Thursday, March 01, 2012

One Critic on the Importance of Defining Art

Kenneth Lansing argues, against Morris 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.

5 comments:

  1. I found this very interesting. I do not know much about Kenneth Lansing nor could I find much about him, but I think he could be biased in his view if he has not had work in an artistic field of some sort. But I think that art is above human beings in a sort of way, the way that science (which he uses as an example) does not. Any argument for art being defined I think can be counter-argued with the point that art is above us, but I feel this opinion would be respective only of the artistic community.

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    1. I would have to ask the same question as Tom; you cannot say that you have a counter argument without trying to actually explain it. It would be useful to explain any vaguely spiritual outlook on art. It's not that I think your view is wrong, I simply think it needs explaining before it can be accepted or refuted.

      I think I understand why it is that you are thinking this. I think that Lansing's example of the aeronautical engineer is not quite comparable to art. It's similar in some way but not completely. Art is, currently, defined openly; we have a general idea of what art is, and based off of that we can teach about lines, colors, shapes, perspective, and so on. Art is certainly more of a spacey subject than Aeronautical engineering; artwork are certainly less well defined than airplane.

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    2. Thank you for pointing that out; I am very vague when it comes to giving evidence. Art is, first and foremost above us, because it is the ONLY thing we have created which we do not understand and, depending upon who you talk to, someone may say we did not even create it, that it was innate in us. In a Criminal Minds episode, it was quoted that the internet is "the first thing we have created which we do not understand completely" but that is untrue because we DO understand it, we just underestimate its potential harm. Art is above us also because when human beings are creative and making art, they are using so many senses and are so stimulated that it's above any feelings on earth, as I've seen from research. Someone would present a counter-argument to that saying that sex or jumping from an airplane gives a greater stimulation, but those can only last for so long and one cannot acknowledge these feelings while they are going on as well. So, the creation of art lasts longer and the beautiful stimulation is much more recognizable. Many religions also view art and music as something sacred and divine, primarily the Sufi religion--I do not, however, agree the Sufis interpret art in the best way--and art and music for them is above human beings, in another world, not too distant from Plato's idea of the Realm of Forms where the supreme knowledge lies. So, suggesting that Plato is wrong in his critique on art, the Realm of Forms houses art, music, and literature.

      I hope that makes my point clearer and also, I'm sorry I didn't get back sooner, I must have accidentally deleted the notification email as spam mail.

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    3. Thank you for pointing that out; I am very vague when it comes to giving evidence. Art is, first and foremost above us, because it is the ONLY thing we have created which we do not understand and, depending upon who you talk to, someone may say we did not even create it, that it was innate in us. In a Criminal Minds episode, it was quoted that the internet is "the first thing we have created which we do not understand completely" but that is untrue because we DO understand it, we just underestimate its potential harm. Art is above us also because when human beings are creative and making art, they are using so many senses and are so stimulated that it's above any feelings on earth, as I've seen from research. Someone would present a counter-argument to that saying that sex or jumping from an airplane gives a greater stimulation, but those can only last for so long and one cannot acknowledge these feelings while they are going on as well. So, the creation of art lasts longer and the beautiful stimulation is much more recognizable. Many religions also view art and music as something sacred and divine, primarily the Sufi religion--I do not, however, agree the Sufis interpret art in the best way--and art and music for them is above human beings, in another world, not too distant from Plato's idea of the Realm of Forms where the supreme knowledge lies. So, suggesting that Plato is wrong in his critique on art, the Realm of Forms houses art, music, and literature.

      I hope that makes my point clearer and also, I'm sorry I didn't get back sooner, I must have accidentally deleted the notification email as spam mail.

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  2. Would you care to elaborate as to how art is above us?

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