What is Art?

Use this forum to have philosophical discussions about aesthetics and art. What is art? What is beauty? What makes art good? You can also use this forum to discuss philosophy in the arts, namely to discuss the philosophical points in any particular movie, TV show, book or story.
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Re: What is Art?

Post by -1- » July 14th, 2017, 8:28 pm

The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

The horse that pulls best gets whipped the most.

A leopard can't lose his spots.

If humans are made in the image of god, then the entire universe is in trouble.

I'm OK, You're Not (Psychological self-help book title from the seventies.)

Different is better.

Just do it.

Just say no.

Just say no and do it.
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Re: What is Art?

Post by SimpleGuy » September 16th, 2017, 11:48 am

Art is either a sociological process, that defines it's own ethics through definiton of esthetic or correct composing of word, pictures, sculptures movement etc. or an evolution that enhances scientific innovation beyond simple recognition of facts but improving standars through man made esthetic projections of reality , that somehow define man's own mind within the scope of his society. The richer the art-world of a society get's the more different brilliant ideas can be transferred to other disciplines.
There is no general definition of art, it varies with society, politics, religion etc. that's why it is so difficult to define. The best example is image analysis and image postprocessing , that somehow give a new way to look at filtering stochastic differential equation in a more art like way. For example rescaled foerstner operators can produce like in my diploma thesis , van gogh like pictures after postprocessing images with it.

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Spraticus » September 17th, 2017, 3:48 pm

Yes, no doubt, but what is art?

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Atreyu » September 26th, 2017, 3:43 pm

True art is very similar to what a college professor would do in writing a science textbook, the only difference being the artist conveys what he wants to convey via the emotions, rather than solely via the intellect. A true artist knows exactly what he is trying to express, just as the author of a textbook does, only he expresses it primarily via emotions.

If we take a science textbook, let's say one concerning biology, we all know that it's impossible for different people to understand the book differently. Every reader, if they are sufficiently prepared for the material, will understand the principles of the textbook in the same way. It's not possible for two readers to understand the textbook in entirely different ways. If they are both of equal intellect, and both sufficiently prepared for the material, they will both understand the principles of biology outlined in the textbook in the same way.

True art is the same. A work of true art will always affect those who see it in the same way, providing, of course, that the men in question have the same level of being. And it will affect them in the way in which the artist intended it to.

True art conveys knowledge, just like the textbook does, only this knowledge is expressed in a more abstract (emotional) way than in the textbook.

"False", or "subjective" art, is not like this at all. The "artist" has no knowledge to convey, and his "art" might affect two different people in entirely different ways.

There is a lot more than could be said on this subject, but what I've said above is a good framework from which to proceed....

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Spraticus » September 27th, 2017, 4:40 am

That isn't a definition of art; it's a definition of some art and what you would personally like art to be. A full definition would need to encompass all art from the very worst to the very best. A definition that says that only good art is real art is internally contradictory.

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Re: What is Art?

Post by LuckyR » September 28th, 2017, 2:59 am

Atreyu wrote:True art is very similar to what a college professor would do in writing a science textbook, the only difference being the artist conveys what he wants to convey via the emotions, rather than solely via the intellect. A true artist knows exactly what he is trying to express, just as the author of a textbook does, only he expresses it primarily via emotions.

If we take a science textbook, let's say one concerning biology, we all know that it's impossible for different people to understand the book differently. Every reader, if they are sufficiently prepared for the material, will understand the principles of the textbook in the same way. It's not possible for two readers to understand the textbook in entirely different ways. If they are both of equal intellect, and both sufficiently prepared for the material, they will both understand the principles of biology outlined in the textbook in the same way.

True art is the same. A work of true art will always affect those who see it in the same way, providing, of course, that the men in question have the same level of being. And it will affect them in the way in which the artist intended it to.

True art conveys knowledge, just like the textbook does, only this knowledge is expressed in a more abstract (emotional) way than in the textbook.

"False", or "subjective" art, is not like this at all. The "artist" has no knowledge to convey, and his "art" might affect two different people in entirely different ways.

There is a lot more than could be said on this subject, but what I've said above is a good framework from which to proceed....
Can you give an example of some of this true art? I'd love to see some...
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Re: What is Art?

Post by Spraticus » September 28th, 2017, 5:03 pm

"True art is the same. A work of true art will always affect those who see it in the same way, providing, of course, that the men in question have the same level of being. And it will affect them in the way in which the artist intended it."

