. The situation is analogous to that of language and consciousness whose origins are similarly irretrievably lost in the mists of time.

Why the current flurry of interest in the origins of art? Something to do with the Darwin centenary? (Just about everything great and small seems to need its evolutionary justification at the moment.)  Largely, I think it is the belief that everything must have a scientific explanation and that art cannot possibly be an exception. But that of course simply brings us back to the question: What is art?

DA



2010-02-11
Philosophy of Art
Question; what is the role of an artist in contemporary culture?

2010-02-11
Philosophy of Art
I don't think there is, or can be, any pre-determined role. (Genuine) art is always unpredictable. 

DA

2010-02-12
Philosophy of Art

The role of an artist in contemporary (at any giving time) culture is to be able to present a significant message in the innovative use of a medium. Regardless of the art medium he is using. How an artist is using a medium and how significant his message is - is the subject of Aesthetics as a discipline and the perceptual sensation as well. These two "how" are balancing eternal question of the Form and Contains. I can recommend you works of Dr S.Zeki on the subject of the art mental processing.


2010-02-12
Philosophy of Art
This difficulty as I see it is this: If we look back across the history of art, the role of the artist has changed radically at different times. The role of the artist in Byzantine society was to produce religious images - as it had been in so many earlier cultures (and of course the notion of art - or artist - did not exist then). The role of the artist from say Raphael on was to produce works which, broadly speaking, expressed the new ideal of Beauty (the notion of "art" having by that time started to emerge). From about Manet on, the role of the artist changed again, and today we no longer think of art simply in terms of Beauty (if we did, a large part of our world of art today would be unintelligible). 

So the role of the artist has changed radically across history, and across cultures, and there is no reason to assume that it will not change again, just as radically.  The danger in assigning the artist a particular role is that one risks suggesting that this is his/her permanent or "natural" function, whereas it may well, for all we know, change unexpectedly at any time.

One can of course simply describe what the function of art (and therefore the artist) is in the contemporary world - the function or role "for the time being", so to speak.

DA

2010-02-14
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,
You seem to be creating a problem for yourself. If you define narrow era-dependent roles then they will change. If we define a more general role it does not need to change. The role I suggested works for all your examples. The Byzantine artist's role was not simply to produce religious images but to produce arresting images - they would be hired because their icons had 'duende'. Without duende we have merely the decorum or 'correctness' that gives rise to the term decoration. We have the wannabe artists hired by wannahave-art priests who could not afford the top guys. We all recognise a difference between decoration and art.

In very simple terms duende is what makes something art. It is the ability to manipulate whatever innate or acquired propensities people have to get a buzz out of the mental prowess (even if expressed in the movement of a dancer's arm) of other humans. The direct seduction of colour or line may be used in this manipulation but to be art we need to be aware that this is indeed a deliberate human act. A lovely red in a sunset sky or the form of a sleeping woman are not art. They do not have duende. Robert Motherwell has duende, so does Caravaggio, so does Manet's Olympia in spades, so do Duccio and Piero and Donatello and Michaelangelo and Bernini and the masters of Lascaux. In one sense I am sceptical of the idea of a 'significant message'. If you can articulate the message of a work it is almost by definition old hat, making the work two a penny. On the other hand if it is the single message 'over here is spirit: be there or be square' then I agree. Politics and religion will flavour this in that 'be square' sometimes means 'get burnt at the stake'. One can be aware of how certain technical aspects of how duende is achieved. The use of small areas of dense black in Bonnard and Goya could be the basis of a book, for instance, or the development of Monet's late 'underimpasto'. But the duende is always in the 'and I can make it work this way as well which nobody ever would have thought'. This is where it's at.

Jo E

2010-02-14
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan

Fully agree. And what is really changing with times is the concept of Beauty and harmony. What was routinely accepted 50 years ago can be seen today as something not ordinary. Suddenly we are discovering artistic forms or iconic beauty and, no surprise, bringing them back from dust. Some masters never considered as artists at their live time or generations after. Folklore is full of such examples.

This is the reason why Art as a human activity better be studied from the standpoint of information exchange (or sign, as a basic unit of information) and separately need to be specified the culturally driven phenomenon of morphogenesis of the aesthetical perception and demands. The mixed approach is always ready to leave trails of books full of the same iconic names and the same reproductions, but avoid the answer.

Art and Language are sharing common semiotic system, equally syntactically understandable and both are servicing communication. We are treating Art as Language for expression and trying "to read" it, understand it, in the same fashion.

I intend to define Art as a mastery of transferring certain information to the viewer or listener using only one of the three media (graphics, music, or dance) or their combinations (multimedia) - theatre, ballet, opera, and cinema. Literature, as the art of transferring information though writing, starts from the time when writing was "invented" (petrography or other signs scripting were systematised) and widely introduced.

In linguistic terms: visual art (including architecture, landscaping, fashion and other graphical genres and elements of graphical presentation in mixed media) - represents an attempt of expression by means of nouns; performing art, dance, pantomime (including elements of movement determined by a technique of a given genre, mixed genres and media) - an attempt of expression by means of verbs; musical art in its diversity - by means of interjections.

Art is part of Language. The most ancient of its components we are using from pre-speech times, when "art" was the only way of communication before vocal cord development. Is such approach serving the scope of yours queries 1&2? 


2010-02-14
Philosophy of Art
Hi Jo

You write: "You seem to be creating a problem for yourself. If you define narrow era-dependent roles then they will change."

And indeed they have, very dramatically. That was precisely my point.

Re:"In very simple terms duende is what makes something art."

"Duende" was new to me.  Not sure I am happy with the idea, but if it's your way of praising a work, why not?  At least it makes a change from the constant refrain we hear: "It is beauty that makes art" (the 18th century idea in which so much aesthetics is still bogged down)

DA



2010-02-14
Philosophy of Art
Hi Vladimir

RE "Art is part of Language. The most ancient of its components we are using from pre-speech times, when "art" was the only way of communication before vocal cord development. Is such approach serving the scope of yours queries 1&2? "

I don't think it is correct to say that "art is part of language" (though of course language is used for certain forms of art).

As for the origins of art, as I said earlier I think this is, and will always be, a matter of sheer speculation.  Almost anything can be made to sound plausible - and there are a good dozen or so ideas on offer. It's like speculating about the origins of language or human consciousness: you can argue all kinds of things, confident that in the end no one can prove you wrong because the evidence either way is non-existent. 

Much better to focus on the question What is art? rather than How did art begin?

DA

2010-02-15
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
Hi John

I don't think I commented on any of the questions in your original post on this thread. Here is a brief comment on the third (which was: "Should art be taken by philosophers as a phenomenon amongst others and so be collected and archived, properly demarcated one among many natural phenomena (e.g. cultures, the course of history, different systems of thought), or taken as a kind of "text" that provides equal insight as much as any philosophical text?").

I think one of the big drawbacks of contemporary aesthetics - especially of the prevailing "analytic" variety - is precisely that it does treat art simply as "as a phenomenon amongst others". To do this is to make a fundamental assumption that is seldom, if ever, acknowledged by practitioners in this school of thought - that the nature of art can be adequately explained by doing so. In other words, it assumes that, for example, there is no qualitative difference - no difference in kind - between a Rembrandt (say) and a road sign (or anything else one might like to name.) This may, of course, be true, but it needs to be shown, not assumed. To begin with this assumption - acknowledged or not (usually it is not) - is to rule out the possibility ab initio that art may be a human creation sui generis. I think one has to begin by allowing for that possibility. Otherwise one commits a basic philosophical sin - making assumptions without being aware of them, or without adequate justification.

I have worries about your second option too. In what sense can we assume that a work of art is a "text" - even in scare quotes? Again we risk making assumptions.

I think the philosophy of art needs to begin with as open a mind as possible. We need to be prepared to question all propositions (eg that art = beauty; that art is a source of "aesthetic pleasure"; that art is communication; that art is "perfect form"; that art is a system of signs; that art is on a par with any other phenomena (the option referred to above); that art is expression; and so on.) Nothing should be assumed. Only then we are in a good position to begin.

DA  



2010-02-15
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek: You wrote:"Duende" was new to me.  Not sure I am happy with the idea, but if it's your way of praising a work, why not?  At least it makes a change from the constant refrain we hear: "It is beauty that makes art" (the 18th century idea in which so much aesthetics is still bogged down)

Garcia Lorca wrote an essay on the topic: The Theory and Function of the Duende if I recall correctly. Its in the back of the Penguin Edition of the English translation of his collected poems.

If you can't find a copy, let me know and I'll drop it off ... wanted to talk to you about a research proposal anyway.


Now connecting back to earlier in the thread... To answer the question "what is art?" with "art is duende" and then say, as Lorca does, that duence is what in art that makes it art, is a little tautological, is it not? Passing the idea into Spanish allows it to pick up the some specific cultural resonances, but not very helpful in understanding, say, Aboriginal rock art.



David


2010-02-16
Philosophy of Art
Reply to David Worrall
Hi David

Thanks for the reference. I shall see if I can track it down.

I should explain that my comment on duende was meant a little flippantly. I didn't really want to suggest that one could answer "what is art?" with "art is duende". In part I was taking the opportunity to have another dig at the "art is beauty" thesis - one of my pet aversions.  (But it's a thesis that dies so hard! Scruton has a newish book on it that I keep seeing in bookshops and, at the other end of the philosophical spectrum, I even stumbled on a recent book by Jean-Luc Nancy where he trots out the same old warhorse. And there are legions of others.)

I'll be in contact off list about the research idea.

DA
  

2010-02-20
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
My dear Derek,
Duende is new to you? A crying shame. I learnt about duende round about the time I was doing Art History alongside Anthony Gormley in 1970. Anthony's line drawings of female figures in those days had duende but I did not learn the word in the History of Art Department or visiting Anthony. I learnt it from a guy from the Slade who was one of a group of practical art students who had brought an exhibition up to show along the Cam for the May Ball season. His stuff had duende. I came to understand more about it from Raphael Nadal, a remarkable man who lived duende, even in the briefest of conversations. He had been a friend of Lorca and Bunuel and come to the UK as refugee, journalist, academic and source of delight to everyone, including New Year's Eve parties where one could meet people like Segovia, Cecil Collins or indeed Ernst Gombrich. 

Duende is more than just pazazz or 'it works'. It is the sense of a spirit (or soul) that has reached beyond yours and lets you get a glimpse of where to - in whatever context. Sharks in tanks do not for me have duende! It is not just the Hagia Sophia, or even the fact that someone built the Hagia Sophia, but also the fact that some guy thought the Hagia Sophia and knew what it would speak. It is specifically used to describe dancing and the film 'Blood Wedding' by Saura (based on the Lorca play) is probably the best captured example I know. But it is also used as a more general concept. It is probably instructive that the English speaking world has no equivalent. Maybe duende does not cover Constable and Gainsborough too precisely! I would bet the Brazilians have a Portuguese version. To be honest I am not quite sure how you can do aesthetics without it.

Jo E


2010-02-20
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan

Hi Derek,

Speculations are arising from any approach to the issue. Just some of them can be substantiated by evolutionary continuity, not egoistically anthropocentric, contempocentric or with no hidden desire to advocate the possession of extra natural ability of “feelings of beauty” or another sort of mystery.

