Jump to content


Photo

Why Beauty Matters


  • Please log in to reply
53 replies to this topic

#1 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,031 posts

Posted 25 October 2010 - 11:26 AM




#2 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,031 posts

Posted 25 October 2010 - 10:15 PM




#3 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,031 posts

Posted 26 October 2010 - 10:03 AM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyulImC-nZE&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKRaIx38aSo&feature=related
Their playing Pergolesi's Stabat Mater on the street at the end is particularly worth watching.



#4 jfutral

jfutral

    Member

  • Member
  • 271 posts

Posted 27 October 2010 - 08:24 AM

Not really sure what to say about all this, there is so much to rail against. What do you think? Do you agree?

I think he has a very one dimensional definition of "beauty" and art. I completely disagreed with his labeling of Koons as kitsch. I also disagree that "beauty" should be the only goal of art. And heaven forbid the unwashed masses should think they can be artists!

I don't disagree with what he considers art. I disagree with what he does NOT consider art and for his reasons that it is not art. It reeks of elitism.

Joe

#5 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,031 posts

Posted 27 October 2010 - 09:43 AM

Not really sure what to say about all this, there is so much to rail against. What do you think? Do you agree?

Yes, I do agree with him here. After reading I Drink Therefore I Am, I decided that I loved this guy, and now I've started reading Beauty, which is turning out to be just as good.

It's on Amazon here -
Posted Image

What I don't understand is how you think his viewpoint from the above documentary is elitist or somehow cares about what social class an artist is from. Scruton's arguments are purely philosophical. He believes "beauty" is a very important value, and he believes (and is told by people he interviews) that they are trying to do away with the idea of "beauty" altogether (whether for trendy cultural reasons in an art museum or for purely practical utility reasons in architecture). He, as any reasonable man would, objects to this. What other goals of art should there be (re: the discussion with the sculpturist about the difference between conveying beauty and conveying an abstract idea).

#6 jfutral

jfutral

    Member

  • Member
  • 271 posts

Posted 27 October 2010 - 11:14 AM


Not really sure what to say about all this, there is so much to rail against. What do you think? Do you agree?

Yes, I do agree with him here. After reading I Drink Therefore I Am, I decided that I loved this guy, and now I've started reading Beauty, which is turning out to be just as good.

It's on Amazon here -
Posted Image

What I don't understand is how you think his viewpoint from the above documentary is elitist or somehow cares about what social class an artist is from. Scruton's arguments are purely philosophical. He believes "beauty" is a very important value, and he believes (and is told by people he interviews) that they are trying to do away with the idea of "beauty" altogether (whether for trendy cultural reasons in an art museum or for purely practical utility reasons in architecture). He, as any reasonable man would, objects to this. What other goals of art should there be (re: the discussion with the sculpturist about the difference between conveying beauty and conveying an abstract idea).

Beauty is an important value. I agree. I don't agree that beauty only means pretty and I don't believe pretty is the only goal or value art should strive for. Not everything in scripture is pretty. But it has value.

I also believe art, or rather, artists are also valuable as prophets. I've heard it said that artists are today's prophets by default. I do believe one valuable aspect of art is questioning and exposing—questioning what we think has value, questioning definitions, exposing presuppositions for what they are. What people think is beauty is not always beauty. I would say doing away with beauty as equating exclusively to pretty is very important. Sometimes ugly needs to be exposed or explored, especially when it is wrapped in beauty.

Why do I think he is taking an elitist POV? He says as such several times in the first video, for instance when he mockingly says everything can be art and everyone can be/is an artist. Well, yes. I happen to firmly believe everyone is an artist, some trained, some not. I come across his idea (and make no mistake he is trying to perpetuate an idea as much as any artist, whether artists to his liking or not. In his case, what should be considered beauty) from classically trained ballet dancers who believe Modern or Post-Modern choreography is ugly or not art, classically trained musicians who think only classical music is of value (King David was a blues man. Nothing "pretty" in many of those Psalms), or when I come across Christians who think the only art of value is art that depicts scripture or scriptural values (but not the ugly ones). Of course there is the long standing dispute between realism and abstract artists. He wants to put art exclusively in the hands of the properly trained when he discusses what he thinks is true/good art.

I can sympathize. I think he and Suzi Gablick would have an interesting conversation. I believe, philosophically, much of Modernism, within art, has done a great disservice. But I still find the art that came as a result of that drive/search of discovery and understanding to have value and to value beauty and to be beautiful. I do think he nails some of society's disillusionments. But he wants a return to Egypt as the solution (which may or may not have existed at all, but he has constructed a universe where all true artists are of his mind).

His problem seems to boil down to "art should be beautiful" by his definition of beauty. Then everything he goes through is to justify that.

Philosophically, he is also going around the fringes of (or maybe actually directly into) the universal/particular discussion. He believes there is a universal idea of beauty, it is art's purpose to reflect that idea, and any art that does not jive with his idea of beauty betrays that.

THAT is the "beauty" modern artists are/were trying to do away with. And make no mistake, so were artists before them. Some more than others. Some, not at all. In some regards he is no different than people before him. Similar things were said of the impressionists, like Monet.

Touching on architecture, some of the most beautiful works I've seen are firmly rooted in Modernism. Modern architecture is not about pure utilitarian at the expense of beauty, but it is greatly concerned with eliminating (perceived) useless ornamentation. Although, I would say some architects took the philosophy "function before form" or "form from function" too literally and too much to heart. Ironically it is (some) post-modern architecture that sought a return to ornamentation.

