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Why Beauty Matters


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#21 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 01:44 PM

Joe,

Do you think it is possible for an artist to produce a work of art that, if I don't like or appreciate it, there is something wrong with me?

#22 SDG

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 01:48 PM

Thanks, Joe. Just a few comments:

Do I think there is bad modern art? Sure. I think there is bad art all over the place. And by bad, I can mean any number of things—poorly executed, poorly conceived, poorly imagined, or uninspiring. But I do admit that no sooner than I think something is bad, someone comes along and loves what I don't. Just as often it is someone I respect who has the differing opinion.

Yes. I don't claim that the standards I want to argue for are always easy or obvious, or that everyone will agree. OTOH, when it comes to different preferences, I think it can be worth noting that there are actually different kinds of preferences, different ways of appreciating art, and that by paying attention to how people appreciate art we may gain an insight into the nature of value of that art. (C. S. Lewis talks about this in An Experiment in Criticism.)

This is my current Facebook status: "Steven D. Greydanus has had Russian chant in his head for a few days now ... and doesn't want it to stop." I'm well aware that the aching beauty of the harmonies in my head wouldn't appeal to some people who would prefer Lady Gaga. But I am morally certain that nobody loves Lady Gaga in the same way as I love Russian chant. Lady Gaga's most fanatical devotees don't get from her music what Russian chant offers me (and vice versa). I'm not yet at the point of saying that some kinds of appreciation are better than others (although if the discussion continues it will quickly come to that). I'm simply noting it's not a matter of one kind of music works for one person and another kind works for another. What we mean by "works" is not always the same -- and while some of these differences may not be differences in value, others, I think, are.

Well, you asked if there was some way (Futral's paraphrase) to accelerate the winnowing that time brings our way.

Hm, I don't think I meant that. I just want to keep the task of winnowing in mind and contribute our fair share to the process, over against skepticism/agnosticism toward the whole process of winnowing.

I think art produced by anyone is art anyone can enjoy. But there is no reason to think that EVERYONE will enjoy. That is putting a burden on art that we don't put on ANYTHING else.

Fair enough. Regarding public art in particular, though, I think whatever consensus(es) may exist regarding excellence and worth should be taken into account.

Do you think it is possible for an artist to produce a work of art that, if I don't like or appreciate it, there is something wrong with me?

FWIW, my answer to this is: Yes, depending on what you mean by "something wrong." Some defects are simply part of the limitations of being fallible humans. Some people are color-blind or tone-deaf; others have analogous types of aesthetic insensibilities. I think if we are sufficiently broad-minded and self-critical we may all find areas in which we feel our inappreciation of something to reflect a defect of one sort or another in ourselves.

#23 jfutral

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 01:53 PM

[quote name='Persiflage' date='29 October 2010 - 01:15 PM' timestamp='1288372514' post='233778']

Remember, regardless of his personal tastes, Scruton is arguing a philosophical point. He believes "beauty" is a value that ought rightly to be pursued by artists. In his discussion with the modern day sculpturist, the point is made that using art to convey "truth" or even just an "idea" is taking art away from it's primary goal. And yes, he is arguing art does have a primary goal.[/quote]

That's not how I heard him. I heard him as saying his idea of beauty is what art should be exclusively pursuing. He, being the rationalist he is, would not use those words, but that is the reality of his statements. He doesn't present any of this as "his personal tastes".

And if his point is truly philosophical he has an issue to examine regarding my point of the shared humanism roots of what he hails vs what he rails.

[quote]The medium for conveying truths or ideas is essentially through the use of words. To argue that an unmade bed, a signed urinal, a can of shit, or a cross dumped in urine is art because it conveys an idea is (1) destroying the meaning of the word "art" altogether, and (2) eliminating the value of beauty. Conveying truths and ideas can rightly be said to be the task of the writer in the art of literature, but Scruton here is primarily discussing the visual arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture). Simply because a modern artist makes an organized pile of garbage (with no more skill than a child) in a museum in order to convey an idea does not mean he gets to call his organized pile of garbage "art."

PRESUMABLY and PERCEPTUALLY (from his POV and those like him) with no more skill than a child. This only destroys HIS meaning of art and eliminates or undermines HIS definition of beauty. I have no problem with that whatsoever. If all there is to beauty is what he presents, he can have it.

[quote] If we are talking about modern people, I wonder what percentage of Americans have paintings by a master like Rembrandt hanging on their walls, versus more modern, utilitarian, mass produced "art" purchased at their local Walmart or Christian bookstore. [/quote]

Wait a minute. How many of those Americans would have a Rembrandt hanging on their walls if NOT for the modern, utilitarian, mass produced art purchased at their local Walmart or Christian bookstore?

