Aristocles wrote:Such a critical analysis may better illustrate macro and micro aspects of "culture" and "personal identity." Issues of heavy complexity would assuredly synchronize. But, as this topic may well demonstrate, I think such complexity is more helpful to attempt to engage than not, at this point...
And I am all for its engagement, Aristocles. I retain my doubts about the possibility of any “third way” which might unify art and science without abolishing one or both of them – but if this third way really is impossible, this impossibility will surely out in the end. We may then safely set these doubts aside, and embark.
There are, as far as I can tell, two possible approaches to the question that you have put before us, Aristocles. We may begin by analyzing art and science separately, to see what parts of both are either identical or compatible; or we may begin, as I believe you have suggested, directly from the hypothetical unification of art and science, to attempt to comprehend what such a unification would look like, what form it would take.
I for one am willing to follow wherever you lead. Then what do you say, then, Aristocles? Where shall we begin our investigations into the possibility of a unification or “third way” between art and science?
Greta wrote:I define art as being a work that is deemed art by its maker, and the quality of the art on the depth of the experiences it can provide (with the proviso that pleasurable associations can render the most trite art meaningful, eg. the song playing when a couple first falls in love).
Greta, your definition of art seems to me an elegant solution to the ticklish problem of defining the limits of art, insofar as it permits us to approach all
art without prejudicing our approach through any preconceived notions of what art is or must be. It seems, moreover, that your definition has the sympathy of several other contributors to this thread. I see a few problems to this definition, however. I would like to broach these difficulties, not indeed to abolish your suggestion, Greta, which seems to me to be most promising, but to indicate those areas in which we are still in need of some enlightenment.
First, it would seem that your definition precludes as art those works which are produced by a human being who does not believe that he is producing “art.” As I have previously mentioned, our idea of art is a largely modern discovery or invention, and in consequence, we cannot necessarily hope that anyone prior to the Romantic era would describe his works as “art,” even when these works appear to us clearly to be art. Take, for example, Aeschylus, who would have called his work poetry (poiesis
), and not art (techne
). By your definition, then, it would seem that we must not
consider Aeschylus' poetry as art, which seems on the face of it ridiculous. We might resolve this difficulty as follows: we of today of course include “poetry” in the general category of “art,” and so we can justify placing, say, Prometheus Bound
in the category of art on this basis. But this inclusion of poetry in art presupposes certain ideas of art and certain alterations of the classic categories which would not have been shared by Aeschylus, so that it seems even in our very liberal and noncommittal definition of art, we preserve certain specific and concrete standards which force us to understand past makers in a light different from that in which they understood themselves. The situation is yet more evident in the case of what we moderns are in the habit of calling “tribal art,” such as cave paintings or sculptures of fertility goddesses. The entire concept of “art” is fundamentally foreign to the producers of such work as this, and yet we are wont to refer to their works as artistic works.
It would seem then that we are entitled to call a certain work a work of art, against its maker's perception of this work. Yet if we are permitted to do this, it is unclear why we should not be permitted to say that certain other works are simply not
art, despite their makers' claims to the contrary.
These two problems result in yet another difficulty. We have seen that we must retroactively judge what is and what is not art on the basis of those very standards that our definition of art was supposed to permit us to avoid. Yet following this, we will be compelled to discriminate between art and non-art in the past, and much of what we judge to be non-art will be similar or identical to what we are compelled to recognize as contemporary art by the very proclamations of its contemporary makers. An example: suppose we find in a forgotten chest in some attic storage room, a canvass, dating back to the sixteenth century, completely blank but for a single faint line drawn across the middle of it. We have no indication of its maker's intention, nor of his own estimation of his product. It might indeed be simply the work of a child, or the very preliminary sketch for some planned but almost entirely unfinished painting; or it might be the precocious work of some forgotten forerunner of Agnes Martin. Our definition wants to give us the power to approach art with no preconceived standards, but it forces us into the uncomfortable position of having to accept as art objects of the past which all the most competent critics of the past would have refused to accept as art, or to reject as art objects of the past which all the most competent critics of our day would insist that we accept as art. Whether we take the one path or the other, I suspect we are in the end smuggling standards of some kind or other into our appreciation of art.
These hidden standards are almost certainly connected to the second part of your brief analysis of art – namely, the standards by which you suggest art should be, not defined, but judged. You define the quality of art “on the depth of the experiences it can provide.” I believe that, as with the definition of art you have provided, this is an attempt to provide a universal and neutral lens for the consideration of all types of art regardless of geographical or historical origin. But while the definition of art that you have proposed attempts to leave the question of “What is art?” entirely in the hands of the artists, your definition of the quality of art does not do the same. I mean to say that we cannot presuppose that all artists seek depth of experience. It may be that certain artists seek nobility of expression, beauty of form, elegance of phrase, creation of values, exactitude of depiction, breadth of vision, truth of judgement. It may even be that certain artists seek precisely superficiality
of experience. Some of these goals might be related to depth of experience, but I am not convinced that there are no tensions between them.
Now, if we judge a work of art by standards different from those that its maker employs (and I believe we must do so, else we abolish any and all meaningful concept of art), we can do so only on the basis of a demonstration that these standards are preferable for the judgement of art to any other standards of which we are aware. I suggest then that we look a little more closely at this “depth of experience,” to ask what precisely we mean by it. When we speak of “depth,” do we mean intensity? duration? indelibility? authenticity? profundity, as in what goes to the the roots or the essence? or something else altogether? When we speak of “experience,” do we mean emotion? passion? thought? or something else? And what entitles us to say that this
aim of art, and not any of the others that I have listed above, or some other goal yet, is the truest aim of art?