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Art and Competition

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I just checked out Jacques Maritain's "Art and Scholasticism" out of the library. He has a good definition of art:

"The philosophers tell us that art consists essentially, not in performing a moral act, but in making a thing, a work, in making an object with a view not to the human good of the agent, but to the exigencies and the proper good of the object to be made, and by employing ways of realization predetermined by the nature of the object in question.

Art thus appears as something foreign in itself to the sphere of the human good, almost as something inhuman, and whose exigencies nevertheless are absolute: for, needless to say, there are not two ways of making an object well, of realizing well the work one has conceived -- there is but one way, and it must not be missed.

The philosophers go on to say that this making activity is principally and above all an intellectual activity. Art is a virtue of the intellect, of the practical intellect, and may be termed the virtue proper to working reason.

But then, you will say, if art is nothing other than an intellectual virtue of making, whence comes its dignity and its ascendancy among us? Why does this branch of our activity draw to it so much human sap? Why has one always and in all peoples admired the poet as much as the sage?

It may be answered first that to create, to produce something intellectually, to make an object rationally constructed, is something very great in the world: for man this alone is already a way of imitating God. And I am speaking here of art in general, such as the ancients understood it -- in short, of art as the virtue of the artisan.

But where the maker of works especially becomes an imitator of God, where the virtue of art approaches the nobility of things absolute and self-sufficient, is in that family of arts which by itself alone constitutes a whole spiritual world, namely the fine arts.

There are two things to be considered here. On the one hand, whatever the nature and the utilitarian ends of the art envisaged, it participates by its object in something superhuman, since it has as its object to create beauty. Is not beauty a transcendental, a property of being, one of the Divine Names? "The being of all things derives from the Divine Beauty," says Saint Thomas. In this respect, then, the artist imitates God, Who made the world by communicating to it a likeness of His beauty.

...The architect, by the disposition he knows,

Buildeth the structure of stone like a filter in the waters of the Radiance of God,

And giveth the whole building its sheen as to a pearl.

On the other hand, to create a work of beauty is to create a work on which shines the radiance or the splendor, the mystery of a form, in the metaphysical sense of this word, of a ray of intelligibility and truth, of an irradiation of the primal brilliance. And no doubt the artist perceives this form in the created world, whether exterior or interior: he does not discover it complete in the sole contemplation of his creative spirit, for he is not, like God, the cause of things. But it is his eye and his spirit that have perceived and uncovered it; and it must itself be alive within him, must have taken on human life in him, must live in his intelligence with an intellectual life and in his heart and his flesh with a sensitive life, in order for him to be able to communicate it to matter in the work he makes.

Thus the work bears the mark of the artist; it is the offspring of his soul and his spirit."

It is available on line for anyone intersted in reading the whole enchilada:Art and Scholasticism

Edited by Jim Janknegt

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...

What is your definition of art?

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You're not exactly catching my gist. :) ...I *think* you'll understand my position better if you read my paper. :)

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But beauty IS a message. In and of itself. Beauty is a message. It's a message that no propositions could convey.

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You are correct; that's not where I am coming from. Perhaps my definition of communication is broader than yours? Like I said, beauty IS a message in and of itself. You can communicate beauty through art. You can communicate horror. You can communicate a whole slew of things that mere propositions cannot touch. A gentle caress of your wife's hand communicates. But what it communicates cannot be strictly put into words - unless those words are artistically arranged. :)

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Thanks! I've read it, and refer to it in my paper. :) (Sorry about all the paper plugs; it's just that it's 30 pages long, and I worked hard to arrange my thoughts there. It says this stuff better than I can now, or at least forms a good basis for understanding my thought. And for what it's worth, I think it's a pretty good paper!)

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(Yes, this IS in my paper :) ) Veith proposes that in judging artistic merit, we look for ability/talent, intelligence, knowledge, and craftsmanship. I think that works pretty well.

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I'm afraid we're going to have to agree to disagree here. In your paper is the crux of my dissatisfaction with your definition:

"...which raises the question of just what it is that art is supposed to communicate."

I don't think art is _supposed_ to communicate anything. It can and most often does, but it doesn't have to, which is actually what I take your quote of Gene Veith to say. But to say art is supposed to communicate something makes art only propoganda.

And I disagree that beauty necessarily communicates anything, it just is and I find much peace in not requiring beauty to do anything else but be itself. Thus when I come across a work of art I can not feel the need to have it communicate anything and just enjoy it on its own. Also, something being beautiful is not the same as communicating beauty.