[quote]Scruton is concerned that our standards for beauty have been lowered. If one, like Scruton, believes that beauty is not something purely subjective, but that beauty is something real & good created by God, then that something can actually be judged by some objective standards. Arguing against philosophical trends in the art world that say beauty doesn't matter is the task Scruton has taken up. And it inspires me to raise my own standards for beauty in art as well.[/quote]

"Objective standards" reeks of the Enlightenment thinking that he BLAMES for the current condition of art. Not to mention my disagreement with the idea that "subjective" is somehow exclusive from beauty being real, good, and created by God. The philosophical trends in the art world don't say that beauty doesn't matter. It says/said the old definitions of beauty are insufficient and is not the only thing that matter to art. He even ridicules an artist who believes that her work IS beautiful. Beauty matters and means far more than one man's definition of it. Just like God matters and means far more than one man's definition of Him. If an infinite God created beauty, why in the world would I settle for one man's definition of beauty?

[quote]I think even the negative reaction Scruton is getting in this thread proves the cultural trend of asking if beauty is even necessary anymore in order to have art.
[/quote]
No, it only proves that Scruton is not thinking clearly and thoroughly. No one (of the few) here has questioned if beauty is even necessary in order to have art. We've —I've—only said beauty is more than Scruton offers and is not the ONLY thing art is for. Just to reiterate, of the things he views positively (beauty matters, art can reflect beauty), I agree. Of the things he views negatively (art is ONLY concerned with beauty, modern art is out to destroy beauty and is bad, and beauty is only what he says it is), I disagree.

[quote]It reminds me of de'Tocqueville's Democracy in America where he criticized the application of American egalitarian principles to things like art, thinking it quite ridiculous to say that "everyone can be an artist" or that "no one can make better art than anyone else." There may indeed, be just a bit of an artist in everyone. We are all made in the image of God after all. But Scruton isn't talking about the #2 broad egalitarian definition of "artist" in the English dictionary, he's talking about the other primary definition. Of course I'm an artist in my own little way, but I'm not an "artist" like Micheangelo was an artist.[/quote]

What "other" primary definition? Professional? What do you think separates you as an artist from Michelangelo as an artist?

Joe

#24 jfutral

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 02:02 PM

Joe,

Do you think it is possible for an artist to produce a work of art that, if I don't like or appreciate it, there is something wrong with me?

That's a loaded question! :) I happen to think there is something wrong with everyone. How much that enters into play with what we create and what we think of it, I would take on a case by case basis. On one hand I am of the school that says, the burden of communicating is on the shoulders of the communicator. But sometimes the one being communicated to has to also be willing to listen.

Largely, as a working and professional artist, I am of the opinion 1) the issues artists are facing today are of their own making and 2) the issue with _support_ of the arts has less to do with the general public not wanting to support art and more to do with the public not wanting to support the institutions that, once were there to support art, now over shadow the art they were created to support.

Joe

Edited by jfutral, 29 October 2010 - 02:03 PM.


#25 jfutral

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 02:09 PM

I think that when people say "My kid could do that," they mean, "If the level of achievement that my kid has already reached is equivalent to what society celebrates as the pinnacle of artistic achievement, where is there to go? Why should my kid work to improve? He's already arrived." It's a gratifyingly populist form of elitism, as opposed to the populism of the elites.


That's funny. When I see that (and I have seen that on a local basis) all I can think is "My daughter is going to blow the walls off! I can't wait when she sets the new standard!"

Joe

#26 jfutral

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 02:14 PM

Regarding public art in particular, though, I think whatever consensus(es) may exist regarding excellence and worth should be taken into account.

Unfortunately (or not if you are the recipient) it seems more governed by the one with the money.

Joe

#27 SDG

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 02:24 PM

That's funny. When I see that (and I have seen that on a local basis) all I can think is "My daughter is going to blow the walls off! I can't wait when she sets the new standard!"

Unfortunately, "setting the new standard" turns out to matter largely in terms of money and fame, not meaningful achievement. Also, the political element comes to the fore, and as Perciflage points out the question becomes less about merit than PR skills. Your daughter might have the talent, but someone else has the connections, and what is talent anyway?

#28 jfutral

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 02:39 PM

That's funny. When I see that (and I have seen that on a local basis) all I can think is "My daughter is going to blow the walls off! I can't wait when she sets the new standard!"

