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Can a set of rules constitute a form of art? This seems to be one way to get at

Can a set of rules constitute a form of art? This seems to be one way to get at the question of whether games (chess, basketball, video games etc.) should be considered art.

It's pretty clear that the rules of chess don't count as a work of art. That's not a comment on the virtues or beauty of the rules; it's a comment on what we count as an artwork. As it is, particular chess matches/basketball games... also don't count, though we might get a good deal of aesthetic pleasure from contemplating them.

Is there anything necessary about this? I'd say no. The view of what counts as art that I find most plausible is some version of what's called the institutional view. Art is a human practice -- an institution in the broad sense. Though there are no strict criteria, to count as an artwork, something has to be related to the conventions, practices, etc. of art in the right sort of way. But just what that comes to can and does change.

This might raise chicken/egg worries, but those aren't actually very pressing. There are undeniable cases of artworks, artists, art museums, art critics, art afficianados, etc. To use the not-entirely-satisfactory term, there is an artworld. It may be that most artworks were deliberately made to be objects of aesthetic contemplation, but not everything that we count as an artwork fits that criterion, and not everything that rewards aesthetic contemplation counts as an artwork. More generally, what counts keeps expanding. Performance art is a relatively recent form. So (for better or worse) are conceptual art and what we quaintly call "found art." Seeing art as a matter of what "the artworld" sees as art helps make sense of this. But where does it leave games and their rules?

To repeat what we started with, the rules of games like chess or baseball aren't counted as artworks and neither are particular matches. Video games (not their rules but the finished products, graphics, sound and all) probably aren't either, though I'm a little less confident of that. But all this could change. It's not hard to imagine a new performance artform developing that incorporates the playing of games. And though it seems less likely, we can't rule out a priori the possibility of an artform whose works are sets of rules for games. It depends on what happens amongst artists, critics, scholars, museums and consumers of art like you and me. (Yes, non-experts aren't just shut out. What they do or don't take an interest in, support, talk about... isn't irrelevant even though it doesn't settle matters.)

The larger moral that those of us who like the institutional view carry away is that what counts as an artwork isn't the sort of thing we can settle by armchair contemplation. It depends on what people do and think, and it's very hard to say for sure where the process will go.

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.

what is the difference between art & aesthetics?

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

Do artists have a responsibility to ensure that their art does not have a

Do artists have a responsibility to ensure that their art does not have a negative impact on society, i.e. that their art does not promote discrimination or violence?

The question of whether an artist has any moral responsibility whatsoever with regard to the content or the impact of her work is fascinating, and there are many historical examples relevant to it. (One case that leaps immediately to my mind is that of Leni Riefenstahl, treated at length by Susan Sontag in an amazing essay, "Fascinating Fascism," which I highly recommend.) Proponents of the autonomy of art--'art for art's sake'--might deny that the artist has any obligation whatsoever to anyone or anything besides her work. (The case of Gauguin, treated by the philosopher Bernard Williams in a his essay, "Moral Luck," is an instance of an artist who abjured any responsibility to anything besides his work.) On such a view, the artist should seek only to create the best art that she can, and damn the consequences of creating art with a particular content. Such a position might be buttressed by an extreme 'formalist' conception of art, according to which art consists only in the exploitation of the aesthetic possibilities of the medium in which one works, and is in fact indifferent to content. (This is not to imply that such extreme formalism has ever been endorsed, or that I endorse it!) To the contrary, it might be maintained that the artist has a duty to society to promote 'the fine and the noble'--Plato seems to espouse such a position in the Republic--and consequently the artist has a duty to ensure that her art not only does not have a negative impact on society, but even betters it in some way. A somewhat less extreme, but related, position might acknowledge that an artist does not control the impact of her art, but nevertheless require the artist, insofar as she is possible, not to create art that is inflammatory. But who is to decide? And why should the work of the artist be limited in this way? Does art matter in this way? Can art matter in this way? Should art matter in this way? These are all questions that need to be considered in order satisfactorily to address the question that you raise.

Why do we consider songs by singers who use Auto-Tune (a program that corrects

Why do we consider songs by singers who use Auto-Tune (a program that corrects the pitch in their voice) for their music to be of lesser quality than songs by singers who merely use their natural voices? I can see why we might consider the artist to be less talented or worthy of admiration, but isn't a song a song, regardless of how it was made? What about visual artists who produce their art with computer graphics programs, rather than using pencils, pens or brushes? I've heard people say that some of the splendid images on sites like DeviantArt aren't art because the artists "cheated" (i.e. created the images digitally, rather than by hand). Again, what does it matter how the work was produced?

