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In art or design, why do certain combinations of color, shape, contrast, font,

In art or design, why do certain combinations of color, shape, contrast, font, etc., strike more visual impact and/or seem more appealing than others? There are certain standbys or principles of design that seem to be successful (e.g., appropriate white space, complementary colors, etc.), yet it also seems entirely subjective as to what we find beautiful in artistic realms. Is there any generalizability to the quality of visual appeal?

I want to emphasize that the question of the subjectivity of beautyis distinct from the question of whether there are rules or principlesabout beauty. Many aestheticians are particularists. They believe thatthere are no general rules or principles governing what makes thingsbeautiful, and that what may count towards beauty or aesthetic merit inone context may be aesthetically irrelevant in another context (or mayeven count against overall beauty or merit). But this is consistentwith such a view that judgments of beauty are more than merelysubjective.

Kant is famous for having arguing that there can be no rules or principles of taste in his Critique of Judgment.Interesting contemporary discussion of the possibility ofgeneralizations regarding beauty and artistic merit can be found inMary Mothersill's book Beauty Restored. Mothersill isskeptical of there being any interesting generalizations here, but I'mnot convinced by her arguments.

What about the principles of design that are mentioned in the question? Particularists will think these are just rules of thumb--useful but ultimately inaccurate generalizations. I'd be interested in finding out whether there was evidence that they are accepted cross-culturally. If they were, there might be some reason to think that there was some broadly evolutionary explanation for them. In the end, the question of why certain generalizations about beauty and our visual preferences are true--if they are true--seems to me to be an empirical question. That is, the answer to it would await serious scientific investigation.

If you put a flower, next to a painting of a flower, would the painting be more

If you put a flower, next to a painting of a flower, would the painting be more beautiful because it has been intentionally drawn? A still life is seen as having more aesthetic value than a flower in a vase, although our eyes see no difference between the two.

It isn't quite right that we see no difference between a flower or a bunch of flowers and a standard still life. For example, we see paintings as largely flat, and we take notice of their painted surfaces. This distinguishes our experience of them from our experience of flowers. More importantly, we typically value the two sorts of objects in different ways. A still life might be valued because of its beauty but also because of the skill of the painter, its capacity to express and evoke emotion, what it symbolizes, and/or the perspective on the world it manifests. That is, we value paintings as works of art, not as mere aesthetic objects. (Beauty is not our only concern when we look at paintings of flowers.) While we sometimes value bouquets of flowers for what they express, the art of flower arrangement does not seem to have the rich capacity for expression and meaning that painting does. The same is true for mere bunches of flowers.

So the answer to your original question is no. Merely being intentionally drawn does not make something beautiful (for one thing, there are ugly still lifes), nor need successful still life involve a degree of beauty that cannot be found in a single flower or arrangement of flowers. But there are reasons to think that there are values to be found in great works of visual art that are not to be found in a flower in a vase.

Do you agree with this statement: There is no such thing as bad art?

Do you agree with this statement: There is no such thing as bad art?

No. And to prove it, here's my ascii picture of a car:

_/ o\_

That aside, I don't know exactly what you have in mind. Is it that maybe the term "art" already excludes what someone might have wanted to call "bad art"---so that "good art" is redundant? If that's the question, I suppose I think sometimes the term "art" is used like that. If we say "a guitar made by Fred is a work of art", we're probably not using "art" in a way in which it makes sense to add, "and a very bad work of art at that." But in plenty of other cases, we don't use "art" so that "bad art" makes no sense.

A rather different issue concerns the objectivity of evaluations of artworks. If I say "that drawing is really bad", does the word "bad" denote, once and for all, an objective category of artworks, so that my statement is true or false depending on whether the drawing falls in that category? Or does my statement do only a more subjective job, perhaps of expressing my distaste for the drawing? Or is it somewhere in between those extremes---maybe asserting that the drawing would be regarded as distasteful by people of a certain type (perhaps, people to whose tastes in art I accord a certain kind of respect)?

That philosophers have studied these (and many other) options as to what "bad" means in this kind of statement is a consequence of what can seem a rather odd tension: on the one hand, we talk simply in terms of "good/bad" rather than "good to me/bad to me" or the like; and this makes it sound like we take it to be an objective matter of fact what's good or bad. On the other hand it seems clear that our judgments about what artworks are good or bad are guided by our own tastes and reactions; this makes it seem like we must really be expressing something about our own idiosyncratic evaluations rather than about an objective measure. In this respect, "that's a good drawing" seems intermediate between "that's a good flavor of ice-cream" (which seems quite subjective), and "that's a good knife-sharpener" (which seems considerably more objective). Part of the difference here may be that whereas it's silly to argue about whether vanilla ice-cream is good, or to ask for reasons for thinking so, that's not true in the case of the knife-sharpener.

