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"all art is either spiritual or decorative"


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#21 jfutral

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Posted 15 July 2010 - 08:53 AM

I wish they would stop fixating on the Enlightenment as the downfall of Western culture, or the Great Endarkenment, or whatever... (applies to lots more people/places than CIVA). A lot of good things happened during the 18th c., which nobody ever mentions, or if/when they do, it's often in a rueful way.

That's a very narrow - and I'd venture to say distorted - view of history, and I think it's a complete dead end in terms of ongoing discussion. They've established their pov - did so well over 25 years ago - so please, let's move on to something more productive! Railing against the past (as they see it) isn't going to change a d*mned thing. (I think it's a complete waste of energy, but what do I know?!)

That's why I'm one of those postmodernists who isn't anti-Modernity. I love indoor plumbing. I love technology. My favourite art periods are still from the post-impressionists on, though I have a soft spot for Caravaggio and Raphael. And who can deny the impact of perspective or of depicting light? The revival of Greek-like humanism in art is quite frankly one of the most beautiful things to happen. I just happen to think that Modernism is too myopic and removes too much of what makes us human by saying that some things are superfluous or "merely" decorative/ornamental, in search of the unifying theory through reductionism/minimalism.

The Enlightenment project's philosophical underpinnings are still at the very least responsible for magnifying, even if not initiating, the notion of the superiority of the self and the idea of bifurcating ideas such as sacred/secular, fine art/craft, rational/irrational, material/immaterial, natural/supernatural. I do think Krammes (and no doubt many other artists') proposition of "spiritual or decorative" is firmly rooted in this kind of thinking, which is where I think M.Leary was going. You know. That whole "either/or" thing you hate. Don't even get me started on the "particular/universal" discussion!

I think the Enlightenment/Renaissance/Reformation was a needed corrective. I just think there is need for a new corrective. Not all things worth knowing are quantifiable. And, there is more to things than can be quantified.

Speaking of distorted views of history, I do wonder how many realists understand the realism roots of abstraction? But that's OT. Sorry.

Joe

#22 M. Leary

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Posted 15 July 2010 - 11:00 AM

That's why I'm one of those postmodernists who isn't anti-Modernity.


I am with you on that. Vattimo talks about how the great characteristic of our age is "oscillation." We are always in a condition of holding two different things in tension, which is the fallout of being in a position of having to acknowledge the effectiveness of modernity but embrace the freedom of post-modernity at the same time. The way he demonstrates oscillation in the fine arts is very, very intriguing to me. It is very common (as with the Dutton book, for example) to toss artists like Duchamp on that heap of high-modern artifacts. But I simply can't square that with my experience.

The Duchamp room in the Philadelphia Museum of art holds Bride Stripped Bare... and a few other classic Duchamp pieces, and I am always completely captivated not just by his destructive humor, but also by the apprehensiveness and fear towards the future that he expresses in a lot of his work. So, in Vattimo's terms, I encounter a lot of oscillation there.

Same thing with those ultra-modernists like Mondrian - his work is very informed by the linearity of progress (which is the great stamp of modernity), but at the same time it projects ideals that never quite connect back to reality.

The late Matisse - his work devolved into the structural forms that had always been at the center of his modern reconstruction of still life and landscape, but his work looks like this because he was dying, bedridden, and had lost much of his eyesight and manual dexterity.

I could go on and on with these experiences of oscillation that indicate to me that these hard and fast lines between modernity and post-modernity are very misleading, and limit our experience of what is going on in all that transitional artwork. I have always had a hard time expressing why I like Rothko and Albers so much, but reference to these both/and kinds of thought patterns is very helpful.

Edited by M. Leary, 15 July 2010 - 11:01 AM.