You raise an interesting nest of issues here, regarding the use of technology to assist in the production of art. The starting point for the question is the judgment that (recordings of) songs that employ technology to correct the pitch in a singer's voice are of lesser quality than those that do not, and the similar judgment about visual artists who use technology to create images. Although I'm not aware of having encountered instances of visual art produced by graphics programs, and am far more familiar with music that has been modified by technology, if not by the use of Auto-Tune in particular, since it seems to me that most recorded music--unless it is the recording of a live performance--has been technologically enhanced in some way, I believe nevertheless that one can address the general issue without delving into the particulars of the technology.

Perhaps one reason that it may be claimed that works created or enhanced through technology are not as good as those that have not been enhanced or created in this way is because it is assumed by those advancing such criticisms that art must reflect the talent or even genius of its creator, and so an artist who uses or needs to use technology to aid in the creation of her art is not as talented as one who does not. This may be the case, but one could, I think, distinguish between a judgment about a work of art and a judgment about its creator. For it seems to me that one might well judge that a particular song or work is a good instance of the particular art of which it is an instance, and nevertheless--without irrationality--judge that the creator of that work is not as skilled as the creator of another work once one learns how the first work has been produced.

It isn't clear to me, however, that the use of technology to modify or alter works should, however, be taken to diminish the aesthetic value of the work in question. Some recorded rock music, for example, may not even be capable of being produced without the aid of technology; certain kinds of architecture, like some of the recent work of Frank Gehry, may not have even been possible to produce without the aid of computers. Moreover, since it seems to me that the manipulation of media has always been a part of the creation of art, and now that art may even be produced with the assistance of technology, the manipulation of that technology, it seems to me, should rightly be considered as part of the work of the artist, and can therefore redound to his or her credit, just as the manipulation of the more 'traditional' media of art has been taken to reflect the skill of the artist.

Many people think it's wrong to significantly alter a work of art, not just

Many people think it's wrong to significantly alter a work of art, not just because the result is aesthetically inferior, but because doing so wrongs the artist or is otherwise offensive. It's easy to see why, say, defacing a painting might be offensive. It's less obvious, though, why altering a work of music of literature might be bad. After all, a painting is a concrete, singular object; but novels and poems and symphonies are not. I can't ruin "Robinson Crusoe" or Beethoven's 5th in the way that I can a Matisse or a Van Gogh. Why should it seem problematic, for instance, to perform a piece of music in a manner deemed inauthentic, given that there's a sense in which "altering" or otherwise degrading the piece in its original, authentic form is just impossible.

Your question seems to raise two distinct kinds of issues: first, and most generally, what, if anything, is wrong about altering a work of art; second, in what respect can different kinds of works of art--such as novels or lithographs, of which there are multiple instances or exemplars--or pieces of music or plays, that are meant to be interpreted in particular ways, be altered.

You remark that what's wrong about altering a work--say, drawing a moustache on the original Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre (as opposed to drawing a moustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, as Duchamp did), or defacing Picasso's Guernica, as I believe happened when it was hanging in the Museum of Modern Art--is that "doing so wrongs the artist or is otherwise offensive." It's not clear to me that this is indeed the case. Suppose Duchamp had indeed drawn a moustache on the original Mona Lisa. Would Duchamp thereby have wronged Leonardo da Vinici? Perhaps, but only if it's possible to wrong someone who is dead. (This issue has been treated in other posts on this site.) There might well have been some sort of offense committed in altering the Mona Lisa in this way, but the nature of the offense remains to be specified. Perhaps insofar as a work like the Mona Lisa consists in its being the particular object that it is, drawing a moustache on it would change the work, and we would thereby lose the original, and so altering such a work--or, say, modifying the original manuscript of a book--would bring it about that that object no longer existed, and that might underlie what is wrong about making such an alteration.

But what about altering a copy of, say The Great Gatsby, or a lithograph or even a poster that reproduces some work of art? These are all distinct cases, that need to be treated differently depending on the nature of the copy at issue. For example, marking up a first edition of The Great Gatsby--of which there are very few instances--could cause the value of that copy to go down, although this wouldn't change the nature of The Great Gatsby itself as a work of art in the same way that drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa would change that work, given that numerous unaltered copies of The Great Gatsby continue to exist. (But suppose that the altered copy of The Great Gatsby were the only copy of that work remaining in the world, in any form: would writing on it change the nature of the work? It's not clear to me that it would: I'm inclined to think this is the case because I'm not inclined to identify the work, The Great Gatsby, with any particular instantiation of it. But this is a contentious position that would need further justification.) A lithograph--especially, say, a signed lithograph, or one that is part of a series, is a different matter, since such a work of art has more in common with the Mona Lisa, to my mind, insofar as part of its artistic value consists in its being the particular object that it is, than it does with a copy of The Great Gatsby. As for a poster, since its aesthetic value consists in its more-or-less faithfully reproducing the original, so changing the poster would result in its no longer representing that original.

