Advanced Search

On the subject of art - I have done only little research regarding different

On the subject of art - I have done only little research regarding different philosopher's opinions on the validity and place of art in society. It seemed some pre-Socratic philosophers believed art and tragedy were the only worthwhile endeavors in life, and contrariwise, that philosophers have since decided reason is the only valid way to approach life. Can you provide a more recent overview of the philosophical place of art in society, and/or classic/recent texts where I could read more?

Actually, art and tragedy in particular had an ambivalent role in some ancient Greek philosophy. In the Republic and the Ion, Plato presented a critique of art based on his imitation (mimetc) account of art. For Plato, art was merely imitatory and tragedy in particular involved the magnification of evil. Plato held that if X is evil, the imitation of X is evil. In the Republic he spoke of the warefare between poetry and philosophy. But art and tragedy had a major defender in Aristotle who thought imitation is itself the key to education and he further proposed that tragedy was an essential instrument in the purification of our moral judgments. In the history of philosophy, outside the ancients, probably the leading defender of Greek tragedy is Nietzsche. Among more recent philosophers, you might consult Gadamer on art.

There seem to be two major assertions about how an artwork comes into existence:

There seem to be two major assertions about how an artwork comes into existence: the first one considers the artist to have some kind of access to the "essence of truth" or something like that; the artist receives the idea in an inspirational moment and consequently creates the artwork on that foundation afterwards. The second assertion considers art to be the product of a huge mental or bodily effort. The second one is undermined by the statements of many artists. But what do you think about the first assertion? I'm not sure about refusing it right away.

Thanks for your question. Your question is at least as much one for psychology as it is for philosophy. The reason is that it is not quite about the definition of art, which is probably a strictly philosophical question; rather it is about the causal conditions under which art is created. In spite of that, it seems to me that the first theory you mention is equally well undermined by the experience of artists and others. For one, many conceptual artists don't think of themselves as being guided by inspiration at all; rather they'd say that's a defunct Romantic obsession. Instead, a conceptual artist might see her work as commenting on the practice of art itself, or getting us to be reflective about some aspect of our lives such as our use of consumer goods or the way that we structure our time. Again, an artist might have an idea, and then might need to put it through many stages and drafts to make something that seems to fly. Do we need to call this an inspiration or some access to an essential truth? If so, I don't see why any more than when I decide what to make for dinner we should describe me in similar terms. No doubt, some art is produced in light of a profound inspiration, but I don't see any reason to think that inspiration is essential to the production of art. For enlightening reading on the conceptual artists and their rejection of the Romantic and other traditions, you may enjoy Ursula Meyer's _Conceptual Art_. (Probably out of print, but available at good libraries.)

Mitch Green

Let's agree that something is art if the art world views it as art. Many famous

Let's agree that something is art if the art world views it as art. Many famous painters were refused exhibition for years, only to have their rejected works considered masterpieces at a later date. Others were considered great artists, only to be virtually forgotten. Operas go in and out of fashion. Same with literary works. Does this mean that the same works can be art at some points in time but not art at other points in time?

"Let's agree that something is art if the art world views it as art." I think that we shouldn't agree to this proposition, precisely because it does seem that it has the relativistic implications you describe. So I take your question to be, "Does the institutional theory of art, e.g. George Dickie's (the theory that something becomes art if and only if the 'artworld' gives it this status) have the implication that something can be a work of art at one time and then not be at another?" The answer the institutional theory gives is that it is the totality of all the little artworlds at particular times and places inclusion in which at any time makes something art. Does this answer work? Does it make indeterminate today whether this is a work of art, as whether it is seems to depend on the possible response of some future art scene. Some ugly Greek pot is displayed in a museum by lovers of Culture today, so it was art even if the people who saw it at the time it was made dismissed it as crassly commercial or just ugly.

I have listened to various recordings of Handel's Messiah recently. Each has

I have listened to various recordings of Handel's Messiah recently. Each has different rendering of the original work. What is the difference between modifying musical works of art and "touching up" a classical painting or poem?

A good question, and highly seasonal!The Messiah is an interesting subject because there is no ONEoriginal. Handel, always both an artist and a businessman, puttogether several different versions for various different occasionsand groups of musicians. So, there are a number of authenticrecordings, all attempting to 'get back' to the original sound of thepiece, which are nevertheless quite different. This is by no meanstrue for all pieces from the classical tradition but one can spot abroad trend, from the 19th century onwards, for artists tobecome increasingly concerned about the exact state of their work(various musical markings, instrumentation, etc.) and preciseconditions of performance.

