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TOK oral presentation: How do we know what is art?

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beatrice wharldall

on 21 June 2013

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Transcript of TOK oral presentation: How do we know what is art?

Berlinde De Bruyckere's
'We are all flesh'

De Bruyckere's intertwined horse sculpture was bought by the Art Gallery of South Australia for $300,000 in early 2013.

Since then, there has been much debate over whether it is truly 'art'.

Why do we need to know?
At a practical level, this is an important question because we have limited amounts of:
to spend on the appreciation of art
What is visual art?
Does 'We are all flesh' meet this criteria?
Knowledge issue:
How do we know what is art?
Historically, there have been solid definitions of art.
Today, definition is harder due to greater variation.
No: Using Emotion as a Way Of Knowing
This is a Utilitarian perspective
Areas of Knowing: Mathematics, Ethics, the Human Sciences
Some people do not emotionally connect with art
Some people connect in negative ways
Some people do not feel comfortable outside normal artistic conventions
No: Using Reason as a Way of Knowing
Something can't be art just because it provokes emotion
Don't want to waste time or money on "junk""
Shocking art does not benefit the viewer's state of mind and therefore may decrease their enthusiasm to participate in society
De Bruyckere's art was extremely expensive
'We are all flesh' is intentionally provocative
It draws attention to horrible aspects of life
De Bruyckere's piece is challenging/offensive
''Frankenstein's monsters for an age of genetic engineering."

It affronts the valiance of the battle horse

It highlights concepts that are upsetting to the human mind: vulnerability, death, decay, violence, torture, gore, fear

What differentiates this from a carcass?
Areas of Knowledge: Ethics, Reason
No: Using Sense perception as Way of Knowing
Some people may look at art and find it insubstantial.
Why is paint on a piece of paper worth lots of money?
Environmental contrasts might be upsetting
Why is a model of horses worth more than the materials?
Why is it worth more than what it looks like?
Does the contrasting setting of the work detract from it?
Letters to The Adelaide Advertiser:

“I am absolutely appalled and disgusted how this sculpture can be classed as ‘art’.”

“I, for one, will not be going to see this outrageous monstrosity.”

“The picture of a horse hanging, with no head, displayed as art was disgusting. I will never again visit the Art Gallery if they believe this sort of thing is art.”

“Mr. Mitzevich should be sacked on the spot for presenting such a perverse and evil piece of so-called art.”
value: $30,000,000
Joan Miro's 'Painting on a White Background'
Our perspective
Although it is subjective; we think Belinde de Bruyckere's 'We are all flesh' is art.
This work appeals to my sense of reason.
I like the challenge it embodies towards the concreted ideals of art culture.
Yes: Using Sense Perception as a Way of Knowing
Yes: Using Emotion as a Way of Knowing
Yes: Using Reason as a Way of Knowing
reason relies on sense perception and emotion
intention theory: Bruyckere created the piece with the intent for it to be art - therefore it is art
contemporary definitions:
conventionalist view
non-conventionalist view
This artwork uses real horse skin.

A knowledge issue raised by this work is "how do we know what is ethical in art?"
Conventionalist definitions

institutional conventionalism:
a synchronic view, typically holding that to be a work of art is to be an artefact of a kind created, by an artist, to be presented to an artworld public.

historical conventionalism:
a diachronic view that holds that artworks necessarily stand in art historical relation to some set of earlier artworks.
Institutional conventionalism

something is a work of art if, and only if:
1. An artist is a person who participates with understanding in the making of a work of art
2. A work of art in an artefact of a kind created to be presented to an
artworld public
3. A public is a set of persons the members of which are prepared in some degree to understand an object which is 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

Historical functionalism
something is an artwork if, and only if it "is an is an artwork at time t, where t is not earlier than the time at which the item is made, if and only if it is one of the central art forms at t and is made with the intention of fulfilling a function art has at t or it is an artefact that achieves excellence in achieving such a function.”
Areas of knowledge:
Art has visual form
the elements of art
the principles of design
the materials used
Bruyckere's 'We are all flesh' satisfies this criterion
Bruyckere has physically manipulated the materials into a form bearing aesthetic quality
the environmental context in which
we view art is fundamental in our
judgement of it as being art or not
art requires an audience, so through viewing it we are validating its status as art
when experiencing art, an emotional response is elicited from us
this is different for every single person
“That’s what makes a good sculpture, I think: the fact it doesn’t rely on a meaning or subject matter, but that it is so broad that you can take it in any number of different directions, and lose your way in it.”
-Berlinde de Bruyckere
Language as a Way of Knowing
through language we are able to
process and interpret sensory perception of art
interpret and express our emotional response
reason whether or not something is a work of art
Is defining art necessary?
“the phenomena of art are, by their nature, too diverse to admit of the unification that a satisfactory definition strives for, or that a definition of art, were there to be such a thing, would exert a stifling influence on artistic creativity.”
- Ludwig Wittgenstein

“X is a work of art if and only if X is a work in activity P, and P is one of the artforms.”

-Dominic Lopes
as a matter of historical fact, there is simply no stable definiendum for a definition of art to capture
The work appeals to my sense perception and emotion.
I like the bold, visceral form of the work that is used to convey intimate and unexplored concepts.
A work of art can have no objective meaning
there is evidence for and against Bruyckere's We are all flesh's status as art
there are as many definitions of art as there are people who view art, and likely as many different decisions about whether or not 'We are all flesh' satisfies these
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