Notions like “time is changing perception of Art” or “time is changing perception of Science” well fit to postmodernist's philosophy and serve the general plea to revise (or deconstruct) old concepts, but with no proposals for sensible answers. 

We all know that social demands are changing. There are changing with development of cultural tendencies. Aesthetics, Ethic and Moral as Culture itself are morphogenious in time and place. 

Art is non-verbal language. Culturally absorbed and well utilised rudiment of pre-speech interactions. Art with no component of communication (i.e. with no “text”, message) is less attractive then odious Black Square or is not Art.

What is Art from your perspective? Hope, it is easier to define then the purpose of it.

VB


2010-02-20
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Anne Kokkov

Hi Anne,

Art cannot be profane or secular as the role of a performer is negligible in evaluation of his work. His message turned to an audience, who is the judge (auditor) and final consumer. We are, as Art consumers, the decisive voice and "giving tickets" on its cerculation.

vb


2010-02-20
Philosophy of Art
Reply to David Worrall
Dear David,
I have not read Lorca's essay, although I might cross the road and ask if I can borrow the copy that belonged to the last man to see Lorca alive (and admit it). He left me with no particular ambiguity as to the meaning of the word. Even the Wikipedia description gives a reasonable idea of a concept that tends to fall under that old maxim 'if you gotta ask, you ain't never gonna know'. It seems to me perfectly applicable to Ubirr or whatever. In fact Ubirr would seem to be the perfect illustration of the concept I originally proposed! Here is spirit, hang around. At least, as Derek puts it, it links Ubirr to Francis Bacon and Bernini's Scipione Borghese a bit better than 'beauty'.
Moreover, I sense a whiff of the crime of Procrustes here. Maybe if Ubirr does not have duende it is just a form of pictorial communication and not actually art after all. By what other criteria does it have to be 'art' - the fact that it gets put into the art section of a museum or a schoolbook? 

Best 

Jo E


2010-02-20
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
"Duende" still doesn't resolve the issue, though, does it. We have to have already come across that notion and had it explained to us in order to be able to apply it (or recognise it as a credible criterion). I don't see how we can get past the idea that art is a language - or better, a discourse. Even to adopt "duende" is to participate in that discourse; just as another age might have taken "craftsmanship" or "faithfulness" as its criterion.

2010-02-20
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
Art became irrelevant when science claimed all knowledge.  The way back to relevancy is through an aesthetic that challenges scientific hegemony of knowledge.  Some will say that is "anti-science" but it is not.  It is anti-gnostic.

I suggest an aesthetic of completeness that contrasts with the scientific ideal of consistency.  For example, the atom of poetry, a metaphor, is complete but not consistent because the tenor and vehicle are different but the same.  The atom of visual art, a frame, is complete but not consistent because the inside and outside space are divided but united.

Knowledge of completeness is a different kind of knowledge than knowledge of consistency.  Gődel  showed that they cannot go together (except in a very elementary setting, logic).  Art is knowledge of completeness in a "language" appropriate for communicating completeness.

2010-02-21
Philosophy of Art
Reply to r. gillmann
A brief reply to four posts:

Jo E: " To be honest I am not quite sure how you can do aesthetics without it [duende]"

Mea culpa!  As I say, at least it's a change from the anachronistic "art is beauty" and  the obscurantist "art is a source of aesthetic pleasure". But all the same I don't think I'll commit to full-blown "duendism" for now.


Mark: " I don't see how we can get past the idea that art is a language."

I think we sometimes see resemblances between art and a language (e.g. we say a certain piece of music "speaks" to us).  But we can't mean it literally. We don't use art to communicate with other people and we can't translate it into another language. So we must mean it as a metaphor. So it may be part of the truth but it's not all of it.


VB: "What is Art from your perspective?" 

Too big a question to answer on a discussion list unfortunately. My view is the same as Malraux's which I explain in some detail in my book. (Sorry for the commercial.)


R. Gillmann: "Art became irrelevant when science claimed all knowledge.  The way back to relevancy is through an aesthetic that challenges scientific hegemony of knowledge."

And perhaps there is more than one kind of knowledge - a difficult thought for (analytic) philosophy to digest, I know. But by no means out of the question.


DA
.

2010-02-22
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
@Braham: THE MOST RIDICULOUS THING IS TO DEMAND MORAL EDUCATION FROM ART. Moral values should never be confused or mixed with aesthetic values. Please, read Nietzsche (and re-read Oscar Wilde). Should we not be happy that there is at least one area in life, which has not been totally hijacked by the moralists among us as yet - art, be free, stay free. Hurry for New Aestheticism.

Dr. M. Prange (Nietzsche-specialist and Schiller translator)

2010-02-22
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
@Braham, Mozart did NOT compose REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, only a REQUIEM...

2010-02-22
Philosophy of Art
Interesting point you raise, Martine.  I tend to agree with you - although a lot depends on what exactly we mean by moral values and aesthetic values.

But as you probably know there is currently quite a strong push in some areas of aesthetics - both analytic and continental - to blur the lines between ethics and aesthetics. What are your feelings about that? And what do you understand by "New Aestheticism"?

(I should add that personally I don't regard Oscar Wilde as much of an authority. A rather shallow writer - even if at times witty - and an equally shallow thinker.)

DA  

2010-02-22
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan

Derek,

"My view is the same as Malraux's"

As any philosophical view on Art's matter, Malraux's vision on Art is need to be reinforced by some references to the biological behavioural pattern of human, coursed by natural selection or adaptational motivations.

Art, as the way of creating of virtual reality, as the need for challenge the destiny, is containing and promoting the aspect of creativity in the Art's nature, inspired by the cognitive tendencies.  Exactly on the same cognitive aspiration, we are challenging theory of the Art's nature, confronting each others opinion and creating new visions on the idea of Art, and this doesn’t means we are going to change Art or to create any substitute of it.

Could you point at any evolutional or natural need of Malraux’s Art? Is it social or mind phenomenon?

vb


2010-02-22
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross

Dear Derek,

For 'New Aestheticism' see: Joughin and Malpas (eds.), The New Aestheticism (2003), Beech and Roberts (eds.), The Philistine Controversy (2002), Thomas Docherty (2006), Aesthetic Democracy and the works of Andrew Bowie.

Aestheticism, to me (a Nietzschean) means, first, to protect art, aesthetics and artistic values from invasion by political/ ethical etc. values and, second, to 'widen' any cultural MEANING with the help of aesthetic qualities. Hence, my opposition against the 'blurring' of aesthetic and ethical values. Simultaneously, I'm a Schiller fan (and translator) and from there (and from Nietzsche's criticism of Wagner's moralism) interested in the question whether it is at all possible to separate aesthetic and educational values and the difference between educational and moral values. I havn't made my mind up on these questions as yet. Would be glad to hear your views!


Best,

Martine


2010-02-22
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Mark Callan
Some interesting points.
I am not sure I see Mark Callan's problem with duende. Everyone here has had the notion explained and I guess everyone knew the 'notion' without naming it. We recognise 'here is a spirit that has gone further than you, hang around' as kids. The word is a neat-sounding placeholder. But I like the idea that art is a discourse - it exists to create discourse even if just the gaze of the onlooker. At a flamenco venue I suspect silent discourse goes a long way. I do not suggest anyone 'adopts' duende. Indeed, I threw it in as discourse: banter almost. Duende itself shuns adoption, it does not ask to be 'taken seriously'. It is more important than that. It is mischief, and when not that, magic (cf Rembrandt's Mauritzhaus self-portrait / The Pietá).

That leads to r.gillman's post. I cannot see that one can argue that art became irrelevant when science claimed all knowledge. There is stonking good art going on now in literature, film, ballet, opera, architecture, pop music etc etc. There is a peculiar problem in representational visual art since 1970, as discussed by Robert Hughes, with the ?1981 Petit Palais Bacon exhibition being perhaps the last great new experience but I cannot see this has to do with the status of science. ('Classical' music is in trouble but not music as a whole.) And I would not want art to challenge anything pre-announced. It should challenge me. If I knew what it should be challenging I could do it. 'If you need to know what it's gonna say it ain't never gonna be art'.


Nevertheless, I agree that art is about inconsistency - or disparacy - as indicated above. It is Picasso's lie that tells the truth. But there is no conflict with science. I am a  professional scientist but spend several hours working on the art of a big lecture. I need to get six big laughs: not jokes, but laughs of release of tension when people realise that trashing favourite ideas actually works. Disparacy of ideas leading to a synthesis is crucial to moving science as well as art. Art and science work together. Monet's 'Impression, soleil levant' 1872 is a product of photography. Bacon worked from medical texts. Seurat was inspired by Chevreuil and visual physiology. No conflict - pure symbiosis. What I actually think representational art needs is humble honest authenticity, not recipes. 


Can you give us an angle on Malraux here, Derek. He sounds interesting but you are keeping him under wraps.


Best
Jo E


2010-02-23
Philosophy of Art
Vladimir

Re your "As any philosophical view on Art's matter, Malraux's vision on Art is need to be reinforced by some references to the biological behavioural pattern of human, coursed by natural selection or adaptational motivations."

There are so many aspects of human life that are said to be explained by evolution! Almost every week, I read about some new book on the subject.  Art, we  are told, is due to an 'art instinct'.  Morality is an "adaptation". This morning I read that there is a "music instinct" (Dutton beat him to the punch here). I've read that there is a ludic instinct - our species has triumphed because it had a sense of humour (!)  There are books arguing that religion is an instinct. Then of course there was the hunting instinct (mainly males had that I think), the agressivity instinct, the social instinct, and on and on and on.

As I said in an earlier post, one can "explain" just about anything by evolution because there is no hard evidence either way and no one can ever prove you wrong. Book publishers seem to have realized this and are cashing in. Watch out for, say, the Pet Instinct - the argument that we have succeeded as a species because we liked "companion animals". Maybe someone has even done it already?

DA



2010-02-23
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
 Now I'm yet to read your wok on Malraux, Derek, but I couldn't resist a contribution to the Ahrr 'T' in stink 'T'.Imagine this 'T' (yes, that one) is, in fact, the 'eye of a needle' through which religiously inebriated virtual camel drivers, in their hurry to attend prayers, forced their virtually stinky, wildly thrashing and braying camels through on their knees. Now that 'T',(yes, that other one, and now this one) is art.

2010-02-23
Philosophy of Art
Hi Martine

Thanks for your reply.  I have the Joughin and Malpas and the Philistine Controversy on my bookshelves but it's a while since I've read both and my memories are a bit vague.  I seem to recall the second was largely about the nature of the political effects of art (ie rather than whether they were important or not - which seemed to be common ground). But I may be wrong. I don't know the other titles you list.

One difficulty I see in this area is the vagueness of the term "aesthetic". Sometimes I think that if there is one single measure that would improve the quality of debate in aesthetics, it would be to impose a moratorium on the word aesthetic for, say, about 20 years. I am jesting of course - though I did suggest it once at an aesthetics conference and was quite surprised to see that some people agreed with me (!).

