Thursday, August 30, 2007

History of Aesthetics, Fall 2007

What would Plato say? Blog away!


stefan cadra said...

"What would Plato say?"

Ha! Maybe someone could make WWPS shirts for the class. I actually kicked around the idea of making a "What would Bartok do?" shirt for myself.

As for what he would say:
He would probably say that I'm in a second-tier occupation, as a composer.

Jason Berg said...

Within Book X of the Republic it seems that we are dealing with two main arguments. One is the view of art as imitation (ultimately imitation of imitation) and the second is regarding the moral responsibility of art to society as a whole.

Surely, Plato's position in regards to both of these areas grates on the nerves and sensibilities of most of us as contemporary artists regardless of discipline. However, I feel that there are two points that are worth considering and have validity in a more modern context.

First, I would like to bring up the concept of an idealized archetype as embodied by Plato's idea of form. As a musician, for years I have worked on developing my sound along the lines of an ideal. Studio instructors are constantly encouraging their students to develop their "sounds" and music educators make the criteria of “being able to reproduce a characteristic sound" one of the main objectives when introducing students to playing an instrument for the first time. Certainly, these are considerations more of a “technical” rather than “artistic” nature but certainly Plato’s idea of art as imitation applies. In this specific case, there is an idealized sound that the musician continues to do his/her best to recreate, continually honing his/her ability to reproduce something that approaches this goal. Ultimately, I would suggest that it is this process of attempting to approach the ideal where one must find satisfaction if one is going to be an artist. In any event, the development of a certain level technical skill as it pertains to reproducing a given element efficiently, consistently and within certain stylistic guidelines has been, is and will continue to be important to the arts as a whole.

Second, in a world where it seems, “anything goes,” Plato’s argument against the tragedians can be taken as a call to all artists to take responsibility for the effect their work has on the hearts and minds of the people. While I would not even dream of advocating for official censorship of any kind I do believe that artists have a responsibility to consider what effect their work has in terms of its influence. Additionally, the underlying philosophy or viewpoint of the artist certainly is communicated through their work whether intentional or not. Perhaps, we should regard Plato’s desire for reason and self control in artistic expression not as a call for an ultra-conservative, state-controlled aesthetic but rather as a warning towards self-restraint to all of us as artists.

Orada said...

I agree with Jason about the artist’s responsibility. I believe in preserving order and peace in one’s community and as an artist and as a citizen I have responsibility in everything I do that can affect others. I come from a country where there’re serious religious conflicts and people get killed almost everyday. You may have heard about a certain type of art that the artist expresses his ideas freely and it can trigger some people’s hatred and anger (which are strong emotions) and results in a very destructive way. I believe that people (or artists) should speak their mind and tell the truth but we also have to consider the effects of our expressions.

I agree with Plato that people should be more rational than emotional but I think we can meet him half way. Too much emotion isn't good and one can't always be rational. What we can do is to balance these two things and try to be responsible in what we do.

Michael Ducey said...

In Plato's Republic, each citizen chooses a certain career path based on a mix of skill and the "chosen path" decided by someone with access to the Truth (the Forms). So, if artists were given a place in this society (not likely, but for the purposes of this thread, let us just say that they are in), it would follow that the the person chosen to be an artist would have the defining characteristics to create art that would give access to the ultimate Good.

The art created by this person would, thus, lead towards a better society, no matter what form it takes. There isn't a burden of responsibility on these artists, mostly because it would follow from their nature to create art that would only work towards a better Republic.

But we don't live in the Republic, and art does not always SEEM to work towards the greater good. But I am not sure it is the case that artists MUST burden themselves with responsibility. Part of the goal of art is to portray a message, or perhaps tell a story or give a moral. So, does an artist have to consciously have the overall good of society on his or her mind when creating? Maybe it is the case that, no matter what the art, the artist DOES have the society's overall good in mind.

Think of nearly any instance of a creation of a work of art, no matter what the medium. I would argue that the artist is at least attempting to do something that would better society. A sculptor, though he or she might only be creating an abstract piece consisting of triangles or boxes of whatever, with the sole idea of maybe putting it in their front yard, has, whether conscious or not, the idea that this piece will contribute to the betterment of society. It might be aesthetically pleasing, and thus increase happiness, or maybe thought-provoking. Or perhaps it might even offend some citizens. But even in this offense, it would seem that the offended party would gain from the experience. Perhaps they are ignorant of the artist's point in the creation of the work. A responsible citizen, one concerned with the good, would feel it is their duty to find out the meaning, and if they don't feel it is for the good of the society, they would make this idea known to the public, so perhaps the final decision would be that maybe the sculpture is not good. But the piece did spark this interest that caused a development in the society that wasn't there before, and thus good goals were achieved by the piece.

Think of a piece of art that many would deem controversial or maybe offending. For instance, I don't know how many of you are familiar with Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ." The piece of art has garnered a reputation to offend. Many would think that the work of art would not be good for society. But, think of all the discussion and argumentation that has come from this piece, and the countless other pieces that have offended many people. Such discussion and debate can only be good for the society. Perhaps it will enlighten the ignorant to the true goal of the work, or maybe those that previous were not moved by the piece could come to realize its true purpose. Or maybe it might just end up that such a work does not have a place in society, and as a result, society would shun such works in the future. It would seem that all results would be better.

Art can spark a revolution. But this is not always seem as a good thing, as history has shown when it comes to revolution, or the idea of it. Yes, artists have been killed and persecuted for their art. But why does that mean that this is now on the artist's shoulders to be responsible with their creativity? If an artist's goal is the betterment of society, it would seem that they should not stop themselves from creating just because they might be in danger. While it isn't necessary to put a controversial piece out, regardless of the danger it might put an artist in, not all are concerned more with their lives than the message or the good of society. And if art triggers hatred and anger (like in certain countries where freedom of expression is sometimes discouraged), then perhaps this danger is real. But does that stop people? Often, not. And perhaps the goal of the artist is to try to change this state, so that in the future the society may be more receptive, and thus lead to a better, more open and just place.

I do have to consider the idea of art that espouses bad morality. The Nazis devoted scores of artists to creating a system of art that glorified a regime that killed millions. So, the goal of this art tried to convince the public to follow an unjust, evil cause. In this case, it is the responsibility of a truly good citizen, when viewing this art, to call to question the goals that it espouses. When I think of the paintings that show Hitler as a Teutonic knight, I can't help but wonder what Germans thought when viewing them. I'm sure many took it to heart. But a responsible citizen would look past the borders of his or her country to see what the whole world has to say about it. It is necessary to do so in the cases where a certain society has an official doctrine that teaches bad morals. And, when taking into account the feelings of other societies, it would seem that a good citizen could see the truth. So, when viewing such art, a good citizen could take that message and see the holes in it to the real good that is hidden, and strive for it. Though the true message might be bad, a good citizen could take the bad and search out the good in it.

Jason Berg said...

This is a link to the Walter Benjamin article, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."

Brad Green said...

I would like to comment on the idea of ideal forms and the resulting influences on art and the artist. The Greek philosophers accepted the idea of an ideal form "carte blanche," as if it should be accepted without question. It exists in Plato's idea of the three forms of the bed: the ideal bed, the instance of the bed, and the painting of the bed. It also exists in Aristotle's theories about the essence of things, when he asks, "What is it?"
Where and how do we arrive at the ideal form? Who gets to decide what the ideal form is? Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, who decides when the ideal form has been reached?
I believe that these are the important questions to ask about "ideal forms."
According to Plato, the artist can arrive at a good imitation of ideal form by producing art that benefits the republic. There are several fatal flaws in viewing art in such a limited scope. One of the most obvious is that those in power will dictate what is and is not an accurate imitation of the ideal form. If the product is close to what the powerful consider quality then it will be close to the ideal. There are countless examples of this throughout history. Hardline Communism and Naziism are just a few recent examples of censored art. When a person or group of persons has absolute power, they control art and ideas that find their way to the populace.
An ideal form creates the idea that perfection exists, and that it is the job of the true artist to work to achieve that perfection. However, this perfection is something that can never be fully realized by humanity. Therefore, true and pure beauty is divine, and man is neither pure nor true. Only in intellect and reason can man achieve purity. This naturally leads to the idea that corporeal beauty is not pure or true because it is material. This thought makes the material inferior.
This idealism excludes divergent thinking. It also excludes creativity and invention. It stifles progress. For when an example of the ideal form is reached, it leads to imitations of the first imitation.
The physical vs. metaphysical debate provides endless discussion, but it contributes very little to the ultimate question: what is good art?

