Monday, October 25, 2010

(AP) Lansing on Weitz

Kenneth Lansing argues, against Weitz in particular, that we can and must define art. An excerpt:

If art educators teach anything at all, they teach composition, artistic procedures or techniques, and skill building. But how can they justify the teaching of composition or design if there is no specific compositional characteristic that a work of art must possess? How can they justify efforts to develop skill in the handling of the tools and materials of art if such skill does not need to be reflected in works of art? Who is to say what students must know and be able to do in art if the production of art objects doesn't require any particular knowledge or ability?


Consequently, I am compelled to ask why someone doesn't entertain the idea that we may have assigned the term "work of art" unjustifiably to certain things in the past. Or is it "okay" to have thrown that term around carelessly only to discover, years later, that we can't define the nature of its referents because they don't have anything in common?I am also compelled to ask how evaluation in art can be carried out in any logical fashion if we don't know what the subject is or what it requires. To get an idea of how important such a problem is, try applying it to a different discipline. Consider, for example, the fix that teachers of aeronautical engineering would be in if they didn't know what an airplane was.

3 comments:

  1. The use of rhetorical questions give this a bit of the feel of a rant. Consider this one:

    "...how can they justify the teaching of composition or design if there is no specific compositional characteristic that a work of art must possess?"

    I am inclined to answer that we might teach composition or design even if there were no necessary and sufficient conditions for art, and hence no specific compositional features it must have, on the grounds that some particular compositional and design features have been judged artistic historically, so mastering them gives us a socially recognized foundation upon which to stand to do what we wish with art.

    The analogy to aeronautical engineering is not very strong. It works for architecture, or any artisanal practice with functional or structural requirements as well as aesthetic qualities, but not all art has to do something else in addition to being art.

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  2. I'm attracted only to his anti-Weitzian conclusion that art is definable; unfortunately, he seems mostly inclined to assert that conclusion by blunt force.

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  3. Yes, after all, don't all people know that rhetorical questions are dismissive and obnoxious?

    Lansing does a poor job rebutting Weitz's theory. The teaching of composition and design, as you suggest, is not predicated upon a list of necessary and sufficient conditions for art.

    "Or is it "okay" to have thrown that term around carelessly only to discover, years later, that we can't define the nature of its referents because they don't have anything in common"

    I think this misses the more general idea of Weitz's theory; that art is undefinable due to its openness not necessarily due to the referents historically in place.

    I agree with Johnson and Lansing that Weitz is mistaken and that art very well can have a definition. Weitz never entertains, at least in publication, the idea of an open but definable concept, an idea I hope to adequately articulate in my CW thesis.

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