Advanced Search

A question about art for you. If consensus could be reached on a theoretical

Art
A question about art for you. If consensus could be reached on a theoretical definition of art, stating the necessary and sufficient conditions for anything to be called a work of art, would that imply a closing off of art, similar to art in say a former socialist country or a tight religious community that prescribes how art has to be? And if not, what use would the definition be? Would it have any effect on the production of art at all? Or was is the point of a theoretical definition of art? Thanks in advance.

Great questions. Today, standard reference works e.g. the Blackwell Companion to Aesthetics will offer a dozen variations of definitions of art that are of historical and contemporary interest. In my view, none of them are highly restrictive. The idea that works of art are mimetic or imitations or that art is expressive or a form of communication or it embodies emotions or works of art are intended to prompt aesthetic experiences or works of art are objects that make-up the art world, and so on, can each recognize and possibly inspire multiple, almost limitless kinds of works of art. There will be cases, however, when some works of art fit some definitions or philosophies of art better than others. There are works of art today that seem so conceptual and austere from an aesthetic point of view that the aesthetic account of art and art-making is stressed. For the record, I defend an aesthetic account of works of art --see Aesthetics: A beginner's guide.

I suggest that the whole undertaking by philosophers and sometimes by philosophers who are themselves artists like Leo Tolstoy to arrive at a definition of art is somewhat like an ecologist discerning what counts as a healthy ecosystem. The project is not a matter of strict scientific observation but involves balancing a host of factors and equally competent ecologists might differ in terms of the weight they give to different factors e.g. how much weight should be given to human needs and preferences vs nonhuman animals, plants.... Just as an ecologist concept of a healthy ecosystem might guide practical decisions about human development, sometimes a definition or philosophy of art might guide a curator's decision-making and the public receptivity to shows / exhibits / public art. The situation seems slightly different from another domain of philosophy: epistemology or the theory of knowledge. I doubt whether ordinary persons who claim to know this or that ever hesitate in making these claims until they consult formal philosophical work on knowledge. Similarly, there are probably few artists who feel they need to regularly consult The British Journal of Aesthetics or the Blackwell Companion in the course of their art making! But I believe it is fair to observe that many artists in many cultural contexts today *and many museums and art galleries work with some assumptions about what makes something a work of art. One motivation for philosophers to examine such assumptions is to open up dialogue about when such assumptions might be too restrictive or permissive. A good example of a philosopher who sought to advance a philosophy of art that had some normative consequences is the late Monroe Beardsley. He defended what is known as an aesthetic account of art and he used this to present arguments for the unique importance of art work in a democratic republic. If you are interested in seeing how a philosophy of art might be employed to make a case that the public should support the arts, Beardsley's work is highly recommended. The free and online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries on such topics is an excellent reference and guide.

Great questions. Today, standard reference works e.g. the Blackwell Companion to Aesthetics will offer a dozen variations of definitions of art that are of historical and contemporary interest. In my view, none of them are highly restrictive. The idea that works of art are mimetic or imitations or that art is expressive or a form of communication or it embodies emotions or works of art are intended to prompt aesthetic experiences or works of art are objects that make-up the art world, and so on, can each recognize and possibly inspire multiple, almost limitless kinds of works of art. There will be cases, however, when some works of art fit some definitions or philosophies of art better than others. There are works of art today that seem so conceptual and austere from an aesthetic point of view that the aesthetic account of art and art-making is stressed. For the record, I defend an aesthetic account of works of art --see Aesthetics: A beginner's guide. I suggest that the whole undertaking by...

Dear sir/madam

Dear sir/madam I would really appreciate it if you could help me please with finding the name of some books about early concept of the relation of art and morality. what I mean is after Plato and Aristotle to the time of Kant. Or if it is possible, please give me some names of philosophers during that time and then I'll try to find their books. I want to work on the early relation of them and later show how and why they became some how separate in later years. I guess Kant has the most effect on it but I still need more resources.