Blake Collier said...

First, let me preface this comment by saying that the main difference between good history and bad history is that bad history is where the historian guides the evidence and good history is where the evidence guides the historian.

I said that I would provide an example of how history can have differing interpretations. I was trying to think of a good example, but it was difficult because I am usually not in that kind of mindset. I have my own interpretation and that is what I am used to, so looking outside of that box was a little difficult but I think I have a fairly decent example.

My field of study is British Imperialism with concentration on British missionaries in East Africa. However, the British Empire takes in a wide range of topics and periods. The most accessible one for our minds, being Americans, is the American Revolution. We all know the facts about the revolution, that is it started in 1776, that Lexington and Concord were the first battles (although this is not completely true, there were skirmishes before this), and so on. However, the interpretations of this event differ depending on whether you take an American or British historical perspective. The American perspective represents the story most of us grew up with, we were patriots who considered British tax law to be an impediment to our liberties (taxation without representation) and that we had to throw off the tyranny of the British government in order to continue with the economic freedoms we had gained in the last hundred years.

If you take a British perspective, then the picture changes a bit. The patriots were actually rebels against a great and mighty empire. The tax law that they placed on the colonies was largely to make the colonies pay for the protection the British army provided during the French and Indian War and after. Britain thought that the colonies needed to pay for that protection, because Britain did not have to provide that service especially since they had many other areas that needed protection that provided more resources and profit than the colonies. After the dissatisfaction of the colonists towards the taxes, the British Parliament did try to work it out and offered some compromises to the colonists, but the pendulum had already swung too far and the colonists had moved past the point of compromise.

So as you can see there are different interpretations that could be taken on every issue in history. Facts are only a part of what history is. Contrary to popular belief, history is not really as firm as people would like to think it is.

There are academics out there (including an old roommate of mine) that are looking at the subject of whether history really exists or not or if it is all contingent on the people writing it. There is some theological backing for this in that all men are fallen and are not perfect. Every "fact" that we know about history depends on a source that was written down by a human who was fallible. The thought goes that if all men are susceptible to lying or stretching the truth to fit their own needs or motives then we cannot really know anything "true" about history. Now I don't necessarily hold to this belief but I do think that they have a decent question that needs to be looked at. I do agree that history largely is a matter of interpretation and very little about actual facts.

So in the discussion of poetry (plays) and history, I would say that the only real difference between the two is that the tragedies and poetry are able to use whatever means possible to bring out the philosophical point that the writer is trying to make, whether it be truth, something fantastical, something that never occurred in the reality of history, etc. Whereas the historian has to work with the evidence and the "facts" and truth as he knows it in order to weave the story. That story having whatever philosophical views, political views, social views, etc., that that historian might have. So both forms, I think, can present values (even universal values), but a historian is constrained by evidence, whereas a poet has "unlimited" resources. However, both can be aesthetically pleasing in the end.

jarod loffler said...

The question: "can we learn from art?" is central to our class discussions. Thus far it seems to be the case that there are two answers: 1. yes, we can learn from art. (By 'learn' I mean "attain" knowledge.) 2. No, it's impossible to attain any meaningful knowledge that is non-propositional/descriptive.

Plotinus would be a supporter of 1. because he argues that our emperical engagement (through sense perception) with art evokes particular emotions internally. In turn, those emotions give us the capability to come to "know" something. Therefore, art is seen as a facilitator or producer for knowledge.

Alternatively, Plato would be a proponent of 2. For him, it is impossible for one to "know" something primarily from art. Art does not produce any sort of Truth. Art is merely a representation of a truth which can be distorted and has the ablity to confuse observers with a false sense of truth (because perceptions can be deceiving). Art can't be justified.

Does art need to be descriptive in order for the observer to "know" something? I mean, on the one hand Plato seems to be on to something in stating that the imagination (say, viewing art) cannot be a source for knowledge, yet on the other hand, Plotinus's introspective method seems weighty considering the amount of knowledge "we" assume to obtain through emperical analyses. Why must there be necessary requirements for knowledge claims when it comes to art?

Orada said...

I think Plotinus doesn't care too much about art or material objects. He seems to focus more on intellectual and spiritual aspect of things. He even warns against beautiful objects by saying that one who clings to beautiful bodies will sink down with his soul into darkness. Or something of that sort. I actually like what he says about inner eye and how inner eye can see beautiful ways of life, beautiful actions, and the soul of those who produce beautiful actions. I also like it when he says that one cannot perceive beauty without having become beautiful. If beauty is virtue and goodness I think his idea is very inspiring.

Adrian said...

There is an interesting question that I do not think we have discussed so far: what is the nature of beauty? By this, I mean to ask whether things are beautiful in themselves or if things are beautiful because we think they are beautiful.
I think the idea that beauty is some sort of quality in an object is appealing because we want others to be able to see that beauty. We often try to persuade people into finding something beautiful because we find that particular thing beautiful. We appeal to uses of shape, color, and tone in order to show somebody the beauty of a particular piece of art, and sometimes we are successful.
The view that things are only beautiful because we think they are seems appealing in a way, but it is more dependent on the person than on the object. I may have a child that everybody thinks is ugly but whom I think is beautiful because she is of my blood. It seems obvious that there are cases such as this. I may think that apples are a more beautiful fruit than oranges, and my only reason might be that I just feel that way. In cases like this, we cannot provide arguments to persuade others. The apple is just more beautiful in my eyes.
I think most of us will fall in some category between these two choices. We might think that some things are beautiful in themselves (e.g. a sunset, ancient greek sculpture, a certain piece of music, etc.) while thinking that certain things are beautiful just because we think so (e.g. the number 7, the color blue, a cactus, etc.). This is a troubling position, though, because I do not know how we could tell the difference. I think furry kittens are objectively beautiful, but I have recently found out that some people do not like cats at all. Are kittens merely beautiful because they are so to me or is there some way of persuading cat haters that they are? Given that there are always people who will disagree about the beauty of a certain thing (the problem still holds if we have unanimous consent), how do we know if it is intrinsically beautiful or just beautiful because we think it so?

Orada said...

In response to Adrian's question, I have another question. I think some things are beautiful in themselves, for example, the sunset, some flowers, virtue, etc. But these things that I think are beautiful in themselves, some people may not agree that they're beautiful at all. So if some people don't think that they're beautiful, how can we say that they're beautiful in themselves, and not just our opinion? (Is anyone confused?) If people always disagree about the beauty of a certain thing, how can we say that some things are beautiful in themselves?

By the way, I'm one of those people who thinks that cats (and all other furry animals) are the most frightening creatures in the world...

Blake Collier said...

In response to the conversation we had today on the concept of being a critic of art, I would like to throw a little bit of my own observation in there to challenge this notion. I do agree that a critic should have as little prejudice as possible and let art stand in itself instead of them putting their own conceptions on it. However, I think, at least now, this concept becomes incredibly, and to some extent irretrievably, idealistic.

As an example, I am an avid film-goer and would probably say that I have seen many more movies than the average person has. I am not usually a fan of movie critics as a whole however I do find myself often in agreement with one in particular. Peter Travers, from Rolling Stone magazine, is probably one of the better film critics out there. However, Peter Travers is also notorious for reveling in his political and ideological biases to the point that he constantly builds up movies that are no where near the quality of others that he reviews and yet he sees them as equally good simply for the fact that they express his political and religious biases.

I think this happens more often than not with critics now. It is no longer about finding the beauty and the artistic qualities of a film, album, so on, but instead of pushing their own ideological values regardless of the quality of the art.

No one can completely divest themselves of their prejudices and there is a mutual understanding of that between all people. However when a person flaunts those biases and it impacts their criticism of the art, then there is a problem. I think this is what largely happens these days instead of having critics who are mindful of their own values and try not to allow them to impede their work.

jarod loffler said...

David Hume's arguments regarding aesthetics and knowledge have been very enlightening for me. His "standards for judges and their judgments" argument, which is foundationalist in structure, raises particular questions regarding our quest to find the appropriate means for aesthetic inquiry. Particularly the various conceptions, modes, or methodologies that are used by "judges", and how it is an empirical fact that disagreements concerning art (e.g. beauty) exist. Accordingly, if taste is a sense, then there shouldn't be such wide disagreement. Therefore, if there is a standard by which taste can be judged, (as well as a standard to "qualify" judges) the concept of taste will not be in jeopardy.