Is it silly to argue and reason about whether an artwork is good or bad? Certainly it's an extremely common practice---could it really be as silly as arguing about chocolate versus vanilla? Suppose it does in fact make sense; does that show that "good/bad", as applied to artworks, marks once and for all an objective distinction? Or does argument and reasoning merely reflect optimism that we're not so different in our evaluative dispositions, so that disagreements in what's good or bad art might well only reflect differences in factual knowledge and in sorting matters out---differences that can be remedied though discussion?

The distinctions and issues here are of great interest especially insofar as they illuminate two other sorts of evaluative talk that are Big Game philosophically: moral and rational evaluation.

(For much more on the particular case of art, see Nick Zangwill's piece in the Stanford Encyclopedia.)

Is there any use to examining aesthetics independently of medium?

Is there any use to examining aesthetics independently of medium?

Yes. Some aesthetic questions are about natural beauty, and the notion of medium does not apply in the natural context. There are philosophial questions about artistic genres (e.g., how do horror and suspense work?), and it may be worthwhile to consider those independently of the specific media in which those genres are instantiated. Philosophical investigation into the objectivity of aesthetic and artistic value seem largely independent of concern for medium. Also, an overemphasis on medium can be misleading. For example, film and television are plausibly different media, but they function in very similar ways. It can be useful to think of them as two species of a larger category (the moving image).

What - if any - is the difference between 'erotic art' and 'pornography'? Is it

What - if any - is the difference between 'erotic art' and 'pornography'? Is it merely a value judgement?

This is not an easy question, obviously, and I'm hardly in a position to distinguish these carefully. But here is one thought. Pornography, in the relevant sense of the term, is designed to arouse. That is its primary purpose, without which it would neither be produced nor consumed. Art can arouse, and I don't myself see why arousal shouldn't be regarded as an appropriate part of one's aesthetic response to certain works of art. But art's purpose is never only to arouse. What other purposes art may have is itself a hard question, of course. But one function of art, in my own life, anyway, is to encourage me to see what is familiar in a new way. Erotic photography—Mapplethorpe's work is the obvious example—certainly can have that kind of effect.

Of course, this way of gesturing at the distinction seems to put the burden upon the intentions of the artist, and that makes me uncomfortable. But I think there's something there, nonetheless.

If I could produce a perfect copy of a famous work of art, could it have an

If I could produce a perfect copy of a famous work of art, could it have an equal value to the original? Furthermore, if I was then able to mix up the two items, would they then have an equal value?

A perfect copy? Wow! That would be an incredible technical achievement, requiring immensely precise matches of material composition and construction. The product of such a vast and unprecedented undertaking (were it feasible) would probably merit a price higher than any original artwork.

But suppose, as you might have intended, that such a process became commonplace and inexpensive: Titians for the masses. Then of course the original would fetch a premium over the copies. Why? Because we value artworks not only for their intrinsic features--their look, their material constitution--but for their historical features, for their being the very objects on which the artist exercised their craft. This is why prints tend to be less valuable than paintings by the same artist---they're just a bit towards the replica side of things. Does this make sense, or is it as pointless a fetish as ... saving one of Britney's cigarette butts? I don't know. But it's not only artworks that normally gain special interest for being the genuine historical products rather than replicas. Fossils are like that as well, as might also be the ring given you by your spouse. And your spouse, too, come to think of it.

If you mixed up an original and an indistinguishable copy, the two would have the same value in one sense but not in another. Same: each has the same chance, given what we can know about it, of being the original and being the replica, so there's no basis on which to prefer one to the other. Different: either of the two would surely get a higher price than any other replica, and this is because of the higher value placed on the original, and hence on even a chance of getting it rather than a replica.

What is not art?

What is not art?

Lots of things: the orange in front of me, the bus outside my window, George Bush, the number four, Palo Duro Canyon, and so on. I suspect you want to know what makes something not art, and that might seem like it calls for supplying a definition of art. Once we knew what the defintion was, we could presumably determine what didn't fall into the category. For a number of reasons, I suspect that this isn't the best way to go. (For one thing, I don't think philosophy has a great track record at supplying informative and accurate definitions.) Still, it seems that we are pretty good at distinguishing art from non-art, and that should do in most cases.

For interesting attempts to provide a definition of art take a look at any of the essays on the institutional theory of art by George Dickie, or look at Arthur Danto's Transfiguration of the Commonplace. For general discussion of the issues surrounding defining art you might take a look at Noel Carroll's Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction or Robert Stecker's Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: An Introduction. There are many, many other interesting discussions of the topic. The classic criticism of attempts to define art can be found in Morris Weitz's essay "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics".

What is the connection, if there is any, between enjoyment of art and the

What is the connection, if there is any, between enjoyment of art and the judgment of its aesthetic merit?