I also disagree that God's creation is not art. I do believe that is why it inspires such art from man, creation itself is art. I would agree that God's art is different from and superior to man's since God can create from nothing. From there, I guess it could be argued that the best we can hope is to be derivative or interpretive (trying to recreate a sunset--much less sunlight--onstage is an impossible task). So if that is all art is, then I guess it could be constrained as only a human activity. I just don't agree.

Maybe we're playing semantics. Or maybe not. You say "communicate". I say a work of art reflects (conveys, transmits, or is a conduit for) a simple moment it time of the artist. That's the best I can sum up my definition at this point. I would say intent plays a role, but sometimes art is an accident. Some wonderful works of music started out as a simple excercise. I don't think art is an exclusive ability, anyone can be an artist and usually is at one point or another in their life, whether they know it or not. So chosen profession is not a pre-requisite,

But then all this is part of the struggle I tangle myself in as an artist. Along with, is my style impressionistic or expressionistic? Am I being an artist even when I am being lazy? Where is the line between technique and art? Why does art seem to come so much easier to others than to me?

I just think saying "communicates" automatically puts unnecessary requirements or burdens on art. But I can see why you would think that art is only imaginative communication. And I'm sure as I reread your paper I'll find another perspective, probably truer to your intent. But I'll have to print it out first. Reading that much on the computer at one time hurts my eyes.

Joe Futral

P.S. Veith's criteria are great for craftsmen, but I wouldn't hold all those to artists. Not that artists can't be or shouldn't be great craftsmen, just that craftsman and artist aren't always equivalent.

JF

Edited by jfutral

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Big thumbs up for Maritain. There's a book that will change your life, if you let it. The changing may take a while.

I don't think the Dove awards will necessarily make CCM artists strive to do their best, so much as making them strive to do a particular kind of song / album / video / whatever, calculated to garner such awards. It's a formulaic genre; they are formulaic awards; formulae have precious little in common with artistic excellence.

Edited by mrmando

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I just checked out Jacques Maritain's "Art and Scholasticism" out of the library. He has a good definition of art:

"The philosophers tell us that art consists essentially, not in performing a moral act, but in making a thing, a work, in making an object with a view not to the human good of the agent, but to the exigencies and the proper good of the object to be made, and by employing ways of realization predetermined by the nature of the object in question. Art thus appears as something foreign in itself to the sphere of the human good, almost as something inhuman, and whose exigencies nevertheless are absolute: for, needless to say, there are not two ways of making an object well, of realizing well the work one has conceived -- there is but one way, and it must not be missed.

Holy cow. Not for the common reader, but then philosophy isn't, generally speaking. Someone (can't find which post off-hand) pointed out that artists speak a different language earlier in this thread, and that some of this was good and some was bad.

I think, however, in light of some of our earlier discussion on how a vocubulary of the arts is lacking in non-artists, that a definition like this won't do art, artists or the public a whole lot of good without it being reworded. Significantly.

Part of this may be me speaking as the husband of a journalist, whose writing above all things must be clean and clear (with very good reason), as well as a personal backlash against the high-falutant (sp?) nature of a lot of artists statements . . .

I'm just remembering though that I have the car today, and thus my wife is waiting for me to pick her up. Have to finish this later.

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Someone (can't find which post off-hand) pointed out that artists speak a different language earlier in this thread, and that some of this was good and some was bad.

I think, however, in light of some of our earlier discussion on how a vocubulary of the arts is lacking in non-artists, that a definition like this won't do art, artists or the public a whole lot of good without it being reworded. Significantly.

This is one of the points I agree with CrimsonLine. I listened to the podcast of IAMNY's keynote speaker (chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, I think) and he said something similar, that artists know how to speak to each other, but not to other people. He sees this as contributing to the decline of support for the arts. I agree with him to a large degree.

But that's another topic.

Joe Futral

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I think, however, in light of some of our earlier discussion on how a vocubulary of the arts is lacking in non-artists, that a definition like this won't do art, artists or the public a whole lot of good without it being reworded. Significantly.

Pshaw.

'Tis translated from French, and not a recent translation, but it is clean and clear. It's just also incredibly dense. Not everything should be stated in sound bites

Edited by mrmando

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CrimsonLine!

