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Tony Watkins

Subjectivity and Objectivity in Art

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PTC,

I am trying very hard to satisfy your qualms, shall I say. I take a good deal of time in composing these posts. I would talk about the Real in Art as I would talk about the Truth in the Bible. We talk about the Good, the True, the Beautiful because we know these things have reality and transcendence.

I admit I can

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[Comment deleted because it was interpreted as "a cheap shot." Certainly didn't intend it that way, but I don't want any more misinterpretation, so it's gone.]

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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The intuition that a child makes in learning to read is the result of a great deal of experience composing a base for a

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I'd love to hear some more responses to Tony's original question.

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My reviews are available to everyone online, of course, but I don

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FWIW, I agree. I think that was a cheap shot on JO's part.

Heavens, I didn't mean it as a "shot"... cheap or otherwise. If that's what it is, then this whole thread is a shooting match rather than a dialogue.

I'm getting lost trying to make sense of johnmark's arguments. I thought that seeing what he does when he actually sits down to write a review would help me get a better handle on it. In those reviews, I focused on paragraphs that seemed to get to the heart of his opinions, and I excerpted some of those.

But, since that's coming across as "cheap" instead of helpful, I'll delete the comment. I don't take cheap shots on the board. I'm not interested in starting any more snark-fights than we already have here.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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Er, excuse me. It has been noted more than once that this discussion has gone substantially off topic, and there has been at least one request for the thread to be split. Can I reiterate that request please? Given the amount of discussion we've had on subjectivity, it might be better to rename this thread and start a new one on the experience of film.

(There's much of this off-topic discussion I would like to continue engaging with, but I said I wasn't go to so I'm biting my keyboard)

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FWIW, I agree. I think that was a cheap shot on JO's part.

Heavens, I didn't mean it as a "shot"... cheap or otherwise. If that's what it is, then this whole thread is a shooting match rather than a dialogue.

I'm getting lost trying to make sense of johnmark's arguments. I thought that seeing what he does when he actually sits down to write a review would help me get a better handle on it. In those reviews, I focused on paragraphs that seemed to get to the heart of his opinions, and I excerpted some of those.

But, since that's coming across as "cheap" instead of helpful, I'll delete the comment. I don't take cheap shots on the board. I'm not interested in starting any more snark-fights than we already have here.

Thank you for deleting it. Perhaps I misinterpreted it, but . . . enough said already.

Abstract art, like a Bach fugue, is concerned, I think, with the attempt translating our thoughts and thought processes into physical, perceivable terms.

I'm not sure in what sense a Bach fugue could be considered "abstract." And I think your definition here is too broad: all art is concerned with expressing thoughts and thought processes. Abstract art brings emotion to the front of the artistic process and tries to push all other thought

Edited by David Smedberg

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I guess with abstract, the question is "abstracted from what?" . . . I'm thinking abstracted from the ordinary natural world. (That's the sense in which the Bach fugue is abstract.)

But by that definition, all art would be abstract. Art does not exist in the natural world.

(sigh) Such radically different definitions of "abstract." If only language were perfect.

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So, I think I see what you're striking at here - that art, no matter whether it tells somebody else's story (my definition earlier), is always telling the artist himself's story, through one means or another.

Would that include art that asks questions instead of drawing conclusions?

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mrmando,

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church there are two ways to interpret Scripture, the literal and spiritual way. The spiritual is divided into three ways and all these would also apply to art.

1) The allegorical sense

2) The moral sense

3) The anagogic sense

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I guess with abstract, the question is "abstracted from what?" . . . I'm thinking abstracted from the ordinary natural world. (That's the sense in which the Bach fugue is abstract.)

But by that definition, all art would be abstract. Art does not exist in the natural world.

(sigh) Such radically different definitions of "abstract." If only language were perfect.

Good point. I guess I meant that not only is the art abstracted from the natural world, but that its subject matter itself is also not (directly) something you find in the world.