I wish you all the best in your research and thinking about art and ethics. Here are some contemporary thinkers you would find engaging: Noel Carroll --his "Moderate Moralism" (originally published in the British Journal of Aesthetics in 1996 is not the "latest" but Carroll is a clear, engaging writer and he references some of the contributors to the issues at hand. Jerrold Levinson has an excellent anthology on aesthetics and ethics, Berys Gaut is another philosopher of interest, and Martha Nussbaum has probably been the most well published contributor seeking to tie moral education together with literature.

In terms of early modern work, the "sentimentalists" (those who sought to understand both beauty and goodness) such as Hutchison would be good to investigate.

I have a short book "Aesthetics: A Beginner's Guide" that addresses the relationship of ethics, beauty and excellence or the value of art.

One reason for thinking that ethics trumps our concept of the autonomy of art (that is, thinking about the arts as quite independent of ethics) is that certain so-called "works of art" involving violence agains innocent persons would be described by most people as "crimes" "atrocities" "murder" rather than "works of art" or "works of art that involve unjust, criminal acts"... Imagine OJ Simpson claimed that he did kill his wife and her friend but this was a work of art (a happening). If this was taken seriously and art journals like Art in America ran reviews of the murder in terms of the event's aesthetic features, I think most people would think it was a bad joke or a matter of irony or, if serious, the magazine should be re-named Crime in America or Confused in America or some such variant.

I wish you all the best in your research and thinking about art and ethics. Here are some contemporary thinkers you would find engaging: Noel Carroll --his "Moderate Moralism" (originally published in the British Journal of Aesthetics in 1996 is not the "latest" but Carroll is a clear, engaging writer and he references some of the contributors to the issues at hand. Jerrold Levinson has an excellent anthology on aesthetics and ethics, Berys Gaut is another philosopher of interest, and Martha Nussbaum has probably been the most well published contributor seeking to tie moral education together with literature. In terms of early modern work, the "sentimentalists" (those who sought to understand both beauty and goodness) such as Hutchison would be good to investigate. I have a short book "Aesthetics: A Beginner's Guide" that addresses the relationship of ethics, beauty and excellence or the value of art. One reason for thinking that ethics trumps our concept of the autonomy of art (that is,...

A friend of mine thinks that we can define art as 'a statement of creativity'. I

Art
A friend of mine thinks that we can define art as 'a statement of creativity'. I'm not sure I agree with him but am struggling with working out what a 'statement' is. Has any philosopher written about this question? Is it possible to define a statement?

You and your friend are on to a great topic that has a long and important history. The term art is derived from the Latin term for a principled way of making thing or in Greek from the term techne ... from this standpoint in the ancient world the term art would be shorthand for a work of art ore that which is produced through principled activity... In the ancient world, art was understood to involve imitation a painting of a horse should in some way offer us an image that imitates what it would be like to see a horse. As time moved on, we started to think of works of art as not imitations but as expressions of feelings or ideas. Your friend is on to something important: some works of art are intended to be and actually are making statements and to do so with creativity. One of the two most famous, well known paintings in the world are Michaelangelos ceiling painting of the creation. One may see this as both a work of creativity and expressing a doctrine humans are creations of God....and it may also function as presenting us many other things, expressing the artists Platonism his belief that the soul exists prior to the body or even as a statement about the importance of an older generation to pass along its power to a younger generation and so on. But it would be hard to classify ALL works of art as making statements and many creative statements do not seem to be works of art. So, some works of art are purely sensuous or too enigmatic to count as making statements think of colorfield paintings.

You can find ample sources that will present you with some stimulating proposals about what makes something a work of art in the online philosophical encyclopedias. I wrote an introduction to aesthetics with chapters that may interest you on works of art, how to recognize and evaluate them, is a short book: Aesthetics, A Beginners Guide

Published by OneWolrd Press, Oxford

You and your friend are on to a great topic that has a long and important history. The term art is derived from the Latin term for a principled way of making thing or in Greek from the term techne ... from this standpoint in the ancient world the term art would be shorthand for a work of art ore that which is produced through principled activity ... In the ancient world, art was understood to involve imitation a painting of a horse should in some way offer us an image that imitates what it would be like to see a horse. As time moved on, we started to think of works of art as not imitations but as expressions of feelings or ideas. Your friend is on to something important: some works of art are intended to be and actually are making statements and to do so with creativity. One of the two most famous, well known paintings in the world are Michaelangelos ceiling painting of the creation. One may see this as both a work of creativity and expressing a doctrine ...