Unfortunately, "setting the new standard" turns out to matter largely in terms of money and fame, not meaningful achievement. Also, the political element comes to the fore, and as Perciflage points out the question becomes less about merit than PR skills. Your daughter might have the talent, but someone else has the connections, and what is talent anyway?

Well, since I am a connection, my daughter has that in her favour. :D

I do agree that PR can accelerate attention, but I am a firm believer (and i do think it bears out, at least in my experience) in slow and steady wins the race and many things become self evident, at least in the world of dance. I have told my daughter, I'll do what I can to open doors for her, but it is up to her to prove herself.

But if my daughter has the capacity to set the standard, then she chooses instead to stay in the background or limit her exposure, then her realm of influence will be small. It might build over time as people start to tell others about what they learned from her. If that's all she wants, I'm OK with that.

Joe

#29 KShaw

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 03:53 PM

Like KShaw pointed out, many movements came about specifically to take art out of the hands of the elite, the galleries and museums and critics and the ones who think they can say what is and isn't art, and put it back in the hands of the everyday people.


Has modern art actually put art "in the hands of everyday people"? Is art that just anyone can produce art that just anyone can enjoy? Which is more elitist, a world in which few make art but anyone can appreciate it, or in which anyone can make art but only a few can appreciate it?


I did note the irony where they present this new art to 'everyday people' who then tell them they don't want it. But I think this binary is misleading, not least of all because of that fact that artmaking tools have become available to everyone in a way that's historically unprecedented. So anyone CAN make art now, and those opportunities will just grow over time as the technologies to do so get cheaper and cheaper. That's just the world we live in. At the same time, most of our professional artists still come through the academy, avant garde or not. Nowadays, anyone can make art and few make art; both your categories apply.

Paint has been around forever, sure, but inventions like the printing press, the camera, the video cam, and the computer have all trickled down to the masses. We've been working with paint all this time because it's what we've had. Now that the boundaries of art have expanded exponentially within a short period of time, we might expect the art being produced to start looking quite different as well.

#30 Holy Moly!

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 04:20 PM


Which is more elitist, a world in which few make art but anyone can appreciate it, or in which anyone can make art but only a few can appreciate it?

Great question.

Or, perhaps, a world where anyone can make art as long as they have the right PR skills to get backed by, oh say, the National Edowment for the Arts?


You know, I don't want to get too deeply into the arts policy boondoggle, since it is my day job. But I do need to just state for the sake of clarity: The NEA doesn't make any grants to individual artists. "PR Skills" do not factor into the NEA's decision making.




#31 jfutral

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Posted 30 October 2010 - 09:32 AM

Other negatives from the past. I think Scruton and Manet would probably have some issues considering one of Manet's quotes “that an artist has got to move with the times and paint what he sees”"

Here are some reviews from an early Impressionist showing.

"When the human figure is involved, it is another matter entirely: the aim is not to render its form, its relief, its expression - it is enough to give an impression with no definite line, no colour, light or shadow; in the implementation of so extravagant a theory, artists fall into hopeless, grotesque confusion, happily without precedent in art, for it is quite simply the negation of the most elementary rules of drawing and painting. The scribblings of a child have a naivety, a sincerity which make one smile, but the excesses of this school sicken or disgust."

Some notes from a critic who seems to have been taken to task for a negative review:

"Even the word 'Gothic' came out of a jibe. Renaissance writer Giorgio Vasari, looking down on artists living across the Alps from him for their highly ornamental stonework, referred to them as 'these Goths, these barbarians untutored in the true classics.'"

History is riddled with the likes of Scruton. I have no doubt he won't be the last.

Joe

Edited by jfutral, 30 October 2010 - 09:33 AM.


#32 Brother David

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Posted 31 October 2010 - 02:52 PM

It would be interesting to know what makes something beautiful. Studies have been done that show children are more attracted to faces that are more symmetrical. Is symmetry beauty? Then Beauty is a mathematical function.
I did take a bit of offense in the whole rumpled bed scenario. Why is a painting of a rumpled bed beautiful and symbolic but the actuall rumpled bed not? Wasn't the artist's own rumpled bed beautiful to him? Does, therefore, distance make beauty?
Living in Chicago, I've been to the Art Institute many times. The new modern wing is a place I like to visit. The Modern European wing is a place I like to go. The modern US American wing, though, I avoid. Why do I want to look at panels painted white (The cards say there are different values of white in them) with metal framing? I like ideas but I like my ideas to be expressed in a way that makes them concrete. What about the work there where a person saw a fallen tree and was mesmorized by it? What did he do? He cut it up in chunks and sent them to Japan to be carved out of wood. He destroyed the object that arrested him to make a facsimile. Then he didn't even do the work but put his name on it. Is that Beautiful? I don't know. It doesn't speak to me the way a real fallen tree would.
The idea that something is art because I say it is is kind of Post Modern. The referent is always the self. Everybody has something to say and everyone has the right to be heard. Not everyone is right. Why should I listen to one person's idea over another? Why should I open myself to anyone's idea? There is nothing more dangerous than an idea. Once it is in your head it is there for good. (Or for ill.) Should one person's idea take presidence over the ideas of generations past? If personal belief is all important, then what about the personal beliefs of a group that are different?
I'm rambling now. Sorry.
PEace and good.