Plays and pieces of music are a somewhat different matter. Here we must distinguish between altering a copy of a play or a piece of music, altering the original manuscript of a play or a piece of music, and performing a play or a piece of music in a way deemed 'inauthentic'. I'll focus on the last case, since that's the one on which you focus, and concentrate on music, although similar considerations, I think, apply mutatis mutandis, to plays. The question of the importance of 'period' performances has risen in prominence with the rise of the 'early music movement', which seeks to perform pieces with the kinds of instruments, and the same size musical groups, as works would have been performed when they were written. Although such performances do more accurately present the piece as it would have been heard at the time when it was written, it's not clear to me, however, that performing the same piece on modern instruments, and/or with a larger orchestra, alters the piece, since the same piece of music is being performed: the difference between the performances is a difference in the presentation or interpretation of the piece, and so does not constitute an alteration of the piece (assuming, of course, that the composer did not specify exactly how many instruments and of what type should perform the piece).

If the foregoing is plausible, then we see a difference between works of art such as musical compositions and plays, that admit of interpretation, and works that do not, but instead essentially consist in being the particular work that they are, such as certain sculptures and paintings. To be sure, there are a host of intermediate cases--such as works of literature as well as artworks whose form is not specified by the artist: this suggests that the question of just what a work of art is, and what the ontology of a work of art is, is importantly indeterminate, and requires careful attention to the kind of work of art at issue.

Roger Ebert said some time ago that there are no video games that can compare

Roger Ebert said some time ago that there are no video games that can compare with the great works of art in other mediums, such as poetry or literature or film. What kind of comparison is he talking about? Looking at more established art forms, it seems clearly nonsense to compare something like Beethoven's Ninth to Shakespeare's Hamlet, being so radically different mediums - yet we don't say that no play has yet matched any of the great musical compositions of our culture, or that no poem can compare with the great sculptures of the past. On what level, then, are two works from different mediums (like the Ninth Symphony and Hamlet) comparable? Is it just in there overall quality, and if so, how does one judge the overall quality of a work of art, independent from those features that set it apart from other art forms? It doesn't seem fair to say that Hamlet has more psychological depth than the Ninth, or that the Ninth is more harmonious and evocative than Hamlet. Is it, rather, a question of...

It's not clear to me that when Ebert said that there are no video games that compare with great works of art in other media, he meant to imply that works in different media are comparable, as if there were some metric by which one could directly compare instances of different types of art. Ebert's point seems to be that although in media such as literature, music, film, etc., there are certain works that are recognized by all suitably placed judges as great--although of course the relative greatness of the works in any given art is a matter of considerable dispute--there are no video games that could be seen as great in the same way as works of music, film, literature, etc., are great. This may reflect a judgment on Ebert's part that video games are not a medium that can support work that could even conceivably qualify as great in the way that works of music, film, literature, etc., can; it may also reflect Ebert's judgment that no video game that has been created to date counts as a great piece of art, although it is possible that such a work might someday be produced.

The question of whether it is possible to compare works from different media, which underlies your initial question, is fascinating. Surely, as you point out, one cannot directly compare works from different media, since the respects in which a work of visual art are great are quite different from the respects in which a piece of literature are great. Although I myself tend to refrain from making comparisons across media--because I'm inclined to think that one respect in which a work of art manifests its greatness is in the way in which it makes use of the medium of the particular art of which it is an instance--it doesn't seem to me to be incoherent to ask, for example, whether Michelangelo is a greater artist than Mozart, or whether Pollock is a greater American artist than Fitzgerald, or whether some artist or work in one particular medium is greater with respect to that particular medium, than some artist or work from another medium. Now in order to compare artists who work in different media, or artworks from different media, one would of course have to abstract from what was particular to the media, and consider more general features of the arts in question that could be shared by them. So instead of asking whether Hamlet has more psychological depth than Beethoven's Ninth Symphony--since it seems to me at least that the difference in the media makes it the case that the Ninth cannot explore psychology to so great an extent as Hamlet--one might instead ask whether Hamlet is a more moving or affecting work than the Ninth. There is, however, a deep question--at least in my mind--as to whether in ascending to this level of generality, one wouldn't be leaving behind what makes a work of art the distinctive work that it is: namely, the medium of that art. And this raises another question: to what extent is the medium of a work of art essential, from an aesthetic point of view, to the assessment of a work of art? That, I think, is a deep and complicated question indeed...

Beauty seems to be the main quality of concern in philosophy, when it comes to

Beauty seems to be the main quality of concern in philosophy, when it comes to aesthetic judgements. But do philosophers also busy themselves with questions of the appreciation of the cute, the cool, or the funny? What about other qualities, ones that are also, in a sense, aesthetic?