This is possibly the most untrue statement about art that I have ever seen. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder; beauty is a response by the perceiver to a stimulus,( which in this case is a work of art). Different people respond in different ways to any complex stimulus, and particularly to meaning laden works. Beauty, and any other response, is not inherent in the work.

You should perhaps check your wording with a woman.

What is a "level of being"?

It is generally accepted by artists that nobody will see it the same way they do. They are trying to make an approximation of something in their mind's eye, and the result often surprises the artist as much as anybody.


"True art conveys knowledge, just like the textbook does, only this knowledge is expressed in a more abstract (emotional) way than in the textbook.

"False", or "subjective" art, is not like this at all. The "artist" has no knowledge to convey, and his "art" might affect two different people in entirely different ways."


A lot is going to hang on your definition of knowledge.

The second and third sentences are presumptious, ignorant and wrong. ( I speak as a trained artist with a second degree in psychology and philosophy.) Almost all art is subjective; only the purely mechanically illustrative is objective, and it too can provoke feelings of awe if it is sufficiently impressive.

It's probably a mistake to try and force art into some Victorian style of art theory about "true art" and "the true art lover."

"'beauty is truth, truth beauty,' – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know", may be affective and effective as romantic poetry but it's wrong. We need both words to convey two very different meanings.

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Atreyu » September 29th, 2017, 3:13 am

LuckyR wrote: Can you give an example of some of this true art? I'd love to see some...
It can usually only be found in ancient works. Stonehenge, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, etc. You can also find many works of real art in the East, and also in ancient American cultures such as the Incas and the Aztecs, among others. If you're intuitive enough, you'll feel something in these works of art that you won't feel in contemporary "art".
Sparticus wrote:
Atreyu wrote: "True art is the same. A work of true art will always affect those who see it in the same way, providing, of course, that the men in question have the same level of being. And it will affect them in the way in which the artist intended it."
This is possibly the most untrue statement about art that I have ever seen. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder; beauty is a response by the perceiver to a stimulus,( which in this case is a work of art). Different people respond in different ways to any complex stimulus, and particularly to meaning laden works. Beauty, and any other response, is not inherent in the work.
My response would be to say that what I said about true art is not generally known. People don't ordinarily know the difference I delineated above concerning art. So all "art" is taken on the same level, when, in fact, certain works of ancient art are certainly not on the same level as what is ordinarily called "art". I myself can definitely feel something big when I view the Sphinx, which I never feel when viewing contemporary art.
Sparticus wrote: What is a "level of being"?
Living things exist on different levels of being. I'll go from lower to higher, with the hope that you'll get what I mean by thinking about the difference in the nature of existence of each one: inorganic matter ---> organic matter ---> viruses ----> microorganisms ---> plants ---> insects ---> other invertebrates ---> vertebrates ---> mammals ---> apes & dolphins ---> humans ---> "angels" ---> "gods" ---> the Primordial Source of Everything.

Different organisms have inherently different modes of existence, which I'm called their "being". And humans also, within the species, also can exist on very different levels of being. Compare pedophiles, common criminals, and Hitler to saints, those who start non-profits, nuns, geniuses, and Jesus. Men exist on different levels and men on a higher level of existence can always get more from real art than those who live on a much lower level of existence (being).
Sparticus wrote: It is generally accepted by artists that nobody will see it the same way they do. They are trying to make an approximation of something in their mind's eye, and the result often surprises the artist as much as anybody.
Right, but that's not real art. In real, or "objective" art, the artist knows exactly what he wants to create, and knows how it will generally affect people.

Your trouble with this idea, imo, rests on the fact that at present, you cannot differentiate between the two, because all you know is ordinary "subjective" art. Try comparing some ancient Buddhist art with a modern contemporary painting, and see if you cannot feel something different.

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Spraticus » September 29th, 2017, 4:52 am

Atreyu wrote:
LuckyR wrote: Can you give an example of some of this true art? I'd love to see some...
It can usually only be found in ancient works. Stonehenge, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, etc. You can also find many works of real art in the East, and also in ancient American cultures such as the Incas and the Aztecs, among others. If you're intuitive enough, you'll feel something in these works of art that you won't feel in contemporary "art".
Sparticus wrote:
(Nested quote removed.)


