Wednesday, September 5, 2007

ZenTiger Why define Art?

TBR has an interesting post about defining Art. I had a good rant about half way through the thread: a lot of 'art' is pseudo-intellectual rubbish where some-one with no talent and little brain tries to convey a simplistic idea that supposedly becomes deep and possessing of layered complexity that only those with equally little brain get all excited that they see some larger idea beyond the turd displayed before them. and it lead to Paul Litterick making an assumption that what I personally didn't like, I'd not call art. That's not actually the case, but I couldn't help relate this back to an earlier discussion about Culture - given it was Paul that accused this blog of not displaying a suitable amount of culture appreciation. The link for that side trip is here: Culture Quota Club.

So, Paul wants me to define art, and I'm interested in him defining culture, as it seems to exclude whatever we talk about here. I feel a rant coming on.

[Rather than post a huge comment on TBR on the above mentioned thread, I thought I may as well post it here and link back to TBR.]

Paul, perhaps you'll need to define culture?

Your previous post points to the giddy sophistication of La Bohème; passages from Middlemarch; and Harold Bloom - but not what he said, but more importantly his enthusiasm for the poetry of Wallace Stevens and the inner thigh of Naomi Wolf!

So, goes your thesis, we are cultural ignoramuses for not speaking more of the things you think we defend (I'm not actually interested in defending Naomi Wolf's feminist fantasies about her former teacher as my cultural heritage but all power to you for your je ne sais quois :-) ).

Unfortunately, like art, culture is a very broad brush to paint with. Lucyna's recent observation that TV advertisements are increasingly filled with overtly sexual themes could be seen as a comment on culture. Working backwards, so what is it we think we are losing when this is the topic of a post? Naomi Wolf's inner thigh reduced to an advertisement to sell tomato sauce? Surely even Bloom would shudder at his alleged desires being so blatantly reduced to a Pavlovian ploy that treats a fine mind as simply a rutting animal?

But I thought I laid a fair few clues to my thoughts on art in my previous comments? The one liner, if you like, was my comment that art is culture's reflection in a mirror.

So, if one argues a glass walled toilet is art, I'm left wondering why we even need to prove our culture is under threat.

And as you might distill pop-culture from culture, then perhaps I may be allowed a distillation of art from the pseudo-intellectual wankery that pretends to be art?

Oh sure, any-one could define tripe as art, but in doing so they just prove our decline in our culture. We find beauty is replaced with intellectual snobbery. Where once we debated the subtleties of democracy over a fine wine or a nice glass of hemlock, always cognisant of our fallibility - now we strive to measure ourselves on how much control we can exert on our lives and the assumption we are only fallible when we acknowledge our Christian heritage. I suspect this is because for many, our new God is reason. Look at how Dawkins et al are revered by atheists to get an inkling that 'reason' is being wielded like it is a magic wand that turns moral certainty into moral relativism. Suddenly, nothing is more important than the self. But not the soul. Not the brain. The groin. It's no longer about the desirability of long term relationships, but what you can extract from a short term one. Contraception and Abortion? The victory of logical necessity, founded on cold clinical beliefs that place the groin higher than the heart.

So the challenge is to define art. But really, what is the point? The definition simply becomes the target to destroy.

Something of beauty? Here's a canvas painted black.
Something that stirs the soul? Here's a toilet with a glass wall.
Something that displays a unique talent? Here's a block of stone.
Something that pays homage to our spiritual nature? Here's a burqa over the Virgin Mary.

We are dealing here with cultural vandals. Look at the benefits the institution of marriage has given society. But now, instead of marriage being promoted as a life long commitment between man and women to raise a family together in the spirit of love, it can mean almost anything. Men want to 'marry' men. De facto relationships 'count' the same. A family just needs one parent to be considered normal. Even the terms 'Husband' and 'Wife' are politically incorrect. To avoid embarrassing those that can't be bothered with commitment we must all be 'partners'. So why attempt to define the term when it just makes for target practice by those you should truly be attacking if you care so much about Bloom's alleged enthusiasm for the inner thigh of Naomi Wolf (Or Naomi's feminist interpretation on an accidental touch?). Either way - watch your friends turn it into an advert for tomato sauce. And that will not be due to my reluctance to eruditely share my 'culture' on a blog.

3 comment(s):

Paul said...

I thought your definition of art might be useful because you do not accept, as art, works that are recognised as art by the art world. I offered the definition which I find most persuasive: works of art are those objects accepted as art by the art world. This definition I think reflects reality most accurately and avoids making value judgments - accepting or rejecting objects as art on the basis of personal preference.

I accept Kazimir Malevich 's Black Square and Carl Andre's sculptures as works of art, as does the art world. I also think they are very good works, a subjective opinion. You seem to be taking a stance that such works are not art, because in your opinion they do not conform with values that you think essential to art.

It seems your definition of a work of art is an object which conforms to your values. Correct me if I am wrong.

peter said...

The question is surely not whether something is 'art or not' because really almost anything could be considered art.

The question simply is regarding the quality of the work. So, we can ask ourselves what defines quality, but at the end of the day, again, we're all going to have different ideas. Art is a series of symbols essentially - and we may all have our own understanding of the symbols depending on the experiences we've had in our lives. For example, someone referred earlier to an artist using an aborted baby in an art work. Some people may find that disgusting, some people might find it deeply moving, some disturbing. Likewise in a more tradition painting, some people may be able to appreciate the brushstrokes, religious iconography, etc and be moved or impressed by that. Others may not be interested, because they simple haven't experienced the foreknowledge that gives access to that perception/interpretation.

So where am I going with this? Simply that, different people will have different ideas of whether a particular art work has quality to them, and that it is small minded and childish to suggest that just because I find something wonderful that everyone else ought to find it wonderful too, or that something is 'not good' and everyone else ought to agree.

However, because there are some art works considered 'better' than others, 'masterpieces' etc. And I am not suggesting some postmodern confusion: that all art works are created equal, some certainly have the ability to provoke feeling and new ideas in the viewer than others. And so perhaps that could be a definition of quality: the ability to provoke new feelings and ideas.

peter said...

That last bit should read:

some certainly have *a stronger* ability to provoke feeling and new ideas in the viewer than others. And so perhaps that could be a definition of quality: the ability to provoke new feelings and ideas.

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