The problem is that the word 'aesthetic' connotes so many things. It can mean relating to beauty, or relating to the senses, or some version of the Kantian analysis, and more besides - and sometimes it is even seems to be used as a synonym for artistic. And then to compound the problem, writers often fail to specify which meaning they have in mind - and I sometimes suspect they are not sure themselves. In a philosophical analysis, this lack of precision can be disastrous.

But broadly speaking, I agree with you that art is fundamentally different from ethics and politics.  Malraux (him again!) writes somewhere that one of the things that destroys art is the will to prove - meaning, I think, that once a work becomes a vehicle for some ethical or political thesis it is bound to fail. On the other hand, the solution is not, to my mind, to resort to the maxim "art for art's sake" - whose meaning is, in any case, far from clear. In my view (which I derive from Malraux) art has its own, sui generis, human purpose - and it's a vital one. But I won't attempt to expand on that here. This post is already getting too long.

Best

DA  


2010-02-23
Philosophy of Art
Hi Jo E

You write "Can you give us an angle on Malraux here, Derek. He sounds interesting but you are keeping him under wraps."

There are two reasons for this.

(1) Malraux's theory of art has often been the victim of critics who seem to have felt they could sum him up in a few snappy sentences. The result has been dreadful oversimplification and distortion. (For example, one often gets the impression from such critics that the only idea Malraux ever had was the 'musee imaginaire' (museum without walls); and even that idea is routinely oversimplified and trivialized.) I don't want to unwittingly contribute to this parlous situation by trying to describe his theory of art in a brief post on a discussion list. He is an extraordinarily profound and original thinker and one could never do him justice in that way.

(2) I also don't want to keep banging on about Malraux and give the impression that I have sort of Malraux monomania. I have a tremendous admiration for his work (gratitude would be a better word because he has helped me solve problems about art that I had frankly thought insoluble) but I am interested in many other thinkers as well. 

This is going to sound like a dodge, I know.

DA

2010-02-24
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
I love Oscar Wilde and Nietzsche.  I am a philosophy student only because I read Nietzsche.  Otherwise I'd probably be in business, psychology or law.  I think at the end of the day Nietzsche has to rescue art from the fate he gives it in The Birth of Tragedy as some sort of anesthetic.  If I understand Nietzsche correctly he believes that life viewed from an artistic rather than scientific perspective is the correct way to look at life and also the world - even the natural world which science seems to claim authority on these days. 

I don't know how he can do this without admitting that art is life and life is art, and thus art is morality and morality is art. 

2010-02-24
Philosophy of Art
@ Jo E: I have no problem with 'duende', none at all - though I understand it more as 'the hairs on the back of the neck-thing' (much more instinctual, that's to say, than your seeming rational measure). The 'silent discourse' of your flamenco venue is, precisely, the creation of a setting, imbued with a tradition and a history in which 'duende' might just occur and is, thus, an integral part of what happens. It will be in that setting and in the audience's estimation that musician X will or will not manifest 'duende', i.e it is not a fact of the musician's sole making. A Costa del Sol night-club full of English tourists with neither respect for musicians nor understanding of the flamenco tradition is unlikely to offer a suitable venue - however technically accomplished the musician. And it's in something like this sense that I said that art is a discourse: it takes place among and between, it's not a 'thing' in itself.

All of which is not to take issue with you but just to explain myself more coherently. And I totally agree that there is no conflict with science. But now I'd like to know what 'trashing [of] favourite ideas' you go in for and in what sense does it 'work'?!

2010-02-24
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
DA,
Thanks for your comment. I've not been able to do much threading as I've been in school. I like what you wrote towards the end of your post (2-15-10): "We need to be prepared to question all propositions (eg that art = beauty;...)." As I was collaborating on an art project with a fellow artist last week I was considering what it was I was doing exactly. (We were making assemblages out of garbage.) If I had to describe the project further, only materials, processes, and our intended scope could be mentioned. Philosophically, when faced by art, I am really at a lack for any substantive propositions: the work cannot be axiomatized. Of course, I could tell you about its social and political ramifications, the work's tactility, design, color schema, etc. But I don't think it's possible to put the philosophy of art into words. Maybe "philosophy of art" doesn't make sense?

2010-02-24
Philosophy of Art
Yah, amateur mistake on Mozart.  I guess my ignorance of classical music is out of the bag. 

I think that your definition of morality and especially moralists is askew though.  Let me just suggest we define morality as the study of that which matters most to people and moralists (or moral-teachers/philosophers) as those people who promote an understanding of what people care about and how to bring those things about in the world - i.e. - through practical rationality, etc...

By this open definition of morality, even Nietzsche was a moralist (I contend).  He wants his writing to change how people live their lives (even if to suggest that they live amorally, when morality is defined traditionally - the Christian definition).  His one work of fiction does not only change the way people think - if it is successful - but, through changing the way they think, the things they believe, etc... also, importantly how they live their lives (which is my definition of moral success).  If something changes you for the better (leaving aside how better is defined for the moment) it is a moral work, at least to some minimal extent. 

I am not confusing aesthetic and moral values, but I believe that the one can come from the other (and vice-versa).  Just as every aspect of life plays on every other, so does art with morality.  I don't mean, merely in the generic sense that everything is related to everything else (causally or otherwise) but art and morality are allies in the same battle.  The world can be made more beautiful through morality and more just through art.    

If you wouldn't mind focusing our conversation on the medium of art I think my argument fares strongest, that is, literature, I would contend that great literature is great precisely because it changes the readers attitudes, sentiments, beliefs, thoughts, desires, etc... and all these things are VERY intimately tied to morality, and thus I contend that art is at least intimately tied to morality.  By 'intimately' I mean that you can't coherently speak of one without at least invoking the terms used in discussion of the other.  Or at least, talk of morality without reference to an artistic understanding of the object of the world and their interplay would be lacking and so would talk of art without reference to the moral situation that we find ourselves in. 

 

2010-02-25
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
Hi John

Re: "Maybe "philosophy of art" doesn't make sense?"

I think this raises an important question: what is the philosophy of art, and how does it relate to the actual creative act of making art?

My own view is that the philosophy of art has very little to do with, or contribute to, the creative act of making art (including music and literature).

The basic question the philosophy of art asks is "what is art?" in the general sense - i.e. what is art as a kind of human activity? what is its purpose? what does it achieve? I think those are important questions, but the answers one might give really have nothing to say to the artist going about his/her creative task. The artist is faced with specific problems - how to achieve a particular effect he/she is after; how to do something similar to what X did, but in a better way; etc (I don't just mean this in a technical sense.)

Having said that, I imagine that many artists also like to think about the purpose of art in the broader, philosophy of art sense. They might well feel it is important to develop some overall views on the question. But I don't frankly think it matters much if they don't. They could well be very fine artists without ever opening a book on the subject. 

It's worth noting too that most philosophers of art, no matter how long and hard they think about their subject, show very little talent as artists. (Some, I occasionally feel, have very little real interest in art, which is less easy to understand.)

DA

2010-02-26
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Mark Callan
Dear Mark, We are in agreement. I think art is as much a message received as one given. There is more to either art or duende than hairs on the back of the neck. There is a sense that even if you've seen it all and you know all the tricks the hairs still stand up. There is an issue of 'authenticity' that in turn entails an issue of 'sophisticated taste' that in turn, at least for duende entails a certain mischievous sense of 'if you gotta ask...'  It is all about pushing signs of mental prowess to the limit with people who want to push in the same way, sometimes with a little chutzpa in the discourse, sometimes not.

The answer to your question is technical. I have trashed ideas like: 'autoimmunity is triggered by molecular mimicry', 'T cells drive rheumatoid arthritis', "EAE is a model of MS'...etc. etc. It worked by leading me to a treatment that has made life better for tens of thousands of people with arthritis. Sadly, despite the laughs most people still put in grant applications applying the trashed ideas to the new field I created! Immunology is as full of people sticking to useless ideas as is philosophy - no surprises. I do not support scientists against philosophers any more than the other way around but I do support science against those who would stick their heads in the sand and pretend it has nothing to do with art or humanity. 

2010-02-27
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan

Derek Allan's observation ' ... They could well be very fine artists without ever opening a book on the subject.' is correct, and is a kind of philosophy of art too, traditionally.

2010-02-28
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi All,
Re: "Maybe "philosophy of art" doesn't make sense?"

I am aware that there are two meanings of the expression "of art" that have quite different implications. They are often, and unhelpfully, elided.

When  "of" means "out of," we have the idea of art (in general, let's call it "Art") as a container of Philosophy; artworks as mediums by which philosophies are expressed. In this sense they may or may not be of philosophies discussed in Philosophy departments etc, In this case one role of Philosophy is to observe and elucidate the philosophy in works as they relate to Philosophy and Art (or some declared sense of what P and A are) - In much the same way that we talk about the the mathematics "of" seashell designs. Here the focus is to use philosophies to discuss the philosophicality of art, or the use a Heideggerian analogy, to use a hammers to explore the nailness of a nails.

When  "of" means "about" when have a philosophy to do with things like how Art is defined, what Its social function is, how It is made, how It can be recognised etc. This is the meaning given when people say of a particular work that it is or is not Art because it does or does not have Duende etc. In this situation nails (artworks) are used to explore the hammerness of hammers (philosophies).

Either way, there is not much useful purpose in collapsing the distinction between hammers and nails. The big danger of the latter position is the propensity for those with hammers to fall into the trap of seeing everything as a nail. Or, because they have a hammer, thinking they know how to make, good nails. And this happens a lot in an intellectual tradition that values hammers over nails, including to the point of valuing those weilding hammers more highly (worthy of $s) than those who make nails. 

And for the nailmakers ( I'm trying to "drive" my point home), my experience is that there are philosophies and discourses being carried on in art works and the practices around making them that don't even care whether hammers exist, because if you have the right type of nail and the right type of grease, you can always use something, including another nail, for the purpose, and afterwards, both nails remain usefully in "tack."  But hammers tend to just "claw" each other apart.

DRW.

(research app. in, now back to the unreal world...)



2010-03-01
Philosophy of Art
Reply to David Worrall
Hi David

Just a comment on "When  "of" means "about" when have a philosophy to do with things like how Art is defined, what Its social function is, how It is made, how It can be recognised etc. .."

I personally don't think that the philosophy of art can ever tell us how art can be recognized. I don't think anything can tell us that.

We know that, say, Macbeth is great art and that The Da Vinci Code is not art of any kind.  (That at least is my view.). But nothing can ever prove that. Sometimes I amuse myself by composing an imaginary review of Macbeth "proving" that it is a hopeless failure of a play - though it is in fact one of the works I most admire. It would not be hard to write such a review. If I ran short of ideas I could always crib from Voltaire who had a very low opinion of Shakespeare.

I think the philosophy of art can tell us what art is in the sense of what human purpose it serves. I don't think it can tell us what art is in the sense of why X is art or not. Though some philosophers of art - especially in the "analytic" tradition - seem to believe it can.

DA 

2010-03-01
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross

To me Aesthetics points to codes provided by philosophers;

Andre Bazin - pointing to the Higher Reality and that all forms of art are imitations, embalmation of God's creation. Due to the humanly defects (forgetting), these arts are recurring in creation to provide us a kind of 'reminder' of the greatness of Gods creation.

