The effort of understanding
By Rob van Gerwen
September 11, 2014
Table of Contents
What is art?
3. Relates being an exemplar of a certain kind with being good at what the kind is deviced for. Thus, a good vacuum cleaner is more of a vacuum cleaner than a bad one.
4. This sustains our intuition that cultural objects cannot be described without introducing some evaluative point. Yet, we would not want to go the way of saying that bad works are not really art. That would be a non-falsifiable thesis.
Further reading: Kant: Critique of Judgement
Danto, Arthur: The Art World
1. Some acclaimed works of art cannot be distinguished from their real-life counterparts: these hard cases are indiscernible. A conception of art must be able to explain how the one can and the other cannot be art.
2. Danto applies Kuhn's approach to scientific revolutions
'Normal science' in this analogy is Imitation theory (IT) which fails to explain the indicernibles. In fact, works held exemplary by the named honorific theories showed the cracks in IT.
Reality Theory (RT) takes over: artists create new realities.
3. Warhol's Brillo Box is definitely different from the Brillo Boxes at the back of the store. Works like Oldenburg's bed and Warhol's Brillo Boxes are art thanks to artistic identification. They could not have been art 100 years ago.
4. Danto is neither specific, nor general. He alludes to a few works only and does not go into them. Is this yet another honorific theory?
Danto, also, is not very specific about art world theory: what does this theory say, how does it hang together? Obviously, the art world is a sociological phenomenon; what is added to this insight by the claim that it is ruled by some theory? Couldn't we stick to explaining and describing what goes on in the practice of art?
Davies, Stephen on definitions
1. Maybe we cannot define art because it is a domain drifted loose from its original functionality. Different conceptions of what a definition is, or should do, affect our concept of art.
2. An aesthetic concept is honorific. Art's functions no longer link to the art world procedures. We must distinguish functional from procedural definitions and forget the functional ones.
3. Not quite a thesis, but a helpful elaboration of Weitz's arguments.
Dewey, John: Art as Experience
1. In our culture (through the rise of museums under the influence of nationalism and imperialism) we have isolated art from its natural seat in experience. `We' turned art into an unreality, linked it with the ideal, the spiritual; disregarded matter as a term of depreciation.
2. Provide an understanding of experience, show how dedication forms core of the aesthetic, and explain why someone might want to become devoted to art.
3. The live experience of a work is where the meaning of the work comes into being. Religious rituals form the basis of performing arts, not the museums and theatres.
4. Beautiful and stimulating though this approach to art is, it reduces art practice to some of its institutions, and seems to fail to distinguish between art and artefacts.
Dickie, George: the Institutional Conception
1. In general, Weitz's analysis was correct, so the question is: how to classificatorily conceive of art.
3. Dickie provides this strictly procedural definition of art:
"A work of art is an artifact of a kind created to be presented to an artworld public." George Dickie, LO, 53.
4. What is the Artworld: is it just the group of people and institutions that we happen to have nowadays?
What reasons do we have to decide to present some work to an artworld public? Would it suffice to say that the 'artist' made it for this purpose?
Does this definition help us understand the values of art?
Gerwen, Rob van: Aesthetics before definition; A Three Stage Definition of Art
1. One flaw in the debate on the definition of art is its confusing art works with art forms. We discuss whether we can see from the face of some particular object whether or not it is a work of art, yet what we see whilst appreciating the work already presupposes that we take it to be art.
2. This position, also, elaborates on Levinson's historical definition, explaining what it means to be regarded as intended by a prior art form.
3. I propose this three-partite definition:
a. X is a work of art if and only if it properly instantiates an established artistic procedure.
b. A set of phenomenological specifications is a procedure if it allows for more than one proper instantiation.
c. A set of phenomenological specifications is an artistic procedure if it has allowed for one or more instantiations with acclaimed high artistic value.
4. How do we know that an instance of some not-yet artistic procedure has high artistic value? Surely, only by comparing it with great works from the past, or what? But these instantiate different procedures.
3. Elaborates Weitz's argument with the (very instructive) warehouse test: pick any of these so-called honorific definitions and with it select all and only works of art from a warehouse filled with objects of all kinds.
If you bring out too many objects and/or leave too many inside, your definition fails.
Koons, Jeff, "German Shepherd Puppies". (BBC: The late show)
1. What is the issue in the case of Art Rogers versus Jeff Koons?
Not: What is the definition of art?
But: What is the relation between one work and another, or: what is the difference between quoting a work and plagiarizing it?
Margolis would say that both are instances of one work-type, created when Art Rogers made his photograph. Danto might say that only Koons's work applies art world theory...
Levinson, Jerrold: the Historical Definition
1. Procedural definitions tell us too little; realist definitions are honorific. And all are uneasy about the historical context of art.
2. How to set up an historical definition? Three crucial questions: a. How is art now related to history? b. How did art begin? c. How to conceive of revolutionary art?
3. "Initial step: Objects of the Ur-arts are artworks at t0 (and thereafter). Recursive step: If X is an artwork prior to t, then Y is an artwork at t if it is true at t that some person or persons, having the appropriate proprietary right over Y, nonpassingly intends (or intended) Y for regard in any way (or ways) in which X is or was correctly (or standardly) regarded." (LO, 42).
