You might think that translucency is a good thing in a watercolor, but not in gouache. Versimilitude might be good in a portrait, but not in an expressionist landscape. And so on. On the other hand there is a logical (or with a stretch a "metaphysical") attribute that all good paintings have. They meet the criteria for excellence in paintings of that type. Helen Knight on the use of "good" in aesthetic connections is brilliant on this subject.
The wider question is what is the point of defining anything. Definitions really do not help us know anything precise about anything, they just establish some rough and ready parameters around the meaning of the term. Provided we grasp that, then definitions do no harm, but their application to try to restrict what we can say and do with terms causes more harm than good. Often we can hit the term right out of the ballpark without losing it, and this is very much the case with attempted definitions of something as complex as art.
A definition of art is useful to someone learning the language, but otherwise has no useful purpose.
I think the clue to answering your question (and answering no) is to think about your own brief answer: "It seems to me that this really must be so; otherwise, why would anyone even bother to even finish the thing in the first place." This assumes that the only reason someone would subject themselves to an experience is because of the pleasure it gives them. But why believe that? Not every worthwhile experience is a pleasurable experience.
I'd have thought, for instance, that some unquestioned works of art are profoundly disturbing and that this is part of their value. Whether we can conjure up some notion of "pleasure" according to which they also give pleasure seems to me doubtful but also beside the point. We might stretch the word "pleasure" so that any worthwhile experience automatically counts as a kind of pleasure. But if we do, we've robbed the word "pleasure" of much of its distinctive meaning.
You seem to have it in especially for Cage's 4'33". But suppose we agreed that it doesn't really deserve the name "work of art." There are plenty of arguments for that conclusion quite apart from the question of whether 4'3" gives anyone pleasure. Here's one: it's not clear what the work actually is. Here's a related one: two "performances" or instances of 4'3" might have more or less nothing in common except for their duration. Toward what is our aesthetic attention supposed to be directed? (Whether these are ultimately good arguments are not is another matter.)
Of course, there's a nearby question that may be a good substitute for yours: could something count as a work of art if the most reliable thing it did was annoy people? Perhaps the answer is no, though truth to tell, I suspect the answer just might be yes.
The answers to your questions will depend somewhat on which view of art we pick. What follows is vastly over-simple, but here we go:
On one broad class of views, nothing can be a work of art unless it has "aesthetic" properties. One version: it must be able to induce a kind of absorbed contemplation of the object's qualities. Porn, when it's doing its job, produces a rather different effect. (Of course so do a great many things that really count as art. The argument might be that those thing at least allow and reward a more detached contemplation. Your mileage may vary.)
Of course a film could be highly erotic -- even pornographic -- and yet have various aesthetic qualities that reward attention. But a dull and workaday piece of porn probably won't, and so isn't likely to count as art on aesthetic views.
A different kind of account holds that whether something is art can't be gleaned by considering the object itself. On this sort of view, what makes something art is that artists, galleries, critics and the "artworld" more generally considers it art. In slogan form: it's art if the artworld says it is. So suppose a recognized artist uses a badly-produced piece of porn to make some sort of artistic point, and the artworld goes along. Then your grainy porn of two schlumps stoically pumping away would enter the artworld and acquire the status of art. It might even have artistic merit. It's just that its artistic merit wouldn't be aesthetic merit, if we use that phrase for certain qualities of the work itself. It would have to do with the artistic "gesture" the artist made by using the porn in the way he did.
As for your tiff with Roger Ebert, the mere fact that you "considered" the dull and grainy porn flic better than Schindler's List or Citizen Caine or whatnot wouldn't get us very far. Judgments of artistic merit can be argued for. If you really think Grunts and Moans is better than Cries and Whispers, then you'll need to give some reasons; those reasons can be discussed and evaluated.
It's not always possible to settle disputes about which piece of art is better than which, but we sometimes can and we sometimes do. If we're comparing paintings, we might consider composition, use of color, handling of paint... For films it will be things such as direction, cinematography, editing... Disagreements about such things are often not conclusive, but there are plenty of clear cases, even if there's no easy way to spell out the rules.
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
Well I'm definitely no expert here, but often in our moral evaluations we take into account intention/motive (as perhaps one factor among others). And if one might arguably hold that "art" aims for some kind of "higher" purposes beyond merely sexual stimulation/titillation, then at least those works of art have some kind of additional value beyond their attractiveness (while, perhaps, the "soft porn" aims only for the stimulation....)
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).
I haven't read the Fried piece, but I do see that there is an obvious objection to "theatricality". The objection is that it is phony and therefore cheap. Or one could go further. One form of phoniness is insincerity, another is sentimentality. Consider for example the difference between Rembrandt's sketch of "A Young Woman Sleeping", in the British Museum, a modest but tender sketch of his girlfriend, and Käthe Kollwitz's brilliant but melodramatic sketches of mothers and children. I am not sure whether the objection is completely overwhelming, though. Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game, for example, is theatrical.
A very interesting question -- and while I know next to nothing about Kantian ethics, I might chip in here the observation that in a (clearly 'fictional' film) there is no particular, actual, individual human being who is being used as a 'means to an end' (unless of course the actors etc. are being exploited in some way by the director/producers etc...!). Perhaps humanity in some general way is being used, but no individual humans -- so I would imagine that the Kantian proscription wouldn't apply .... (Now if, in a film, the actors were representing actual particular individuals, even if in a fictional way -- like a highly fictionalized biopic, for example -- that might be a different story ....)
hope that's useful-