Dear sir/madam

Art
Dear sir/madam I'm a phd student of philosophy of art in Iran. as it's a new field of study here, we, all the students, are not completely familiar with recent topics and new approaches in this field at the latest decade. i would appreciate it if you could tell me please how can i get to know these topics or you just suggest some new approaches or books that opened a new look to aesthetics. best regards, Hana H.

Greetings to you. For the last decade, you might want to logon to the British Journal of Aesthetics and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. The latest topics seem to be a continuation of the classical questions: what is beauty? what is the meaning of a work of art (does the intention of the artist bear on this question)? The difference between art and non-art continues to be vexing, there is new work on the theory of the meaning of music (on this point, I highly recommend the work of Lydia Goehr at Columbia University--perhaps check out her home page for references). Noel Carroll continues to do brilliant work exploring almost every area of the art world and experimenting with what might be called beyond aesthetics in terms of works of art. There is an interesting cross-over in philosophy of art and philosophy of religion in such books as The Image in Mind and Turning Images, and in the work of David Brown, Mark Wynn, and Douglas Hedley. Pragmatism in art has made something of a come-back in the work of Richard Shusterman. For an update until 2001 I recommend the reliable reference work The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. I wrote for Oneworld Press: Aesthetics: A Beginner's Guide, which (obviously) I recommend (and not just out of self-interest) but it is intended for a general, well-educated readership, and not focussed (as I think you are) on the cutting edge, though attention is given to the "avant guarde."

I should add, though, that while it is commendable to be up-to-date on the latest work, often the long-term, "classical" questions still remain for deeper reflection and engagement. I think that when 20th century aesthetics is reviewed in the course of time, there will be a place for Kandinsky, etc., but I would bet my money that Monroe Beardsley will be remembered as a reliable guide to the field of aesthetics. His insights, sensitivity, and charm are hard to resist, even though I disagree with him on a range of points. So, if I was in Iran today, I would get my hands of Beardsley's work, followed by the extraordinary and well argued perspective of Colin Lyas and Gary Iseminger. Then, check out the journals noted above, which should prove useful and fruitful for further engagement!

All good wishes, Charles

Greetings to you. For the last decade, you might want to logon to the British Journal of Aesthetics and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. The latest topics seem to be a continuation of the classical questions: what is beauty? what is the meaning of a work of art (does the intention of the artist bear on this question)? The difference between art and non-art continues to be vexing, there is new work on the theory of the meaning of music (on this point, I highly recommend the work of Lydia Goehr at Columbia University--perhaps check out her home page for references). Noel Carroll continues to do brilliant work exploring almost every area of the art world and experimenting with what might be called beyond aesthetics in terms of works of art. There is an interesting cross-over in philosophy of art and philosophy of religion in such books as The Image in Mind and Turning Images, and in the work of David Brown, Mark Wynn, and Douglas Hedley. Pragmatism in art has made something of a come-back...

Is there an essence of Art that all art shares, or is art just a category into

Art
Is there an essence of Art that all art shares, or is art just a category into which we lump a contingent collection of cultural pursuits?

Excellent question! There are a number of theories of art over the centuries that philosophers have proposed. For Plato and Aristotle art involved what they called techne (technique) and imitation (mimisis), for romantics (and this was especially advanced by Tolstoy), art involved the expression of emotions under certain conditions, for others works of art involve the embodiment of emotions, and there are still other theories. A view of art that comes closest to your suggestion about our lumping together "a contingent collection of cultural pursuits" is called the institutional theory of art --introduced in different forms by George Dickie and Arthur Danto. A very crude version is that a work of art is whatever is identified as a work of art by the artworld.