4. Again, this definition is not very specific, which is sorely missed with regard to being "correctly (or standardly) regarded". But it is good point that the nature of later works depends on that of prior ones.
Levinson seems to think that art as we know it goes all the way back to the cave paintings of Lascaux. Can't we argue that a profound change came over our culture in 18th century, which gave rise to autonomous art.
Perhaps, expanding on Levinson's historicism, we might want to address the language games pertinent to art practice, and do philosophical grammar.
Margolis, Joe: The Ontological Peculiarity of Artworks
1. The issue is not the definition of art, but its peculiar ontology.
3. Works of art are embodied in physical bodies. They are made through manipulation of physical stuff, and are instances of work-types.
When Marcel Duchamp put his Bottlerack in the museum he used the physical material that was produced in the factory to make something out of it; he could have made a hobby horse, what not, but he made a bottle rack.
This is Margolis' argument against Danto's assumption of there being indiscernibles: the physical object is something different from the cultural object it embodies. To understand the difference we do not need a particular theory, but a point of view.
video: Relational Art
1. Can we conceive of a new art form, called 'relational art'? Philosophical issue: how can a new art form begin? This instructs us about the conception of art to be defended. Check for yourself which of the theories discussed fares best.
2. Ben Lewis, in the video, addressed 8 theses.
Weitz, Morris: The Role of Theory in Aesthetics
1. Traditional theories like emotivism, formalism, and intuitionism fail to define art: they are honorary.
2. Weitz argues the mistakes of mentioned traditional theories
He switches, with Wittgenstein's notion of 'family resemblance', to an analysis of the concept of 'art'.
He then distinguishes between evaluative and descriptive uses of terms
3. a 'art' is an open concept, due to creativity
3. b 'art' should be used evaluatively in criticism, descriptively in theory.
4. How to conceive of 'art' descriptively? What is the relationship between the description of works and their artistic value? Surely we believe that art works should try to achieve artistic merit?
What is aesthetic?
Introducing the issue
Working definition: Properties are aesthetic if they contribute to something's beauty or lack thereof.
1. It seems, at least initially, plausible, to make a distinction between clearly objective properties like 'red', or 'rectangular'---we describe objects in these terms---and evaluative properties such as 'beautiful'. We do not as easily agree about something's beauty as we do about its being red or rectangular. What explains this difference?
a. What is the distinction between aesthetic properties and aesthetic values?
b. Do aesthetic properties really exist? Are they properties of objects in reality or of the subjects perceiving reality? (metaphysics)
4. This issue is connected to our first issue, through the nature of the artistic attitude, as follows: one of the answers to the question about aesthetic properties is that they, and their pertinence, depend on human perceivers taking up an aesthetic attitude (Kemp versus Dickie). This attitude forms an a priori (logical) requirement for any audience if it is to embark in art practice.
David Hume: Beauty is a Contingent Sentiment, and the Test of Time is All we Have
1. The paradox of taste: there is no disputing matters, yet we (have reason to) do it all the time. Beauty is not a property of the object (against proportion theory), it is a sentiment which does not depict the object. Yet, this sentiment is somehow an effect of properties of the object.
2. Compare the sentiments and preferences available to the truth of aesthetic judgements of art critics. See how things differ in different cultures. Analyse the issue in depth, starting from the assumption that sentiments do not depict what they respond to, and that beauty is a sentiment (or: emotion).
3. Talents and activities of a true critic merely prevent him from making mistakes; he can never prove the correctness of his aesthetic assessments; we have to await the Test of Time, which automatically assembles the best verdicts of the best critics.
4. Our challenge: find a way to defend subjectivism without succumbing to relativism
Kant, Schopenhauer: Aesthetic properties depend on our aesthetic attitude
1. According to Immanuel Kant, judgements of taste are neither objective statements of knowledge, nor lawlike, moral judgements. Aesthetic judgements are subjective, yet, they assume universal validity.
2. To judge the beauty of an object, we must not be interested in its existence, we must be disinterested. This requirement has been interpreted in various ways.
Arthur Schopenhauer has turned it into the requirement that the subject must become 'a pure subject of knowing', i.e. to perceive without being interested in, or related to practical or epistemological issues.
Later thinkers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Peg Zeglin Brand have argued that the requirement of 'disinterestedness' depoliticised the appreciating subject and has, consequently, turned art into something irrelevant.
4. The criticisms depend on which version of the theory is at stake. So the first question is: how should we conceive of the aesthetic attitude?
George Dickie: the aesthetic attitude is a myth
3. According to Dickie, the aesthetic attitude is a myth
which confuses aesthetic theory. He argues that the term boils down to little else but the requirement to concentrate while perceiving aesthetic properties or art works.
4. Dickie's criticism depends on a particular version of the theory, which takes the aesthetic attitude as a perceptual activity. Is this the right, or the best theory? Gary Kemp does not think so.