For Hume, it seems that creating a standard for judges who "exhibit the regularity of scientific judgments" will end this apparent disagreement by providing the appropriate development of principles capable of bringing order, unity, and meaning to "aesthetic occurrences".

The second rule for Hume’s “standards for judges” is that they must be bias/value free in their judgments. In other words, they must be neutral and objective. In order to make the claim that judges must exhibit the regularity of scientific judgments (e.g. value free/objective) Hume presupposes that there is a genuine need for aesthetic inquiry to be value-neutral. Is there? Just because there is little agreement among judges concerning some specific art piece X, and if that art piece X is beautiful or ugly doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a genuine need for judges to be value-free in their judgments. Furthermore, I’m not so sure how judges can be completely and utterly value-free. The presupposition that scientific inquiry and aesthetic inquiry are similar in kind, and that both ought to be value free, is an extremely value laden position in itself. This presupposition not only calls into question the very possibility of aesthetic inquiry ever being value-free, it seems also to be self defeating. His argument for aesthetic inquiry or "judges judging" to be value-free is based on the presupposition that ‘all’ human inquiry is similar, particularly that taste (the standard for judges) and scientific practice are similar; yet he never provides an argument for such similarity.

stefan cadra said...

I'm sure that this won't count as a post, grade-wise, but I stumbled upon the following article and found it interesting and relevant to our most recent discussion:

Here's an excerpt regarding the critic's role in the modern arts:

In such a climate, the role of the critic becomes especially important, and exceptionally difficult. The critic of the serious arts — poetry, painting, music — is addressing readers who are not just indifferent to new work, but feel justified in their indifference. The critic's first job, then, even before he evaluates individual works, is to make the reader feel uneasy about his ignorance—to convince him that the art in question is vital and serious, deserving of complex attention. A reader who has always heard that classical music is dead must first be convinced that it is alive.

Also, it seems as though the book he discusses might be of particular interest to the non-musician PhD students in our class (especially those nearing the testing phase!), looking for a less taxonomic and more functional critical perspective of recentish music history.

I want to read it (but not badly enough to buy it) so I filled out a library purchase request (along with some others).

Dan Nathan said...

Tolstoy develops an aesthetic theory in which aesthetic values are based on moralistic values. In other words, art should be judged on both its ability to express moral values to the audience, and on its abitilty to infect the audience of these moral values. For an art work to infect the audience, the audience must experience the same feelings that the artist expereienced, which are the same feelings that the artist is exressing in his/her art work. The strength of this infection determines how good or how bad the art work is. The stronger the infection, the better the art is. A strong infection requires the artist to be genuine and sincere in that an artist must have personally experienced the feelings that he/she is trying to express in his/her art work. A strong infection also requires the art to be intelligible and comprehensible so that the feelings of the artist expressed in his/her art work is clearly understood by the audience without the need for interpretation or criticism of the art work. Stronger infections require the artist to focus on expressing only one feeling. The highest feeling that an artist can express is a moralistic feeling in which the art fosters feelings of universal brotherhood and sisterhood among all humans. According to Tolstoy, art should have a Christian message because only Chrisianity can foster an absolute brotherhood and sisterhood among all humans.
In summary, the best art is a univeral art that is relevant to all, intelligible and comprehensible by all, able to infect all, and expresses one genuine moralistic value of the artist.
Tolstoy attempts to define universal art as an art of inclusion. However, because his aesthetic theory is narrowly focussed on his own moral standards, Tolstoy's universal art becomes an art of exclusion. First of all, he excludes certain people form making art, including artistic elites and professional artists. He believes that artistic elites express feelings that are only relevant to those in the upper class, and that they lack the true core of Christian values. Therefore, artistic elites cannot possibly foster universal brotherhood and sisterhood among all humans, nor can they create art that is relevant to all classes of society. He also condemns the professionalism of art, believing that if one must earn a living by producing art, then the feelings of the artist expressed in his/her art work will most likely be insincere. Tolstoy excludes many art works because artists must create their art work with individuality, originality, spontaneity, and sincerity. According to Tolstoy, the teaching of art will destroy these necessary characteristics of artists. For example, teaching art will provoke artists to imitate other artists, and replicate their works of art. He condemns imitative art because it prevents artists from expressing original and sincere thoughts. Tolstoy also excludes many art forms because the subject matter and purpose of art must conform to his own moral standards. For example, he believes it is unfitting to reproduce past art like Greek art because past art expresses values that are different than Tolstoy's. Greek art expresses virtues of strength, masculinity, and heroism. These values are not the same values that Tolstoy holds. Therefore, it is unfitting to reproduce past art.

Tolstoy's conception of universal art restricts the purpose of art to express Tolstoy's moralistic values by fostering universal brotherhood and sisterhood among all members of his society. Why must art serve a moralistic purpose? In other words, why must we equate aesthetic values with moral values? I believe that art can serve any purpose, and that it ought to be up to the artist's discretion to decide the purpopse of his/her art. Perhaps, an artist creates art to express his own cognition. Perhaps, an artist creates art to express the cognitions of someone else. Perhaps an artist creates art because it is therapeutic for him/her to do so. Creating art is alone time for some people- a personal time that allows them to zone in on their deep emotions. Why can't this be a purpose of art?
Why must the purpose of art be limited to foster universal brotherhood and sisterhood? As a Jew, how can I possibly agree with Tolstoy's notion that only Christianity can foster universal brotherhood and sisterhood. Also, as a secular humanist, why is religion necessary at all to foster social harmony?

brad green said...

In response to Dan's insights:
I agree that Tolstoy's philosophy of aesthetics was (became ?) a philosophy of exclusion. His particular views on aesthetics- the infectiousness of art, the worth of all art from all people, critiques of "high" art, critiques of high art training- probably automatically excluded many. As with any dogmatic opinion, Tolstoy's views draw a line in the sand.
Because Tolstoy's views are divisive, the reader has two choices: receive what can be valuable and toss out the rest, or toss it all out. The reader has much to lose by tossing out the entire discussion.
I would like to focus on one particular view that should be examined more closely: the infectiousness of good art.
Good art is infectious. It is infectious with limits. There are definite boundaries in which this analogy works.
The first and perhaps the strongest boundary to place on this analogy is that good art is infectious like an infection (forgive the grossness of the example)is infectious. An infection is usually spread through contact, even very deliberate contact. Art is the same. It is only infectious to those who have made deliberate physical, emotional, and cognitive contact with it.
We as artists and audience members can take valuable information from this aspect of Tolstoy's argument. If we are willing to be infected physically, emotionally, and cognitively, then we will be "infected."

Jason Waltony Berg said...

I find Bullough’s discussion of the impersonal and the personal very interesting. In his words, “we meet the difficulty of having to express certain facts in terms coined entirely for different uses. To do so usually results in paradoxes, which are nowhere more inevitable than in discussions upon Art.” (Page 243 in our text) He wants to say that one must be impersonal in one’s approach in order to have an aesthetic experience. At the same time, he also wants us to have personal relationship with a work of art as part of the aesthetic experience but of a “peculiar character.” His idea of Distance attempts to resolve this paradox and I think brings to light one of the major challenges of both producing art as well as evaluating it. I would argue that this is especially true for the performing artist.

Case in point, to perform at a high level, an artist needs to bring to the table a certain amount of technique and pose. This helps with the clarity of a performance whether it is the lines an actor must recite or the melodies a musician must play. If the performer becomes too caught up emotionally in what he or she is doing there is a danger becoming too overwrought to be able to execute his or her role. This loss focus (Distance) makes a performance ultimately less effective. Likewise, if the artist is too emotionally unattached to what they are doing they may fail to communicate (connect) with their audience although they may execute their part in a technically flawless manner. So then, there is a balance between emotion and technique that occurs in performance that enables the performer to communicate emotionally while maintaining a certain level of clarity. This can be likened to the idea of an optimal Distance.