All this talk about creation not being God's art and I find this quote in your paper:

"I find that Jeremy Begbie has put it well:

The richest sources of artistic activity are to be found not so

much within the interior recesses of the artist

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Everything can be dumbed down, but not everything should. Perhaps Maritain's book isn't for everyone, but that doesn't mean it " won't do art, artists or the public a whole lot of good." It will do good to artists who read and understand it; those artists will do good to their art; that art will do good to the public.

I agree. However, would you think that making one's art more approachable is equivalent to dumbing it down?

For instance Twila Tharpe believes she has changed her ways from a self-indulgant with a "Let them eat cake if they can't understand my work" artist to one of believeing she needs to be more appreciative of her audiences and be more approachable (my words not hers. That's the best I could come up with without a direct quote and only second hand from a mutual acquaintance. I could be wrong about this, but I believe it to be correct).

Joe Futral

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I agree. However, would you think that making one's art more approachable is equivalent to dumbing it down?

Not necessarily! I wouldn't say Jesus "dumbed down" his teachings by putting them into parables, for example.

For instance Twila Tharpe believes she has changed her ways from a self-indulgant with a "Let them eat cake if they can't understand my work" artist to one of believeing she needs to be more appreciative of her audiences and be more approachable (my words not hers. That's the best I could come up with without a direct quote and only second hand from a mutual acquaintance. I could be wrong about this, but I believe it to be correct).

I'm not familiar with the quote, but I don't see a problem with that. The artist herself should know the difference between accessible work and dumbed-down work. If Tharp's current work satisfies her own personal standards yet is somehow more accessible than her earlier work, then more power to her.

I wouldn't say Bruce Cockburn's Nothing But a Burning Light and Dart to the Heart records were less profound than his other work, even though I'm told he was deliberately writing more accessible songs during that period.

In Maritain's case, though, when you propose to address the relationship of Christianity and the arts in the context of classical philosophy (which is what he means by "scholasticism"), you must admit that you've carved out a somewhat limited audience for yourself. But there's nothing wrong with that either.

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'Tis translated from French, and not a recent translation, but it is clean and clear. It's just also incredibly dense. Not everything should be stated in sound bites

Edited by Chashab

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But; but I am very concerned about quotes which deliniate grand and weak as above. The artist is a man, not a genius. True, in many ways he or she has been lifted up to a grander status (particularly since the enlightenment). This has been detrimental to the artists and to the public though.

Well, Blake was one of those artists lifted to "grander status" by the Enlightenment, wasn't he? (But only after his death ... he was an engraver/illustrator by trade who never made a living from his own art while he was alive.) Yet as a poet he's never been equaled in the ability to state profound truths in simple terms.

I think Blake was merely saying he didn't have time for people who didn't get Blake. Perhaps artists don't have the right to consider themselves supermen, but they do have a right to decide what sort of audience they wish to address.

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I'm afraid we're going to have to agree to disagree here.

And I'm cool with that! I'm not a "fight to the death" kind of guy...

In your paper is the crux of my dissatisfaction with your definition:

"...which raises the question of just what it is that art is supposed to communicate."

I don't think art is _supposed_ to communicate anything. It can and most often does, but it doesn't have to, which is actually what I take your quote of Gene Veith to say. But to say art is supposed to communicate something makes art only propoganda.

If that's the case, then I'd have to say, "who cares?" One thing that drives me up the wall about artists is their insistence that their own experience is somehow magically deep and enriching, and that sharing THEMSELVES is somehow the best thing that anyone could want. As I say in my paper, human beings are shallow pools. If art is only a reflection of what's in those shallow pools, then I give it a big, "so what?" Art that only draws on the meager offerings of a single human soul is thin gruel indeed.

That's the best I can sum up my definition at this point. I would say intent plays a role, but sometimes art is an accident. Some wonderful works of music started out as a simple excercise. I don't think art is an exclusive ability, anyone can be an artist and usually is at one point or another in their life, whether they know it or not. So chosen profession is not a pre-requisite, But then all this is part of the struggle I tangle myself in as an artist. Along with, is my style impressionistic or expressionistic? Am I being an artist even when I am being lazy? Where is the line between technique and art? Why does art seem to come so much easier to others than to me?

All good questions to ask. I think that good art is rarely an accident. Accidents happen in the making of art, no doubt, but skill and ability play a large role in capitalizing on those accidents, seeing the possibilities inherent in them, and applying ingenuity to turning them into something worthwhile. And I would say that virtually all great art starts out, in some form, "as a simple exercise." True art is born out of some form of disciplined work, even if it eventually and occasionally comes easier.