Gary Kemp: in defense of the aesthetic attitude
3. Aesthetic attitude is not a demand on perception, but on our motivation. Nor does it entail exclusive attention to aesthetic properties, on the contrary: the aesthetic attitude serves as an alternative to the thought (found with Sibley) that there is a real difference between properties, and that our interest should aim at the aesthetic ones. Attitude precedes objective distinction; it aims at aesthetic satisfaction, not knowledge (which might result from mere concentration). Kant's subjectivist turn is crucial.
Rob van Gerwen: aesthetic and artistic attitudes
1. The aesthetic attitude seems to account for beauty in each and every context, but there is a difference between natural and artistic beauty that we can acknowledge at this level of the attitude,
3. In confrontations with natural (or everyday) objects, taking up an aesthetic attitude depends on one's own free choosing. With art, it is required. Such attitudes involve a certain abstraction in one's composure: you take in what you are perceiving: as if it were represented (think of the first sentence in Kant's Critique of Judgement); one major consequence is your abstinence to act according to what one would normally deem morally necessary.
4. This opens up an avenue of thinking about the moral evaluation of art (see later).
Frank Sibley: Aesthetic concepts involve a real distinction between properties
3. Frank Sibley distinghuishes several kinds of properties: those which we always use aesthetically, those which we never use aesthetically, and those which we use either way. To perceive non-aesthetic properties our senses suffice, for aesthetic properties we need taste on top. Sibley constructs taste as a cognitive faculty in its own right.
4. If taste is a mere means of cognizing, whence then stems its normativity? We do not as easily agree on something's elegance or beauty as on its redness; yet, we feel that someone who disagrees with us as to a thing's aesthetic properties is wrong.
Eddy Zemach: Aesthetic properties as tertiary qualities
3. According to Zemach, aesthetic properties depend on a sifting on behalf of the perceiver, who perceives object in the light of the benefit of tampering of his desire system.
4. Zemach provides a variety of Sibley's cognitive position, but one that reintroduces the psychology of the beholder. But is the beholder's psychology involved in this manner in his perceiving of art and aesthetic properties?
Kendall Walton: Categories of Art
1. Yes, we must see for ourselves to judge the artistic merit of a work, but what does this principle of acquaintance amount to? Is it as uncircumscribed as it seems?
3. According to Walton, we can only perceive a work's artistic merit, if we apply the right categories to it, in the appropriate manner.
4. The normativity of critical discourse stems from the measure of judgement needed to decide whether the right category is applied in the proper manner. Next, Walton also provides a defence of the principle of acquaintance: we must see for ourselves, yet this demand does not help us discern the right aesthetic values.
Graham McFee: "Aesthetic" is different from "Artistic"
1. Understanding how the question "How do we recognize aesthetic properties", is, in fact two questions, helps solve certain ontological issues.
2. Argues against Anthony Savile who holds that an account of beauty should explain in similar manner both artistic and aesthetic beauty; and against Sibley who on the one hand argues that "balanced" emerges on merely perceptual features like "red" and "rectangular", but, on the other, thinks that it is an aesthetic concept in any context.
3. Artistic properties differ from mere aesthetic ones in that the former are chosen or produced for (art-historical) reasons, whereas the latter are merely there. To appreciate either kind calls for distinct considerations. To appreciate something as a work of art means assuming ex hypothesi that art-historical considerations are realised in it. If you find out a monkey made the work this does not merely lower your esteem, but "knocks it aside" (Wollheim, The Mind and its Depths, 174).
Philip Pettit: Aesthetic Realism
2. Pettit objects to affective theory: "to justify [an aesthetic description] may be to justify an experience and not a believe." (Scruton, Art and Imagination, 55).
Pettit addresses two objections to aesthetic realism: 1. Aesthetic characterizations are essentially perceptual; 2. Aesthetic characterizations are perceptually elusive.
Aesthetic contrast classes are not fixed; hence need imagination for discernment.
develops extra constraints that hold in art practice: Holistic constraints (Property kinds produce a coherent whole) and Humanistic constraints (we see the object as something which intelligibly a human could have produced).
3. Aesthetic characterizations supervene on pictorial characterizations. We mean them, they are assertions, with assessible truth values.
The language of criticism
1. Most of the debates mentioned above started out with a turn to the language of criticism. Analytic philosophers, dissatisfied with traditional approaches to aesthetic issues, turned to the language used by art critics, arguing that through analysis of this language and the relevant norms of correctness, we might acquire an understanding unavailable to lengthy speculative reasonings.
We find this approach in Weitz, Dickie, Sibley. In an important manner these authors divert from Wittgenstein's argument in Philosophical Investigations that can be said to have triggered this new approach. Wittgenstein was more interested in doing philosophical grammar: analysing the way terms are used in a practice, in language games.
4. The downside of this turn to critical language is the reduction of aesthetic issues to linguistic issues, such as definitions. Concentrating on linguistics seems to standardly imply negligence of issues of practice, psychology and agency. Authors like Margolis, Zemach, Kemp, Walton and Wollheim emphasize those more personal aspects of aesthetic issues.
Style and intentions