When it comes to art and opinion, we are always reminded of the latin maxim: De gustibus non est disputandum (There’s no disputing taste). However, in the anime Hyouka (13th episode) the issue of art and subjectivity is raised by two high school girls, between Mayaka Ibara and her senpai, the president of the manga club. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
Posts Tagged ‘aesthetics’
I came across this fascinating article on salon.com about the corrupting influence of nostalgia on contemporary culture. The argument of so-called Generation Void is that retro-zeitgeist nostalgia has mutated to the point that there’s no longer any original work anymore. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
This exceedingly liberal idea that everyone is an artist –irrespective of the fact whether they’ve produced any artwork – has never sat well with me, personally. If art is the process of arresting creativity with production that is shared with others, then only a select few qualify as artists. In other words: only the actual is genuine, not the potential. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
This is more of a thought experiment, sort of analysis that compares and contrasts typography and photography (in the case of the “story without words,” illustration) and how their form predetermines the content.
Bear with me, I’m in a marshall mcluhan mood.
Yes, form of discourse does regulate and dictate the kind of content to be issued. For example, smoke signals couldn’t possibly express philosophical argument. The puffs are not sufficiently complex to express ideas on, say, the nature of existence. Even if they were, the cherokee philosopher would run out of wood or blankets long before he arrived at his second axiom. That’s why you can’t use smoke to do philosophy, for its form excludes the content. (More likelihood why I’m skeptical of ASL as a formal language)
The content of writing is semantic, paraphrasable and propositional. When typography is the principal medium of communication, especially language under the yoke of the rigors of print, an idea, a fact, a claim is the result. It could be a boring idea, the fact irrelevant, or the claim false, but if language is the instrument, meaning is inescapable.
When discourse was centered in typography, as it was in 18th and 19th century America, it was content laden and serious. Telegrams eroded this in mid-19th century, and photography furthered this erosion until television radically transformed public discourse. But that’s another point.
Meaning is the demand to be understood. The writing forces the author to say something, and the reader to know the import of what is said. When both author n reader struggle with the semantic meaning, they are engaged in a serious challenge to the intellect. In the act of reading, it is a rational activity.
Reading is a process that encourages rationality to our habits of mind, because of its sequential, propositional character. To engage in writing is to follow a line of thought, which involves the ability to classify, make inferences and reasoning. Ideas are weighed and compared, assertions are contrasted, and generalization connect to another generalization.
That explains why the age of reason coexisted with the emergence of a print culture, first in Europe and then in America.
Photography, coined by the astronomer Sir John Hershel, literally means “writing with light.” To speak of photography as language is a risky metaphor because it also obscures the fundamental difference between photography and typography. First of all, the language of photography articulates only in particularities. Its vocabulary of images consists
of concrete representation alone. As opposed to words and sentences, the photograph doesn’t present an idea or concept about the world, other than us employing language in order to transform the image into an idea. That is why the photo cannot deal with the unseen, the remote, the internal, the abstract. it can never speak of “man” but only A man; not of “tree,” but only of A tree.
We can’t photograph “nature,” because we can only capture a particular fragment of the here and now, a cliff of a certain mountainside, under a certain climate, all from a particular point of view. Just as “nature” cannot be photographed, the larger abstractions like truth, honor, love, falsehood cannot be talked about in the lexicon of pictures. To talk about and to show are 2 different sort of processes. Salomon said that “Pictures need to be recognized, words need to be understood.” While the photograph presents the world as object, the language presents the world as an idea.
There’s no such thing in nature as “man” or “tree” because the universe does not offer categories or simplifications for our convenience, for it is flux in its infinite variety. Language makes them comprehensible.
Also, photos lack syntax, where’s there’s no way to argue with the world. It is an objective slice of space time that testifies someone was there or something happened. Sure, it contains very powerful testimony, but there are no opinions. No “shoulda” no “coulda.” The lack of words does predetermine the content, because form limits content, and only with words can a story utilize abstraction.
But none of this count against comic books where the forms of typography
and photography maintain a precarious balance! Heh.
There’s an anti-aesthetic movement, an undercurrent of skepticism of art, in academia. Recent developments in literary studies claim the aesthetic is only a tool of ideology, a complicit institution that reinforces the modern capitalist state.
This is also where “formalism” has been transformed into a disreputable word, charged as something insidious as a political befuddlement or conservativism. Even deconstructionists got in on the act when they denounced the romantic aesthetic notion of symbolic embodiment as something that enabled totalitarian ideology.
The anti-aesthetic song and dance starts with sheer skepticism of the concept of aesthetic value, saying objective value is impossible, and then crediting the rise of the aesthetic value with the rise of the economic value. Second, more fundamentally, their attack focused on the very criteria of aesthetics, how a piece of art is defined, and demolished it as something bogus. This means the criteria (disinterest, autonomous form) is actually class based, or part and parcel of the class distinctions of the middle class society.
