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What is Art?

Philosophy Seminar

Laura N

on 12 December 2013

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Transcript of What is Art?

What is Art?
Graphic Design
Art as an Imitation
- Art is an imitation of a reality (a person, an event, etc.)
- Plato: Art is pointless
An imitation can never be as good as the real thing
Spending your time contemplating art means you’re focused on a pale imitation and ignoring the reality
-Different version: Artworks "represent" something, not necessarily "imitate"
- Carroll, "Philosophy of Art", Ch. 1
Representation Theory
- Art as Imitation
- Art as Expression of Emotion
- Art as Form
- Art and Aesthetic Experience
- Art as What the Artworld Says It Is
Different Views
- Aristotle
1. Art can arouse pleasant or beneficial feelings by imitating those feelings or moral qualities, or help channel out, or purge, raw and powerful emotions
2. Art can give us insight into other humans and the world
But still, some things we call “art” are not representational (abstract music/art, etc.)
God in Michelangelo's, "The Creation of Adam"
Is it right to restrict art to presenting an accurate picture of reality? Some things we call art don’t imitate anything (abstract paintings, etc.) Also, how can artworks imitate something that no one knows about (a historical figure, God, etc.)?
Art as an Expression of Emotion
-Art is an expression of emotion
-Popular in the 19th century because of Kant (noumenal/phenomonal stuff); the Romantics thought that although reason cannot get at the “noumenal world” our feelings can; art was the expression of the feelings of the artist who is beyond the “phenomonal” world

- The difference between art as an imitation of reality and art is an expression of feelings is:
1. Expressing feelings is different from imitating of recreating feelings
2. Even if there’s an inaccurate imitation of reality in the art, it can still express the artist’s feelings. Good art doesn’t only have to be an accurate copy of reality
-The Expression theory can include forms of art, eg. music, where it’s hard to imitate anything
Transmission Theory
"Art is that human activity which consists in one human consciously conveying to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he has experienced, and in others being affected by those feelings and also experiencing them."
Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?, 1898
This however...

-excludes unintended or accidental art works

-the emotion transmitted must be the same as that intended by the artist

-demands that the artist express an emotion in an artwork

-makes it necessary the artist didn't fake the emotion

-requires that the emotion be unambiguous

-makes it necessary for there to be an audience
Solo Expression Theory
An audience is assumed either:
(i) in principle (i.e., hypothetically)
(ii) the artist is himself/herself the audience
Should an object be disqualified as an art work just because it has been accidentally or unintentionally created?
Should an unintended emotion disqualify the object as an art work?
Many artists express emotions in their work that they may have not been experienced (such as extreme fear in battle, etc.)... Are their works not art?
How do art works "express" emotion? Art works are not people, and cannot possess mental properties (since emotions are mental properties) (e.g., "the fugue is sad", "the painting is happy")
Carroll argues that art works possess "configurational properties" (e.g., rhythms, speeds, shapes, lines, etc.—which some of our authors have dubbed "form"), and we have, anthropomorphically, assigned emotional properties to these configurational properties
The whole Expression theory also seem "too broad": many things that we don't consider to be art would seem to satisfy the criteria, eg. an angry letter
Why must it be only emotions? Many art works are more properly viewed as expressing "ideas", or "concepts", with the emotions being very secondary to the artist's main intention
Art as Form
- British art critic and philosopher Clive Bell suggests that something is a work of art simply by the way its parts and materials are arranged and put together, regardless of what it imitates or represents, giving birth to the Formalist theory

- With Bell’s view, abstract art can be considered real art
But what type of structural complexity must an object possess to qualify as having significant form (and how much)?
Some people object the belief that the content of an artwork is irrelevant to its "aesthetic" qualifications or value
Robert Morris' Sculptures
A Pile of Clothes
What's the DifF?
Brugel's Icarus
[Icarus' leg is here]
- An artwork must have content and form which are related to each other in a satisfyingly appropriate manner
- Tries to account for the previous problem by allowing the work, and its parts, to have content (to represent something), and to allow the content of the whole work to pick the form that is appropriate to expressing that content

- Like with the expression theory… many artworks do not have content (eg. abstract art)
- And as mentioned before, many artworks don't have a significant form
Neo-Formalist Theory of Art
Art as
Aesthetic Experience
Bell added to his Art as Form view saying the parts of an artwork must be arranged in a way that will “stir our aesthetic emotions”, which is a special feeling when one sees a beautiful work of art (different from ordinary emotions like joy, anger, etc.)
“All sensitive people agree that there is a peculiar emotion provoked by works of art… [A]nd that this emotion is provoked by every kind of visual art, by pictures, sculptures, buildings, pots, textiles, etc. is not disputed, I think, by anyone capable of feeling it. This emotion is called the aesthetic emotion… Art transports us from the world of man’s activity to a world of aesthetic exaltation. For a moment we are shut off from human interests; our anticipations and memories are arrested; we are lifted above the stream of life... He who contemplates a work of art, inhabit[s] a world with an intense and peculiar significance of its own; that significance is unrelated to the significance of like. In this world the emotions of life find no place. It is a world with emotions of its own.”
Clive Bell
Things that are not art can also be called “beautiful”, such as a butterfly or flower
Bell claims it is possible for people to feel an aesthetic emotion for nature, including it as "art" unlike the other views where only manmade works were considered art
- Francis Hutcheson: beautiful = “uniformity in variety”

- Aristotle: beauty = “an orderly arrangement of parts”

- Hume: beauty = “consistency and uniformity of the whole”, “variety”, “fitness to attain its end”, “clearness of conception”, and “exactness” of imitation
Today, many philosophers agree with Bell that art is form and that good artwork arouses “aesthetic emotion”, however most do not feel that only beautiful things can be art
What is beauty? Different people disagree on what qualities make a work of art beautiful. Are aesthetic properties subjective or objective?
The End of Art?
American Philosopher Danto claims “art has ended”

Neo-Wittgensteinian Theory of Art
Ludwig Wittgenstein, believed:

(1) Art is an "open" concept: it is impossible to provide a list of all the essential properties that an object needs to qualify as an "artwork"; our concept of art is constantly changing and adapting over time

(2) There is no single property that is common to all artworks; rather, a complex series of overlapping properties and resemblances - the object should have a large number of those properties, but one single property may not necessarily be possessed by all of them. (family resemblance theory)

(3) An "art practice" is the means by which the open concept of art changes over time; the social activity (of artists, critics, audiences, etc.) that deems objects to be artworks
The "open" concept idea of art is "too broad", since it seemingly allows for anything to qualify as an artwork, since the definition of artwork can change over time, and in any way
The "family resemblance" theory of artworks is also "too broad" since everything bears some similarity to everything else, everything can qualify as an artwork
Art as what the Artworld Says It Is/Institutional Theory of Art
1. An artist is a person who participates with the understanding in the making of a work of art
2. A work of art is an artefact… created to be presented to an artworld public
3. An [artworld] public is a set of persons… prepared to some degree to understand [a work of art] presented to them
4. The artworld is the totality of all artworld systems
5. An artworld system is a framework for the presentation of a work of art by an artist to an artworld public
John Cage's "4 Minutes 33 Seconds"
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