#33 David Smedberg

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Posted 01 November 2010 - 11:58 AM

It would be interesting to know what makes something beautiful. Studies have been done that show children are more attracted to faces that are more symmetrical. Is symmetry beauty? Then Beauty is a mathematical function.

No no no. Beauty does not equal attraction. (Not that you said it did, but you did ask the question.)

One can argue (and I would) that symmetry (or analogues in other arts like rhyme and harmony) matter, and are very good, while simultaneously accepting that beauty can emerge outside of them. :)

#34 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 06 November 2010 - 12:50 PM

So, I'm still only halfway through Scruton's book, Beauty, but here's some relevant excerpts to the discussion -

pg. ix -

... how can a standard erected by one person's taste be used to cast judgement on another's? How, for example, can we pretend that one type of music is superior or inferior to another when comparative judgements merely reflect the taste of the one who makes them?

pg. 2 -

There is an appealing idea about beauty which goes back to Plato and Plotinus, and which became incorporated by various routes into Christian theological thinking. According to this idea beauty is an ultimate value - something that we pursue for its own sake, and for the pursuit of which no further reason need be given. Beauty should therefore be compared to truth and goodness, one member of a trio of ultimate values which justifiy our rational inclinations. Why believe p? Because it is true. Why want x? Because it is good. Why look at y? Because it is beautiful.

pgs. 5-6 -

It would help to define our subject, therefore, if we were to begin a list of comparable platitudes about beauty, against which our theories might be tested. Here are six of them:
(i) Beauty pleases us.
(ii) One thing can be more beautiful than another.
(iii) Beauty is always a reason for attending to the thing that possesses it.
(iv) Beauty is the subject-matter of a judgement: the judgement of taste.
(v) The judgement of taste is about the beautiful object, not about the subject's state of mind. In describing an object as beautiful, I am describing it, not me.
(vi) Nevertheless, there are no second-hand judgements of beauty. There is no way that you can argue me into a judgement that I have not made for myself, nor can I become an expert in beauty, simply by studying what others have said about beautiful objects, and without experiencing and judging for myself.

pg. 32 -

When I describe something as beautiful I am describing it, not my feelings towards it - I am making a claim, and that seems to imply that others, if they see things aright, would agree with me. Moreover, the description of something as beautiful has the character of a judgement, a verdict, and one for which I can reasonably be asked for a justification. I may not be able to give any cogent reasons for my judgement; but if I cannot, that is a fact about me, not about the judgement.

pgs. 58-59 -

Kant followed Shaftesbury in supposing that taste is common to all human beings, a faculty rooted in the very capacity for reasoning that distinguishes us from the rest of nature. All rational beings, he relieved, have the capacity to make aesthetic judgements; and in a life properly lived taste is a central component. However, many people seem to live in an aesthetic vacuum, filling their days with utilitarian calculations, and with no sense that they are missing out on the higher life.

pg. 63 -

If we cannot justify the very concept of the aesthetic, except as ideology, then aesthetic judgement is without philosophical foundation. An 'ideology' is adopted for its social or political utility, rather than its truth. And to show that some concept - holiness, justice, beauty, or whatever - is ideological, is to undermine its claim to objectivity. It is to suggest that there is no such thing as holiness, justice or beauty, but only the belief in it - a belief that arises under certain social and economic relations and plays a part in cementing them, but which will vanish as conditions change.

pg. 76 -

Planning law in Europe has always been sensitive to the threat that buildings pose to natural beauty, and has tried, with limited success, to control the style, size and materials of buildings in the countryside, in order to safeguard our shared aesthetic inheritance.