Perhaps, this is also where the idea of the fourth wall arises in live performance. That is the concept that there is a wall between the performers on stage and the audience who is watching a performance. This imaginary wall allows the performers on stage to create a imaginary world that the audience can then observe and engage themselves in. Of course, modern performers (or perhaps post-modern) like to engage this fourth wall and significant efforts have been made to completely demolish it. This might be where the idea of Distance breaks down. A contemporary view of Distance might embrace all distances from the most personal and close to the most impersonal and removed.

Orada said...

I guess I'm after the blog point as well...

Anyway, I wrote a summary on Plotinus that I didn't get a chance to turn in. I know Plotinus is old now but I'm posting part of my paper here incase some find it interesting. This part is about Tibetan Buddhist art.

The highest form of beauty is divine beauty. To get there, one must realize corporeal beauties as mere images. Plotinus warns against material matters as something impermanent, and one who clings to them is among those who fail to attain divine beauty. One must see with the soul or the inner eye in order to perceive this genuine beauty. Here is where the religious idea comes into practice. Plotinus believes that the soul can progress and the inner eye can develop. One may not see divine beauty right away, but one can practice. One has to become virtuous first in order to see virtues in others. The soul has to be beautiful in order to see divine beauty.
If one must realize that corporeal beauties are mere images, one must also realize that art has no role in achieving divine beauty. However, there may be some forms of art that can demonstrate the impermanence of corporeal life and can teach one not to cling to material matters. A good example is the Tibetan mandala painting. Mandala painting is done on a large, flat table or on the floor in a Tibetan temple. The painting process starts by drawing an outline on the flat table. Then, the Tibetan monks will pour colored sand or colored powder to fill in the pattern of the painting, which is usually a religious or spiritual symbol. The process usually takes several days or weeks and the work is done with a very careful attention to detail. Once the monks complete their work, the colored sand is to be swept away and nothing of the painting remains. The creation and the destruction of Tibetan mandala painting symbolize the impermanence of all that exists and to suggest to the onlooker not to be attached to any material matters.
Even though the teaching of Plotinus is later associated with Christianity, the idea of divine beauty is similar to that of Buddhism. From an example of mandala painting, art shouldn’t be left off at the first stage of beauty, which is the realm of the senses. But art or some forms of art should be regarded and revered as a means to help people understand divine beauty.

brad green said...

I would like to add to Orada's comments on divine beauty.
The idea of divine beauty is, or should be, included in all religions. It often frustrates me that the Christian church, particularly protestantism, is often filled with cut rate art, definitely not art 'proper' as we talked about in class. If Christians believe in divine beauty, then it should be celebrated with great art and great artists.
Allow me to be historical for a moment. The religion that I am most familiar with, Protestant Christianity, often maintains a view that is an amalgamation of humanity and divinity. The early church actually rejected gnosticism -the distinction between the spirit as perfect and the material as imperfect- as a heresy. Nevertheless, this philosophy had a huge impact. So the concept of divine beauty, not necessarily foreign to Christianity, has never been empasized because of the God-man, Jesus, and because of the rejection of gnosticism as heresy.
Another rejection of beauty occurred in the reformation of Calvin and his followers. As the reformation sought to do away with symbols and icons and focus strictly on scripture, the church abandoned and refused art and symbol in all but limited instances.
So great art and great artists have for the most part sought expression outside the church walls.
It's sad.

Jason Waltony Berg said...


I have to first take issue with your statement. When I think of Protestantism the music of J.S. Bach (a Lutheran - Bach attended the same school that Martin Luther had attended as a child) immediately comes to mind. To me, there is no music that so fully expresses the divine as the music of Bach, much of which he wrote to be performed in the church.

Although I am no longer a Christian myself I have many happy and fulfilling musical memories of performing in my father's Methodist church. I actually enjoyed it more than going to my mother's family's Roman Catholic church where the music was presented more as a performance than as something that everyone participated in (like at Dad's).

Ultimately, my feeling is that a great philosophy gives birth to a great art. This is perhaps part of the reason why it is important for us as artists to study philosophy. My conviction is we are what we choose to believe and that our art is the purest expression of who we are. You cannot hide your true self and still express yourself artistically in the most fulfilling and convincing way. Therefore, the philosophy (or more specifically, religion if you would like) that you base yourself on is so crucial. For this reason, a critical self analysis of one's beliefs is vital to understanding what it is one is all about as an artist.

In Western history the Renaissance comes immediately to mind as a time when a brillant illuminating philosophy gave birth to an explosion of art and culture. In my view, now is the time for a new Renaissance of thought, art and culture and it is our generation of artists that is responsible for making this happen. I believe we are going to see unprecendented developments in philosophy, art and culture in the next thirty in part propelled by the unparalleled developments we have experienced in the last 15 years in technology and our ability now to quickly desiminate ideas and information in a manner that has never before been seen or heard of. Ultimately, philosophy and religion will have to adapt to the new challenges and opportunities that our brave new world presents or be left behind as museum pieces to be studied in history classes. This is all the more true for us as artists. What an exciting time!

(Sorry, that started one place and went somewhere else entirely! Must be because it is before 8:00am and I have not had enough coffee)

brad green said...

I would like to respond to Jason’s most recent post:

The point in the past posting is that the church’s rejection of Gnosticism had a negative effect on the production of art in the church- particularly the protestant church. There are isolated examples of clergy producing art for the church, but it is isolated. Bach is a good example of good art within the church. But for the most part, the church has reacted negatively to art because of its sensuous nature and the appeal to ‘the flesh.’ ( note the Gnostic tone of ‘the flesh’)
One good example of this rejection of art is the Council of Trent in the 16th century. As for music, a massive amount of church music was prohibited.
The church is not, and never has been, the haven that it should be for the production of art.

jarod loffler said...

In response to Jason's last comment, I pose this question: if we are what we believe, and if our art is the purest expression of who we are, wouldn't artists be able to express themselves in an even 'more-pure' way if the beliefs they held were justifiably held rather than mere beliefs they 'chose' to believe?

Although how and why various religious sects have accepted art purporting to be representative of the divine and rejected art not considered to be representative of the divine (e.g. Gnostic art) is philosophical indeed, what would an atheist say about this, and why should they care?

Orada said...

I don't know what the western concept of 'atheist' is, but I have a lot of Asian friends who are atheists and their parents are atheists as well. Even though they call themselves that, they do believe in something. And that something may vary for different atheists, for example, some people value virtues, charitable actions, peace, beautiful ways of life, etc. And I find out that what they believe in usually goes with some aspects of some religions (I found that some atheists I know live their life the Buddhist way even though they didn't know it). And these people value the kind of art that reflect what they believe in. They may like a Christian art or a Buddhist art, but the reason they care about these arts are not because they're Christian or Buddhist, but because there's something about these arts that speak to them. Anyway, that's just my personal experiance.

Michael Ducey said...

Damn! Orada beat me to the punch. I think an atheist would care, by placing their beliefs with whatever value system they use to create such beliefs. It seems that you could lump religious systems along with any other social system that is used to create beliefs.

I am a bit skeptical about your statement about "chosen" beliefs. I ask- what beliefs aren't chosen? If a belief isn't freely chosen, do we place value in said belief? I somehow doubt it. I also don't feel that we value beliefs that don't have justification. Do people even hold beliefs without justification? I can't think of a case where we do? If I believe that my cat flies, and you ask me why, and I shrug and say "I dunno," I can't think of anyone who would put stock in my belief. Sorry to pick on you, Jarod. If anyone wants to disagree, please. I don't know much about belief formation.

Adrian said...

I am an atheist, and I care about art.
One of the best things about Christianity is the architecture, painting, mosaics, music, sculpture, etc. whose production it has inspired. I know some will be offended, I think art may be the only good thing to have come out of Christianity. It's a very good thing, though. I will make no distinction between protestantism/catholicism because I'm ignorant of all that stuff, but I do agree with Brad that the church should be more of a haven for art and artists. It should not discriminate between divine and fleshy art. I've never seen the Pieta, but pictures of it make it look like a very beautiful sculpture where Jesus is very human. Isn't it important that Jesus was human? Otherwise why would God come here in human form? God is perfect, so He must have a reason.
I agree with Orada that people don't necessarily like art because of their religious background. I like Christian art even though I'm an atheist. Being a member of the religion, though, might add to one's aesthetic experience in cases where the observer doesn't feel obligated to like the art because of her religion.
Quick comment on "chosen beliefs": I, too, was thrown off by the word choice when Jarod mentioned chosen beliefs. But maybe this is what he means. Many of my students have never thought about the problems with Christianity or whether they might like another religion better. They are Christians because they were "raised that way." Society and their parents have chosen their religion for them and they are ok with that. I don't think they've chosen that religion because they just haven't thought about it. Mike doubts that anybody would place value on this belief that wasn't freely chosen, but I think that we do. Maybe we shouldn't, but we do. If you take a 19-20 year old kid who hasn't philosophically thought about her religion and push her on it, you'll end up with an example just like the flying cat scenario. You'll get: "I know in my heart that it's true," or "I was just raised that way," or "Faith is more powerful than reason."