#23 techne

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Posted 15 July 2010 - 11:31 PM



In many of these cultures, the line between monk and artist, craftsman and artist, devotee and artist are completely indistinguishable. It is really in our post-Enlightenment context, that thrives on distinctions between religion and everything else, that these questions can be asked. I wish organizations like CIVA would spend more time talking about how to shift Church culture away from these enlightenment delusions rather than trying to respond to them on their own terms.

have you read the art instinct: beauty, pleasure and human evolution by denis dutton? in it, he does a pretty good job of debunking that myth. to grossly simplify (since i read it recently, but have yet to acquire my own copy to scribble in), his point is that in every culture, there are objects that are considered to be "art objects" because they are created by superior skilled artists. there are always examples that are, in fact, considered to be art precisely because of the degree of accomplishment/ skill involved in their making. it's a very interesting book in how it interrogates the idea of art, though particularly in western culture...

Putting aside that Dutton's conclusions are still arguable, what myth is it that you think he debunked?

perhaps 'debunk' is overstating (and, as i said, i don't have the book handy) but the idea i took from that particular discussion was that the analogy didn't hold as much as the idea within its culture. in other words, of course the idea of Art/ art isn't the same in eastern cultures as it is in western culture. that said, within a culture, there are objects that are analogous in that they have a higher standing/ more reverence/ "weight". even in the examples already raised, aren't there specific examples that are considered more 'Art'? are there islamic calligraphic works or renditions that are considered more artful? are there shinto or hindu temples considered more artful (realized? i'm not even sure what language to use here)? then again, i suppose i interpret the phrase in question to refer to a specifically western art context.

and even then, i'm not sure i'm really bothered by the spiritual/ decorative contrast. while i don't think that just because we are spirit that everything we do is de facto spiritual, i do think that when we make work that addresses, connects, points toward truly human issues, experiences, questions that it can be spiritual. perhaps "spiritual" references some kind of connection to Truth. i interpreted decorative as having less to do with that impulse. something pleasant, perhaps more aesthetic, more about the elements of art rather than content (or that kind of content). i guess we could tease things out - the decorative is about Beauty, which is a spiritual concept, etc. i do think that skill (which may be physical/ technical but could also be conceptual) is an important element. that's why it's perhaps less of an either/or than placing things along a continuum. somehow i don't buy the idea that all art is 'spiritual', but that's me, holding on to my post-enlightenment binarisms.

of course, i wish that in contemporary western vulture there were more of those "seamless arrangements between art and religious practice" - the way the experience of, and engagement with, art has often been separated from everyday life (kitsch notwithstanding) is one of my own personal questions. that would be cool. the problem is as much [art] systems as anything else, i think.

I am not sure which myth you are referring to, but I don't agree that he has debunked the idea that religious devotion generates art that is often marked by an excellence in craft in which we see this decoration/fine arts distinction dissolve. I am not the biggest fan of that book. It disregards the self-authentication process that marks the religious artist or craftsperson. Though I am more a fan of craft in art than I am concept in art, I don't like the way he has reduced art to a craft system which creates symbols that satiate a complex of psychological desires that are a side effect of evolutionary biology.

could you expand on the 'self-authentication process that marks the religious artist'? and for the record, the second half, where dutton moves much more directly into the evolutionary biology agenda, is much less interesting for me.

so. is there a way for us to explore the spiritual/ decorative contrast/ inter-relationship fruitfully, and create bridges (or rhizomatic connections) between the ideas instead?

ps. i loved the duchamp room in philly. and the twombly chapel. and the mondrian/ brancusi tagteam.

pps. i'm definitely going to check out vattimo - love the idea of oscillation. recommendations? and thanks for engaging with me on this.

#24 M. Leary

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 08:29 AM

could you expand on the 'self-authentication process that marks the religious artist'?


The artist or craftsperson that is creating an object to be placed in a sacred space or used during some sort of sacred activity is often very self-aware to the idea that they are creating an artifact that allows people to interface with divinity. They consider their art-making to be an act of devotion or an expression of the glory of whatever deity they are enabling people to engage with. Evolutionary biologists just flat out dismiss this self-awareness as an illusion crafted by societies that have learned to use religion as a means of social control. But I think this kind of rote dismissal of a near universal experience is a deluded form of bigotry.

pps. i'm definitely going to check out vattimo - love the idea of oscillation. recommendations? and thanks for engaging with me on this.


