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Old Art vs. New Art
Hi everyone!

Well, I've noticed the question of "computer games are art (y or n?)" being raised. I wouldn't get into "what does it mean that X is an object of art" or "what essential properties does X need in order for it to be an object of art". I'd like to address a different question: why do we take for granted that a poem is an object of art, while, say, computer games are not? 
Maybe a Wittgenstein-like approach would insist on valid language games instead of deploying analytical "essential properties" of the object.

Old Art vs. New Art
Reply to Camil Cardas
Hi, Camil....

Just a quick question at this point.  When you ask "why do we take for granted that a poem is an object of art" you mean to suggest that we automatically, invariably accept poetry as art, while, at the same time, withhold that designation from "computer games"?  I noticed the title of your post ("Old Art vs. New Art") and it led me to believe that somehow you were suggesting that the age of "a poem" (or the art form of poetry itself?) had some bearing on its tacit acceptance over more recently developed computer (video?) games as art. Please clarify for me the significance of the title of your post and its bearing on the discussion at hand.  Thanks!


Old Art vs. New Art
Hi, Robin

Yes, that's exactly what I was pinpointing to. We are more inclined to label "art" a poem (old art) than computer games (new art, supposedly). The confrontation between "old" and "new" in art is thrown into question, on the one hand, by our historical-biased assessments - we are too caught (even nowadays, ironically) in historicity. Just because there are so many poets and poetry is accepted as institution, we rather focus on thinking of "poetry as art" than "computer games as art" (Andy Warhol's argument maybe). Despite all that, some speak of poetry being dead. Does not that sound queer?
    Additionally, perhaps the institution of "computer/ video games as art" is slightly undeveloped. We were not taught in school, the curriculum did not include "the art of video games" or something like that - instead, the teachers tend to ban them, rejecting them as a "waste of time". There's this "political" reason, but I think it's not the only one. 

Thank you too!

Old Art vs. New Art
Reply to Camil Cardas
Hi Camil,
Interesting point. Is art Gricean then? Does the art-utterer U have to intend that there is an audience A that will come to have an attitude about some 'p' (perhaps a non-linguistic attitude if there are such) and that they will come to this attitude on the basis of recognising the intent of U to 'art-utter'. This would imply that an 'art-utterance-drag' is bound to apply to new forms of human communicative acts (like building a computer game). Moreover, to be ART with capital letters it would seem that the Gricean interaction must presume a more or less global cultural co-operative principle for a particular art form. That might take decades. When I was a boy people still talked of Picasso as 'not ART' as if this was a straightforward definitive statement. Nobody now would do that even if some might still say 'that's not what I call art'. 

There is also an interesting parallel issue in relation to art-utterance the absence of any A, at least in terms of other people (U may be his only A). Many artists paint or compose in the knowledge that there may well be no contemporary audience that will understand the art-utterance. Some will paint or compose in the belief that there may never be an audience that will be able to fully appreciate certain aspects (formal elements in late Beethoven?, image cross-reference in mid-period Arshile Gorky?). Paradoxically, these very aspects are often considered to be the pinnacle of art.

Jo E

Old Art vs. New Art
Hi Jonathan,
I believe this Gricean observation is important, as it brings into focus the relation between artists and audience. Your objection is also reasonable: art is not to be reduced to this intentional setting (you emphasised the late Beethoven, I would add A. Schonberg's developing variation, and even experimental musicians like Mateusz Bednarz, for instance). Yet the global cultural co-operative principle you've mentioned is a convention inculcated by social institutions: you play by the rules, but the rules are already given, to extremely simplify the late Wittgenstein.

However, Grice's implicature does not prevent game programmers from falling into solipsism (that is, U may be his only A, as you pointed out). There are many experimental computer games programmed for the sake of programming (non-commercial...course). 

Coming back to Beethoven - the Gricean U-A relation is applicable when talking of "poetry and money", to give an example. One needs his/ her intention de-codified because s/he wants to convey the message without any distortion...but I doubt his intention is strictly to send the message. Beethoven forgot (I think that's the verb) about his intention, he didn't care as much about the audience...he already had an audience. :)   


Old Art vs. New Art
Reply to Camil Cardas

Hi Camil,

Current literature tends to focus more on what makes an object an artwork rather than what makes an activity/category an artform. Another way to look at it is to ask "What makes a poem an artwork?" - which would mean you decide first which activities can be called artforms, and, among the particular objects that come as a result of that activity, which is an artwork.

But I wouldn't be so sure that many take it for granted that any object that came as a result of an artform is necessarily an artwork. I'd guess that "Roses are red, violets are blue..." type of poems are not considered artworks by most people.