Back to what Jason and Jarod were talking about. I'm not sure that art is the purest expression of who one is. What if it doesn't turn out so well? Does this mean that the artist is not much of a person? Do the artists in the class think that they are always trying to express themselves as persons through their art? Or is it a feeling, idea, mood, or something? Also, do you artists agree with Jason that philosophical thought plays a crucial role in art? While studying philosophy is probably beneficial to an artist, I don't think it is necessary in order to produce good art. Aren't there some artists who produce great stuff but can't explain it?

Michael Ducey said...


I think that if there were an artist who would produce great stuff but couldn't explain it, this "artist" would go by another name: imposter. I don't see how a person could create something without knowing what it is they were attempting/creating/detailing, etc. I don't think you could go up to any existing "master" of any field and ask him or her to explain their works, and get nothing. I just don't think it would be possible to end up with someone considered "great" without some purpose behind it. Perhaps the artist can't pin it down to the very last detail (actually I doubt they couldn't) but in the very least, there could be no way that an artist creates something that is unknown in origin to him or her.

Please, if an artist here feels differently, speak up!

Meredith said...

I feel very similar. Wasn't it Schopenhauer that accepted the idea of genius without being able to explain their creation (art)? I may be muddling that view up a bit. I didn't really agree with that view.

I also think there may be some kind of inspiration that is DIFFICULT to explain or put an exact label on all the many things that inspire artists, but it seems that SOMETHING has to inspire creation in an artist (even if it's just the drive to create).

(sorry I have been distant from the discussions, everyone! It's difficult to type with my stupid hand problems and I have to conserve efforts!)

jarod loffler said...

Adrian and Michael, the word "CHOOSE" was used by Jason, not me, read:

"Ultimately, my feeling is that a great philosophy gives birth to a great art. This is perhaps part of the reason why it is important for us as artists to study philosophy. My conviction is we are what we choose to believe and that our art is the purest expression of who we are. You cannot hide your true self and still express yourself artistically in the most fulfilling and convincing way. Therefore, the philosophy (or more specifically, religion if you would like) that you base yourself on is so crucial. For this reason, a critical self analysis of one's beliefs is vital to understanding what it is one is all about as an artist."

(this is a quote from jason's response to brad) go ahead, look through them. I did not agree with it either, hence my response.

As for the atheist responses, i'll take them in turn.

Orada, the atheists you've illustrated in your post are what I would call: agnostic inquirers. Agnostic inquirers believe in "something" (yes Michael and Adrian, Orada used this word), (by something I'm assuming that you mean 'something divine', a creator, etc). Atheists don't believe in those things. Atheists want to have that "divine something" to be proven to exist.

Michael and Adrian, I didn't ask if an atheist "would care" or if there is an atheist who "does care" I asked "why should they care". And please take into consideration that this question was raised within a particular context.

I don't think there can be an infallibilist conception for knowledge claims regarding art (or anything for that matter). However I do think that there are better and worse reasons for justifying one's beliefs. By this I mean that some people's beliefs are 'more' justifiably held than other's beliefs. Contextually, some people's beliefs regarding art are more justifiably held than other's.

Orada said...

Hi Jarod or anyone who'd like to answer,

I just have a question regarding the meaning of the word "atheist" and "agnostic inquirer." So I was talking about an atheist who belives in "something". But what if this "something" isn't something devine and isn't a creator. This something isn't even related to spirit or soul. But it is something really simple like they believe that they have to be a "good person" (though I know that sometimes it's hard to define the word "good") or they believe that they should live thier life in the present the best they can (maybe according to what they believe to be virtue or moral). Would this person be an atheist or an agnostic? I'm asking because I'm just curious...

Michael Ducey said...

Yeah, I agree, Orada. I didn't think that you were referring to "agnostic inquirers." Atheists deny the existence of a god, while agnostics hold the belief that one cannot know whether or not there is a god. From what you seemed to say, I seems to me that your friends were probably atheists. I don't think you misused the term (and plus, you'd know your friends better than any of us!). Atheists might believe in some sort of system that might ascribe beliefs that wouldn't have to be religious in nature at all. But, as you said, they could be akin to a religious system. It's completely within belief. But there's no reason to think that "something" refers to something ... out... there (stares out into the big, blue night sky).

jarod loffler said...

yeah, being a complete "global skeptic" is not a neccessary condition for atheism. just because one is an atheist doesn't mean they cannot cultivate a morally sound belief system.

the only reason i mentioned atheism was to raise the question "why should an atheist care about christian art?" What is it about art, aside from religion, that makes art important to individuals outside of their individual belief systems?

if it is some type of emotion that is provoked by the subject-object ontology, then it would seem that christians would find depictions of christ on a canvas more emotionally provoking than a depiction of someone's rib cage on a similar canvas. similarly, it would follow that an atheist would find the depiction of christ on canvas as less emotionally provoking than something else. however, it is the case that some atheists may find that depiction of christ more provoking, which leads me to the conclusion that there must be some other reason that makes art important to us aside from personal beliefs.

tolstoy seemed to argue that the reining religion of the day played a significant factor in the distinction between "good" art and "bad" art. i think that notion is wrong.

thanks for the five points Ms. Ribeiro

Blake said...

In response to Jared's comment above, I would like to address this question of why an atheist could find Christian art provoking. Jared, I think, has a good point in showing that there is something outside of our personal beliefs that allows art to be provoking. However, I want to take it another direction. So an atheist, lets say, finds the depiction of Christ on a canvas compelling. Why is that? Jared said that there was something outside his beliefs that made that depiction compelling, however couldn't it also be that, in this case, there is some universal truth that is breathed through that art. If Christianity is true, then there is a personal God who reveals truth to us both directly and indirectly and so there may be something in the depiction of a suffering Christ that reveals some conscious or subconscious conviction in all of us. To broaden this a bit, could we not say that we find art (and not just Christian art) compelling because it in fact transfers some universal type of truth to the viewer? I think this is possible, not just because I am a Christian, but because I have have non-Christian friends that find similar meanings behind paintings, movies and music. So could it be that all humans are able to see universal truths in the world and maybe art is one of the better ways of doing this? I think it is possibly, maybe even likely for this to be the case.

I think that is why religion was so important to Tolstoy because it seems that religion is the pipeline to what is true and good and it is through this that unity of man (brotherhood, in his language) could be achieved. Art may just be another way of expressing those things that are true and good.

Michael Ducey said...

Putting on my Clive Bell hat here, I'm going to have to disagree with you there, Blake. I don't think it is always the case that art would convey truth at all, let alone universal truth. It could just be about shape and color. What universal truth can you find in a Calder piece? As art gets more and more abstract, finding the truth becomes harder and harder, perhaps to the point where there is no "truth," or lesson to be learned. It could be that the thing that the artist wants to express involves mere form and color. And if there is nothing identifiable in a work other than geometric shapes and lines, or perhaps the purposeful lack thereof, and color, what is there to identify and take away from the work?

Taking off my Clive Bell hat, perhaps even works like these can still convey a truth in the form and color. But I wish you good luck in finding it.

Blake said...

Well, since I am not a big fan of Clive Bell then I don't feel bad in attacking his hat! haha...

I think the problem with what you have said is that it seems that you are relying purely on the senses and our reason to comprehend truth in artwork. Sometimes, I think, there is information (truth, if you will) that can be transferred through art by way of revelation, the subconscious, or any other type of mystical experience. This is ultimately the problem I have with philosophy is that if it cannot be explained by human rationality then it is either fallacious or not worth pondering. If this is the case then why do so many people have religion when there are many things that are beyond rationality and cannot be figured out by our reason. I think sometimes, truth can be transferred through art without the viewer even realizing that they have received it. Maybe a type of dormancy of some sort. Nonetheless, I could be way out of this (which I often am), but it is still fun to attack Clive Bell!