This is possibly the most untrue statement about art that I have ever seen. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder; beauty is a response by the perceiver to a stimulus,( which in this case is a work of art). Different people respond in different ways to any complex stimulus, and particularly to meaning laden works. Beauty, and any other response, is not inherent in the work.
My response would be to say that what I said about true art is not generally known. People don't ordinarily know the difference I delineated above concerning art. So all "art" is taken on the same level, when, in fact, certain works of ancient art are certainly not on the same level as what is ordinarily called "art". I myself can definitely feel something big when I view the Sphinx, which I never feel when viewing contemporary art.

My first reaction to this is that it must be wonderful being the only person in the world who knows all this. But then reason and common sense butt in and I wonder whether it is, in even the slightest way, philosophy?

The big problem with this sort of mystical "knowledge" is shared with religion; you can just make up anything you like and claim special privilege that puts it beyond challenge. But, I'll have a go.

"People don't ordinarily know the difference I delineated above concerning art." That is because it isn't true anywhere or at any time, except in your head. What gives you the special reaction in front of an Egyptian statue, for example, is exactly the same set of neurological events as occur in everyone else's head when they have an experience of awesomeness from whatever it is that turns them on. You have no privileges. You are not special.

Sparticus wrote: What is a "level of being"?
Living things exist on different levels of being. I'll go from lower to higher, with the hope that you'll get what I mean by thinking about the difference in the nature of existence of each one: inorganic matter ---> organic matter ---> viruses ----> microorganisms ---> plants ---> insects ---> other invertebrates ---> vertebrates ---> mammals ---> apes & dolphins ---> humans ---> "angels" ---> "gods" ---> the Primordial Source of Everything.

Different organisms have inherently different modes of existence, which I'm called their "being". And humans also, within the species, also can exist on very different levels of being. Compare pedophiles, common criminals, and Hitler to saints, those who start non-profits, nuns, geniuses, and Jesus. Men exist on different levels and men on a higher level of existence can always get more from real art than those who live on a much lower level of existence (being).


You haven't actually defined it. You just put it in other empty words that need defining in turn. Pedophiles, criminals geniuses and saints, etc. are not mutually exclusive groups. A genius who carried out massive humanitarian works might still be a pedophile for example. There is no know "mode" of existence that differentiates these people in the existing literature. If you have made some amazing new discovery you should publish it. A Nobel prize awaits.
Sparticus wrote: It is generally accepted by artists that nobody will see it the same way they do. They are trying to make an approximation of something in their mind's eye, and the result often surprises the artist as much as anybody.
Right, but that's not real art. In real, or "objective" art, the artist knows exactly what he wants to create, and knows how it will generally affect people.

Oh Dear! All the artist are wrong about what they are doing. I've been studying and practicing art for about 55 years and I know a lot of similar people. We've clearly been wasting our time. We should have asked you about it.

Your trouble with this idea, imo, rests on the fact that at present, you cannot differentiate between the two, because all you know is ordinary "subjective" art. Try comparing some ancient Buddhist art with a modern contemporary painting, and see if you cannot feel something different.




How would you know? I would guess that my experience of art is a bit more than yours. I've looked at art from cave paintings to the present day, and the reaction varies with the work and not with the category.

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Atreyu » September 30th, 2017, 3:12 am

Spraticus wrote: My first reaction to this is that it must be wonderful being the only person in the world who knows all this. But then reason and common sense butt in and I wonder whether it is, in even the slightest way, philosophy?
It's not philosophy proper, but it could be taken as such.

I'm not the only one who knows about the difference between "objective" and "subjective" art. In fact, I learned this idea from others. After hearing about it, I could not deny that I also felt a difference.
Spraticus wrote: The big problem with this sort of mystical "knowledge" is shared with religion; you can just make up anything you like and claim special privilege that puts it beyond challenge. But, I'll have a go.
Knowledge is not imagination, and, again, I didn't make any of this up. This is a very ancient idea.
Spraticus wrote: You haven't actually defined it. You just put it in other empty words that need defining in turn.
Well, it's difficult to define, much like "art", which is the subject of this thread. But I did try to give examples and a hierarchy, in order that you might grasp the general idea.

Being is what something is. And, naturally, different organisms are inherently different, and this difference is not just based on knowledge. The reason we know physics and a bird does not, is not simply because the bird doesn't have access to any teachings about physics. It's because the being of a bird is incapable of assimilating and understanding such knowledge. Now just apply this idea to humans.

