Thursday, October 31, 2013
from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: What is the value of art? + NEWS
Three essays + News
This Sunday we are discussing: What is the value of art?
Art and aesthetics have a long pedigree in philosophy, and maybe one of the central issues of the topic is indeed "what is art?" For a change we are not asking for a meaning but an empirical categorization. And here is the problem: how can we sometimes speak of art as giving us a spiritual experience when all along it is an empirical experience?
In the meantime Ruel has sent us a link to his essay, see below, and the essays from Temoor and myself are at the foot of this email.
Laurence's essay "Can we make ourselves?" is now on the blog, details below.
---Essay by Laurence - Can we make ourselves? (Last week's topic)
---Ruel Essay: What is the Value of Art?¨+ Important News
Below is the link to the essay I wrote for Sunday´s PhiloMadrid topic, ¨What is the Value of Art?¨
With your kind indulgence, may I also request you to please put an announcement re the lecture seminars in English that Universidad Complutense de Madrid has offered me to conduct within the months of November and December on the following topics:
1. Contemporary Issues in Philosophy
2. Current Philippine Political Situation
3. A Historical Survey of Western Philosophy from the Pre-Socratics to the Present
To formally start each lecture seminar, the University requires a minimum of ten (10) English-speaking participants. Upon completion, every participant will receive a certificate/diploma issued by the University. The seminar fees are still under negotiation.
Thank you very much.
<IF YOU WISH TO GET IN TOUCH WITH RUEL PLEASE CONTACT ME)
I was wondering if you could print this out and stick it up anywhere you think people might be interested in these books please?? or email it on....
Thanks very much
Mary xxx (The Freud Fan :)
A 10 euros
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Todos los libros vienen con los cds, libros de repuestas y estan en muy muy bien estado
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All the best and see you Sunday
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at O'Donnell's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)
-------------------Essays: What is the Value of Art?¨
What is the value of art?
The question of what constitutes the intrinsic value, or purpose, of art is an important one. We all experience something in response to art, be it from looking at paintings, listening to music or reading novels, but what is it that we experience?
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant was not the first to try to tackle this question, but his clarification of the issue allowed an entire field of philosophy to come into its own, i.e. the philosophy of aesthetics. Kant saw works of art as examples or instances of beauty, identical to the beauty found in nature. For him, beauty was not a property of art and nature, but rather something demonstrated by a manner of response to these things. This seems to fit with the common perceived wisdom that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", i.e. that each person will have a different response to instances of beauty, according to their personal opinions. However, Kant was at pains to show that, actually, this type of relativism misses the point and has little to do with the appreciation and value of art. Rather, responses to beauty, or 'taste judgements' in philosophical terminology, are simultaneously subjective and universal. We will examine these two requirements in turn.
What does it mean for a taste judgement to be subjective? On a basic level, it indicates that the judgement is based on a feeling of pleasure (or displeasure) in art. This contrasts taste judgements with empirical judgements, which depend on other factors like education and cultural conditioning. In other words, taste judgements are not based on desire, nor do they create desires. Pleasure in the beauty of art, then, is completely different from the pleasure one feels from physical health, moral goodness and delicious food. We can see this in the transcendental nature of great art. The greatest examples of painting and poetry make us feel something unrelated to the sum of their subjects – there is something deeper, almost wistful, that they stir in us. This is at the heart of the subjectivity of our taste judgements.
Universality is a different and more controversial issue. Essentially, this requirement states that we feel an intrinsic sense of correctness or incorrectness about taste judgements. Deep down, we require others to share our taste judgements, though we may outwardly keep this to ourselves. The British empiricist David Hume famously demonstrated this with an extreme example, stating: "Whoever would assert an equality of genius between Ogilby and Milton would be thought to defend no less an extravagance than if he had maintained a pond to be as extensive as the ocean". If we accept this claim about the much-derided Ogilby and the much-lauded Milton, then we must also accept a fortiori that the same applies to any two great artists or pieces of art. The difference between the two will not be as stark and obvious, but we will still feel an intrinsic correctness about a taste judgement that holds one of them to be superior to the other.
What Kant and Hume are saying is that there is an accepted right and wrong when it comes to taste judgements, i.e. they are normative, in that we think that others should or ought to have the same taste judgements that we have. This differentiates taste judgements from simpler judgements of agreeableness – nobody thinks that others should share their love of a particular ice cream flavour, but deep down we all think others should share our judgement of the superiority of a particular piece of music.
The issue at hand:
Essentially, we have now come to the main problem. We can accept that taste judgements are different from judgements of agreeableness/niceness and empirical judgements. We know that the value of art is in its beauty, and judgements about this beauty are subjective (in the sense previously mentioned) and universal. But we don't know what the essential value of art is. However, this is no great tragedy – as we now understand a little bit about the problem, we can discuss it with more clarity. This was, in many ways, Kant's great achievement in aesthetics; the clarification of the central issue.
In characteristic mystical style, Ludwig Wittgenstein saw this as a problem of language and claimed that aesthetics exists only outside of any particular language game, so subjecting the field to linguistic analysis is what creates the problem. The modern British philosopher Alain de Botton has frequently noted that aesthetic beauty is a complex interplay between form and function – we have a higher appreciation for art that fulfils its function (including the function of conveying emotion in a painting or music) in a form that extends no further than is necessary. No one theory has been truly dominant, so it is over to us to try to solve the problem.
