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This semester I started attending a seminar on (I'm translating from German hear

This semester I started attending a seminar on (I'm translating from German hear) "The Meaning of Art". The professor began with a long-winded speech about how most people, hearing the title, would no doubt assume the topic is the role of art in our lives. He then went on to say that the question of art's role in society/our lives is incoherent if we don't first develop an understanding of the nature of art itself (particularly to what extent it is communicative), and that we will therefore focus more on the question of the nature of art rather than its role. This seems, to me, to be backwards. Art doesn't exist in presocial a void. How are we supposed to understand the nature of art without looking at the role it plays in society? I would think that especially the question of whether art is communicative can only be answered by looking at whether it is used to communicate, i.e. its role in society. Am I misunderstanding the claim, or is the professors approach genuinely backwards?

Let me make a remark in support of your long-winded professor, and I am afraid that sort of pedagogy does rather go with the discipline.

I think your professor is right, and perhaps he felt he needed to make the point at some length, as often happens in such cases. Art does have a role in society, but then so do many things, and unless you know what art is, how can you distinguish between its role and that of other cultural forms? Many things are used to communicate also, and not all of them are art, so it is worth spending some time deciding what art actually is first.

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

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.

Are certain artistic mediums more adept at expressing human experience than

Are certain artistic mediums more adept at expressing human experience than others?

In theplayful spirit of Professor Nahmias, let me defend architecture! What could be more fundamental human experiences than sheltering; being safe and warm; having a place that is yours or your family's; having a place that is private (these are all descriptions of the home); or alternatively, a place to fulfill oneself through work, to trade, to meet in order to debate and decide important matters, to watch theatre or movies, buy or borrow books, to worship, to pay respects, to be healed, to watch the beautiful game, and etc. (public or commercial buildings)?

We need to decide what we mean by 'experience', I suppose -- for example, do we mean big human and social needs, as in my answer, or do we mean intimate and personal matters? -- and also what we mean by 'adept at expressing' -- for example, does this mean able to produce an experience, able to communicate its meaning, able to make someone sympathise with an emotion?.

Is there any discussion about how art is highly individualistic with respect not

Is there any discussion about how art is highly individualistic with respect not to its content but the fact that most works of art, at least traditional art like painting, sculpture, etc., are created by single individuals, rather than groups? I've heard it said that Western art is highly individualistic while Eastern is not, and that this is a reflection of cultural differences; however, with respect to the artist as a single person, Eastern and Western art seem the same. Why is art such an individual creation? Perhaps one person has great vision and another great technique; why haven't there been numerous pairs like this throughout history who've worked together on creating paintings?

It's not clear to me that it is correct that Western art--even in media such as sculpture and painting--is indeed historically such an individual creation. In the Renaissance, there were workshops, with masters and apprentices; some contemporary artists, such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, have had certain of their works fabricated by others; the sculptor Richard Serra has his large steel pieces cast by industrial foundries. This is not to deny that the idea of the artist as individual creator doesn't persist, and that it doesn't capture the practice of many artists: I do, however, think that this very idea has a history that might well merit investigation that could illuminate its origin and power.

Hello Philosophers. My question regards to the philosophy of art. Were there any

Hello Philosophers. My question regards to the philosophy of art. Were there any other philosophers that outlined essential criteria relating to beauty or other ways of critiquing an artwork like Kant had the 4 criteria for beauty. Thanks Callum, 16.

Hello, Callum; thanks for your question. Before Kant, there was a tradition in Enlightenment thinking about the nature of beauty and how we are able to perceive it. This tradition often referred to what was called the "faculty of taste" to distinguish this form of perception from other so-called faculties. The history runs roughly from Lord Shaftesbury, through Hutcheson, Burke, Hume, and then through Kant to Schopenhauer. A useful overview of this trajectory is in a book by George Dickie called _Evaluating Art_.