That's not to say that an artist could make up something truly new in his own mind, since that's impossible - to be able to think (I think) we need something outside us, which we can perceive, to think about. But that statement doesn't preclude the possibility for abstract thought, such as math. I guess that I would say that the Bach fugue is one kind of abstract art in roughly the same sense that I would say math is one kind of abstract thought.

David,

Whatever an artist does, whatever his project whether it is personal, impersonal, or mercenary gets his stamp. The mercenary, if it is far from one's heart, gets slight investment of personality (but often bears the greater stamp of style), but any happily chosen, voluntary work must bear the marks of clear projection.

Homer believed he was telling someone else's story, but both the Iliad and the Odyssey revolve entirely around Homer's central beliefs about Hospitality; that everyone must adhere to basic social goods and tenets or everything would go wrong as he then illustrates through the tragedy and then romance.

Homer's belief that good graces, honor and decency should rule our lives is what make his epics so contemporary and powerful today.

I agree to an extent, but I think you're going too far by using such words as "any" and "must". If I were to take up my pencils right now and start to draw, trust me that it would be happily chosen and voluntary, but it would almost certainly also lack a personal sense or, as you call it, "projection", since I'm just not that good an artist yet. Similarly with Homer (who may not even have been one person), his wonderful grasp of language, i.e. his craft is the sine qua non, without which his personal beliefs would not be visible.

(I'm not even sure if we're disagreeing here . . . )

I would still passionately argue that just that difference separates what we would ordinarily refer to as "storytelling", with all its awkwardness and misapprehension, from the rest of art, which is all too often a self-centered closed system, neat and clean but sterile.

Do you have any examples of what you mean between art which is storytelling and that which is sterile and closed? Otherwise, I am missing your point here.

First of all, I should immediately clarify my earlier point: I don't think that story-telling is in all cases the better choice (which could easily be mistaken to be my point) . . . I just think that extra care must be taken in art which is pure self-expression.

Secondly, I've been trying to think of works which I could, in good conscience, reply: 'I am sure that this work by this artist is a well-crafted piece of self-destruction,' but I can't, especially in this public forum. I might be wrong, and I don't want to be wrong about such a thing.

So, I think I see what you're striking at here - that art, no matter whether it tells somebody else's story (my definition earlier), is always telling the artist himself's story, through one means or another.

Would that include art that asks questions instead of drawing conclusions?

In my opinion, absolutely. A good artist shouldn't cut off any of the aspects of his life from his art, because that kind of dishonesty short-circuits his ability to perceive the world - it blinds him. That's why it's so important for artists (just like anyone else) to make their life as holy as they can.

Edited by David Smedberg

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I think everyone here would agree that this thread is not so much about film, nor is it much about "the experience of film". As such, I have moved this thread into the "ARTS in general" forum, and have renamed it. I have also created a new thread titled "The Experience Of Film" that will hopefully stay in-line with Tony's original questions (and as such, I will try to move any applicable posts from this thread to that one).

Apologies for any confusion this might create, just trying to keep things somewhat orderly around here. :)

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I think everyone here would agree that this thread is not so much about film, nor is it much about "the experience of film". As such, I have moved this thread into the "ARTS in general" forum, and have renamed it. I have also created a new thread titled "The Experience Of Film" that will hopefully stay in-line with Tony's original questions (and as such, I will try to move any applicable posts from this thread to that one).

Apologies for any confusion this might create, just trying to keep things somewhat orderly around here. :)

Thanks Opus. I might feel more inclined to join in with this discussion again now! :)

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According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church there are two ways to interpret Scripture, the literal and spiritual way. The spiritual is divided into three ways and all these would also apply to art.

Whoa! Do I hear you saying there is more than one way to interpret art? Well, that's progress, anyhow.

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mrmando wrote:

: I'm not sure in what sense a Bach fugue could be considered "abstract."