I just think saying "communicates" automatically puts unnecessary requirements or burdens on art. But I can see why you would think that art is only imaginative communication. And I'm sure as I reread your paper I'll find another perspective, probably truer to your intent. But I'll have to print it out first. Reading that much on the computer at one time hurts my eyes.

I would never have put the word "only" in that second sentence.

P.S. Veith's criteria are great for craftsmen, but I wouldn't hold all those to artists. Not that artists can't be or shouldn't be great craftsmen, just that craftsman and artist aren't always equivalent.

I will certainly stipulate that a lot of the people whom the art world adores are lousy craftsmen. I have been, and I have sat in art classes with lazy artists who believed that art was whatever an artist did, and that the highest goal of the artist is self-expression. And so, they could not have been bothered to study or learn their craft, and have been all but worshipped as semi-divine beings along the way. That is so far from what I believe art truly is as to be mockingly blasphemous.

CrimsonLine!

All this talk about creation not being God's art and I find this quote in your paper:

"I find that Jeremy Begbie has put it well:

The richest sources of artistic activity are to be found not so

much within the interior recesses of the artist

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But .,.. I also believe that great art connects in deep ways with other people, and that if your art connects with no one, then it's probably because it's not very good. The greatest paintings, novels, films, songs, what have you, invariably produce those "Aha!" moments where we realize that the artist has captured something that we've always understood subconsciously or inarticulately, and that he or she has given voice and vision and substance to previously unformed beauty and wonder. Note that I certainly don't believe that the bigger the audience, the greater the work of art. But there ought to be an audience. Art is all about making connections, And if the connections aren't being made, then it may be the fault of an obtuse public, or an indifferent agent or promoter, or a thousand other things. But it's usually because the art isn't very good. I assume that that's usually a good place to start, and part of my job, when I review works of art that others have created, is to communicate whether the proposed work does, or does not, connect.

Not to draw this out or to beat a dead horse, but I was just rereading the posts (I think this is a tremendous thread with lots of good contributions and discussions) and this paragraph really jumped out at me this time through. Part of what has lead me to this notion of art being a conduit is that art is a two way affair. What the viewer or otherwise appreciator of the work brings of themselves to the viewing is as much part of the art as the work itself.

What got me thinking about this was an article on nudity in art, particulalrly art by Christians. The end basically boiled down to what is one man's pornography is another's art, it all depends on what they viewer brings, to the point of regardless of the artist's intent.

Regardless of the influences on the artist at any given moment, in the end the work can only be the vision of the artist who created the work. The work becomes, as I've said before, simply a window, a reflection, of the artist at the moment the work was created. It is impossible for it to be anything more. I don't find this shallow because there can be all sorts of things happening or going through the mind and life of the artist at that time. Humans are complex creatures, I don't find them all that shallow, even when they are behaving as such.

As the work gives us a glimpse of the artist at the time it was created, it is up to the viewer how to receive that, whether or not they are going to be open to the work as it was created or impose their own thoughts on the work. And as the work cannot be anything more than a reflection of the artist, the viewer of the work is seeing the work uniquely. No one else can view the work for them. This is a connection that cannot be shared. The connection is private and closed.

And this is a consideration the artist has to think about as well (or choose to ignore). Does he care how the work is going to be received? If he is trying to make a statement, is he concerned that the viewer may or may not have developed, as others have put it, the vocabulary to understand what he is saying? Or is he attemptintg to develop a new vocabulary and willing to take the risk that people will learn? Or if he is not trying to make a statement, is he concerned that the viewer will be trying to make more of the work than is there?

So at that point the work becomes a two way conduit between the artist and the audience. Good art makes the conduit a clean connection. Great art seems to amplify the connection.

I don't know how one can quantify this in terms of a competition. One can demonstrate cleaner or stronger technique, or create a highly intelligent work, or even be able to teach others to do what he has done, but that doesn't automatically translate to great art. But at the very least each judge can determine for themselves if a connection was made and how extensive or deep the connection was made.

Just my thoughts,

Joe Futral

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I'll see if I can unpack what Mr. Maritain is saying.

1. First art has to be something that is made. The end of art is to make a physical object.

2. And the intrinsic needs of the object determine how it is to be made.

3. But art is primarily an intellectual activity. So the artist must first think of something then create it in physical matter. Sounds very incarnational.