In many cases enjoyment and positive judgment go hand in hand. But enjoyment and positive evaluation can come apart in a number of ways. Some works of art do not seem to be designed to be enjoyed. Consider works of art that might be characterized as ‘difficult’ (e.g., some paintings of horrific scenes, certain movies about tragic events, novels that investigate evil, some contemporary political art, works of music such as Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima). It seems perfectly plausible that in some such cases we may judge these works to be valuable while not enjoying our interaction with them. There are, after all, a whole range of activities and experiences that we may judge to have value irrespective of whether they provide enjoyment (e.g., voting, helping those in need, writing lecture notes, etc.). Another sort of case stems from the possibility that we may be incapable--for some personal reason--from enjoying a work of art that we judge to be good. We all experience such blocks sometimes. Well, I do. I’m tired at the opera, or the play reminds me too much of something I’d rather not think about, or the music was written by someone I don’t like, or the novel is just too darn difficult for me given my limited powers of concentration these days. And so on. I might judge the opera/play/song/novel as good, but I just can’t enjoy it. Things can pull apart in the other direction too. A person may enjoy some works of art that he or she doesn’t judge to be of much worth. One way this can happen is if we recognize that our enjoyment depends on some idiosyncratic feature of our relationship to the work of art. I might enjoy a movie because it is about the toughest philosopher in the world (or about philosophy graduate student vampires) but recognize that this isn’t really a reasonable basis for judging the movie to have much value.

That being said, it seems to me that the fact that we enjoy a work of art is often one of the most important reasons that we judge it to be good. And it’s not unreasonable to take the fact that you enjoy something to be at least some reason to think that it is good. Moreover, we often enjoy what we take to be good—that is, we enjoy it because it is (judged to be) good. So the two notions are not completely unrelated.

What is the philosophy of art and the art of philosophy?

What is the philosophy of art and the art of philosophy?

The philosophy of art investigates a range of general questions about art. Here are a few: What is art? What is the nature of artistic representation? What is the nature of artistic form? What are the values of art? Is artistic evaluation simply a matter of opinion, or are there objective facts about artistic quality? Philosophers of art are also interested in questions about the individual arts: What is literary value? Is film an inherently realistic medium? What is the nature of musical expression? What is the relationship between a theatrical work and a theatrical performance? There are many other interesting philosophical questions about the arts—even ones about comic books and horror movies!

Sometimespeople use the terms ‘aesthetics’ or ‘philosophical aesthetics’ torefer to the philosophy of art, but this can be misleading for tworeasons. The first reason is that philosophicalaesthetics encompasses more than the philosophy of art—it is alsointerested in beauty and other aesthetic matters in the (non-artistic)environment. The second reason is that the term‘aesthetics’ encouraged people to look for narrowly aesthetic purposesin art (i.e., purposes that have to do with the provision of beauty oraesthetic experiences). But works of art may have a range of functions, many of which aren’t naturally understood as aesthetic.

I’m not sure about the expression ‘the art of philosophy’. Sometimes the term ‘art’ is used to refer to a skill or craft (as in ‘the art of fly fishing’). If that’s what’s meant, then I suppose the art of philosophy just is the skill or craft of philosophy. On the other hand, it is interesting to consider whether some works of philosophy are also works of art. I’ll leave you with a couple of questions about that. Do you think it’s possible for a work of philosophy to also be a work of art? Do you think there are any such works?

How should we view architects and their work? If we think of buildings as purely

How should we view architects and their work? If we think of buildings as purely functional, then we seem to be thinking of architects as means to ends only, forgetting their concern for aesthetics. Conversely, if we see buildings purely as aesthetic objects, we are underplaying the technical - scientific - expertise of architects. Is there a middle ground of judgement here?

I’dlike to add a few points to Roger’s very reasonable remarks. First, thefact that works of architecture can be seen both functionally (i.e., interms of broadly utilitarian purposes) and aesthetically does notdistinguish them from many other works of art. Consider stained glasswindows, Native American pottery, woven rugs, masks used in tribalrituals, etudes—all of these may have both functional and aestheticpurposes. You might also consider artworks that are designed to promote political or ethical change. It might be thought that what is distinctive about architecture is that it is essentially functional. Is it the case that it is not possible for something to be a work of architecture unless it has a utilitarian function? This is tricky, but I would be hesitant to say yes. (Consider architectural follies.) Second, I wouldn’t put too much weight on the idea of an aesthetic object. Works of art may do a range of thing: represent, express emotion, express a view of the world, exhibit form, etc. They may also provide aesthetic experiences (or experiences of beauty), but this does not seem necessary for art status. Hence, a work of architecture may succeed artistically without being an aesthetic object or serving strictly aesthetic purposes. Third,even if a building only served utilitarian functions it wouldn’t followthat we would or should treat its designer as merely a means to someend. (Of course a building that only had utilitarian function might not count as a work of architecture.)