Henri Bergson - ponting to the human attributes of intuition, sympathy, duration and Elan Vital as a requirement in order to manifest (imitate as above) one's art.

Kant - pointing to the 1st,2nd,3rd,4th moments of beauty + the Sublime.

Santayana - The opposites in art (+ve&-ve, subjective/objective, intrinsic/ extrinsic) that could be derived out of which Feeling, Intimacy, Harmony and Absurdity in the Arts.

Nietzsche - Pointing to perhaps, Beauty does not Exist?

In my class lectures, i test the above philosophies to artistic works of Van Gogh, Kubrick, Muse and many traditional artforms in Malaysia.

Till next.


2010-03-02
Philosophy of Art
Hi Maszalida

That's interesting. But what do you do about conflicts between these different arguments - eg Kant's focus on Beauty, Nietzsche's suggestion that "Beauty does not exist". And so on.

DA

2010-03-08
Philosophy of Art
Reply to John Gross
Hi John, This is a really interesting question. I recently put together a proposal for my dissertation on The Discourse on Ideologies of the Aesthetic in Abstract Expressionism.  I posed the question  'If the experience of Abstract Expressionism is a subjective one, how can a universal value system be applied, and on what objective theory is this based'.  I looked at how values are attached by a non relational value system, based in classical painting, and whether value can be applied in systematic surveys of Fine Art.I decided to look at Meta Aesthetics, as proposed in Kants Critique of Judgement, and also Bolzano's Theory of Fine Arts, and  Landeu' Reading Abstract Expressionism, Context and Critique. I am a combined honours student, Fine Art and Philosophy, and so far have not been able to source any satisfying, or valid, theories on this subject. Who decides where the value lies, and are there really any universal theories that may be applied. Can philosophers answer the question which has stumped the Critical Art Theorists for so long? I do hope so. 

2010-03-09
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Ruth Dillon
I hope you do not mind me interposing, Ruth.  I was wondering if you could clarify the nature of the problem you have in mind?

You write "Who decides where the value lies, and are there really any universal theories that may be applied. Can philosophers answer the question which has stumped the Critical Art Theorists for so long? I do hope so. "

What do you mean by "universal values" here? Universal values about what is art or not?

Also why do you feel that responses to Abstract Expressionism would be more "subjective" than responses to art of any other kind (if that is what you are suggesting?) And what do you mean exactly by "subjective"?

DA 

2010-03-12
Philosophy of Art
' Derek: I think you have got it right, but if you treat art as a distinct and valuable area of the humanities (which I think it right) how would you define what art is, or should become in order to be as valuable to human life as possible? 

Perhaps it would be ... (expand)
good to take a specific form of art and focus on it at this point: I would suggest music (just because that's what we're covering in my aesthetics class at this point).  So, would anybody venture to explain how/why "Requiem For A Dream" by Motzart is important to any aspect of human life?' Re: Philosophy of Art - Bahram Farzady

Dear Derek/Bahram,

I don't think anyone has so far mentioned the question of emotions concerning art, especially concerning music.  I'm aware that some philosophers do not accept that art arises from emotion, and, whilst I acknowledge that art has many complex and diverse layers, emotion is surely a significant factor?  In this respect I  suppport the claim that the very existence of art is proof in itself that our emotions cannot be sufficiently expressed within discursive language.    However, I personally believe music is the purest form of consciousness in the sense that emotions and music each share something of the other in a way that does not apply quite so much to other art forms, with the exception perhaps of contemporary dance that in any case closely interacts with rhythm, (Susan Langer Music in a New Key.) 

As well as being an expression of our emotions, a further value of art must be its abstract 'distancing' quality, (Bullough) in the sense that some forms of art can take ordinary everyday objects or situations and re-present them to us in a way that we can recognize as directly applying to ourselves, or contemporary universal others.  Isn't this why in Peter Hall's production of the Greek tragedy, Oedipus, he insisted on the wearing of masks for instance? And, if I remember correctly, didn't Seamus Heaney's involvement with the staging of Oedipus during Northern Ireland's recent conflict similarly use its abstract universal qualities to represent the sort of political oppression that resonanted with the audience at that time?  And in this connextion, isn't another  aspect of the value of art the re-telling and re-presenting of stories and myths through our music and plays, our poetry and novels, which in effect are a continuum of 'Being' that is always travelling towards 'becoming'?  And in this sense isn't another aspect of the value of art its distillation of those essential qualities that express for us that which something is - through form, colour, movement, sound?    

Dilys

2010-03-12
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan

 Hi Derek, I don't mind at all; though I must say I am an undergrad in Fine Art and Philosophy so bear with me. I was really interested in the question: 'What is Art?' and moreover what is 'Good' Art. 
If we commence with the idea of art being valued as an object, and then who decides what  'good' Art is. Is it the viewer?  With the advent of photography, Daguerre, Fox Talbot etc, artists, (painters in particular) expanded their fields, from realism to other forms, i.e. impressionism, cubism, fauvism, nouveau realistes and so on.  If I understand correctly, with the realistes and fluxus movements the emphasis for value shifted from the audience viewing the art as 'pleasing', to the art becoming, or being within the audiences response. The concern I had here is, can anyone quantify or qualify the experience, and if so how?

The critical theoretical approach from which the study of Fine Art, 
has historically been applied, stems from a traditional classical base, which may be said to have specific, or measurable value.  With the transposition from theory based on classical notions of art and practice, to theory aimed at modern art, there is a discrepancy on the discourse surrounding, how and what can be transferred successfully in relation to value. Typically, when set in a historical context, theories regarding art were primarily concerned with art as object. The function of the object was to communicate to the viewer via the medium a particular outcome, which we may term as pleasing.  The emphasis upon the outcome here is a key point, if the outcome can be understood as the defining factor in an evaluative sense, i.e. the experience produced in the viewer by the feelings associated by it, how can one then apply this approach to painters in the field of Abstract Expressionism? If we understand the term Abstract Expressionist, as defined in the oxford dictionary as: '...a development of abstract art aiming at subjective emotional interaction with particular emphasis on spontaneous creativity', the outcome does not necessarily depend upon a pleasing feeing being induced by viewing'.  The art as object for Expressionists becomes redundant; it is not a representation in a formalistic sense that can be evaluated. Jackson Pollock described his mode of working as such: “the modern artist is working with space and time, and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating”. [1] 
If in perceiving the role of traditional theory in the experiential outcome being in the viewing, what can one deem as appropriately quantifiable? Could it be said that if on viewing an artwork one is not instantly pleased the experience has no value?

 

 



[1] 
 Johnson, E, (1982)
Possibilities I,  American Artists on Art, ten Abridged Essays, Harper and Row.

 




2010-03-13
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
Hi Diyls

Quite a lot in your post so I thought I would just limit myself to the idea that art is the expression of emotions.

As you mention, the idea has its critics and for good reason I think. My own problems with it would be:

First, if we take the emotion of fear, for example, I think one could argue that a real scream of fear from someone who is terrified might strike us at least as powerfully as an expression of that emotion via art (eg Munch's Scream). Ditto for, say, sadness. A person weeping might strike us much more powerfully than a painting of same. And so on.

So if art "expresses emotion" it must presumably do so in some special way. Or perhaps it expresses a particular kind of emotion (ie not common or garden ones like fear and sadness, but something deeper and more difficult to put one's finger on).

Second, the idea of expression is in itself somewhat opaque.  If it just means "brings forth" - as an apple tree brings forth apples - then it doesn't really tell us anything specific about the nature of art. It just says: x comes from y, without explaining what sort of thing x is.

Sorry to just pose problems. I have my own ideas about what art is but I don't want to thrust them on you. Better just to toss ideas around and mull them over.

DA

2010-03-13
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Ruth Dillon
Hi Ruth

I think it is true that in the pre-modern period (Renaissance to, say, Manet) there was a widespread view that one could measure (to borrow your term) what was good art. That is, I think there was, at that time, a certain ideal of what good art should look like: it should be beautiful, and it should, as you say, "please". In painting, Raphael was often held up as the gold standard; and in sculpture, certain Graeco-Roman pieces, such as the Apollo Belvedere, were the nec plus ultra

The discipline of aesthetics was born late in this period which is why, I believe, the ideas of beauty and pleasure played such a big part in the thinking that went to it - and continue to figure so prominently in aesthetics today. But for various reasons I won't attempt to go into, the notion that there is an ideal against which one can measure art has collapsed, along with the ideas on which it was based - ie that art should be beautiful and should "please". (Thus our world of art today includes many objects that one can only call beautiful at the cost of stretching the word beyond breaking point; and even to say that many such works - like the Isenheim Altarpiece or certain Picassos - "please" seems strange.)

In short, I think we are in a rather confusing position today. The conceptual apparatus we often get from modern aesthetics is linked to a conception of art that simply no longer applies. Hence, perhaps, your puzzlement about two kinds of art - a measurable one and a non-measurable one.  The idea that there is a measurable one is, I would argue, a hangover from a time now gone by.

This is hugely abbreviated and it doesn't deal with all the points you raised. But I hope it helps a bit.

DA


 


2010-03-15
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Mark Callan
The 'silent discourse' of your flamenco venue is, precisely, the creation of a ... (expand) setting, imbued with a tradition and a history in which 'duende' might just occur and is, thus, an integral part of what happens. It will be in that setting and in the audience's estimation that musician X will or will not manifest 'duende', i.e it is not a fact of the musician's sole making. A Costa del Sol night-club full of English tourists with neither respect for musicians nor understanding of the flamenco tradition is unlikely to offer a suitable venue - however technically accomplished the musician. And it's in something like this sense that I said that art is a discourse: it takes place among and between, it's not a 'thing' in itself.   Mark Callan

Dear Mark, 

Cannot art be both a discourse whilst also being 'of itself'?  If not, why not?   Is not the reason why discourse takes place because of an emotional connextion we are making with particular art forms on particular occasions, but this doesn't necessarily rule out that this connextion and the particular art form are both exacty the same in every respect, merely that they each share something of the other at a particular moment.  Does this make sense? 

Dilys



2010-04-03
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan

First, if we take the emotion of fear, for example, I think one could argue that a real scream of fear from someone who is terrified might strike us at least as powerfully as an expression of that emotion via art (eg Munch's Scream). Ditto for, say, sadness. A person weeping might strike us much more powerfully than a painting of same. And so on. DA

Dear Derek,  Apologies for the delay.  I have been looking at some of your online commentary on Malraux.  

Yes, “owch!” needs no explanation, artistic or otherwise, and yet there is something in our nature that seeks self-expression through the medium of different art forms that reflect the shifting patterns and rhythms of our emotional life.  The very young and uninhibited will sing and dance for joy quite naturally, and some cultures also dance as an expression of their grief and solidarity.  When we personally experience extreme grief those of us who lack artistic skills will nonetheless seek self-expression in writing poetry, and sometimes painting, and there is something cathartic in the tension of music’s rising crescendos and something equally calming and peaceful in the nature of its release.  Similarly we find cathartic release/self-expression within a play’s dramatic tragedy and release of tension in its comedy that resonates with us in the way we recognize similarities in our own lives or those of others.