Isn't that how Deems Taylor describes the Bach piece when he introduces it in Fantasia?

johnmark wrote:

: I would talk about the Real in Art as I would talk about the Truth in the Bible. We talk about the

: Good, the True, the Beautiful because we know these things have reality and transcendence.

That's still not very useful, because at some point you have to say WHAT is Good, WHAT is True, WHAT is Beautiful -- and you have to have some REASON, some THEORY of Goodness and Truth and Beauty, underlying your claims, otherwise you're just making it up as you go along.

Likewise, you have to say WHAT is Real, and in order to do this, you have to have some THEORY of Reality, which so far you have failed to spell out for us.

Explanations would be better for your cause than mere assertions. So long as you say nothing more than "Is too!", the rest of us are free to reply with nothing more than, "Is not!"

: I admit I can't make an argument if we can't acknowledge in a similar fashion what the Real is.

Do try, though.

: Peter, if you can't admit that some works or art have more of the Real in them than others . . .

Don't change the subject. No one is disputing that some works of art have more of the Real in them than others. What we are disputing is the BASIS (assuming you have one) by which you can declare WHICH works of art have more of the Real than others.

: . . . then I can't possibly persuade you by a different form of argument.

"Different"? Wouldn't that imply that you have made an argument already?

: Is there anyone among us who is not defective in their knowledge of things about life, God,

: themselves? Then it is very likely that if X doesn't get Tolstoy or Shakespeare or Homer or Dante,

: that defect is not in them nor Leonardo, Bach, or Phidias.

As Daffy Duck says, "Pronoun trouble." Who is "them"? "X"? "Tolstoy or Shakespeare or Homer or Dante"? And why would anybody assume that the famous people are automatically less "defective" than the not-so-famous people who think the famous people are over-rated?

: That may be nothing more than a bald assertion to, Peter, but in fact some assertions are more

: informed than others.

You should have no trouble sharing your information (as opposed to assertions), then.

: Some observations are more intelligent or wise than others. I quote Jesus and Socrates because

: we acknowledge, I hope, that their bald assertions have weight and merit.

Well, some of the stuff that Plato puts in Socrates' mouth is pretty dumb, as I recall; it has been years since I studied The Republic in university, but it left a very mixed impression. I am far more interested in the skeptical questions Socrates asks than in the bald assertions he makes.

: If Peter rejects the idea of the Real in art . . .

But since I do not, we can cut that line of thought off right now.

: How is a statement about art not rooted in art?

Artistic expression and artistic analysis are, for the most part, two different things.

: If I say there are no absolutes in farming potatoes, is that accurate because my statement is

: somehow not rooted (enjoy the pun) in potato farming?

It sounds like you have lost track of what either you or I was trying to say. The statement "there are no absolutes in farming potatoes" cannot be in any way self-contradictory, because making statements and farming potatoes are two completely different enterprises. (Of course, the statement might be contradicted by OTHER things, such as the nature of potatoes or of farming, just not by ITSELF.)

: But I'm sure that we could make a great many absolute statements about potatoes and their

: farming.

No, you could only make false statements and true statements, and the true statements would all be provisional, based on your study of potato farming itself. As potatoes evolve, and as farming evolves, it is entirely conceivable that statements you made today might not be applicable in the future.

: People say that beauty, ugliness, fear, love, right and wrong, are universal concerns to all

: humanity. That's an absolute almost everyone will endorse.

And yet, we disagree on what those words mean. This is where dialogue becomes important, as we try to explain to each other why something is beautiful or ugly TO US.

: C'mon, Peter. If you can

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mrmando wrote:

: I'm not sure in what sense a Bach fugue could be considered "abstract."

Isn't that how Deems Taylor describes the Bach piece when he introduces it in Fantasia?

Boy, I sure don't remember. If so, is he referring to the music or the animation? Speaking as a musician who has a basic understanding of the principles of theory, harmony, form and structure in musical composition, I can confidently say that Bach never wrote anything that would be considered "abstract" according to those principles. Particularly not a fugue.