As long as there are plenty of not-artworks that fit into poetry, then your question, if you want a rigourous answer, must raise issues of essential properties one way or another.

A loose answer would be - generally it takes time for something to become an artform. Photography is STILL struggling to achieve full recognition.Technology tends to develop faster than we can revise our inheritances from tradition. Games in general, have not been thought of as artforms to begin with.

I don't think this is such a good answer, frankly, because it appeals to preconceptions about art and doesn't allow it to grow however it likes. If you take a properties-approach, then you must accept whatever satisfies those properties and it could very well be that objects that your preconceptions say they are not artworks will satisfy. This would lead to your questioning your preconceptions.

Old Art vs. New Art
Hi Catinca,

Thanks for this. I agree on your first statement, and I would like to ask "why?". Why does current literature tend to focus more on what makes an object an artwork rather than what makes an activity/category an artform? 

Before asking "What makes a poem an artwork?", I guess you have to decide whether poetry (the process by which a poem "comes into being") is an artform - to be consistent with your claim. If one decides that poetry is an artform (and most of us don't decide, just take it for granted that the activity of conceiving a poem is an artform), s/he surely can go on and see whether "Roses are red, violets are blue..." type of poem is an artwork (which I also doubt, although this type of poem is used in kindergartens for educational purposes, so it hasn't lost its value of artwork entirely). Even so, how can one separate types of poetry from types of poems? For instance, in this case, don't you think that "Roses are red..." type of poem is conditioned by a certain type of poetry (referring to a certain manner of writing, bearing a certain audience in your mind, using an adequate register of language, etc)? 

I agree that essential properties are used to distinguish artworks from not-artworks, especially when a poet has to claim s/he has written a poem, because without her/his claiming that, the artistic community would not accept it as artwork. The poet is convinced that s/he undertook to do poetry (in other words, s/he relied on an accepted artform), but the product of her/his artistic endeavour is not endorsed as artwork. What is her/his justification? Well, what was Walt Whitman's justification for his availing of free verse? Or Allen Ginsberg's, for his "Howl"? Were they appealing to essential properties, or did they just put their poems on a plate and let them unfold into a pleasant linguistic orgy? It's highly debatable. 

About "time and materials" (to quote a poet): yes, it takes time for something to materialize as artform. But what should innovative artists do? Just sit and wait for recognition? Of course not. A game programmer is, in my view, as much of an artist as a skilled poet. And if game-programming is not conceived of as artform, it's also because of how the authors are portrayed: nerds, geeks, freaks, weirdos or whatever stereotypes come to your mind. I'm no game programmer, but I can say it is "something" to devote your time to learning complicated programming languages and simulate high levels of complexity. Many people don't see it as artform, true, and the involvement of technology is devastating: had it not been for computers, would they have had the ability to program the games? It reduces the unpredictability somehow and makes this alleged artform a hybrid. It's not the case with traditional poetry: one just needed a mouth to speak it up, and...a good deal of imagination. Technology seems to confine the role of the artist (e.g. your reference to photography, mine to computer games).    

Old Art vs. New Art
Reply to Camil Cardas
Hi everyone!

I find that this subject you have been dealing with is a very thrilling one and I think the conversation so far has helped to make clear that it is definitely not as easy as it can seem on a first moment. After all, what we are talking about is nothing less than the core question of the philosophical discipline of Aesthetics (when not, it is about consequences of some answer to this question): "what is art?" or "what is the meaning of 'art'?" (which in my opinion amounts to the same thing in this very particular case: arguably in any). However, I do think the conversation has not been centered in some points I personally find crucial to face this problem in the right way and I will explain why:

First of all, the matter of "time". I agree with Catinca that "it takes time for something to be an artwork", but I would like to help completing this sentence by talking not about the "time factor", but the "historical factor". It is definitely not just the "empty succession" of seconds, days, years, centuries that makes something being able to be recognized as art but the human experience and the social elements (wars, revolutions, discoveries, scientific progresses...) that have "filled" that time which gives the basis for something to receive the recognition of art. Camil said before that "we are too caught (even nowadays, ironically) in historicity". I do think this "being caught" is constitutive for art and that art is an essentially historical category that cannot be understood at all in any "non-historical context" (whatever that may mean). This would imply that the opposition "old/new art" (in any of its forms: classic/enlightened, enlightened/romantic, romantic/realist, realist/avantgarde, etc.) is an irreducible one: the very historical nature of art makes it impossible for some "new" way of conceiving art not to take into account what came before it: either to "improve" it or to react against it. This explains Picasso not being art before and now being it, as Jonathan was pointing out. The very particular example we are dealing with here does not have to do with "art contents" or "forms", but with "formats" (videogames, photography, etc.) but I would argue that we do not find a substantial difference here. It is just a matter of some artist being able to achieve a degree of "quality" in these new formats that would make it unquestionable that we are also dealing with "art" there. This "art-quality" must of course be understood in relation to a historical heritage (which may not be just some immediate content, but for example, "getting to produce the very sensation this other work, which is traditionally understood as art, produces" or even "showing that this traditionally accepted work of art is actually no that different of this traditionally rejected everyday obejct"). This also makes it irrelevant to ask about artworks being art before its category is art: historically, some work (which before was not art) could get to be considered art and just in that way open the possibility for its kind to be considered art.