So if art "expresses emotion" it must presumably do so in some special way. Or perhaps it expresses a particular kind of emotion (ie not common or garden ones like fear and sadness, but something deeper and more difficult to put one's finger on). DA

I would suggest that whereas the very young child’s uninhibited and untutored dance rhythms are an expression of pure emotion similar to that of the weeping woman, a professional trained dancer is interpreting choreographed rhythms within a particular art form, and his/her emotional expression is contained within its symbolic abstraction.  As such, artistic self-expression is distinct from the sort of emotion we experience in reality.   
  

Whilst the emotional self-expression of an actual weeping woman is powerful in itself, and immediately appeals to our humanity, artistic symbolism is capable of representing much more than her particular emotion that is fixed within a particular situation, rather it is not only capable of wide interpretation, more importantly it expresses symbolically that which is ineffable.

The symbolic expression of Bacon’s and Sutherland’s  work during and after the second WW goes beyond the immediate sense of horror felt by those confronted by man’s inhumanity to man, or at least its powerful symbolism expresses primordial qualities that are both disturbing and ineffable.   In this sense, therefore, our interpretations of art are part of the shifts and changes of a continuing discourse travelling towards ‘becoming’, meaning that the precise meaning of art is incomplete and open-ended.  On this point my view differs from Malraux’s who claims the original nature of objects are not merely re-births that contains some part of its essential form, rather they metamorphose into different sorts of objects.  But how is this process reconciled with Aristotle’s Substance/Change?   I take Malraux’s point that the cultural perceptions of an ancient or medieval audience are not the same as our contemporary ones, and, therefore, our experience of an interpretation of a performance of classical Greek tragedy, for instance, will not be exactly the same as that of ancient Greeks.  Nonetheless, contemporary interpretations of original performances that retain their essential form within its abstract symbolism, means its horror and tragedy equally resonate with the emotions of a contemporary audience  who can relate the essential form of the tragedy to their own situation or that of similar others. 

Malraux’s commentary on art reminds me of the way Foucault uses Velazquez’s Las Meninas in his Order of Things, to illustrate the way our value of things passes out of our cultural vision.  As such, the fact we are now valuing ancient Egyptian artifacts as art originally valued for the wellbeing they provided in the afterlife, does not dissolve those originally perceived qualities, they are merely hidden from our contemporary cultural view, in the same way that our concept of art was hidden from the cultural view of ancient Egyptians.




Second, the idea of expression is in itself somewhat opaque.  If it just means "brings forth" - as an apple tree brings forth apples - then it doesn't really tell us anything specific about the nature of art. It just says: x comes from y, without explaining what sort of thing x is. DA

I support many of Langer’s views in her Philosophy in a New Key.   As you know, her view is that music and the emotions share a logical form, and she has been criticized for not clearly stating what this form is.  I have understood it as a fluidly dynamic quality that reflects the life of our emotions, ie those parts that cannot be sufficiently expressed in discursive (written/verbal) language. She is not saying that music and the emotions are identical, merely that each share this particular character trait or quality, analogous perhaps to the way that children share something of the parent’s genetic qualities, but that each is individually different in their own right. This means that music in particular, and all other art forms generally, represent emotions symbolically, the nature of which is abstract and, therefore, because its meaning is not precisely fixed like the grammar and syntax of language, it can be widely interpreted by the creator of the art form and us its public recipients.  

The idea of expression specifically reveals that the nature of art contains metaphysical and abstract elements that step outside the concrete and scientific and which are ineffable. 

‘Probably all art is formally and essentially untranslatable’, and as such, ‘it is a mistake to believe that what is symbolically represented can be better expressed in discursive language, rather there is only another symbol. [Langer]  

We seem unable to accept that we can understand that which cannot be spoken, which must have repercussions for the study of psychology, philosophy of mind, and existence itself.    

Dilys


2010-04-03
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden

Hi Dilys

Thanks for your reply. I shall just make a couple of brief points because an adequate reply would get too long.

You wrote: "....  When we personally experience extreme grief those of us who lack artistic skills will nonetheless seek self-expression in writing poetry, and sometimes painting, and there is something cathartic in the tension of music's rising crescendos and something equally calming and peaceful in the nature of its release. ... "

I know these are ideas are often suggested by writers in aesthetics. Personally I seriously doubt them. In real life, extreme grief, I think, leads as frequently (probably much more frequently) to depression or various desperate measures...  Art, I suspect, usually comes a very poor second - like philosophy. There is a nice line in Shakespeare: "For never yet was there philosopher who could bear the toothache patiently." Ditto for artists I would say.

You also write: "Malraux's commentary on art reminds me of the way Foucault uses Velazquez's Las Meninas in his Order of Things,.."

I was not impressed by Foucault's essay, I have to say.  It thought it focused far too much on a (somewhat far-fetched) interpretation of what the painting represented. (Who was looking at what, etc.) It's as if a painting were nothing but a visual "story" - an approach one often meets in art history too.  Visual art is much more than that.

Very little resemblance between Malraux and Foucault, I would say.

You write :"The fact we are now valuing ancient Egyptian artifacts as art originally valued for the wellbeing they provided in the afterlife, does not dissolve those originally perceived qualities, they are merely hidden from our contemporary cultural view, in the same way that our concept of art was hidden from the cultural view of ancient Egyptians."

I'm not sure what you are saying here. Are you suggesting there are some permanent "aesthetic" qualities?

DA


2010-04-05
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan

Dear Derek,

First may I say my last reply had been completed before I had fully taken on board Malraux's argument, and I have now explored this a little more fully.  As a result, whilst I have not changed on the question of emotion,  I have moved closer towards Malraux's view that ancient artifacts exhibited as works of art alienate them from their telos and raison d'etre.  However, whilst the western concept of art is an imagined one, the qualities they perceive in the artifacts are not.  As such, I believe this argment concerns the concepts of ontology and telos in terms of substance and change and potentiality and actuality.  

1.  In terms of the artifact's telos and reason to be the western concept of art is an alien one that creates a different sort of thing, and in Heidegerrian terms the artifact's do not exist as themselves. 

2.  In terms of substance and change and potentiality and actuality the qualities that the western concept of art now values in these artifacts existed as potential qualities in the original artifacts. 

3.  However, the process of change from potentiality to actuality concerns the condition of stability in terms of a thing's telos - and the concept of art cannot satisfy this condition. 

4.  Therefore, the western concept of art is an imagined one - in the sense that it metemorphises the artifacts into a different sort of thing. 

My view of is that this process of change concerns the progression or focus of our metaphorical 'gaze'  ie where we happen to be standing within the context of historical contingencies, and how that influences our actions and values.  And this is how I interpret  Velazquez's Las Meninas, in the sense that certain values and ways of seeing the world around us are hidden from our view, only to re-emerge when our perceptual or conceptual gaze changes to a different position as a result of different dynamic influences.  But these values and actualities don't disappear as such, they are merely obscured, including those humankind has yet to discover. I also understand Foucault's analogy in terms of our pre-occupation with the physical and scientific whilst largely dismissing its metaphysical aspects that nonetheless exist independently of our contemporary view.   

I also take this view concerning the contemporary stance on essential qualities -  eg beauty, truth, form and colour -  inasmuch that the whole (of existence) is more than the sum of its parts.   Although the contemporary concept of art no longer embraces these elements because our values have changed the purpose of art into a different sort of thing, logically these qualties must   persist, merely they are hidden from our conceptual gaze.

Dilys
  


2010-04-07
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
Hi Dilys

Glad to see you're finding Malraux interesting.  And the issue you're discussing - the relationship between art and time - is a key aspect of his thought. (It's an issue that is almost entirely neglected in analytic aesthetics and only arises incidentally in continental.)

Malraux wants us to squarely confront the fact that many works of the past that we today call art (e.g. certain Egyptian sculptures) were once viewed quite differently -  i.e. as sacred objects - and came from cultures in which the concept "art" was unknown.  How do we explain this?  Malraux answers: These objects have a power of metamorphosis. Today, after centuries of oblivion, they have become what we call art. And, in the future, the notion of art may itself slide into oblivion and the works concerned may take on a quite different significance, or fade into obscurity again, along with many other works that we today call art, including those from Western culture.

This is based on a carefully thought-out theory of art and is not just wild "continental" speculation. But I won't attempt to go in to that here.

A challenging aspect of the theory, as you can probably see, is that the notion of "art" itself is not seen as permanent or timeless, as so much aesthetics seems to assume.  For Malraux, the notion of art defines us as much as we define it - i.e. it is a form of response specific to modern, agnostic, Western(ised) culture and its fundamental needs. Which is an example of how Malraux links his theory of art to broader human questions, and takes it out of the narrow realm of "aesthetics".

This is all very abbreviated and probably sounds a bit obscure. It's hard to do justice to Malraux in a few lines.

DA  

 

2010-04-09
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden

Dear Derek,  

Malraux

Since writing my last post I have been getting further acquainted with Malraux’s views on the history of art, which I must say I find increasingly seductive the more I read.   Several of his views seem quite close to my own, although I’ve either taken a different route to get there, or I’ve ended up in a different place from Malraux altogether.   I may need to study my map again at this stage; clarification on the following would help.   


His argument that artists create a different sort of world in order to retreat from the chaos and uncertainty of our 'world of appearances', in which the only sort of rule is their own, is a plausible one in terms of the way he relates this to our past relationship with mythology.   My view on this would be to introduce the possibility that at least some elements of this different world actually do exist as part of our metaphysical existence.  In this sense, therefore, it substantiates their version of ‘truth’,  merely it isn't obvious to our physical or contemporary understanding.   It could also be argued that some aspects of this view are akin to the sort of dream world that indigenous communities inhabit, such as that of the Australian Aborigines. Chagall’s paintings are very reminiscent of this, although they are heavily infused with large doses of dreamlike Jewish mysticism, which is in itself a sort of mythology.  As such, Chagall must be one of those artists that do not exactly conform to Malraux’s view that the artist’s creation of ‘different mythological worlds’ have been partially caused by the disintegration of religious faith.

A further point I haven’t resolved is how Malraux reconciles his rejection of self-expression in visual art with the work of people such as Bacon or Sutherland, or even Nash, for instance.  Was not their work a direct result of the aftermath of the first and second WWs, and whilst it could be argued that Bacon’s and Sutherland’s work relates to the mythological  and invisible in terms of symbolic elements that are both primordial and disturbing, in what way are they not self-expression?   If art is of and for itself, as Malraux claims, why is it not also self-expression?


Finally, I can only reconcile this 'different world' with the domain of visual art, whereas it does not seem to similarly apply to the different natures of music, performance art or literature, although admittedly some of Kafka's writing is somewhat 'off-the-wall'  Nothing else immediately comes to mind, unless 'Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' is a contender?    

Dilys   


2010-04-10
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
Hi Dilys

Glad to see you are enjoying Malraux. Here's few comments on particular parts of your post:

"His argument that artists create a different sort of world in order to retreat from the chaos and uncertainty of our 'world of appearances', ..."

Not to "retreat from", to overcome, to defeat - as a religion does, but differently.

"Malraux’s view that the artist’s creation of ‘different mythological worlds’ have been partially caused by the disintegration of religious faith. "

Malraux argues that art has always been the creation of a rival world (not a mythological one, by the way) even in prehistoric times. The disintegration of religious faith reoriented it, but did not alter this basic fact.