I personally think the latter is not the best way to go philosophically, as it leaves one without any guidance as to what someone in the art world should recognize as a work of art, and it also seems somewhat circular, like defining science as that which scientists do. I gravitate toward what is called an aesthetic theory of art. An object (event, thing, process....) is a work of art if it is made (or framed) to be the object of an aesthetic experience. By 'aesthetic experience' I mean (essentially) the emotive qualities of an object (its sadness, joy, solitariness, moodiness, beauty, ugliness, etc). The theory faces dozens of objections and there are (I believe) good replies to them. I defend this account and face objections in Aesthetics: A Beginner's Guide (Oneworld Press).

Excellent question! There are a number of theories of art over the centuries that philosophers have proposed. For Plato and Aristotle art involved what they called techne (technique) and imitation (mimisis), for romantics (and this was especially advanced by Tolstoy), art involved the expression of emotions under certain conditions, for others works of art involve the embodiment of emotions, and there are still other theories. A view of art that comes closest to your suggestion about our lumping together "a contingent collection of cultural pursuits" is called the institutional theory of art --introduced in different forms by George Dickie and Arthur Danto. A very crude version is that a work of art is whatever is identified as a work of art by the artworld. I personally think the latter is not the best way to go philosophically, as it leaves one without any guidance as to what someone in the art world should recognize as a work of art, and it also seems somewhat circular, like defining science as...

What role does a museum play in determining the status of an art object? That is

Art
What role does a museum play in determining the status of an art object? That is, if a painting, installation, etc. is shown in a museum, surrounded by other art, selected by a curatorial authority for exhibit (like a peer reviewed article in a scinece journal), do we experience or confer aesthetic values differently than if we encountered the same piece displayed on a neighbor's wall?

This is a central question in the philosophy of art! There is what is known as the institutional theory of art advanced by George Dickie, according to which a work of art is an artifact that is recognized as art by what he called the Artworld (a world that would definitely include museums and galleries). I suggest that the institutional theory is not the most promising, for it does not speak to what it is about artifacts that makes them interesting to museums. (For Dickie's views, see his book Art and the Aesthetic for an early version of the institutional account). But beyond that, I do think that settings such as a museum or gallery can make a difference to one's aesthetic experience of an object, partly because these institutions generate certain expectations and often convey information about the history of the objects. But there does not have to be a difference. Some works of art on a neighbor's wall might look just as beautiful or ugly, original or derivative, witty or flat footed, as they would in a museum, gallery, studio, on a bus or in an open field. I address some of these issues in a book called Aesthetics: A Beginner's Guide (OneWorld Press), if you are interested in a follow up text.

This is a central question in the philosophy of art! There is what is known as the institutional theory of art advanced by George Dickie, according to which a work of art is an artifact that is recognized as art by what he called the Artworld (a world that would definitely include museums and galleries). I suggest that the institutional theory is not the most promising, for it does not speak to what it is about artifacts that makes them interesting to museums. (For Dickie's views, see his book Art and the Aesthetic for an early version of the institutional account). But beyond that, I do think that settings such as a museum or gallery can make a difference to one's aesthetic experience of an object, partly because these institutions generate certain expectations and often convey information about the history of the objects. But there does not have to be a difference. Some works of art on a neighbor's wall might look just as beautiful or ugly, original or derivative, witty or flat footed, as they...

I am very interested in the idea of aesthetics as a spiritual phenomenom.

I am very interested in the idea of aesthetics as a spiritual phenomenom. Spirituality for me is not something limited to one religion. I recently bought the Routledge companion to Aesthetics and I also have a collection of academic essays in aesthetics that is supposed to be comprehensive. But I am very disappointed, the only essays or chapters that relate aesthetics with spirituality are those of 19th century German thinkers but no thinkers that are modern. I would really like to study this subject (probably entirely outside the university) and contribute an article in a journal but I don't know the names of those journals or if any exist. So what journals are there on that subject? (the intersection of spirituality and aesthetics)