4. In this way the artist becomes an imitator of God

5. The primary need of the object being made is to be beautiful. When it succeeds it participates in the life of God because God is the source of all beauty.

6. So the artist must first see beyond the materiality of the world, see the essence of things the "whatness" of things, the form and internalize them in his intellect. Once the form has become alive in him he can bring it forth in matter himself by creating works of art that are beautiful thus fulfilling the requirements of the thing being made. It is a beautiful object, a work of art that is the offspring of the artist, a combination of matter and spirit.

This reminds me so much of the wrangles of the early church fathers trying to understand the nature of Jesus. Was he human; was he God?

As artist we have to hold in tension the intellectual activity of being an artist with the necessity of creating physical objects. As in heresy, the fault lies in trying to make things less complex by denying one of the two requirements; to make it just about the object of just about the intellect. I think that is why there is no easy, soundbite definition of art.

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Heard this spot on NPR this morning and made me think of some of our conversation in this thread . . . on Charles Sheeler's painting.

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I'm afraid we're going to have to agree to disagree here.

This topic (the defining of "Art") is not one that will likely ever be resolved

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(many good thoughts snipped)

So at that point the work becomes a two way conduit between the artist and the audience. Good art makes the conduit a clean connection. Great art seems to amplify the connection.

I don't know how one can quantify this in terms of a competition. One can demonstrate cleaner or stronger technique, or create a highly intelligent work, or even be able to teach others to do what he has done, but that doesn't automatically translate to great art. But at the very least each judge can determine for themselves if a connection was made and how extensive or deep the connection was made.

I think it's worthwhile in this discussion to distinguish between a judge (e.g., someone who determines an award at a juried art show) and a reviewer. Judges typically don't comment on works of art. They determine winners and losers, and little else. A reviewer, on the other hand, offers personal commentary on a work of art. And not to put too fine a point on it (I don't think most reviews are great art, but reviewers can indulge their little fantasies anyway), but a great review creates the same two-way conduit between reviewer and audience that exists between the work of art and the audience.

A reviewer presumes to speak for/to an audience. He or she is, if you will, a representative member of that audience. Whether you, as the reader of a review, want to accord the reviewer that distinction is of course up to you. But that's the conceit under which reviewers operate. And reviewers presume to comment on the degree of connection between a work of art, themselves, and, by extension, the readers of the review.

A perfunctory review should at least touch on points of comparison; if you like X, then you'll probably like Y. And often that's the best reviewers can do given word count constraints. But if given a little more room to maneuver, reviewers can explore the connections found in a work of art. There's a balance here that is difficult to maintain. I write music reviews, and I thoroughly dislike reviews that seem to be more about the reviewer than the music itself. On the other hand, a perfunctory overview of the music, with no personal commentary, doesn't tell me much either. The best reviews, in my opinion, show the reviewer engaged with the music. Does it move him (or her; use the pronoun of your choice)? Does it challenge him, make him angry, sad, joyous, confused, dejected, uplifted? Does it offer new or expanded insight into beauty, or what it means to be a thinking, feeling human being? That's where the two-way conduit can flow. There are winners and losers in this competition, and reviewers typically assign a ranking/rating to an album. But, in my opinion, those are the things that are being ranked and rated. Ideally a reviewer will provide enough insight into his own analysis of the work of art to help you determine whether you agree with him. But a good reviewer is an advance scout. He's explored the territory, and he's given you information on what lies ahead if you choose to explore yourself. It's up to you to determine whether you trust the scouting report, but, at least ideally, he has provided enough information to help you make that decision. I'd suggest that a big part of that is the connections the reviewer finds in a given work of art, and whether you resonate with those connections. It's the two-way conduit you've described above.

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A reviewer presumes to speak for/to an audience. He or she is, if you will, a representative member of that audience. Whether you, as the reader of a review, want to accord the reviewer that distinction is of course up to you. But that's the conceit under which reviewers operate. And reviewers presume to comment on the degree of connection between a work of art, themselves, and, by extension, the readers of the review.

Good points, Andy. I read reviews because through them, I learn about the subject under review. I like Roger Ebert's movie reviews, because through them I learn - not just about the film he's reviewing, but about FILM. A good review is part conversation, part education, part warning/encouragement. It's a fine tool for all sorts of things.

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