" If art is of and for itself, as Malraux claims, why is it not also self-expression?
"

Malraux does not argue an "art for art's sake" line, if that is what you are suggesting here. He argues that art creates a rival world and is an "anti-destiny" - ie a bulwark against man's basic sense of insignificance and nothingness (as religions are also.)  He does not see any art, at any period, as simply self-expression (which is a rather vague idea anyway if you think about it).

"I can only reconcile this 'different world' with the domain of visual art, whereas it does not seem to similarly apply to the different natures of music, performance art or literature, although admittedly some of Kafka's writing is somewhat 'off-the-wall' "

The idea of art as a rival world applies to all art not just artists who might seem to stray into the realm of fantasy like Kafka. So it applies to say Ingres or Courbet as much as Matisse or Chagall. It concerns music and literature also because it is a claim about the basic nature of all art. Traditional aesthetics says that (all) art is beauty, source of "aesthetic pleasure" etc. Malraux rejects this and says art is an anti-destiny - a way in which man denies his nothingness (by the creation of a rival 'humanized' world).

Hope this helps a bit. Hard to do this in a post!

Derek

2010-04-14
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,


Thank you for your helpful reply, and I shall certainly continue to read up on Malraux.  

You wrote: 

Malraux does not argue an "art for art's sake" line, if that is what you are suggesting here. He argues that art creates a rival world and is an "anti-destiny" - ie a bulwark against man's basic sense of insignificance and nothingness (as religions are also.)  He does not see any art, at any period, as simply self-expression (which is a rather vague idea anyway if you think about it).


With respect, whilst I can accept that art - at any period - is not simply one of self-expression, I am unable to accept that self expression does not inform creative acts in any way whatsoever.  My position on this is that:  

"
man's basic sense of insignificance and nothingness" are the internal/external dynamic elements that help shape the concept of rival worlds in our imagination, but without the psyche's conscious willing or the self's need to express this concept, and thereby make sense of it, the notion of rival worlds could not emerge; either as ancient Egyptian artifacts or as the classical and contemporary objects we now identify as art. 

Dilys  





2010-04-15
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
Hi Dilys

The idea that art is self-expression is a modern one. An Egyptian sculptor, for example, would never have thought that he was expressing himself in a statue of his pharaoh. Such a thought would have been sacrilege. Ditto for a Romanesque or medieval sculptor, and many others. (None of whom had a word for art either - which is significant in this context.)

Malraux would agree that, in a sense, modern art (art since Manet) is self-expression - but only in a sense. I won't try to go into that here. Actually this aspect of his thinking has often been misunderstood.  Merleau-Ponty, for example, gets it quite wrong, claiming Malraux's theory is "subjectivist"; and various writers have unfortunately taken that opinion as gospel. It's a longish story, however. Too long for a discussion list post.

DA

 



2010-04-19
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,

With respect I cannot respond fairly to Malraux's argument if you keep certain key points of his argument under wraps.  Please explain a little more fully:  "this aspect of his thinking has often been misunderstood.  Merleau-Ponty, for example,"   I am very interested in Merleau Ponty's work.  In my view he understood the immediacy of consciousness in terms of our intimate relationship with our physical body and the social world in a way that was way ahead of his time in my view.  However, that aside, the point at which I am coming from is that self-expression arises from our self-will, without which our will is merely robotic. 

Every sentient rational action is either voluntary or we are forced against our will


External influences can persuade our self-will to act in certain ways, or we can be forced to act against our will when we have no other alternative, (ie through physical or political oppression or mind-bending drugs,)  but our self-will is essentially that which explains sentient rational beings, which is my point here. Without our self-will or desire no one's going anywhere.  The act of perceiving these works either as tomb artifacts or contemporary art must coherently arise from the desire of our self-will, the execution or satisfaction of which is one of self- expression.  I don't really see how it can be coherently explained otherwise.   

Best wishes.
Dilys

2010-04-19
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
Hi Dilys

Sorry, I was not expecting you to respond re Merleau-Ponty on the basis of my brief remark. I just mentioned it by way of information. I would certainly not want to keep anything about Malraux's theory of art under wraps. Indeed, I do my best to make his much neglected theory better known. But I could not hope to explain Merleau-Ponty's misreadings of Malraux in a discussion list post. I have done so elsewhere, of course - -principally in my book (which I hesitate to mention because I sound as if I'm doing a commercial). 

M-P is not the only one to have misread Malraux I should hasten to add. Gombrich, for example, made some major bloopers. One doesn't like pointing these things out, but unfortunately some commentators seem to accept such misreadings as gospel and go on repeating them as if they were. So one has to explain why they are wrong (which is not difficult in fact because the misreadings are usually quite blatant and one can easily show why).
 
I'm not sure I follow all your thinking on the self-expression issue, but are you sure that our responses to art are entirely acts of what you call self-will? When I listen to Mozart, read Dostoyevsky, or look at a Goya, I don't think my will plays a significant role in my response. Or putting that another way, no amount of will would enable me to say that I enjoy rock music or jazz, like reading Dan Brown or his ilk, or think computer games merit being called art (which I mention because it's a fashionable idea, I notice). 

DA


2010-04-25
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,

I have only just discovered that a book I happened to read from my local library several years ago, 'Silk Roads', an account of a couple who illicitly raided ancient artifacts from the ruins of Cambodian temples, is the same Malraux we are now discussing, and his then wife, Clara.   How odd that Malraux of all people should then go on to theorize on the inappropriateness of exhibiting ancient artifacts in art galleries, on account of the way it alienates them from their raison d'etre.   I can only assume he had a sort of pentacostal change of heart.  But all of that aside, his background history makes for fascinating reading.  Amongst all of the many philosophers Malraux must rate as one of the most charismatic!  Well, this is my view at least, although there are others - Gadamer perhaps? 

Dilys

PS  It is also interesting that although comparisons are made between the similarities of some of Malraux's and Merleau-Ponty's theories on art, there are significant points of departure, eg self-expression, and the way that although Ponty and Sartre held similar views on phenemenology,  Ponty fundamentally disagreed with Sartre's notion of existentialist freedom.  As such, I am considering whether or not Ponty's point of departure with both Sartre and Malraux arises from their existenstialist notions of self, which does not allow either of them to acknowledge the external influences through which our fundamental self-will is filtered.  Sartre cannot accept that we are never totally free in this sense, and similarly Malraux cannot accept that his ancient Egyptians' self-will that has been impacted upon and filtered through an ancient Egpytian culture, is nonetheless a re-figured expression of self.  

I would suggest that intentionality is the point here, in that the intent of ancient Egyptian craftsmen was to produce artifacts for the wellbeing for their departed dead.  Any craftsman worth his salt would execute this task in terms of the excellence of his particular skill, which in itself is an expression of self by any other name.  Whether or not this self-expression is voluntarily projected onto a different sort of collective concept, it is the immediate psyche or self that is activating his task, albeit filtered through perceptions that have been impacted upon by his ancient Egyptian culture. .  



  




2010-04-25
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,


I did not intend my comment to be negative.   I think OU on-line discussion is probably much more up front and immediate than this PhilPapers format, and I also acknowledge your time is at a premium.   However, I was hoping you would very briefly condense or summarise why Malraux believes M-P has misread him.  I'm not that familiar with M-P's work on art, and because I am having a break from my Open University studies I currently do not have access to intellectual on-line papers.  However, I may try and get hold of your book.  I also think I will find Malraux's biography and novels interesting.   

As a result of my discussion with you on Malraux I have been considering a third level degree course on the history of 20th century art to finish my ordinary  degree.  I also recall your rejection of Gombrich's views from our discussion some years ago.   

Dilys

PS  DA says:

I'm not sure I follow all your thinking on the self-expression issue, but are you sure that our responses to art are entirely acts of what you call self-will? When I listen to Mozart, read Dostoyevsky, or look at a Goya, I don't think my will plays a significant role in my response. Or putting that another way, no amount of will would enable me to say that I enjoy rock music or jazz, like reading Dan Brown or his ilk, or think computer games merit being called art (which I mention because it's a fashionable idea, I notice). 

Well, I had thought that I was sure.  Perhaps someone else would like to offer their views on this?  My understanding in terms of consciousness in the philosophy of mind and/or psychology, is that intentionality and self-will precedes all our actions in the broadest and the most immediate sense of its meaning, so that listening to and appreciating music, painting, or whatever, is itself the act of appreciating some-thing.  It is our self-will that is doing the appreciating.  We don't press a button in order to tell us  whether or not we are appreciating anything, but our perceptions are being filtered through the context of our culture, so that there are internal/external influences going on.  Our will is persuaded (or not) to behave in a certain way by the context that confronts it.  Our will is influenced or persuaded to act voluntarily, otherwise we are forced to act against our will.  Perhaps I am wrong on this?  I can recall  there are many different views in philosophy of mind, also in psychology, possibly relating to psychology's emerging interest in phenemenology and  Ponty's work.  

The way I am rationalising self-expression is that for instance the act of making myself a cup of coffee is in itself the satisfaction of my desire for a cup of coffee, which is effectively a self-expression of my will, or my-self.  It is my will or self  interacting with my perceptions (that are being filtered through the external influences of my culture, politics, history and so on,) that informs my actions. Therefore, whilst my desire for a cup of coffee has probably been influenced by advertising, and the ambience of my contemporary culture that perceives drinking coffee as a pleasant and relaxing thing to do, ultimately it is my will that prompts the action, and, therefore, the actual making of the cup of coffeee is the expression of that desire, and likewise listening to music, looking at paintings, reading books, watching films. 

Dilys


2010-04-26
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
Hi Dilys

Malraux lead a very eventual life (as you point out) and biographers have made a minor industry out of it. In many cases, unfortunately, they have sensationalized things and his voyage to Cambodia in his early 20s (back in the early 1920s) is a case in point. I won't go into details but it's worth remembering that: (a) at the time, most people, including many art historians, took very little interest in Asian art of any kind. He was ahead of his time in this regard (as in many others); (b) the French colonial administration in Cambodia who arrested Malraux showed little interest in his tiny expedition (him, his wife and a friend) or the lost temples - until he discovered one; (c) he intended selling the very small number of pieces he recovered to an art museum (the Guimet, I imagine). I mention this because he is sometimes described as having "pillaged" Cambodian temples, as if he set to them with a sledge hammer; (d) around this time, the French colonial administration allowed various archeologists to take sculptures from Angkor Wat by the truckload

Unfortunately, this youthful adventure is about the only thing many people know about Malraux. They tend to forget his pre-war anti-Nazi activities, the time he spend in Spain fighting for the Republicans (when certain other intellectuals who talked a lot about "commitment" stayed at home), his participation in the fight against the Nazis when they invaded France, his capture and escape, his later involvement in the Resistance, his capture by the Gestapo, his participation in a tank brigade in Alsace Lorraine in the late stages of the war; his enormous and very innovative efforts as France's first Minister for Cultural Affairs (a post he virtually invented), and much, much more. And then, of course, he wrote so much - including a profound and revolutionary theory of art.