pg. 98 -

If anything can count as art, what is the point or the merit in achieving that label? All that is left is the curious but unfounded fact that some people look at some things, others look at others. As for the suggestion that there is an enterprise of criticism, which searches for objective value and lasting monuments to the human spirit, this is dismissed out of hand ... The argument is eagerly embraced, because it seems to emancipate people from the burden of culture, telling them that all those venerable masterpieces can be ignored with impunity, that TV soaps are 'as good as' Shakespeare and Radiohead the equal of Brahms, since nothing is better than anything and all claims to aesthetic value are void. The argument therefore chimes with the fashionable forms of cultural relativism, and defines the point from which university courses in aesthetics tend to begin - and as often as not the point at which they end.

pg. 99 -

Good taste is as important in aesthetics as it is in humour, and indeed taste is what it is all about. If university courses do not start from that premise, students will finish their studies of art and culture just as ignorant as when they began. When it comes to art, aesthetic judgement concerns what you ought and ought not to like, and (I shall argue) the 'ought' here, even if it is not exactly a moral imperative, has a moral weight.


Edited by Persiflage, 06 November 2010 - 12:51 PM.


#35 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 06 November 2010 - 01:09 PM


Do you think it is possible for an artist to produce a work of art that, if I don't like or appreciate it, there is something wrong with me?

That's a loaded question! Posted Image I happen to think there is something wrong with everyone ...

Joe

Well yes, obviously there is something wrong with everyone. That something is called the sin nature. But that doesn't mean that some people with the sin nature can occasionally get a thing or two right, while others (with the same sin nature) can get an identical thing or two wrong.

So the simple question still goes, is there something specifically WRONG with me if I dislike or fail to appreciate ... oh say "The Well-Tempered Clavier" by Johan Sebastian Bach? the Venus de Milo statue? the Potala Palace in Tibet? Michelango's "Universal Judgement" in the Sistine Chapel? "The New World" by Terence Malick? or what about just the Grand Canyon?

Edited by Persiflage, 06 November 2010 - 01:11 PM.


#36 Brother David

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Posted 06 November 2010 - 09:05 PM

How do people define art these days?

#37 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 06 November 2010 - 10:31 PM

How do people define art these days?

I'd humbly suggest using an English dictionary.

art: (1) the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

(Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, 2001, Random House, Inc.)

Edited by Persiflage, 06 November 2010 - 10:33 PM.


#38 Ryan H.

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Posted 07 November 2010 - 07:56 AM

So the simple question still goes, is there something specifically WRONG with me if I dislike or fail to appreciate ... oh say "The Well-Tempered Clavier" by Johan Sebastian Bach?

Maybe.

#39 Thom

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Posted 08 November 2010 - 02:29 PM


How do people define art these days?

I'd humbly suggest using an English dictionary.

art: (1) the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

(Webster's Dictionary of the English Language, 2001, Random House, Inc.)


I am on board with using a dictionary to help define words (or even draw a baseline so that a group can be on the same page) but "art" is rather subjective, even in definition. This definition really only proves the subjectivity by using a variety of highly subjective words and thoughts. "Of what is beautiful?" of what is appealing?"

I haven't read over this entire thread yet but I am both looking forward to it and feeling rather anxious about it. However, I am leaning in the direction of changing the title to "Why understanding individual perspectives about beauty matters."

Here I go...

#40 jfutral

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 11:18 PM



Do you think it is possible for an artist to produce a work of art that, if I don't like or appreciate it, there is something wrong with me?

That's a loaded question! Posted Image I happen to think there is something wrong with everyone ...

Joe

Well yes, obviously there is something wrong with everyone. That something is called the sin nature. But that doesn't mean that some people with the sin nature can occasionally get a thing or two right, while others (with the same sin nature) can get an identical thing or two wrong.

So the simple question still goes, is there something specifically WRONG with me if I dislike or fail to appreciate ... oh say "The Well-Tempered Clavier" by Johan Sebastian Bach? the Venus de Milo statue? the Potala Palace in Tibet? Michelango's "Universal Judgement" in the Sistine Chapel? "The New World" by Terence Malick? or what about just the Grand Canyon?

Still a loaded and not so simple a question. There could very well be something wrong with you if you dislike or fail to appreciate anything. So what?

Since you are more read on Scruton than I am at this point, how would you compare Susan Sontag's essay "An argument about beauty" to what you have read of Scruton so far?

(an excerpt):
"Beauty defines itself as the antithesis of the ugly. Obviously, you can’t say something is beautiful if you’re not willing to say something is ugly. But there are more and more taboos about calling something, anything, ugly. (For an explanation, look first not at the rise of so-called political correctness, but at the evolving ideology of consumerism, then at the complicity between these two.) The point is to find what is beautiful in what has not hitherto been regarded as beautiful (or: the beautiful in the ugly)."

After this discussion I am real close to giving my dance organization the tag line "Out to destroy beauty!"

Joe