The great Vattimo book is The Transparent Society. It is one of the hardest books I have ever read.

#25 jfutral

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Posted 16 July 2010 - 09:00 AM

and even then, i'm not sure i'm really bothered by the spiritual/ decorative contrast. while i don't think that just because we are spirit that everything we do is de facto spiritual, i do think that when we make work that addresses, connects, points toward truly human issues, experiences, questions that it can be spiritual. perhaps "spiritual" references some kind of connection to Truth. i interpreted decorative as having less to do with that impulse. something pleasant, perhaps more aesthetic, more about the elements of art rather than content (or that kind of content). i guess we could tease things out - the decorative is about Beauty, which is a spiritual concept, etc. i do think that skill (which may be physical/ technical but could also be conceptual) is an important element. that's why it's perhaps less of an either/or than placing things along a continuum. somehow i don't buy the idea that all art is 'spiritual', but that's me, holding on to my post-enlightenment binarisms.

of course, i wish that in contemporary western vulture there were more of those "seamless arrangements between art and religious practice" - the way the experience of, and engagement with, art has often been separated from everyday life (kitsch notwithstanding) is one of my own personal questions. that would be cool. the problem is as much [art] systems as anything else, i think.

I love the typo of "vulture" for "culture" since, ironically, that is how systems sometimes appear.

Here is where I got into issues with such delineations. Never mind the potential issues with _how_ one can make such distinctions, who gets to decide? Do you get to make that declaration on other people's work for everyone else? Does the artist make that declaration on his own? Do the critics? the collectors? the gallery owners? Who gets to become the elite decision makers? HT to another thread, there are people out there who firmly believe (and even have the track record to back it up) that it isn't art (much less Art) until they say it is.

For myself, creativity is the ultimate expression of being created by a Creator and being made in God's image. Spirituality is about life. Art is about and from life. As I used to ask my students in Maine, how can you have art if you don't have a life? So get a life! (I was trying to get them to do things outside the theatre so they don't fall into that trap of theatre "life" being everything to them, then they even get to bring something to their craft and art! What a concept!) To me the single mother struggling to make ends meet and get her kids to school is as creative and artistic as any Artist genius. When does she get her $500,000.00 grant so she can create without the cares of life?

I was loathe to bring this up because Schaeffer also points this out in his essays on Art and the Bible (and I know how several people on this board feel about him), but look at the Temple and the priestly garbs. How much "decoration" did God decree? Would you accuse God of not being spiritual?

When we get into this kind of spiritual/decorative kind of discussion, it really is an artificial and arbitrary distinction to elevate someone's or their work's importance. The dance captain for Pilobolus and I went round and round about Rothko and Pollack. In the end, Rothko does it for some people (me) and doesn't for others (him). My friend nor Rothko is no less artistic because of that.

Joe

PS:

the way the experience of, and engagement with, art has often been separated from everyday life (kitsch notwithstanding) is one of my own personal questions.

I would say because art systems and artists have been making such distinctions as we are discussing is exactly why art has been separated from everyday life. While I am not a huge fan of public or site specific art, the art system has done an admirable job of making art something people have to leave their everyday lives to experience. The internet has done an admirable job of removing that barrier. Read the NEA report on electronic media.

Edited by jfutral, 16 July 2010 - 09:22 AM.


#26 techne

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 08:29 AM

a quick review about dutton's the art instinct at books & culture.

#27 techne

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 03:37 PM

dutton + TED = great RSA piece



#28 SDG

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 04:44 PM

dutton + TED = great RSA piece

There's a lot of truth here, certainly.

But it seems to me that Dutton chooses his examples selectively, and ignores inconvenient counter-examples. For example, he points out that verdant, pastoral, savannah-like landscapes with water, trees and animals are universally regarded as beautiful. Although he doesn't explicitly draw out the connection to the Darwinian mechanisms of fitness selection and sexual selection, presumably the idea is that preferring landscapes where food is plentiful and a living is easier to eke out is a useful fitness trait.