Michael Ducey said...

I thought I'd share this quote from Woody Allen that plays into this discussion about finding meaning in art.

WOODY ALLEN: That's quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn't it?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: Yes it is.

WOODY ALLEN: What does it say to you?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: It restates the negativeness of the universe, the hideous lonely emptiness of existence, nothingness, the predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity, like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void, with nothing but waste, horror, and degradation, forming a useless bleak straightjacket in a black absurd cosmos.

WOODY ALLEN: What are you doing Saturday night?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: Committing suicide.

WOODY ALLEN: What about Friday night?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: [leaves silently]
"Play It Again, Sam", Paramount Pictures, 1972;

Keeping the discussion highbrow is my highest priority.

brad green said...


About the Woody Allen dialogue-
It’s a perfect example of what an aesthetic experience seems like to outside viewers.There is an awkwardness- almost comedic- when observing the external signs that someone is having an aesthetic experience. Some examples of this are: crying, a dropped jaw “wow,” a puzzled look, a finger rubbing chin “deep in thought” look, etc.
I think a perfect example of an aesthetic experience is the toddler with a 2 second attention span who becomes transfixed at something- a lit Christmas tree, Sesame Street, swimming or jumping dolphins, so many things.

Just as a child can have an aesthetic experience while viewing a Christmas tree- which is not necessarily a work of great- we must always make a separation between the experience and the art. Confusion comes from attempting to combine the experience with the object. I understand that this is a debatable point, but I believe that an aesthetic experience from poor art is no less an authentic aesthetic experience than that of “great” art.

On a tangent: I have many thoughts about the distinction between having an experience (a la John Dewey) and the actual object of art. I also have many thought about the emotion and cognition that takes place during the aesthetic experience. Similar to the scripture “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” John 14: 21, 23.
So much to say about this.

Jason Waltony Berg said...

I would like to ask a question regarding Collingwood and the reading that we did. My understanding is that Collingwood separates the idea of art proper from craft and thus removes technique from the equation of being an artist proper. In this way he focuses on the planning of an art work or the idea of an art work as being the work of art itself. However, on page 131 of our reading Collingwood makes this statement, “In order that a work of art should be created, the prospective artist (as we saw in the preceding chapter) must have in him certain unexpressed emotions, and must also have the wherewithal to express them.” The definition of wherewithal is “necessary means.” So what does Collingwood mean then by wherewithal? I would submit that he puts a hole in the boat of his argument. For an artist, the necessary means is his or her technique. If you take the above sentence by Collingwood and insert the word “technique” or “craft” for “wherewithal” you can see how this sentence means the same thing and is actually much clearer.

JBerry said...

I think the answer to Jason's question is found, at least partly, in Brad's comment from class. That is, that technique is not missing from art, but that the definition of what makes "art proper" is not found in the technique. Collingwood argues that the root definition of art is that which expresses feeling. Art proper and craft are not mutually exclusive in that art proper cannot involve craft, instead art proper cannot be craft alone, but in the expression of feeling.

The uncertainty in my mind is that Collingwood believes that art resides in the mind as idea, and yet also requires that the artist "express" emotions. Is it possible to express feeling without an audience? That is, can ideas be expressed as art without their formation into a material object, be that concrete visual art, temporal sound art, or any other form?

stefan cadra said...

I think I am grasping Collingwood more now that I have applied a couple of "what-did-he-really-mean" filters to his assertions. All too frequently, I allow nomenclature to come between myself and the essence of a concept. First off, as far as the delineation between art objects and craft objects, I think it lies in the functional intent with which the object has been charged. He does say that a good deal of quality art contains elements of craft, so it is definitely possible for both to be present in one work. It then becomes a matter of determining the relative degrees of their presence. Is the chair more for sitting in than for evoking an emotional response? If so, it is craft. If a painting's primary purpose is more to communicate emotion than to serve as decor, then we can call it art over craft. Of course, the sliding scale still leaves a gray area. By labeling his trees and clouds as "happy," Bob Ross was definitely charging his works with emotion, but many have discounted his paintings (as well as those of Thomas Kinkade) as kitsch. Another gray area question: can tools, even artistic ones, be art themselves? I'm sure many cellists would consider an Amati instrument to be a work of art (what do you think, Aurelia?). So I don't think Collingwood was so much trying to define art vs. craft for the rest of us, as he was trying to give us tools to determine this for ourselves.

Another point of confusion for me was his use of the word emotion. Perhaps what he meant by emotion was "essence of what it is to be human." His word is considerably less unwieldy than this and his position is far more comprehensible to me if I assume that his use of the word is broader reaching than Webster's definition. After all, my dog (who just stole and ate some hardware while I was putting a door-flap on her house) feels emotions that can be affected by external stimuli, but would just view "The Scream," with which even a small child can identify, as something to chew. Connecting with "The Scream" fills us with an emotion but it is the further association of this emotion with experience and identity that allows humans to fully appreciate its depth as an artwork. This goes beyond happy or sad, or even the complex emotions mentioned in class. We can program computers to calculate effective conveyance of emotion as it may apply to record sales, but I doubt Collingwood would have labeled products of such a process as high art. Of course, if the computer uses DNA samples from Gilbert and Sullivan, it's another story:

So, maybe his use of the word doesn't refer to some Pavlovian response, but to an experience of the essence of humanity; or maybe I am just fabulously wrong.

*prepares self for brutal group confutation*

Dan Nathan said...

My answer to your second question is that ideas can be expressed as “artworks” without their formation into a material object, but ideas cannot be expressed as “art proper” without their formation into a material object. It is important to differentiate between the two. “Artworks” are shallow expressions of ideas resulting from a weak imaginative experience. The creation of an “artwork” requires only a small amount of ideas to be generated by the artist, and/or little conscious effort on the artist’s part, and/or the artist’s consciousness to be settled on something insignificant. Consequently, the human imagination can retain these shallow ideas expressed in “artworks” without needed to externalize them into a bodily work of art.
“Art proper,” conversely, is a deep expression of ideas resulting from a total imaginative experience. The creation of “art proper” requires an abundance of complex ideas to be generated by the artist, great conscious effort on the artist’s part, and the artist’s consciousness to be settled on something significant. Consequently, the human imagination can not possibly retain all of these deep ideas expressed in “art proper” without externalizing them into a bodily work of art.

Meredith said...

I have a few questions from Josh & Mark's presentation today that I did not get to ask.

I admit that I am not very familiar with techniques of visual art. My question is what does the term "line" refer to (just the shapes within paintings like the triangles we discussed today or other lines)?

One thing I noticed in the paintings that Mark showed that Bell did NOT consider to have significant form was that the lines/boundaries around the subjects were somewhat blurred. In other words, the definition or sharpness was somewhat more blurry than those that Bell DID consider to have significant form. (even the final painting "Medusa...." had much more sharply defined subjects than those of the bull or the portrait). These subjects themselves are not blurry (or at least not to the point that you cannot tell what they are), but the two paintings (Bull, portrait) seemed more about blurring shades of colors than definition. I don't necessarily think it's bad, I just think it displays that the strucutral technique is different. Even the Cezanne painting, in my opinion, though somewhat "messy" around the edges seemed more defined than the two examples of Bell's NON-significant form.

So, I guess my question is do these defined subjects in the paintings seem to factor in to Bell's notion of significant form, or am I just that tired that some of the paintings looked blurry?

stefan cadra said...

Well, I had about a paragraph and a half typed but my browser crashed so if this post stinks, that's my official excuse. Anyway, the original ill-fated post was something about how the lines we were talking about in class had little to do with types of brush strokes. In the portrait, the subject is positioned such that we can consider her body line (in a dancing sense). In "Medusa..." We see a diagonal linear (actually, sort of conical) progression from chaos and death near the bottom and slightly to the left, to order and hope near the top and slightly to the right. The fact that we can find significant form, as per Bell's description, in works by artists he attacked, and fail to find it in works by artists he praises, does call his position into question.