Personally, I am much more interested in what Malraux wrote than his biography (his life has tended to distract attention from his works) but, all the same, your word "charismatic" is not far off the mark in this case, I think.

I will comment on your other points a bit later.

Cheers

Derek

2010-04-30
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
There's a lot in your two posts, and I won't try to comment on it all.

You seem to be raising the question of (free) will versus determinism (what you describe as cases where "Our will is persuaded (or not) to behave in a certain way by the context that confronts it."). There is an enormous amount written on this and I won't try to take a position either way. But it's worth asking, I think, if this question is one that specifically addresses the nature and significance of art - i.e. whether it is a question in the philosophy of art

This, as it happens, is one of my (many) gripes against so-called "analytic" aesthetics: it tends to ask questions (not the free will one, but others) that are general philosophical questions, and then simply transfer that thinking to art. (Its endless debates about the so-called "ontology of art" are a good example of this.) 

I believe that the philosophy of art should begin with art. That is, one should begin with the subject matter one is addressing, and ask questions like: What are its characteristics? What might mark it off from objects of other kinds? And then work from there. It could, of course, turn out that there are no special characteristics (a very unlikely conclusion, I think) and then, presumably, one could treat art in exactly the same way one treats any other object or activity (a table, making coffee, whatever).  But if one begins with the assumption that art has no distinguishing characteristics, and that philosophy can simply apply to it the same sorts of arguments, analyses etc it applies to anything else, one is unlikely, it seems to me, to discover any such characteristics if they exist.

This is a bit long-winded, I'm sorry.

DA


2010-04-30
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
DA "I'm not sure I follow all your thinking on the self-expression issue, but are you sure that our responses to art are entirely acts of what you call self-will? When I listen to Mozart, read Dostoyevsky, or look at a Goya, I don't think my will plays a significant role in my response. Or putting that another way, no amount of will would enable me to say that I enjoy rock music or jazz, like reading Dan Brown or his ilk, or think computer games merit being called art (which I mention because it's a fashionable idea, I notice).  "

Dear Derek,

Thank you for your explanation of Malraux's interesting history in your last posting.  With respect, however, you have not yet supported your rejection of self-expression with an argument.    Whilst you do not believe : "our responses to art are entirely acts of what you call self-will ",  can you please explain how these acts can arise from anything other than our will, which is effectively our-self? 

The problem I have with your claim is that  if our responses do not voluntarily arise from our will, we are either being forced against our will, or our will is being chemically altered by drugs.  Whatever other influences are involved in the creation of art (culture, politics, and so on) they must all be filtered through our will, the result of which is fundamentally a voluntary expression of that will.   Emotion is of course another issue, although one that is closely intertwined with self-will.  Be that as it may, your claim that our actions, artistic or otherwise, do not arise from our will can only be supported by robotic machines.

As a postscript to the above, I would add that I accept that all art, ie not exclusively paintings, is not entirely about self-expression, although self-expression is logically the first and fundamental reason for art's existence, and everything else is an add-on so to speak in terms of our psychology, culture, politics, episteme (where we happen to reside in the scheme of things in terms of the influences that are brought to bear, how we are ordering our knowledge, and the way we are understanding  and making sense of the world around us  ..  ..   ) 

Best wishes
Dilys


2010-04-30
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,

"You seem to be raising the question of (free) will versus determinism (what you describe as cases where "Our will is persuaded (or not) to behave in a certain way by the context that confronts it."). ... (expand) There is an enormous amount written on this and I won't try to take a position either way. But it's worth asking, I think, if this question is one that specifically addresses the nature and significance of art - i.e. whether it is a question in the philosophy of art. "   DA


Thank you again for your reply. which will cross in the post (so to speak) with another I've just submitted ..  and which has to await permission for acceptance from the editor.  However ..  you are on the wrong tack here concerning  your belief that my argument is one of free will versus determinism ...   Rather it is about epistemology, and as such cognition, which, according to my understanding, is to adapt an old English adage:  'you can take bloomin art out of cognition, but you can't take cognition out of art!'     Which is to say,  it  is really about cognition and sentience , and (again, with respect) your comment about analytic philosophy blinding the argument with logic as it were ..  is (if I may say) a bloomin red herring  ! 

It's actually a turn up for the books that as an ardent admirer/follower of continental philosophy, I am being tarred with your objections to analytic's logical philosophy. However, be that as it may, the pertinent point here is that you are overlooking the fact that what fundamentally drives art (and all sentient action) is cognition, which in no way detracts from your continental philosophy of art argument that art is not just about beauty and emotion ... To take sentience and will down the black hole of free/will -v- determinism is missing the point here I feel.  Rather the argument concerns our sentient will, whether free or otherwise.  In actual fact I have strongly indicated that there is a clear distinction between free will in terms of sentience - meaning our ability to act - and the psychology of external influences (culture, politics, specific to where we are in the continuum of time) that are filtered through our will.  In this sense we are not free ...  we are susceptible to the influences of our age, and so on ... 

Rather this argument lends itself to phenomenology (not analytical philosophy) by saying, as I do, that cognition does not exist in a vacuum, only possibly as a brain in a vat ..  My point is that our will acts voluntarily, otherwise it is being forced, or being submitted to chemical transformation by the use of drugs ..  And as such, any action of a sentient being is an expression of their will ..  whether or not you go down the route of free will/compatibilism/determinism.   My argument, which is not particularly analytic, but rather phenomenological, is not so much detracting or weakening the continental philosophy of art position, as drawing attention to the fundamentals of human cognition/psychology. 

Best wishes
Dilys

PS  By the way I have managed to pick up in our local library a book by someone from the American Aesthetics Society - 'But is it Art' , by Cynthia Freeland.  I also picked up a book on Aboriginal Art by Wally Caruana

 I think your position on art/aesthetics is very interesting and enlightening, it is just that I don't agree with you on this question of self-expression.   I also don't see that in accepting that self-expression is fundamental to the existence of art it  must of necessity also reject other complex layers that also explain the existence of art.   Is it not the case that the whole of existence is a kaleidoscopic event in terms of its evolvement within our human experience, and where anyone happens to be at in space/time...  within their particular episteme? 

I know you reject Foucault's analogy of Las Meninas, but it sums up for me the way we order our knowledge, in terms of whatever culture/politics happen to exist at any time.  As such, I must assume that knowledge doesn't exist for us, it is always absolutely there.  How we see and experience the world is dependent upon our  perceptual sight and understanding, and therefore, many parts of knowledge are either waiting to re-emerge or have yet to be discovered, 

2010-04-30
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
"I believe that the philosophy of art should begin with art. That is, one should begin with the subject matter one is addressing, and ask questions like: What are its characteristics? What might mark it off from objects of other kinds? And then work from there. It could, of course, turn out that there are no special characteristics (a very unlikely conclusion, I think) and then, presumably, one could treat art in exactly the same way one treats any other object or activity (a table, making coffee, whatever). 

But if one begins with the assumption that art has no distinguishing characteristics, and that philosophy can simply apply to it the same sorts of arguments, analyses etc it applies to anything else, one is unlikely, it seems to me, to discover any such characteristics if they exist." DA

This is not my position, not my starting point.  DJM


Dear Derek,

I absolutely agree with you that art is not in the same category as other sorts of concrete disciplines.  It is of a different sort of metaphysical and creative nature that is often difficult to define, merely I think because to compare it entirely within the context of science is to compare oranges with apples.   But, I also think it is a mistake to overlook the scientific fact that first we are sentient beings, who act according to our human cognition.   This is not to  confine art/humanity to a narrow scientific context, it is merely giving it a logical starting point.  Whether we are making coffee or making art, first we have sentient human cognition if we are to get past the concept of robotic action.  

Dilys  

The mind does not exist in a vacuum, neither does art.   Art is filtered through many different sorts of influences I believe, but the creative result is of a different nature than anything else.  In the end you cannot deny our human condition/physiology/psychology, through which art is made manifest, which is neither to reject the metaphysics of art, nor its social/communal reasons for being.   

2010-04-30
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
DA "I'm not sure I follow all your thinking on the self-expression issue, but are you sure that our responses to art are entirely acts of what you call self-will? When I listen to Mozart, read Dostoyevsky, or look at a Goya, I don't think my will plays a significant role in my response. Or putting that another way, no amount of will would enable me to say that I enjoy rock music or jazz, like reading Dan Brown or his ilk, or think computer games merit being called art (which I mention because it's a fashionable idea, I notice).  "

Dear Derek,

Thank you for your explanation of Malraux's interesting history in your last posting.  With respect, however, you have not yet supported your rejection of self-expression with an argument.    Whilst you do not believe : "our responses to art are entirely acts of what you call self-will ",  can you please explain how these acts can arise from anything other than our will, which is effectively our-self? 

The problem I have with your claim is that  if our responses do not voluntarily arise from our will, we are either being forced against our will, or our will is being chemically altered by drugs.  Whatever other influences are involved in the creation of art (culture, politics, and so on) they must all be filtered through our will, the result of which is fundamentally a voluntary expression of that will.   Emotion is of course another issue, although one that is closely intertwined with self-will.  Be that as it may, your claim that our actions, artistic or otherwise, do not arise from our will can only be supported by robotic machines.

As a postscript to the above, I would add that I accept that all art, ie not exclusively paintings, is not entirely about self-expression, although self-expression is logically the first and fundamental reason for art's existence, and everything else is an add-on so to speak in terms of our psychology, culture, politics, episteme (where we happen to reside in the scheme of things in terms of the influences that are brought to bear, how we are ordering our knowledge, and the way we are understanding  and making sense of the world around us  ..  ..   ) 

Best wishes
Dilys

Dilys  

2010-05-05
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
Hi Dilys

You write: "Thank you for your explanation of Malraux's interesting history in your last posting.  With respect, however, you have not yet supported your rejection of self-expression with an argument.    Whilst you do not believe : "our responses to art are entirely acts of what you call self-will ",  can you please explain how these acts can arise from anything other than our will, which is effectively our-self?"

Well, I think the best way to think about this is to recall your own reactions to any work you have felt was a great work of art.  Now, in my case, a work that absolutely bowled me over was Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment so I'll take that as my example. The work drew me in, fascinated me (while at the same time causing me a kind of anguish). I have read it a number of times and it always has the same effect.  Now this reaction is certainly not against my will. I mean, it's not as though I am trying not to like the novel but do anyway. But by the same token I am in no sense willing myself to like it either. It is just an extremely powerful work and it exerts that power over me whether I "will" it or not.

And as I said, there are works that I couldn't admire no matter how much I willed it.

This, by the way, is part of why I think that the traditional Kantian idea that we respond to a work of art via a "judgment" is mistaken.  We certainly often judge after we have read a book (for example). We say: "It's great"; or "It's awful." But our response itself is not a judgment, whatever Kant may say. It's much more visceral (for lack of a better word) than that. (This, I should say, is a very abbreviated version of what I think, but it gets the mood of it.)