A nonmusician conditioned to think about music more as a collection of pleasing sounds might think of all instrumental music as "abstract," but to a musician that ain't so.

Again, we may be contending here with differing definitions of "abstract."

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mrmando wrote:

: : : I'm not sure in what sense a Bach fugue could be considered "abstract."

: :

: : Isn't that how Deems Taylor describes the Bach piece when he introduces it in Fantasia?

:

: Boy, I sure don't remember. If so, is he referring to the music or the animation?

Hmmm, I may have gotten it confused. A quick Google search turns up two websites -- both apparently based in Germany, oddly enough -- which transcribe Taylor's line thus:

"How do you do? My name is Deems Taylor and it's my very pleasant duty to welcome you here on behalf of Walt Disney, Leopard Stowski, and all the other artists and musicians whose combined talents went into the creation of this new form of entertainment,
Fantasia
. What you're going to see are the designs and pictures and stories that music inspired in the minds and imaginations of a group of artists. In other words, these are not going to be the interpretations of trained musicians, which I think is all to the good. Now there are three kinds of music on this
Fantasia
program. First there's the kind that tells a definite story. Then there's the kind that while it has no specific plot, does paint a series of more or less definite pictures.
And then there's a third kind, music that exists simply for its own sake. The number that opens our Fantasia program, the 'Toccata and Fugue', is music of this third kind -- what we call 'absolute music'. Even the title has no meaning beyond a description of the form of the music. What you will see on the screen is a picture of the various abstract images that might pass through your mind if you sat in a concert hall listening to this music.
At first, you're more or less conscious of the orchestra. So our picture opens with a series of impressions of the conductor and the players. Then the music begins to suggest other things to your imagination. They might be, oh, just masses of color. Or they may be cloud forms or great landscapes or vague shadows or geometrical objects floating in space. So now we present the 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' by Johann Sebastian Bach, interpreted in pictures by Walt Disney and his associates, and in music by the Phildelphia Orchestra and its conductor Leopold Stokowski."

So he calls it "absolute music" and says it is accompanied by "abstract images", and I guess it was all too easy for my brain to replace one word with the other.

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Ah, very good. Well, johnmark has already challenged the notion that any composition of Bach's is properly understood as existing "for its own sake," and from what I understand of Bach's life and approach to his music, I would have to agree with johnmark. Nonetheless it is useful to refer to the Toccata and Fugue as "absolute music" to distinguish it from "programmatic music," as is done in the film.

I see it's time to add Fantasia to my queue, as I really can't remember anything about the animation set to the Toccata and Fugue.

Perhaps here would be a good spot to observe that the animated segment for Rite of Spring has nothing to do with the ballet for which the music was composed, and the segment for Night on Bald Mountain (a/k/a St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain) similarly is out of line with the composer's programmatic intent, AFAIK. The other criticism often leveled at Fantasia is that it "tweaks" the music (Rite of Spring for sure, and I think The Sorcerer's Apprentice as well), i.e., rewrites the compositions in spots to fit the animation.

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Speaking as a musician who has a basic understanding of the principles of theory, harmony, form and structure in musical composition, I can confidently say that Bach never wrote anything that would be considered "abstract" according to those principles. Particularly not a fugue.

A nonmusician conditioned to think about music more as a collection of pleasing sounds might think of all instrumental music as "abstract," but to a musician that ain't so.

Well, here's one musician saying so. :) And yes, I have got a basic understanding of form and harmony.

Well, actually, I wouldn't say that all instrumental music is abstract . . . that would be too broad. But that the Bach fugue is abstract - absolutely. And, once again, I'd like to know what abstract means to you. Why should abstract mean formless?

I guess my problem might just be that your understanding of abstraction isn't that of my dictionary . . . which says that to abstract is to

consider a concept without thinking of a specific example

and that's basically what I was getting at above with my comparison to mathematical thought.

Edited by David Smedberg

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