Philosophers interested in judgments about works of art certainly do tend to focus on beauty, but other aesthetic categories have received philosophical attention.

Ted Cohen has written a book on jokes and other work has been done on the philosophy of humor. The concept of ugliness has recently received some attention from philosophers interested in Kant's aesthetics. The concept of sentimentality has received intermittent sustained attention from philosophers. There has been some consideration of categories like 'camp' and 'kitsch'--if you haven't read Susan Sontag's "Notes on Camp," I highly recommend it; Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being contains provocative remarks about kitsch.

To my knowledge, however, the concepts of the cute and the cool haven't received attention--and they should. Indeed, to my mind, at least, aesthetics is one area of philosophy that has especially suffered from what Wittgenstein would call "a one-sided diet," with too much attention to certain kinds of examples--certain kinds of art have been taken as paradigms--with too much focus on certain kinds of question.

I think that one way to begin to counteract this and to open up aesthetics would be to follow the lead of J. L. Austin and begin by making a list of the various categories that one might apply to various kinds of art, and then, systematically investigate them, tracing out their interrelations. (For a model of such an investigation into the philosophy of action, check out J. L. Austin's wonderful paper, "A Plea for Excuses.")

Are video games art? Many people claim that it's not, but video games seem very

Are video games art? Many people claim that it's not, but video games seem very similar to story telling mediums such as film and literature, the only difference is that in some games, the player decides the story.

I take it the question ought to mean: Could a video game be the sort of thing to which it would be appropriate to respond as art? If that's the question, then I'd suppose the answer has to be "yes". Art imposes no restriction on its medium. Of course, this is a very different question from whether any actual video game is art. I rather doubt that.

That said, however, it's not at all clear what we might mean by "art" here. There term often seems to be used as an honorific. People thus often seem to be concerned about whether rock music might be "art". If it can be, that seems somehow to legitimize it. One point the philosopher Ted Gracik nicely makes in some of his books on the aesthetics of rock is that this just isn't a very good question. A better question is whether (some) rock music might be a suitable object of aesthetic response and evaluation, and, I would add, how deep one's aesthetic engagement with it can be. Similar questions could of course be asked about video games.

Dear philosophers,

Dear philosophers, I have a question concerning politics and movies. Do people who boycott movies involving a certain actor/director/producer simply on the basis of the political views of that actor/director/producer acting reasonably? I wouldn't think so because a large part of how people decide whether to watch a movie or not is the history of the quality of the actor/director/producer's work and not that actor/director/producer's political views. What do you philosophers think?

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I think there may be a couple of different questionshere. One is: do people have theright to refuse to view a movie on the grounds that they disagree with thepolitics of someone involved in the making of the movie? The answer to that is, yes, ofcourse. No one has an obligationto see any particular movie, so one can decide whether or not to view it on anygrounds whatsoever. Sometimes people find the politics of some director or actor sorepugnant that they cannot bear the thought of viewing a film in which thatperson was involved.

That, notice, is a separate thing from making an aestheticjudgment about the film. One mightconsistently judge that a particularfilm is a masterpiece, and yet condemn the politics of the director who madeit, or the actor/actress who starred in it. I wish that intelligence, skill, and artistic visionwere always bundled together with moral virtue and political correctness – butthe reality is that they are not. (Wagner, in my estimation, is a case in point. A notorious anti-Semite, but he wrote sublime operas.)

But you might be asking a different question. You might be wondering aboutwhether people have the right to organizea boycott – that is, try to persuade a large number of people to refuse to seethe movie -- against a particularmovie on the ground that they disagree with the politics of someone involved inthe making of the movie. Here,again, there’s an easy answer: one has the right to try to persuade others ofanything they want. But I do thinkthat there are issues of moral responsibility here. Boycotts, if successful, have a serious economic impact ontheir targets, but also on many innocent others. This makes it morally incumbent on those who are thinking oforganizing a boycott to consider very carefully the likely consequences of theboycott, both in terms of the aims the boycotters have, and in terms of theforeseeable effects on people who are not actually the targets.

I do not myself approve of boycotts aimed at simply causingeconomic pain to some individual whose politics one dislikes. I want to see an argument that refusing to buy a certaincompany’s product – or view some director’s movie – will promote some positivepolitical end. I would support aboycott of a film, for example, that was produced by a studio that refused toabide by fair labor practices, or that allowed animals to be tortured duringfilming. In that case the boycottwould not only deprive the studio of income, but would publicize the abuses,all of which would put pressure on the studio to change its policies. And if the studio did change itspolicies, I would want the boycott to end. I would also support a boycott of a film that waspromulgating some slander or propagandistic message. But a boycottof – oh, I don’t know, say, Mel Gibson movies – what would be the point? To pressure Gibson into changing hispolitics? Economic pressure is nota legitimate means to achieving that sort of goal.