Mitch Green

why is it that an exact replica of art is valued less than the original even

why is it that an exact replica of art is valued less than the original even though the aesthetic aspects are still the same?

One obvious difference is that the original is 'scarcer' and thus the laws of supply and demand lead it to become 'more valued'. Also, the original has at least one potentially valuable attribute the replica does not have, the attribute of being 'made by the original artist.' Finally, it seems to me that most appreciators of art will deny your main premise... the claim that there is such a thing as an 'exact replica' of art.

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!

Often, it seems experts and critics are at odds with the general public as to

Often, it seems experts and critics are at odds with the general public as to what works of art are good; many well-received films have performed poorly at the box office despite marketing, for example, while many blockbusters have been derided by film critics. What is going on, in these cases? Is it just a difference of opinion, and if so, why is there such a role as a "film critic"? Or do critics detect quality that the average moviegoer can't, and do they see through the presumably shallow pleasures enjoyed by moviegoers? How is it even possible to tell the nature of the disagreement in these situations?

The question of the relation between the judgments of professional critics and those of 'people on the street', as it were, especially with respect to works of mass culture such as movies and--albeit, I think, to a much lesser extent--pop songs, television, and also literature (which I think, even in its 'literary' as opposed to 'pulp' or 'genre' incarnations, is now properly considered part of mass culture)--is a very interesting question, which raises general issues about the reception of art (including 'high' art such as photography, painting, sculpture, theater, etc.), as well as about the relation between art and commerce.

It is true that many 'well-received' films have not performed 'well' at the box office--if by 'well' here one means something like making the list of top-ten grossing films now widely referred to by media outlets (a relatively new phenomenon, I might add)--despite receiving considerable critical acclaim. Olivier Assayas's five-hour film, Carlos, which, if I remember correctly, was judged in the annual year-end round-up published by Film Comment to be the best film of 2010--an accurate judgment, to my mind, for what it's worth--had miniscule box office receipts. However, it should be noted, first, that the film wasn't widely released (even the shortened version of the film wasn't widely released), and hence its gross box-office receipts aren't an especially good guide to how well it did at the box office: more telling would be its per-screen average. But other films lauded by critics don't even make it into theaters outside of New York City, Los Angeles, and a few other select metropolitan areas; still other films are never released for theatrical distribution. So one reason that films lauded as the best of any given year may not do well at the box office as others is because many of them don't even have the opportunity to draw box-office receipts. By contrast, since the Hollywood movie industry is an industry--albeit one that also produces works of art, such as, for example, Wall-E--its eye is on the bottom line (as are the eyes of studios who produce shows for television, which are, arguably, vehicles for bringing advertisements to the attention of potential consumers), and its aim is to sell as many tickets as possible, by appealing to as many people as possible.

Historically, however, 'new' or innovative art has been a hard sell--the booing of the ballet Afternoon of a Faun is a classic example, as is the general public bewilderment at the work of the 'Impressionists', shows of whose work are now art museum cash cows, 'blockbusters', even: consequently, it is unsurprising that studios would not want to risk the expense of putting innovative, experimental work into even relatively wide release--unless the filmmaker is very well known, vide Terence Malick--and not recouping their investment. Moreover, while many 'big' studio movies--e.g., summer 'tent pole' movies--have been criticized, and, I think, rightly so, by critics for not being very good despite selling lots of tickets, there are 'blockbusters', such as the movies in the first Star Wars tetralogy, or Jaws, or, more recently Avatar, that are recognized by critics as interesting and important works of art in certain respects as well. (To be sure, in the past three decades, there has been something of a backlash against the 'blockbusterization' of Hollywood, which reflects both a nostalgia for the 'rebel' filmmakers of the seventies, when innovative film was made within the studio system, as well as a concern that too close an eye on the bottom line is impeding the development of film as an art form--a worry that I think is misplaced--or leading viewers to form expectations for film that make it difficult for more 'difficult' films to receive an audience--a worry that may be in order, but which applies, mutatis mutandis to literature, without any especially deletorious effects for that art form, although the major difference is that it is far more expensive to create a film than a novel, although even that is beginning to change as technology changes.)