Okay. Fine. But why do we find compelling beauty in so many starkly inhospitable landscapes? What about Monument Valley and the Gobi Desert? What about the snow-covered peaks of the Andes, or the frozen wastes of Antarctica?

If I had to make a case based on the logic on offer in the video, I'd be forced to say that perhaps we are attracted to inhospitable landscapes because surviving in inhospitable circumstances could be attractive to potential mates. The problem with this, beyond its glib unpersuasiveness, is that this whole style of reasoning makes the theory unfalsifiable. Any outcome whatsoever can be reduced to Darwinian principles, because everything is either beneficial or not beneficial. If it's beneficial, it's a fitness asset, and if it's not beneficial, it's an asset with the ladies.

Incidentally, I accept the theory of evolution. I just don't think that everything about human beings can be satisfyingly accounted for in Darwinian terms. I think beauty is one of those things.

#29 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 05 January 2012 - 07:18 PM

dutton + TED = great RSA piece

From Roger Scruton -

pgs 34-38 -
In the first chapter of this book I identified a state of mind - that involved in our confrontation with beauty - and a judgment that seems to be implicit in it ... But that is not the approach of the evolutionary psychologists, who argue that we can best understand our states of mind if we identify their evolutionary origins, and the contribution that they (or some earlier version of them) might have made to the reproductive strategies of our genes. In what way is an organism made more likely to pass on its genetic inheritance, by exercising its emotions over beautiful things? That scientific, or scientific-seeming, question is for many people the meaningless residue of aesthetics - the only question that now remains, concerning the nature or value of the sentiment of beauty ...

As augmented by [Geoffrey] Miller, the theory suggests that by making himself beautiful the man is doing what the peacock does when he displays his tail: he is giving a sign of his reproductive fitness, to which a woman responds as the peahen responds, claiming him (though in no way conscious that she is doing so) on behalf of her genes. Of course, human aesthetic activity is more intricate than the instinctive displays of birds. Men do not merely wear feathers and tattoos; they paint pictures, write poetry, sing songs. But all these things are signs of strength, ingenuity and prowess, and therefore reliable indices of reproductive fitness. Women are struck with awe, wonder and desire by these artistic gestures, so that Nature takes her course to the mutual triumph of the genes that carry her lasting messages.

But it is clear that strenuous activities short of artistic creation would make an equal contribution to such a genetic strategy. Hence the explanation, even if true, will not enable us to identify what is specific to the sentiment of beauty. Even if the peacock's tail and the Art of Fugue have a common ancestry, the appreciation elicited by the one is of a completely different kind from the appreciation directed at the other ... Hence, because we cannot infer that the sentiment of beauty was necessary to the process of sexual selection, we cannot use the fact of sexual selection as a conclusive explanation of the sentiment of beauty; still less as a way of deciphering what that sentiment means. Something more needs to be added, concerning the specificity of aesthetic judgment, if we are to have a clear picture of the place of beauty and our response to it in the evolution of our species. And this something more should take seriously such facts as these: that men appreciate women for their beauty just as much as, if not more than, women appreciate men; that women too are active in the production of beauty, both in art and in everyday life; that people associate beauty with their highest endeavours and aspirations, are disturbed by its absence, and regard a measure of aesthetic agreement as essential for life in society. As things stand the evolutionary psychology of beauty offers a picture of the human being and human society with the aesthetic element deprived of its specific intentionality, and dissolved in vague generalities that overlook the peculiar place of aesthetic judgment in the life of the rational agent.


Edited by Persiflage, 05 January 2012 - 07:20 PM.


#30 jfutral

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Posted 11 January 2012 - 10:29 AM

Ironically, both Scruton and Dutton want some sort of systematic definition of beauty and aesthetics. If some form of reasoning can be deduced or created then authority can be exerted over what is or isn't definitively beautiful. What a waste of imagination. (Although, while I may generally disagree with Dutton's logic and conclusions, I am more sympathetic to the pursuit of understanding the "why" of things.)

Personally, I think the stash of stone axes was either someone's weapons cache or maybe an early entrepreneur's (who discovered he was really good at making axes) inventory and planned on opening a store.

Joe