Derek

2010-05-10
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden

Hi, Dilys

It is impossible to deny the artist’s (inc. Dostoevsky’s) self-expression in the process or in the finished product of his creation.
DA is trying to analyse the perceptional impact by whithholding the informational part of the artwork from caused impression, and examine only the emotional component (“… to recall … reactions to any work you have felt was a great work of art.” DA). 
Basically, he is trying to identify and precisely point at the aesthetical factor of art. The factor were the "What and How", created by artist, meets the emotional (the post-informative) response of viewer/listener/reader and forms reaction (“duende”), but not a judgement as such. However, clarity of this analysis is very doubtful: no evidence can be provided that the reaction (feelings) is not influenced by the informational cause at all.  This can find its sense in case of reduction of the issue of art, its perception and cognitive aspect of it to something like culinary, where physiology of perception is predominant.


2010-05-11
Philosophy of Art
Hi Vladinmir

I am intrigued. What do you understand by the "the informational part of the artwork"?  What for example would be the "informational part" of Crime and Punishment or, say, Mozart's 21st Piano Concerto?

DA

2010-05-24
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Thank you for your question, Derek.
Sorry for the delay with this answer.

Dostoevsky's novels were among those books which formed my identity by profoundly depicting real and non-real events and characters I imaginary lived within, shared heroes' actions and emotions. It's trivial to defend cognitive impact of literature. In my view, it is obvious, that this art medium, embraced with full capacity of the modern syntax, is carrying the enormous informative charge, which is essential at any stages of its (medium's) tradition.

In regard of music, it is informative on the level of those emotions music (harmoniously organized sounds we can hear and react upon) is able to trigger. Calmness, anxiety, rhythms of speed, feels of distances, imitative sounds - among others, which are simulating experience (its audio representations), giving the chance to revoke feels bypassing actions or events. Semantics of music is deeply metaphorical being represented by the audio impression of reality. Using terms of modern linguistics, syntax of musical art are interjections in whole variety of them.

"How" - is depends on talent and mastery of an artist and carries the aesthetical component - the artistic vision and expression, elegance, novelty or precision in approaching the art's subject.

Please, Derek, tell me, if I am wrong.

2010-05-24
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Dear Derek,

We seem to be getting nowhere with this one.  

As previously stated I find some of your ideas about art, and the philosophy of art interesting, to the extent that it has prompted me to explore my local library shelves for further reading on some of the topics you raise, and also consideration of a possible course on art studies. 

The mind of artists generally is something that interests me at the moment - in terms of its metaphysics, and that side of reality that is not generally recognised by science - not least of which because it is not observable, as well as the social and human reasons for the manifestation of art.  (**Some of this can be parallelled with the non-observable metaphysics of religous belief ...  ) 

Anyhow, to get back to the question of art and self-expression .. .. 

My inclination is to accept our differences on this one ..  However, as one last parting shot, may I just pose the question concerning your comment:  "there are works that I couldn't admire no matter how much I willed it."   Well, this is my point. No one can make you believe in something that is against your will.  There is an argument I think -  Hume's  perhaps -  (?) concerning the pointlessness of torturing someone until they recant - for example - their Protestant faith and swear allegiance to their Catholic one, because  if we believe something is the case, we can only change our mind by persuasion, and thus our acceptance is a voluntary one. I believe the difficulty here is that you have a different notion from mine of what you believe our will is. 

Putting aside all arguments for or against determinism, because they matter not, only in the sense that even if we accept that we are causally determined, all sentient beings have will, otherwise they would be the equivalent of robotic machines.  And, therefore, extending this into philosophy of art ...  any rational human being who creates something is, therefore,  expressing a desire of his or her will.  Will is merely that which activates our reason, it is that which all rational, autonomous beings possess.

You may protest that this is a philosophy of mind argument, but I can also respond by saying it is also a political philosophy argument, as welll as a moral one, or a religious one and so on, because you cannot exclude the notion of autonomous will from arguments that concern human beings, and say what you will (excuse the pun !!) art concerns human beings.  As such, to re-state: 'You can take art out of cognition, but you cannot take cognition out of art' ..   and according to my understanding cognition = our autonomous will, that is unless someone's mind has been altered by mind-bending drugs, or is a robotic machine.

Best wishes,
Dilys.

PS  I suspect we ought to agree to differ on this one !

** By the way, you mentioned somewhere I think on another forum on religion that philosophy just didn't get outside its religious box, in terms of the way it failed to discuss anything other than proof of the existence of god.   However, perhaps you and others may care to listen to our UK's BBC radio 4 programme In Our Time, presented by Melvyn Bragg, that features the philosopher/psychologist William James's book 'The Varieties of Religious Experience' which is discussed by Jonathan Ree, Freelance philosopher, John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and Gwen Griffith-Dickson, Emeritus Professor of Divinity at Gresham College and Director of the Lokahi Foundation.   Like you and others I have been interested for some time in getting some answers that go beyond proof of God questions, and this prog concerning Wm James's approach is worthwhile from that point of view.   You should be able to get this via your i/net Listen Again facility.  These progs on philosophy and other topics are really A1.   http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/radio   Oh, there is also another R4 prog on the psychology of religious faith, which is worth a listen if you're interested.  God on my Mind, 1. Evolution.    


2010-05-26
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
Hi Dilys

Yes, maybe we have exhausted the "will" question and can agree to differ.

Thanks for the info on the religion programs by the way.

I note, by the way, that this thread has over 800 subscribers - which is cheering. I wonder if anyone would like to introduce a new topic now?   Something easy like What is art?  :)

DA

 

2010-05-26
Philosophy of Art
Hi Vladimir

Not sure I follow you very well. Are you dividing art into "informative" and "aesthetic" components?  If so, it reminds me a little of the traditional split between "content" and "form", which, as you no doubt know, is problematical. But maybe I am misreading you.

DA

2010-05-27
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
"There is an argument I think -  Hume's  perhaps -  (?) "  DM   (Oops !)   Well, actually it is Locke's:  'A Letter Concerning Toleration'.   
Dilys

2010-05-27
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Hi Derek

You are right. I do not see a problem to define Art as the mastery of using a single syntactic element (medium), or mixed elements of syntax (media) in self expression.
Mastery creates the appreciation of a content, which is unable to impress us in its habitual or ordinary presentation.

2010-05-31
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
 I wonder if anyone would like to introduce a new topic ... (expand) now?   Something easy like What is art?  :) DA

Dear Derek,

When you suggest a topic such as "What is art" - what exactly do you mean by that?  Are you merely hoping to discuss pictorial art, or more broadly the whole spectrum of what is art in general, going back to the ancient Greek's attempts at classification?   Tatarkiewicz (1886-1980) concluded that : what we count as art is constantly changing, and as such, cannot be defined, but is inherently revisable, 'open textured'

It is interesting that when we mention "art" we usually mean classical and modern pictorial and conceptual art, quite omitting the art of literature, music, dance and drama, and of course the artistic creation of crafts.

Other thoughts might be: What gives rise to art?  Why do we need art?   What does art provide our human nature/sensibilities that cannot be provided by anything else?  Does art provide some sort of Catharsis?  I believe art displays are used in hospitals now, and I also know of a Bach project that saw 'some amazing results' from mentally disturbed children's interpretation of the music.  

Dilys 





2010-05-31
Philosophy of Art
In regard of music, it is informative on the level of those emotions music (harmoniously organized sounds we can hear and react upon) is able to trigger. Calmness, anxiety, rhythms of speed, feels of distances, imitative sounds - among others, which are simulating experience (its audio representations), giving the chance to revoke feels bypassing actions or events. Semantics of music is deeply metaphorical being represented by the audio impression of reality. Using terms of modern linguistics, syntax of musical art are interjections in whole variety of them. Re: Philosophy of Art - Vladimir Breskin

Dear Vladimir,

Do you support Suzanne Langer's Philosophy in a new Key?  Just wondering ..  Her view is that music is a symbolic form of the emotions - not exactly the same as, rather that each contains some essential similarity to the other ....  which I have compared with the genus of parent/child .... the form of the child is of itself, essentially unique, and yet at the same time, carries within him/her some essential characteristic of the parent.   

To digress somewhat -  I suppose it reflects the continuum of change, the way that everything is continually in a state of dynamic change, continually cutting and pasting something from the other, and re-figuring it as something else .... everything is travelling towards becoming .... the individual parts of which are eternally tied to the one whole of existence ..  the seed of life itself .. 

Dilys

2010-06-01
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
Hi Dilys

RE: "When you suggest a topic such as "What is art" - what exactly do you mean by that?  Are you merely hoping to discuss pictorial art, or more broadly the whole spectrum of what is art in general, going back to the ancient Greek's attempts at classification? "

My suggestion was a bit tongue in cheek because the issue is so large. But I meant art in all its forms - art in the general conception of the word, from Lascaux to now, via all the world's cultures.

The topic large as I say, but here is a thought to kick it off maybe. A very common view is that art exists to embody or manifest beauty.

I happen to think this idea is mistaken and misleading. I won't go into my thinking in depth here but one obvious reason is that there are just too many counter-examples. Things like Goya's "Saturn", the Christ of the Isenheim Altarpiece, many Oceanic masks, a lot of Pre-Columbian art and so on. The idea that art = beauty is to my mind a hangover from 18th century aesthetics (Kant and Co), and it's high time a lot of that stuff was challenged.

There - a thought to begin a discussion maybe?

DA







2010-06-04
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Dilys Marsden
Hi Dilys!

"Do you support Suzanne Langer's Philosophy in a new Key?" - In very! general direction of her idea.
My view stands on the ground of some universal rules that govern human’s perceptive system, where verbal language does not play any role at all. Language does. At this angle - Art, Aesthetics and verbal language are two big parts, which stemmed from pre-speech Language experience (about 1 000 000 years long).

2011-01-27
Philosophy of Art

I thought I might try to revive this thread – though I know the philosophy of art is probably very much on the margins of most readers of Philpapers  (That's probably a topic in itself…)

I’ve noticed quite a flurry of activity lately about so-called ‘evolutionary theories of art’. (These days, there are evolutionary theories of just about anything you’d like to name, so why not art, I guess? 'Hard-wired' is the new black.)

In my reading in this area, I have always been struck by the feebleness of the philosophical thinking underlying the arguments, the unacknowledged presuppositions, the bizarre leaps of logic etc. I have also read the occasional article pointing this out. (Not hard – it’s a case of the bleeding obvious)

I wonder what others might think?

DA


2011-01-28
Philosophy of Art
Reply to Derek Allan
"I've noticed quite a flurry of activity lately..."
Philosophy of Art, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Language are anthropocentric, as we know. Biological and, consequently, evolutionary approaches in Philosophy of Art are quite natural and around for many years, start with Aristotle. It would be very beneficial to the subject to keep in focus works done by Semir Zeki or Robert Bednarick in their fields.

2011-01-29
Philosophy of Art

Yes I'm vaguely aware of the ideas of Zeki and co.  I've seen them criticised severely for exactly the reasons I would expect – a lack of philosophical rigour, unwarranted assumptions etc.

Depressingly superficial. Someone recently gave me an article about prehistoric art based on the evolutionary outlook.  I found myself scribbling question marks and exclamation everywhere and could only read about half of it before tossing it aside. 

It is a sad reflection on the contemporary philosophy of art that this kind of stuff is taken seriously. But in a discipline that's now devoting serious time to 'neuro-aesthetics' and computer games, I imagine just about anything is posssible.

DA