This suggests a distinction betweenthose variations among performances that can be accounted for by avariation within the original material (the tinkering Brucknerperformed on his symphonies, for another example), and thoseexplained by artistic decisions in the here and now. This distinctionis more clear in theory than in practice, since one conductor's'authentic, period' recording is another's highly artificial artisticdeadend. We should also distinguish between works that live throughperformance (music and theatre, for example) and those that reside inphysical objects (paintings or sculptures). We are understandablymore tolerant of fiddling with the former. There are of coursetheatrical and musical conventions and traditions, but no newperformance of the Messiah, however outrageous, prevents it beingperformed in a more conventional manner the next time. Whereas,actually painting a goatee on the Mona Lisa would destroy theoriginal, even if one genuinely feels the touching up constitutes animprovement.

We could likewise distinguish between'spirit' interpretations and 'letter' interpretations. Here we havetwo different senses of what the original really is. The latter arethe 'authentic' ones, with period instruments and an oftenpain-staking attention to historical detail. The former are thosethat try to capture, for a contemporary audience, something of themeaning or impact that the original would have had in its day –even if that means taking certain liberties. In the staging ofShakespeare such battles are particularly acute. Equallyinterestingly, think about the task that heritage bodies undertake incaring for an old building. Is the building really itsoriginal state, when first constructed; or is the building reallythe additions, modifications or remodellings that make it ahistorical record of the lives lived in and through it?

Well, these are a few ideas. I hopethey help!

How do we say something that is recognizably artistically meaningful? It seems

How do we say something that is recognizably artistically meaningful? It seems that in order for it to meet that standard, it would have to play on themes that have already established; in order to create something fantastically profound, one would have to create something truly new. But then art experts wouldn't recognize it as such since it wouldn't contain any reference to standards created by previous stuff. So suppose we take the mindset that we are writing for future audiences who will recognize it as a timeless classic. But why does the possible acceptance of our work in this way by future audiences guarantee its profundity? Why should they be favored over the intelligent audiences of today?

An excellent question. The relationship between art, standards or rules, andoriginality has been discussed on this site before. But I'll wade in with a fewcomments.

First, if we think of rules or standards as being heavy-handed in theirdetermination, then that causes problems in many more domains than in art. Ifour standards for what makes a good X are entirely dependent upon a repetitionof the qualities that made Xs good in the past, then innovation in any fieldbecomes impossible. A good place to start, then, is with the recognition thatsuch rules or standards must always be a little loose or flexible and capableof evolution.

Second, however, the problem becomes exacerbated in the domain of art, if weaccept that one criterion of art is precisely the absence of any determiningcriteria. This idea comes from Kant’s aesthetics and, in various forms, hasbecome a mainstay of philosophical aesthetics. Kant’s solution to how it ispossible to judge despite this (that there is a specific kind of cognitive ‘play’which, in effect, serves as a standard for judgement) is only one possibility.

Third, there is a danger that innovation and creativity themselves becomethe game. On such a view, the task of the artist is not to create art in a waythat is original, but just to be original; originality is no longer just anecessary but also a sufficient condition. (Among others, the French philosopherJ.-F. Lyotard advanced such an argument.)

Fourth, does the artist write, paint or compose for the future? What doessomething mean to be a timeless classic? That could only be the case if thestandards of art ever stopped developing. I think Moby Dick is a great novel and a ‘timeless classic’ – but if anyoneused that novel as a blueprint and wrote other novels using its standards, theresult would old-fashioned, clichéd, ponderous and otherwise poor. In general,when one looks back over the history of the novel, say, one finds ‘great’novels to be supremely successful representations of their period. Theoriginality is ironed out. Does that mean that the manner in which we judgehistorical works is different from contemporary works? Or does it perhapssuggest that originality is a specific way of relating to the artistic (andother) standards of a historical period?

I've been wondering this for quite some time now and I'm not sure how to word it

I've been wondering this for quite some time now and I'm not sure how to word it in an intelligent way a philosopher may like to be asked. But I have been practicing photography for quite some time now and am currently studing it. My main interest is social documentary...i think it's important to document what it is today. My question is (and I'll try my best). Is it right for someone to document something and not interfere. Not help. Just watch? I'm thinking of this as there is a famous photographer who shot a world famous photo of a child and a vulture in Africa, Kevin Carter was the photographer if you would like to look it up, he never helped the child, was that right, I don't think he was allowed to interfere with things like that. But let's say even the likes of a war, documenting it, is it right to sit on the fence and observe someone being shot without doing anything about it? I suppose the question is, is it ok just to observe and not interfere when it is probably morally right to do so. I...