In "The Art Question," Nigel Warburton suggests that Bell's ideas may be better approached as a manifesto rather than a theory. I don't doubt that significant form is a feature of many works of art. The problem is that the judgment of its presence seems to be somewhat subjective and therefore unprovable. In my opinion, the problem with Bell is not the concept of significant form itself, but the near impossibility (especially post-Dada) of using it as the sole condition for the labeling of an object as art. As with "Medusa..." form is determined, in part, by representation. The difference between people and corpses is more than the difference between yellow blocks and blue ones. Representation here is facilitated by representation, and hence we can hijack Bell's term and say that "Medusa..." has significant form even though it relies heavily on representation to provide that form. So the idea itself is useful while the enforcement of its status as sole criterion for an object's existence as art is silly. I like art provocateur D.H. Lawrence's satirical remarks concerning his view of the fervor with which promulgators of the absolute rule of Significant Form presented their doctrine:

"Oh, purify yourselves, ye who would know the aesthetic ecstasy, and be lifted up to the 'white peaks of artistic inspiration'. Purify yourselves of all base hankering for a tale that is told, and of all low lust for likeness. Purify yourselves, and know the supreme way, the way of Significant Form. I am the revelation and the way! I am significant Form, and my unutterable name is Reality. Lo, I am form, and I am Pure, behold, I am Pure Form. I am the Revelation of Spiritual Life, moving behind the veil... Lift up your eyes to Significant Form, and be saved!"

I'm always thoroughly entertained by an articulate wise-ass remark.

Anyway, I think I ended up about a mile away from Meredith's post, but hopefully there was something pseudo-relevant in the preceding mass of drivel.

Blake said...

I was thinking about who I would have picked as the philosopher with the best theory of aesthetics. I think the answer to this question can tell you a lot about who you are and how you think about things. I, myself, found that I agreed with Tolstoy the most of all of the people we studied. I think that is because I am very much a practical philosopher. If the theories are too abstract then I find myself sticking my tongue out with a slight twitch in my right eye! With Tolstoy, he didn't really provide a definition of what art is or what beauty is as a concept but he presented a practical guide for the use of art and the advantages for society and individuals to have art around. This, in my opinion, is more useful than some abstract conception of art that will change here in about 2 years. Overall the development of community and the brotherhood of man is more important than trying to figure whether this or that painting is beautiful.

The problem I find with aesthetic theory is that it goes to two extremes and it never really seems to hit a middle ground. It is either too far in the realm of rules, guidelines, and structures or it is too far into the realm of relative taste of the individual. At no point does the objectivity (and universalism) of art meet with the relative and personal tastes of the viewer. Until there is a theory that allows for both, then the more practical views of art will be the ones most beneficial in my opinion. I am sure that most of you will disagree but that is just how I would answer the question of who I thought had the best understanding of aesthetics.

Meredith said...

My paper is about Schopenhauer and music (to sum it up in a vague few words) and in my readings I am finding some terminology that I want to make sure I understand correctly.

In order for me to explain Schopenhauer's views on music, I feel I must explain his concept of "the will" and so forth. I re-read the introduction (because those are usually more helpful for me than the writings themselves!) and noticed the sentence "For Schopenhauer, the Idea is independent of the particular." I remember us discussing him being similar to Plato and his ideal forms, but what does the term "particular" mean? I interpret as it meaning the physical or physical representation of the ideal (art). Am I way off here, or close?

stefan cadra said...

I think that "the particular" includes physical representations of artistic ideas, but is not limited to them. "The particular" is anything that is not the Idea, and is therefore imperfect and infested with the taint of the evil ol' Will. So while an art object in particular (no pun intended) can be a vehicle for an Idea, it is not the Idea itself. However, this crude and fallible manifestation of imperfect physical humanity is a window to the Ideal. This sets art objects apart from other "particulars" as a less offensive subset of products of The Will.

Aurelia said...

This is in response to Blake's earlier post:

I feel that a less prescriptive way of viewing art is the better avenue. I believe this because placing parameters on art in any sense limits what the artists can and cannot do. Limiting art limits expression which can curtail personal and cultural progress.

I guess that I did not find a philosopher with whom I agreed completely. I am guilty of picking and choosing bits for each that I liked and discarding that which I did not like.

Bob Chanda said...

In defining art and espousing a theory of art, I find myself drawn to Tolstoy, Bullough and Collingwood, aesthticians that chose to focus on process of how art is created and its communicative context rather than focus on defining a universal and ideal definition of art. Art is a dynamic and inclusive process that entails a flow of ideas and expression and I found the theories that attempted to provide definitions of art that rely on some extraneous, ideal form too static and removed from how art actually operates.

Bob Chanda said...

In response to Meredith:

Schopenhauer's concept of will is rather technical and confusing. I can see why the concept raises questions for you. My sense of what he his saying is that the will as "objectifying thought" can only guide us to understand objects as particular forms of objects with the operation of the principle of sufficient reason. The will is independent of the principle of sufficient reason but its demands allow us to understand the world only from the viewpoint of sufficient reason.

"Aesthetic contemplation" allows us to escape the influence of the will and lets us see objects as Ideas,separate from the principle of sufficient reason. We are no longer trapped into seeing an object as a particular object, but object as idea. And, it is my understanding, that ideas represent the true reality.

Bob Chanda said...

I was reading Michael's posting of the scene from a Woody Allen film and it raised a number of questions for me. Both Tolstoy and Collingwood suggest some level of intentionality from the perspective of the artist. That is, he or she is striving through the work to express something that is later apprehended by the perceiver of the art work. The problematic element of this definition of art is that a piece of art may conjure different images for different people. If one sees something in a work of art that is not what the author intended, is it still art? There are some who feel that once the art work is done, it belongs to the consumer of the art. That is why artists like Picasso were so unwilling to discuss what they meant by their work. I think that philosophers have focused on artist communication because if an artwork communicates a variety of different things, then the subjectivity of its apprehension confounds any clear definition of what art really is.

Michael Ducey said...

I guess that makes me think that ambiguous art might not be good art. It still might be art, but if we are allowed to take from it what we will, then what can we say about it? Picasso might have been reluctant to talk about his work, but I am sure we can all agree on what he was trying to accomplish with Guernica and many other pieces. Perhaps art that is less-than-great might have some ambiguity, but I doubt that would be something we would use as a characteristic of good art. And obviously I cannot imagine that an artist would approach a work without at least some goal in their mind, something they want to express. If it's "whatever," then what would a critic or audience think about that effort? Of course, that is not what you addressed. But I imagine that works that have the ability to inspire wildly different images, feelings, or ideas should not be classified in the highest tier. What that does for art that doesn't say anything to a person, I don't know. The Mona Lisa doesn't do anything for me, but it's one of the most identifiable works of art in existence. Is it good art? Perhaps there are more qualities than the message it transmits.

stefan cadra said...


It seems as though you are operating under the tenet that good art functions as vehicle for "a thousand words." Of course one of the important questions we ask ourselves when we experience an artwork is, "what were they trying to say?". But for this question to not be at least partially rhetorical is to reduce the artwork to an awkward cryptogram; a mere mental exercise at guessing what the thousand words were that the artist could have just written instead. At this point art is just a more entertaining way of presenting thoughts that could have been put into words to save time and preserve clarity of transmission. The difficulty of defining art lies in its complexity. Perhaps a definition would be more readily forthcoming if we were a race of telepathic beings, but uncertainty of the artist's true intent has always been an integral characteristic of art. Otherwise, why not just write it down? Can an object's art not lie simply in its ability to facilitate a dialog without taking a stand? Must the artist seek yo undertake a one-way transmission of ideas? You might not be wrong in thinking so, but I would certainly disagree since that is not my goal as a creator of sonic objects, which I like to label as art (deservedly or otherwise).

Michael Ducey said...

Okay, I will definitely agree on art being a complex thing, and not necessarily easy to pin down with one aspect (in this case, the message). But I would think that you would have to admit it plays an important role, even in the creation of "sonic objects." Take something you've written, perhaps your favorite piece. I am sure you must have some associations with it. So, imagine I was to hear that piece and say, "Oh, I understand. You're trying to tell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears! i hear it exactly!" and I go on and on about this section and that section and how they match up perfectly to the story. Would you say, "You're completely right!" or would you grimace, knowing that's not really what you were going for? Music can "paint a picture," can it not? I obviously do not have the musical background that you or most other people in this class do. But I have the feeling that songs are not really something you can interpret however you want. "Oooh! I can see this as a great theme song for Spongebob Squarepants!" I am using childish examples as an extreme case, but I would think that no one would think you can get whatever you want out of a piece of music. Heck, a large part of classical music is meaningless to me, yet I can see people thinking me stupid for saying Beethoven's 9th (or some other incredibly revered piece of symphony, you all pick) can tell me whatever I think it does. I can be wrong in my interpretation of music, can I not? And I think that comes down to message.

stefan cadra said...

