Sunday, August 27, 2006
What is art?
Since definitions aim at setting limits, Dominic made a good point when he said that a work of art “is a man-made thing,” an artifact -as distinguished from an object in nature. A sunset is beautiful, but it's not art. A piece of driftwood may have aesthetic qualities, but it is not a work of art. On the other hand, a piece of wood that has been carved to look like driftwood is not an object of nature, but of art. Is it intention or “purpose” what characterizes art? Even that was challenged by Duchamp’s objets trouvés. Even though “Fountain” is a urinal, it could be that the act of recontextualizing it, i.e. setting it in a different space (re)defines it as art. Could art relate to a kind of heightened interaction with a particular environment? Historian Rhonda Roland Shearer has argued that exhibiting a found object “is already a modification from its natural state” (think of an installation of sea shells inside a gallery entitled “Wisdom”). According to this definition, paintings, sculptures, buildings, furniture, automobiles, ships, etc, can be seen as art. Arthur Danto (well-known critic and philosopher of art) has suggested that “art” should be kept open, as “an evolving concept” (as coincidentally one of you suggested on Wednesday). In addition, you advanced these other functions for “art”: (1) Self-expression (Jason?), (2) A way of presenting problems (Ernie?), (3) A means of human communicaton (visual perhaps? (Michele), (4) Is “art” innate? (Maria) Some of your suggestions point to important themes in aesthetics: (1) is the thesis of Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce in his book The Essence of the Aesthetic, (2) defines the manner of aesthetic investigation for Martin Heidegger in his essay The Origin of the Work of Art. (3) characterizes semiotics as a discipline in the Human Sciences. As per (4) I think of Jung's quote: “Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument.” The issue points to an old debate, which still goes on. I side with evolutionary biology. This post addresses our first art issue. Please, find time to respond by (the latest) Tuesday, so we can have an interesting online discussion. Thanks to all for further problematizing existing problems.