Is this Art?

Started Oct 24, 2011 | Discussions thread
Mark Scott Abeln
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In reply to tkpatric, Oct 29, 2011

Of course it is art. Is it good art? Obviously good enough to be selected by the museum curators for display. Do I like most of it? No. Should taxpayers support art such as that? Some, maybe, but not with my tax dollars.

Call me a throwback, but I don’t like a lot of Enlightenment art theory, like we find with Kant and Hegel, who are found at the root of much contemporary theory. And don’t even get me started with Marxist art theories.

I like to go back further, from the time when they made really great, awe-inspiring art: Classical, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, and the traditional arts of Asia and elsewhere. I find much enlightenment from the ancient philosophers who inspired those great styles, including Pythagorus, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Boethius, Augustine, and Aquinas. I’ve also found Vitruvius and Euclid important, as well as some more recent British writers, particularly the Inklings and some Victorian theorists.

Here are some contemporary art theories:

  • Art is whatever artists, museums, and art schools say it art.

  • It is a mistake to define either art, since it has no essence.

  • Something is art only if an audience perceives it to be art.

  • A work is art only where it functions in an æsthetic context.

  • Art is the property of the wealthy classes, and is a class prejudice against labor and utility.

  • The purpose of art is to shock and enrage the bourgeois , or to show the plight of modern man in urban society.

  • Art is the self-expression of the feelings and creativity of the artist.

  • Art is for art's sake.

A big problem is that these don’t get at the heart of the matter, they don’t tell us what art is in itself, or they only look at one aspect of art divorced from others.

A common pre-modern definition is found in the Latin phrase ars est recta ratio factibilium ; art is right reason with regard to external productions. Or in other words, art is something made by people using their reason, and so we can talk about:

  • The art of building.

  • The art of cooking.

  • The art of computer programming.

  • The art of painting.

  • The art of photography.

The traditional definition does not specifically include aesthetics, and so is far broader than modern definitions, which calls only a narrow slice of the arts ‘Art’. However, I think divorcing aesthetics from utility was a mistake: consider that the opposite of aesthetic is ‘anesthetic’ and so by necessity everything has an aesthetic component. Just look at premodern design to see aesthetics and utility in a happy marriage, which is something that the Steampunks find compelling, and rightly so.

Everything made ought to be made artfully, if it is to be made well. I think we suffer because too much is utilitarian, and does not appeal to the whole person.

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