Michael typed:
>>>>>>I can see people thinking me stupid for saying Beethoven's 9th (or some other incredibly revered piece of symphony, you all pick) can tell me whatever I think it does.

Actually far fewer than you might think.

As for the three bears analogy, you are assuming that I have concrete images associated with my works as I create them. This assumption would only lead one on a goose-chase for a phantom intent. Perhaps this would give you enjoyment (which would be fine by me), but it would not be The Truth of my work that you found (because there isn't one). Although I frequently force a subject by the way I title my works, I don't have anything in mind while I am writing them; at that point they are just potential sound. Seriously, it is not representational in the least until I title it. I'm not BS-ing anyone; I'm not trying to sound arcane; its just a fact. If you manage to crack a code that is not there, more power to you. The point is not to communicate with you in a specific way, but to stimulate something in you that words (thousands, millions, googolplexes) are incapable of. You can probably tell that I take less issue with Schopenhauer than the others we've studied. Of course, you could insist that there is a message in my works which I am just not aware of, but I would equate that to an insult of my intellect, similar to calling me a dumb ol' Rhapsode.

The essence of my previous post was that to boil art down to a substitute for words (which is what the requisite presence of a message does) is to render art as a futile but entertaining exercise incapable of expressing the non-verbal, which conversely is precisely where it excels. Yes, art can have a message, but that isn't a requirement. Most car motors have pistons, but they can also be electric or even rotary. Maybe you only like 4-8 cylinder motors, but that doesn't mean that the RX-7, with its Wankel-Rotor, isn't a car. While a message might be present in a great deal of art, it is not the criterion for an art object to be considered thusly.

There is no shortage of folks who are obsessed with correctness. We need these people to keep society from imploding. Many of them interpret art while few of them create it. I actually know a large number of artists and I can only think of one who fits the specific personality type I am referencing -- and he is quite unsuccessful, largely because he is obsessed with conforming to rules that don't really exist. What I'm getting at is that Philosophy Proper seems to be littered with inadequate attempts by non-artists to nail down a definition of "good art." I see the value in the pursuit; it causes us to scrutinize our concept of art, so that we may reserve the label for works of importance. But to search for an absolute solution (like the presence of a message)in all works of art is to miss the point.

I know, I know...

The point is this: The value of aesthetics seems to be in its drawing us closer to the concept of art, its forcing us to consider it more deeply; not in the universal definition it promises (but is unable) to provide. Or in other words: concerning art, the question is far more important than the answer, and great art is worth pondering, not solving.

Perhaps this rant will provoke some discussion as folks find themselves thinking, "What a jack-ass! Was he paying attention at all this semester?!".

Michael Ducey said...

Obviously I shouldn't make assumptions about how you compose, but I am going to, anyway. I assume you know music pretty well, and that you know how notes sound when they combine with each other, and how instruments sound when complimenting one another, etc. So, when you compose I imagine it can't be the case that you randomly string together a bunch of stuff and hope that it sounds good. You know how the music you put together will sound, and you know that certain sounds, combined in certain ways, can evoke certain feelings in people. That violin from Psycho certainly evokes a mood, even if someone hasn't seen the movie. Yanni doesn't make me want to go out and blow up a building (or maybe it does). My point is, while it may not be "concrete" to the point of precise, and to use an analogy, word-for-word production of something incredibly specific. But every piece, if it is to be called good art, succeeds at transmitting some kind of information to the audience. Perhaps some works we consider masterpieces do this incredibly well. Guernica comes to mind.

I think that all would agree there is something common in art. I don't any of us would agree on what that common thing is. But I think that there is an engine, a gas-burning engine, in all art. I can't tell you what. And that is what some of the people we have read have tried to do. I am also wondering why the fact that some of the people we have read are "non-artists" has to do with anything. I think a person can understand the production of art even without doing so. I am sure actually producing art is a benefit in most cases, but I don't see it as a requirement. Heck, some artists can't even describe their creative process to any reliable degree. Why can't we just judge the theory on it's own merit? And aesthetics itself never promised to give a universal theory of art. I think a large part of it was in just what you said- considering it more deeply. Sure, some aestheticians have made attempts, but they are just attempts at a theory in aesthetics. That's why we looked at so many. We hoped to accomplish exactly what you said- achieve a greater understanding so that we can more deeply consider art.

stefan cadra said...

Nasty, cynical parting shot for the semester, that isn't directly related to the previous post:

If an artist chooses to place art first among all the competitors for life-priority, why is it surprising that the artist would balk at the idea of the art serving a “greater” purpose? After all, it is number-one to the artist; it is created as its own end, whether or not it is co-opted by others to serve a “lesser” end. Don’t artists have the right to say what this thing they created is; or do they need scholars to explain their own art to them?

My favorite text this semester was on the supplemental reading list: The Art Question by Nigel Warburton. He more or less concludes that pursuit of a universal definition of art is a red herring and that we should instead focus on individual works rather than lumping them all together. It's a fascinating little read directed at practitioners and lovers of the arts. As soon as I'm done hogging it, you (plural) should give it a glance.

Now back to you, LeVar Burton...

*Reading Rainboooow*

stefan cadra said...

Regarding Michael's last post:

The point on which we differ is that you seem to be maintaining that an artist must have the intent to transmit something and I feel that there is the possibility for an artist to go out of their way to avoid transmission of a specific in favor of the hopeful stimulation of something nebulously personal in the viewer, completely divorced from anything the artist feels from the work. Many Romantic musical works did try to convey a specific idea, but it is not requisite to all art. All I'm trying to say is that the message can be there but it doesn't have to be. Otherwise, how do you explain Dada?

Bob Chanda said...


I think that this was Collingwood's point. An artist may transmit his feeling or emotion but the intentionality itself may take away from the art. Collingwood gives the example of the actor that tries to elicit emotion with his performance rather than actually feel the emotion onstage and allow the audience to honestly share that emotion. This resonates with me. I think as artists our intentionality has only to do with our creation of art. Once we apply it to creating specific reaction in the audience, then art becomes craft.

Michael Ducey said...

Well, I might be willing to agree with you about the nebulousity of some art, but isn't that itself something purposeful? Enciting mystery in the viwer/audience is something specific, in a way, right? And Dada is all about the message! It's about reacting to the horrors of the world. It's meant to give a statement about the meaninglessness of the world, and art. It was reactionary. Dada is all about the message!

stefan cadra said...

As for Bob's first two sentences -- That's assuming Collingwood's equation of the economy of emotional transmission with the success of art. One who disagrees with Collingwood on this point can say that intentionality can inarguably get in the way of emotive transmission, but if emotive transmission isn't one's goal and the transmission of something else is, then the transmission itself doesn't seem to take away from the art.

For Michael -- I see better where you're coming from now. I think we agree in our mutual view that art is communicative in nature, but differ in the degree of specificity we feel the communication can possess. Perhaps it is just a semantic difference as I don't equate the term "communication" with "message" and "transmission"-- I feel they can have differing degrees of specificity (message, of course requiring more, transmission implying some). Since I feel it is possible to communicate without message or transmission of a specific, then (for me) a message is something that art may have (and usually does), but needn't.

Imagine this scenario -- I think it's possible:

An artist goes to a gallery and sees a plain yellow canvas. The artist realizes that the painter of the yellow piece may have been trying to say something specific, but also realizes that due to the dearth of specifics in the painting it is impossible to know if one has figured out the true intent. The artist has been stimulated but has not received a specific transmission. The artist likes this idea and goes home to purposefully construct artworks communicative enough to stimulate something in the viewer (hey look! that seems to be intended to be viewed as art!) but vague enough that no specific intent can be discerned (what the hell are they trying to say?), thereby forcing the audience to supply a personal meaning (different for each viewer). Two people viewing the piece together could have a discussion about the piece, the topic of which might totally amaze the artist.

I think this sort of generic, anti-topical communication is possible through art.

stefan cadra said...

I know there is probably no chance anyone will see this post by now, but I had to link this video due to its exceptional topical hilarity.

It is a political attack ad against Kant, paid for by Nietzsche's campaign.