You put the point very clearly, and yet it is not clear to me why a photographer would feel that he or she could not intervene in a situation where such intervention would be helpful. Of course, by recording the event one is perhaps setting up a wider response to it which is going to put events like that within a context that may discourage them in the future. The viewing public may be horrified and so prevent their recurrence. On the other hand, if one can help an innocent person then surely one ought to do so, and taking a photograph as opposed to helping would be difficult to justify, since even if one's profession was photography, the individual is not thereby excused from normal human morality. If on the other hand there is nothing one can do, or at least nothing one could do without undergoing huge risks, then recording the event is the next best thing, if one has that sort of skill.

It has been suggested that the practice of Bonsai is an expression of animal

It has been suggested that the practice of Bonsai is an expression of animal chauvinism and does great harm to a tree by 'stunting' it. But aren't trees not sentient beings, and therefore the excising of branches, shoots and roots such that the tree thrives albeit substantially smaller than its genetic potential, is no different to the continual loss of roots, shoots and branches that occur under natural conditions?

There is the fact that it is possible to treat something badly or to damage it, whether or not it is sentient. A pair of shoes can be badly or well looked after, and it is wrong not to look after a good pair of shoes properly. A living thing like a hedge can be properly maintained or attended to, but something more is involved. Sometimes, it seems to me, the aesthetics of the "art object" (horrible phrase) can reflect what it actually is. So it is natural to trim a box hedge in one way, and a mixed hedge in another way, perhaps a less formal and more undulating, the shapes reflecting the different kinds of growth - hawthorn, or privet or beech. (A hedge that is full of straggly and unwanted sycamore looks awful, and the holes soon begin to show.) Pugs and poodles may be perfectly happy qua sentient beings, though often there are specific health problems with specific breeds, but it is perfectly coherent to object to the whole process of breeding and thinking of living things as being objects for our use - manipulation - and enjoyment only. Much the same comments can be made about the wilderness, and your question and suggestion raise profound and important questions of ecological ethics and aesthetics. For some, the ethics of GM foods has a spiritual dimension too.

Is baking a form of art? Or is what can be considered art in the eye of the

Is baking a form of art? Or is what can be considered art in the eye of the beholder, much like beauty?

I am not a philosopher of art, so I will defer to another panel member who is, but I do remember once visiting a museum in New York City that had an exhibit titled "The Baker's Art", consisting of elegantly decorated cakes and breads.

Can gardening be considered as an art? Thank you.

Can gardening be considered as an art? Thank you.

Well, Kant for one, seemed to ranklandscape gardening very highly, defining it as in essence a kind ofpainting (see section 51 of the Critique of Judgement). Thepoint is that such gardening is about form, order, harmony andrelationships – it is, let us say, akin to abstract painting(although of course Kant couldn't have said this). Certainly, also,gardens can have affective and symbolic power, and they participatein a dialogue with their own tradition. Obviously, for everycriterion I come up with, someone could come up with acounter-example that is widely considered art but lacks this feature;so listing criteria is a risky business. Nevertheless, I'm havingtrouble thinking of a defensible reason why gardening should benecessarily excluded from the domain of art – other than the factthat it is not widely considered to be so by the people (artists,gallery owners, critics) whose job it is to tell us what is art. Andthere's the rub. In the absence of relatively stable traditions thatdefine for us what art is, this task has had to be turned over to theindustry. And, in this arena, gardening doesn't really count –indeed, even painting and sculpture as traditionally practised arerarely found. If an already acknowledged artist created a garden asone of their works, then that would be art, but not because of whatit was, but because of the reputation of the person who did it.

Is intention enough for one to get an artistic status? Supose, as a composer, I

Is intention enough for one to get an artistic status? Supose, as a composer, I have a piece called "Sonata for non-prepared pianist". I walk into a theater and pick someone from the audience and give to this person, that lacks musical theory knowledge, some verbal instructions like "play anything with anger. Now imagine you're watching the ocean. Now imagine you are in a hurry..." and I sit him in front of the piano. He will just randomly hit keys and produce noise (or music?) accordingly to the "moods" I gave him. So, he is playing piano, he has intention of playing piano, he is producing sound, he is following instructions. Can we consider him, now, the concert pianist? Is he now an artist? Tiago V., Portugal

I think we have some pretty good discussion of this question already from earlier Questions 729, 1497, 1806, 2111. It's a fascinating question certain musicians and artists have raised through their work (just as you imagine), and all the more interesting for there being no compelling way of reaching an answer.