Sparticus wrote: Oh Dear! All the artist are wrong about what they are doing. I've been studying and practicing art for about 55 years and I know a lot of similar people. We've clearly been wasting our time. We should have asked you about it.
It appears you're taking this personally because you consider yourself an artist.

There's nothing "wrong" with subjective art. I was just defining "art" by establishing the difference between what could be called "objective" art versus "subjective" art. IMO one cannot really understand what "art" is without first differentiating between these two basic categories.
Spraticus wrote: How would you know? I would guess that my experience of art is a bit more than yours. I've looked at art from cave paintings to the present day, and the reaction varies with the work and not with the category.
Right. I only brought up ancient works of art as an example of objective art because that just happens to be where most of it can be found. Objective art could exist anywhere, anytime, it depends on the artist, not the time period.

Take a look at these works of ancient art: http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/toltec-warriors.html

This art is simply inherently different than contemporary art. And if one can feel it, one might detect a certain knowledge present in this art, a certain knowledge that is never present in ordinary "everyday" art. You can see it in the Sphinx, the Pyramids, Stonehenge, and many other ancient works of art. This kind of art can convey knowledge. Ordinary art doesn't do that.

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Spraticus » September 30th, 2017, 5:59 am

Right. I only brought up ancient works of art as an example of objective art because that just happens to be where most of it can be found. Objective art could exist anywhere, anytime, it depends on the artist, not the time period.

Take a look at these works of ancient art: http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/toltec ... riors.html

This art is simply inherently different than contemporary art. And if one can feel it, one might detect a certain knowledge present in this art, a certain knowledge that is never present in ordinary "everyday" art. You can see it in the Sphinx, the Pyramids, Stonehenge, and many other ancient works of art. This kind of art can convey knowledge. Ordinary art doesn't do that.

I looked. The Olmecs, like the ancient Egyptians lived in a very controlled and formalised culture. The style was rigid and dictated by the priests. Every aspect of an Egyptian frieze was worked according to a formula. There are still works of great beauty because formulaic processes don't automatically preclude that, and some works, such as the sculpted head of Nefertiti manage to be remarkably individual. Your artificial objective and subjective distinction is simply irrelevant to the question. Both are art and neither is intrinsically better.

It's not the objective/subjective distinction as such that I'm objecting to, but the mystical nonsense attached to it. In much of art the distinction is arbitrary and superficial; many works that appear objective are in fact imbued with the artist's individual way of doing things, such as the Nefertiti head. I guess you are proposing something along the lines of this...

Gurdjieff used to say that there are two kinds of art. One he used to call objective art, and the other he used to call subjective art. Subjective art is absolutely private, personal. Picasso’s art is subjective art; he is simply painting something without any vision for the person who will see it, without any idea of the person who will look at it. He is simply pouring out his own inner illness; it is helpful for himself, it is therapeutic. […]

The ancient art was not only art; it was, deep down, mysticism. Deep down, it was out of meditation. It was objective, in Gurdjieff’s terminology. It was made so that if somebody meditates over it, he starts falling into those depths where God lives.

Khajuraho or Konarak — if you meditate there, you will know what the Tantra masters were doing. They were creating in stone something that is felt in the ultimate orgasmic joy. It was the most difficult thing to do, to bring ecstasy into the stone. And if the stone can show the ecstasy, then everybody can move into that ecstasy easily.


The problem with mysticism is that it is beyond philosophy and science. It is precisely the kind of inner fantasy that is criticised above. It cannot be challenged because it claims an inner knowledge and resorts to simply insulting anyone who objects by defining them as lower beings.

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Atreyu » October 1st, 2017, 3:45 am

I never used the term "mysticism". That's your term. I'm just trying to establish the difference between two different basic categories of art, and I used Gurdjieff's terms, calling them "objective" and "subjective" art, although Gurdjieff himself made clear that these terms were inadequate, and that he only used them because he really couldn't think of any better words to use.

I'm guessing that you get the gist of what I'm talking about, and the reason you're ranting about "mysticism" is because you don't like the topic. I get the impression you're the type of person that indeed can feel a certain difference between something like the Sphinx and something you'd find in a modern American museum of art.

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Spraticus » October 1st, 2017, 10:07 am

I object to mysticism for precisely the reason I gave above. Gurdjieff uses the word a lot and bemoans the "fact" that there are no more mystics in the world. Claimed mystical experiences or mystical insights are intrinsically private experiences and beyond examination.