There is quite a good literature on aesthetics that gets at spirituality. I co-authored a recent book (out last year) with the American artist Jil Evans: The image in mind (Continuum) that gets at the aesthetic dimension of different ways of viewing the world (principally theism and naturalism) and we have a co-edited book Turning Images with Oxford that deals with aesthetics and religion / spirituality. An older book which has an excellent collection of different thinkers is: Art, Creativity, and the Sacred edited by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. Gordon Graham has a good book: The Re-enchantment of the Word (OUP 2007), and Oxford has published an amazing series of five books on aesthetics and theology or the sacred by David Brown. It is disappointing that the Routledge volume did not include more on spirituality, as many of those who contributed to aesthetics historically and quite recently have had spiritual concerns. Plato's dialogue on beauty, the Symposium, is partly about the ascent of the soul to the higher beauties, and it deeply impacted subsequent religious thinkers and artists. Three quite diverse thinkers from the 20th century who thought of aesthetics in spiritual terms include Kandinsky, Dewey, and Tolstoy. Good wishes!

There is quite a good literature on aesthetics that gets at spirituality. I co-authored a recent book (out last year) with the American artist Jil Evans: The image in mind (Continuum) that gets at the aesthetic dimension of different ways of viewing the world (principally theism and naturalism) and we have a co-edited book Turning Images with Oxford that deals with aesthetics and religion / spirituality. An older book which has an excellent collection of different thinkers is: Art, Creativity, and the Sacred edited by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. Gordon Graham has a good book: The Re-enchantment of the Word (OUP 2007), and Oxford has published an amazing series of five books on aesthetics and theology or the sacred by David Brown. It is disappointing that the Routledge volume did not include more on spirituality, as many of those who contributed to aesthetics historically and quite recently have had spiritual concerns. Plato's dialogue on beauty, the Symposium, is partly about the ascent of the soul to...

Do most aesthetic theorists in philosophy think that things beside art can be

Do most aesthetic theorists in philosophy think that things beside art can be aesthetic (such as everyday life when not presented with art)? Or is that something only a few philosophers advocate (such as Dewey and Wittgenstein)?

Most aestheticians make the distinction between aesthetics and philosophy of art, with "aesthetics" being the wider term and "philosophy of art" the narrower one. "Philosophy of art" is only the philosophy of works of art or art objects as they are unappealingly called these days. In other words, these philosophers accept that it is not only works of art to which the terms of aesthetic appraisal apply, such as "attractive", "unattractive", "lovely", not lovely", "unlovely", "majestic", "grubby", "oily", and on and on, without end. They also apply to the human face and the human form, to nature and parts of nature, including natural landscapes, the sea, etc. There is practically no word, I believe, that cannot one way or another be used as a term of aesthetic appraisal. The aesthetic is everywhere; a happy thought.

HIstorically and today, most who practice aesthetics treat the aesthetic as involving more than works of art. The term "aesthetics" was introduced in the 19th cedntury to stand for sensory experience and only later came to be used in a way that was specific to works of art, but most of the important works in the field of aesthetics (like Kant's Critique of Judgment) think of (for example) treat the natural world in aesthetic terms. The definition of "aesthetic" is not air tight, however, but I suggest its most common usage denotes the emotive features of objects. An excellent book on the aesthetic in general, and works of art in particular, is Gary Iseminger's The Aesthetic Function of Art (Cornell University Press, 2004). While Dewey did a great job in highlighting the aesthetics of life outside the world of art (he was highly critical of some of the museum cultures of his day), some philosophers are swayed by what they see as non-aesthetic features of artwork. On this front, you might want to...

what is the difference between art & aesthetics?

Art
what is the difference between art & aesthetics?