I don't think, however, that in cases when there is a wide divergence between critical assessment of a movie and its gross revenues (from the box office, DVD sales, rentals, etc.), that this reflects a genuine disagreement between critics and the general public. Critics may be assessing whether the work in question is a good or interesting example of the art of film; it's not clear that the large crowds who make a film a 'blockbuster' see it because they want to see the development of the medium of film: they may just want to be entertained, and a more 'difficult', 'experimental' film may just not be very entertaining. (One has to be in the right frame of mind to attend to Meek's Cutoff; one doesn't have to be mentally prepared in the same way to see Planet of the Apes. This is not, of course, to say that there weren't many great things about both the original and the remake of Planet of the Apes.) Grosses simply track how many people paid to see a film in some format; they can, but needn't track the quality of a film. But critics don't, I think, assess every film in the same way: even 'highbrow' critics do not reflexively prefer 'difficult', 'experimental' film to 'genre' film: indeed, to my mind, in judging a film, a good critic should take into account what kind of work a film is meant to be. And there are, of course, different ways of being a critic--although, sadly, there are fewer and fewer film critics, just as there are fewer and fewer book critics, being employed these days. And the merits of a critic, are, I think, as variable as the merits of films: certain critics may appeal to certain people, other critics to others.

But let a thousand flowers bloom, I say: let there be different types of critics, different types of films, and let them be as accessible as possible to the viewing public!

If someone is interacting with an interactive art installation, what is their

If someone is interacting with an interactive art installation, what is their role? Are they part audience, part artist? Are they still just an audience, or do terms like audience and artist cease to make sense in such cases?

A great question. It has never been the case that the role of'artist' and 'viewer' have been as clear cut as we would like. Firstof all, historically, many 'artists' were anonymous craftspeople whoprobably worked collaboratively -- and collaborative art works havereturned more recently as an important category within the art world.Second, in the 20th century, many artists experimented withstrategies designed to introduce either randomness into their works,or allow their 'unconscious' selves to be expressed.

On the side of the viewer, we tend to think of the viewer asindividual, and as neutral. By 'neutral' I mean not adding anythingto the work or contributing anything to its meaning. But bothconcepts are clearly ideal situations, at best. Theatrical works, forexample, rely upon the viewers being a crowd and moreover behaving asa crowd. Related, a great deal of philosophical work has pursued theidea that the 'reception' of the work is not to be located in anindividual or group of individuals, but is a historical phenomenon. Awork of art designed to shock an audience in 1910 is no longer foundshocking -- if the 'shock' was part of the work originally, then itis difficult to avoid the conclusion that the work of art has beenchanged by the change in its viewers. Similarly, the neutrality ofthe viewer is questionable, since individual likes and dislikes, andmore importantly different types of background knowledge, willgreatly influence the event of viewing. So, for example, a Medievalreligious fresco will be an entirely different object for a casualtourist as for an expert in iconography.

So, arguably at least, the situation you describe with respect toinstallation art is just an exacerbation of, or a making explicit of,what was already the case: the work of art is not primarily aphysical object, but is rather an event of some kind.

Is it possible for an action or an event to be beautiful? If so, what does this

Is it possible for an action or an event to be beautiful? If so, what does this descriptor mean? Are we appealing to the same aesthetics we are when judging works of art, or objects?

I hope it is possible, otherwise I am in trouble. As a boxing trainer and writer, I have found a number of bouts to be of staggering beauty. I don't believe that I use the same criterion of beauty for boxing as I do for, say, sunsets or for that matter poetry. I'm not sure what would follow if there were indeed something like harmony that was present in all things that we judged to be beautiful, but it doesn't seem to me as if there is any such thing. Thanks.