The distinction between objective and subjective is not new. As two aspects of art they have been recognised and discussed for a very long time, but they are not normally imbued with the exclusive importance given to them by Gurdjieff. Most people in art would see a bit of both in most works, except perhaps the purely abstract.

I would absolutely deny that there is something in ancient art that is missing from modern art. Art wasn't all better in the old days; it's just mainly the good stuff that has survived, but where poor work has survived from the past it is at least as awful as the worst art today. Modern art is also probably more varied in purpose and intention. It's also very easy to misinterpret ancient art because there are often no documents remaining to explain the artist's objectives, making it very easy to impose your own meaning on the work.

Attempts to prescribe art always fail. Movements and regimes come and go, and there's always another movement coming along. The catholic church tried it, Stalin tried it, Hitler tried it and the works he condemned are now admired and valued far more than the turgidly awful works he supported.


I'm guessing that you get the gist of what I'm talking about, and the reason you're ranting about "mysticism" is because you don't like the topic. I get the impression you're the type of person that indeed can feel a certain difference between something like the Sphinx and something you'd find in a modern American museum of art.


I know what you're saying; I just disagree with it. There is certainly a difference between something like the badly damaged sphinx and, say, Jeff Koons' Puppy outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao, but it's not a difference between subjective and objective. It's hard to guess how good the sphinx might have been but it was made for very particular reasons, dictated by a theocracy, to glorify a king who was seen as a link between gods and men. It is an expression of gigantic ego on the Trump scale. I am slightly awed by it, in that it was a huge piece of work for a very primitive society with only the most basic technology, but as art it leaves me cold. Koons' Puppy on the other hand is a piece of joyful kitsch that glories in its deliberate vulgarity and brings a smile to my face.

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Atreyu » October 1st, 2017, 9:16 pm

Spraticus wrote: It's also very easy to misinterpret ancient art because there are often no documents remaining to explain the artist's objectives, making it very easy to impose your own meaning on the work.
Spraticus wrote: It's hard to guess how good the sphinx might have been but it was made for very particular reasons, dictated by a theocracy, to glorify a king who was seen as a link between gods and men. It is an expression of gigantic ego on the Trump scale. I am slightly awed by it, in that it was a huge piece of work for a very primitive society with only the most basic technology, but as art it leaves me cold. Koons' Puppy on the other hand is a piece of joyful kitsch that glories in its deliberate vulgarity and brings a smile to my face.
It's rare to find such a blatant contradiction in a post. (red)

As you suggested, the real meaning behind the Sphinx can't be known, but to think that it was all about vanity, theocracy, and the ego of self-important kings and nothing more is simply false. It was also saying something about Man and the Universe, but this is precisely what is difficult to extract from it.

What's in blue is quite interesting. Basic technology? Well, sure. Basic knowledge? Not at all. Modern man hasn't a clue how they built such large structures, usually resorting to "common sense" explanations like mass forced labor, and various "walking" techniques using ropes. The truth, however, is that they used a certain knowledge completely unknown to modern science to build them, namely, they knew how to manipulate objects using sound. Faint remnants of this ancient knowledge even lives on today in the snake charmers of the East....

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Re: What is Art?

Post by Greta » October 2nd, 2017, 12:02 am

My understanding is that the large pyramids were built by roughly 20,000 labourers working over a span of about 20 years.

Interestingly, it seems that in the case of at least some pyramids, the workers were most likely not slaves because there is evidence of significant medical interventions on them. As noted by the narrator, why would they go to so much trouble to fix the injuries of expendable slaves? Further evidence regarding the workers' living quarters suggested that their work carried some status.

Like gladiators of Rome, these workers appeared to have some status, so the status was accorded at least on part due to the sacrifices they were making for the overall group; significant malformations of the workers' spines and limbs were found due to heaving work. Their life spans were no doubt compromised by their vocation.

While I've not personally seen the pyramids, I am familiar with art whose most prominent feature is size - the ability to impact an observer. Those who have seen Spinal Tap will be most familiar with how much difference there is in artistic affect between a Stonehenge replica eleven feet tall and one that is eleven inches high.

Thus, we cannot fairly judge the art of the pyramids or other huge art (even Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles) via pictures. Let's face it, a pyramid isn't exactly a fancy shape but if you make one almost 150 metres high and comprising over two million massive stone blocks, it will not fail to inspire awe.

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