Great question. 'Aesthetics' is usually used as a term to refer to two things: a field of inquiry and a type of experience. The field of aesthetics covers the philosophy of beauty and the philosophy of art. In the philosophy of art you cover questions about the very concept of art (what is the difference between art and non-art), the meaning and evaluation of artwork, and more. 'Aesthetics' is also used to refer to experiences that are emotive: an object has aesthetic properties insofar as it is experienced as gloomy, joyful, confused, angry, seductive, and so on. Some people connect art and aesthetics when they claim that an art object, X, is that which has been made with the intention that X be the object of aesthetic experience. There are all kinds of arguments about this.... Someone may object that given such a definition of a work of art, this reply to you is a work of art for I am intending it to be experienced aesthetically (I hope, for example, you find this reply friendly and helpful, rather than irritatingly confused), but, arguably, this reply is not a work of art. I just wrote a book called Aesthetics: A Beginner's Guide (Continuum, 2011) that seeks to sort out such objections. The book actually defends a robust account of beauty and an aesthetics-based definition of what it is to be a work of art. Good wishes, CT

Great question. 'Aesthetics' is usually used as a term to refer to two things: a field of inquiry and a type of experience. The field of aesthetics covers the philosophy of beauty and the philosophy of art. In the philosophy of art you cover questions about the very concept of art (what is the difference between art and non-art), the meaning and evaluation of artwork, and more. 'Aesthetics' is also used to refer to experiences that are emotive: an object has aesthetic properties insofar as it is experienced as gloomy, joyful, confused, angry, seductive, and so on. Some people connect art and aesthetics when they claim that an art object, X, is that which has been made with the intention that X be the object of aesthetic experience. There are all kinds of arguments about this.... Someone may object that given such a definition of a work of art, this reply to you is a work of art for I am intending it to be experienced aesthetically (I hope, for example, you find this reply friendly and helpful,...

We seem to take it for granted that some works of art or fiction have "aesthetic

We seem to take it for granted that some works of art or fiction have "aesthetic value", which is classed as being of higher value than mere "entertainment value". However, the two don't actually seem that different. Both are values mainly of pleasure, not usefulness or truth; both can criticize or reveal; both can be judged by fixed standards, or based on personal taste. So what is the real distinction between aesthetic and entertainment value, other than that we hold aesthetic value in higher regard?

The way you have framed the question makes it a little hard to answer, as the term "aesthetic" is often used to refer to a wide range of experiences. So, in the broadest sense of the word, the aesthetic properties of an event or thing are its affective or emotive properties, e.g. a melancholy field, joyful music, a haunting conversation. Perhaps most of our experiences have some affective dimension --even our exchange (which I hope is friendly and welcoming). In this broad sense of 'aesthetic,' entertainment films, books, plays all have aesthetic features and values (some are witty, joyful, insipid, sexy, etc). I suspect that the question behind the question concerns what some might call "high art" versus the works one finds in popular or mass culture (the world of entertainment). On this general topic, philosophers today seem to be having a field day doing philosophy in the context of popular culture. There are dozens (at least 50 and growing) books out now by professional philosophers on such topics as football, Harry Potter, Superheroes, the television show Lost, the Simpsons, the Beetles, Batman, James Bond, Narnia, and more. So, the current state of play in philosophy is to value doing philosophy with the classics (philosophers have done important work inspired by Dante, Dostoevski, Greek tragedy) but also with a wide range of books, films, television that many might think of as merely entertainment. We are, in other words, or many of us are, on your side in wanting to find value in as wide a source of creative endeavors as we can, including works of entertainment. Though there are limits.... I do not know of any plans for the publication of a book called People Magazine and Philosophy. Two presses that are very big on philosophy and popular culture are Wiley Blackwell and Open Court.

The way you have framed the question makes it a little hard to answer, as the term "aesthetic" is often used to refer to a wide range of experiences. So, in the broadest sense of the word, the aesthetic properties of an event or thing are its affective or emotive properties, e.g. a melancholy field, joyful music, a haunting conversation. Perhaps most of our experiences have some affective dimension --even our exchange (which I hope is friendly and welcoming). In this broad sense of 'aesthetic,' entertainment films, books, plays all have aesthetic features and values (some are witty, joyful, insipid, sexy, etc). I suspect that the question behind the question concerns what some might call "high art" versus the works one finds in popular or mass culture (the world of entertainment). On this general topic, philosophers today seem to be having a field day doing philosophy in the context of popular culture. There are dozens (at least 50 and growing) books out now by professional philosophers on such...

Pages