When a critic says the aesthetic experience that a certain writer describes is dependent on, or in accordance to, the preferences of a specific class, they are not saying that the experience does not exist. For example, when Pierre Bordieu says a taste for autonomous and non-utilitarian art is limited to the upper class, he is not saying that this taste is just an ideological delusion. He is actually saying that,
because they represent the value of a specific class, there is no transcendent value.
One can object by pointing out that even if an aesthetic value or experience does play a part in class distinction, it doesn’t necessarily prove that the value or experience does not exist on its own terms. For one thing, even if the experience protects class distinction, this pleasure may be real and worth having too, and for another, an experience we all may recognize as particularly aesthetic does not disprove that the experience doesn’t have “cultural capital.” Therefore, aesthetic experience both exists and serve ideological ends. Art can be universally valuable, even if it is limited in its availability due to contingent social arrangements. Just because there are many forms of values that are associated with class distinctions doesn’t mean that aesthetic experience cannot ever establish anything definite about art or that it shows the independence of art from ideology.
The value of aesthetic criteria as autonomous form, disinterest, anesthetic, and embodiment were put forward by folks like Kant, Shaftesbury, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
Questions that are framed by the word “what” are formally essentialist because they presuppose the possibility of an essence that satisfies the question. Ergo, asking questions like “what is art” predisposes the subject matter of art into an essentialist framework. Instead of posing this question that somewhat sets unnecessary limits for art, Nelson Goodman proposed to dump that question and begin asking “when is art” instead. By starting with a different word, the topic of art changes – no longer limited to the search for the necessary or sufficient conditions of the possibility of the concept of art – freeing its radical creativity from the prison of theory….
Nelson Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking instructs us how art is composed of category schemes that dictate the criteria of identity for their objects. If two category schemes contain different criteria of identity, then it follows that they are irreducible to one another. Both category schemes do not treat of the same things. Constructivism entails that since a world consists of the things it comprises, irreducible schemes establish different worlds, many worlds that are dramatically different. If the categories which determines identity conditions of objects are human constructs, then we are worldmakers, creatures of imagination, and creators of art. Art, inasmuch science, makes and reveal worlds. Formally, aesthetics is the branch of epistemology that analyzes the cognitive functions of art. Goodman investigates, in greater depth, syntactic and semantic structures of symbol systems, literal or figurative ones.
Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy posited a radical account of art: Art saves the suffering creator and through art, life saves the sufferer for himself. This is a kind of truth that denies life and subsists only by illusion or some form of self-deception. The greater the capacity of suffering, the greater the need to reinterpret reality. And man is an acute animal that suffers rather acutely. Art justifies existence through one’s creative energies by sanctioning it with values. Only the truly hypersensitive pour forth creative energy and recast the meaninglessness of reality into a vision of humanity.
This viewpoint rides shotgun on the Schopenhaueristic premise that life is bereft of meaning. The ancient Greeks were natural pessimists and had a great capacity for suffering. Silentus said “what is best of all is forever beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. The second best, however, is soon to die.” It should be added that for too long we, the inheritors of western civilization, have had this absurdly romantic view of the Greeks as enlightened or naive people who considered suffering a foreign concept. Nietzsche argued that they created Apollonian arts to render their existence endurable and the Homeric dream world is the medium of their idealization of the highest good. “Only as aesthetic phenomenon is existence and the world eternally justified.” (Birth of Tragedy) Aesthetics is not beholden to some foreign criteria of justification or metaphysics. In other words, the world isn’t moral in the Christian sense, nor rational in the Hegelian, but beautiful – simply just so.
Yet, some propose art to be an artifact of politics, a pedagogical tool of the masses. Some even purport to link a moral character to the quality of art. These alternatives hardly deserves a response. Moral behavior does not dictate the talent of the artist. The artist faces an empty canvas, without anything in advance. The artist is not following a schema, a pattern when he begins to paint or draw or Photoshop. No previous decision predetermines the next movement of the brush, the pencil, or the cursor. The picture is completed when he decides it is finished. The last line is the one he chooses as the end.
By no right does an artist claim whatever is art, besides his or her own aesthetic standard. Art does not exist outside the specific choices of the artist, who brings the concept of art into the world with their specific work of art. As a result, they take responsibility for the concept of art as a whole. They are stating what art means for everyone else as well. Artists create the values, the only legitimate sort of values that evaluates their work. Bottom line: there is no such a priori “predetermining explanation” that defines creativity. Everything in art is ad hoc, after the fact, and contingent upon the subjectivity of the artist. When the artist employs the concept of art, they are giving it a meaning for everyone to see. This resembles the “intersubjectivity” of language that a concept of one’s creation is available for everyone else to witness and comment on, agree or disagree with, or attempt to elaborate on.