What is the value of art?
For something to have a value it must have a function, even if it is difficult sometimes to ascertain what the function is and the value that accrues from that function.
And for those who object that art has a function this probably stems from a desire to hold art as a human activity that is more pure more honourable than other activities we get involved in for the purpose of surviving. Maybe art is pure and honourable but it, nevertheless, does have a function.
So what is the function of art? But before we can look at this question we have to ask, what is art? And more precisely what qualifies as art?
Contrary to tradition that some philosophers and commentators have associated some sort of rational, a priori feature to art, maybe even some spiritual component to art that we don't find in other objects or activities. I would argue, however, that art is purely anchored in the empirical domain. There is nothing spiritual about art, there is nothing a priori about, there is nothing out of this world about art and there is nothing rational about art. By rational I mean some ascribed feature to art that is independent of any empirical foundation. I appreciate that this might be heresy for some, but this is again probably more due to a degree of social elitism rather than hard facts.
Indeed once we accept that art is founded in the empirical domain this makes our analysis of art more coherent and even more cogent.
So what is art? A definition I would put forward is this: art is something that inspires us to action. And by action I mean anything from the act of enjoying the art work at the time we encounter it to maybe the desire to create art for ourselves. I would also include as an act one's revulsion or dislike to an art work although this is not necessarily appreciated especially by the artist! Indifference is the enemy or antithesis of art and the artist.
And of course, inspiration is nothing more than an emotional impulse to act either now or as a future project of actions: I'm lost is bliss when I hear that piece of music; after seeing that painting I am convinced I should take up painting; I want to join my local drama group and so on. This not only confirms that art is an empirical activity but more importantly it is not an activity exclusive to the elite or the rich in society, but rather, art is a human activity. And a human activity because it is solely couched in the emotions and enjoyed in our mental state (positive feelings in the brain).
If art is something that stirs the emotions in us than maybe more things would be captured as art that maybe our conventional sense of art would exclude. Ergonomics would come to mind, is the chair we sit on at the office a work of art; is a ship a work of art or a military plane? Indeed is nature an artist since we marvel at the creations, shapes and colours of nature as much as we market at Renoir or Rembrandt?
Maybe we ought to establish the boundaries of art, if we must, by also establish what isn't art. Who and what decides "what is art?" Clearly something that is proffered as art but does not stir the emotions. This is different from something we feel revulsion at or something we are indifferent to, but maybe something that we see but have no emotional reaction to it! The 'we' is important here: this test would apply both to us individually and also as a collection of individual opinions. Many painting in churches and museums have this effect! Incidentally we have to be clear here that it is one thing to feel or not feel emotional about something put forward as art and outward public behaviour of adulation towards a piece of art. For some people it is more important to conform to the crowd than to express their opinion.
There is of course a clear objection to my definition or: art is something that inspires us to action. We are inspired by many things that are not art and we act on many things that are not caused by art. And even truer, many things create positive emotions in us that are not art. Another object, as I have already mentioned, is that this would allow many things not intended as art to be considered as us. But of course, we already do this and it doesn't pollute our sense of art in anyway. And furthermore, that many things inspires and leads to action is not an objection but confirmation, if we needed another one, that art is empirical because it fits very well in the way we act and interact with our environment.
So if art is supposed to create an emotional state in us, what is the purpose of art. An obvious purpose, if not a primary purpose, is for the artist to express his or her emotions and feelings in a medium that may convey these emotional states to others. The fact that we feel good about works of art suggests that these serve as an emotional stimulant like recreational drugs and good food. And maybe even like recreational drugs, art can have a negative effect on us; we spend hours in a museum looking at paintings, spend our money going to the theatre or cinema everyday; buy every record that is published by our favourite composer, incessantly talk about our favourite actress or actor to the disgust of our friends and so on.
If art has a purpose it must have a function. And since art is an empirical activity we can see that in many cases the art expressed and the medium of the art were once two separate things. If we take paintings for example, the medium was used to convey information about the environment for example cave paintings about wildlife to religious images to convey religious teachings to a general population that was basically illiterate. Once the printed word was cheap to produce and more people could read, painting was used more for other purposes for example for family portraits or decoration of the churches themselves. The skills of the masters still give pleasure whatever the painting is about. A more modern example is photography, film photography is still being used for art photography and still gives pleasure to many even though photography today is digital.
So we can say that one of the values of art is intrinsic to the medium; despite the medium transitioning from conveying a message to conveying emotions the medium and the emotion transmitted still behold and still awe the observer and, to be sure, the artist. Thus as long as the medium we use to convey an artistic emotion can affect us we are thus able to value that art.
The value of art is not found in some abstract idea of the soul or some other unearthly existence. Nor is it found in some elitist component which only a selected few have access to. But rather in the fact that the effects can be measured and can affect everyone by virtue of us being human. This does not mean that we are all affected the same way by the same work or art, but rather by virtue that, at the philosophical level, we all have a functioning emotional system.
Feeling good is also something we value in art; and there is nothing more important for us, after life, than to feel good. And this is something that not only can be measured but more importantly something we are very capable of articulating for ourselves.
And because art affects us by virtue of being human, it has the irrevocable status of other human activities that are exclusive for being human in nature, such as health care, education, freedom of expression and so on. An oppression of art is an oppression of the human being.