Second the matter of the "intention" of the utterer. I do think this is a very secondary phenomenon in explaining the matter of art. If art depends necessarily on its historical context, as I believe, then the conditions of something being susceptible of being (called) "art" are completely independent of the intention of any individual as an individual. This is an argument in favor of what Camil was saying about the rules being already given to us. But I also doubt that we could reduce it (as Danto seems to argue) to what "social institutions" stipulate, as if they had the power to decide what is susceptible of being labeled art or not: as I see it, they just take part on the historical process that defines art as one more player, but this historical process is (in its right to exist) as independent of these institutions as it is independent of the will of any particular as such. Social institutions may have under some circumstances more relevance on determining what art is, but if it is so, it will not be because of art being institutional, but because there is a historical situation that has given that privilege to those institutions (liberal democracy?). In any case, social institutions cannot systematically exhaust the complexity of the historical process by which art redefines itself constantly.

Now do not get me wrong here, I am not talking about history being something "ontologically different from particulars" as some naive historicist may put it. Definitely "history" cannot be understood as independent from the whole of the particular human beings that play their roles in it. But that would be my point: the historical process by which art is constantly redefined depends on the whole of the human beings, but is independent of the particulars as particulars. It has to do more with the relations between human beings than with the content of the intentions of those human beings (and I understand "wars, revolutions and discoveries" as changes in those relations): for example, Anna Karerina could never be considered art (not even be understood) outside the context of czarist Russia (that is, with the power relations between human beings at a certain moment of history in a certain place). Even more abstract art like surrealist poems have a more indirect relation to their historical setting: world wars that cast doubt on the classical ideal of humanity (and therefore leading to forms which were traditionally considered "absurd"), etc.

I think it is already clear by what I have said, but maybe it is not superfluous to state it: I think that we should avoid the equation "historical = arbitrary". Now this does not mean that there is a strict necessity in history, but it points to the fact that historical phenomena can be explained (they are not "purely chaotic" or "absurd") and are relevant for the knowledge of some entities like here "art". This historical process by which art is defined is contingent, but the contingent elements and structures that it produces are necessary for the understanding of art. We have to deal with a second-grade necessity or a necessary relation (between art and historical phenomena) which has appeared contingently.

Now of course this is a very complex idea (inspired of course by Adorno) and I am just giving some baselines, but I hope you will be able to follow me here. I hope this discussion goes on and we can get to agree at some points.

Javier Santana

Old Art vs. New Art
Reply to Camil Cardas
I thought I might try to revive discussion on this thread which I seem to have missed somehow.

The key point in Camil’s original comment seems to be: “Why do we take for granted that a poem is an object of art, while, say, computer games are not?"

A few quick points that might help put that question in context:
  • Computer games do seem to be treated as (potentially) art in some quarters now. I occasionally see them on agendas for aesthetics conferences or solemnly discussed in aesthetics journals. Personally, I am very sceptical, but that’s just my view (and computer games bore me).
  • The list of activities regarded as (potentially) “art” has never been static. For example, in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, in France at least, the novel was regarded as a minor literary form. It only became (potentially) “art” in the nineteenth century.
  • The notion “art” itself has only ever existed in Western culture and even then only since the Renaissance. So it is very much the exception, not the rule. And who knows what the future may hold? It is not impossible that in, say, two or three centuries, the word may have lost its present meaning or even faded into obscurity.
  • In short, the notion “art” is not timeless, ahistorical or a-cultural – as so many philosophers of art (especially of the "analytic" persuasion) like to think.


Old Art vs. New Art
Reply to Derek Allan
Why? Snobbery, plain and simple. Were not the cubists derided? And Dada? Was it not mocked as not being "art"? People with fossilized minds refuse to admit new members to the art club. They get old and die. Things change.

It really does boil down to that. When enough ossified minds die, the definition of art and the membership of the art club changes.

Old Art vs. New Art
Reply to Bryan Maloney
You could well be right, Bryan. As I said, my view of computer games is "just my view".

The point of my post was, however, rather broader than that...