Joe

#7 M. Leary

M. Leary

    Member

  • Member
  • 5,440 posts

Posted 27 October 2010 - 11:37 AM

His problem seems to boil down to "art should be beautiful" by his definition of beauty. Then everything he goes through is to justify that.


I agree. I have always found Scruton's knee-jerk anti-Turner Prize schtick grating and short-sighted. Even though "elitist" is often used as a criticism without any real merit, it is a fitting word for this discussion.

#8 jfutral

jfutral

    Member

  • Member
  • 271 posts

Posted 28 October 2010 - 07:58 AM

What I think contributes to his air of elitism is his alarmism. The art he rails against is still a fraction of the art world. He speaks as if that is all that is being produced anymore and all the great works of the past are left to be buried in dust if they still exist at all. Modern art is a small part of major museums like the Met. Even museums that specialize in Modern art like the Guggenheim and MOMA, the art he speaks of is often a special exhibit, not ongoing collections. I remember when MOMA made a deal of exhibiting a DADA show. The masters still dominate the museums of Europe, at least the ones I visited, such as in Florence. The smaller galleries like Pace West and the others on that block in NYC are a small part of the whole. Even throughout his documentary, he seems to continually refer to the same works over and over. If the world were turning as he states, seems like he could have found a greater range of work to demonstrate his point.

While I share a similar disdain for the hyper-indiviualism of Modernity, no, the world is not coming to an end because of it. There is no artistic armageddon on the verge of annihilating our senses. And I have no problem with teachers and professors (of art or otherwise) encouraging their students to find their own voice, to expand their imaginations and creativity beyond what has gone before, and to find new ways of expressing beauty.

Joe

#9 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 8,946 posts

Posted 28 October 2010 - 09:52 AM

Modern art is a small part of major museums like the Met.

Depends, I think, on whether the range of inquiry is "museum collections" or "modern art." My impression is that recent visual art in public spaces (sculptures in parks, paintings in public buildings, even artwork in churches, alas) tends to be at the abstract end of the spectrum, i.e., either entirely nonrepresentational or largely so. At least, where I live (NYC area) that seems to be the case.

Tending as I do to view such art as generally more decorative than meaningful, I'm inclined to view such art, rather than the criticism of it, as elitist. Most ordinary people would rather see a sculpture or a painting that looks like something, created by an artist whose talent they can readily appreciate.

#10 jfutral

jfutral

    Member

  • Member
  • 271 posts

Posted 28 October 2010 - 11:00 AM

recent visual art in public spaces (sculptures in parks, paintings in public buildings, even artwork in churches, alas) tends to be at the abstract end of the spectrum, i.e., either entirely nonrepresentational or largely so. At least, where I live (NYC area) that seems to be the case.

So, do you think Scruton's issue is primarily realism/representational vs abstract?

Most ordinary people would rather see a sculpture or a painting that looks like something, created by an artist whose talent they can readily appreciate.

Sure, and most people would rather be entertained than be challenged. That does not mean the challenging material is without merit or value. Nutcracker is more popular than Concerto Barocco. More people would rather watch a Coppelia than Paul Taylor's Aureole or Tudor's Dark Elegies. Most ordinary people seem to prefer Lady Gaga over John Coltrane.

So is your point most ordinary people prefer the easy or approachable rather than the challenging? I agree. I know I do, more often than I like. Does that mean the challenging is without value or elitist or has no place in society? I don't think so.

Are there modern artists and critics who are arrogant and elitist? Sure. But so were many of the historic representational masters and critics. That is nothing new. The artists I come across that I consider excellent, in skill and/or inspiration, seem to be pretty much split down the middle between exhibiting humility or hubris.

Depends, I think, on whether the range of inquiry is "museum collections" or "modern art."


Doesn't matter. Modern art, whatever that means, is only one style or genre. It exists along side a multitude of other styles and genres. Maybe not always in the same geographic location, but in the story of art it is merely one voice. And hardly exists to the demise of representational art or whatever art of which Scruton is a proponent.

And just like the historic masters, time will more than likely winnow out the less noteworthy.

I think Scruton's frustration is misplaced. I heard one person say, there is no art, only artists. Scruton touches on this sometimes in that documentary. But I think when he rails against the art of the modern artists, they aren't creating his problem as much as they are more symptomatic. If the modern artists are throwing away old notions of beauty, then the question needs to be asked "Why?" He gets to that question occasionally but seems to believe it is less significant than exposing evil intent and conspiracy in artists/humans.

To a degree, I feel like I am reminded more of Francis Schaeffer than anything else.

Joe

#11 KShaw

KShaw

    Member

  • Member
  • 197 posts

Posted 29 October 2010 - 12:08 AM

Where does systems art fit into the continuum? It's definitely not your typical representational painting, but neither is it Picasso. Systems artists portray the relationships between objects and their environment, while focusing less on the objects themselves than their interaction. Many installations implicate the viewer and make her part of the system, leading some of these artists to proclaim that they are trying to show how 'everyone is an artist' in the way he influences conditions around him. It speaks to issues of social responsibility and environmental liveability.

At the same time, the populist message/approach is belied by the reality that systems art is more or less elitist. It hasn't broken through to the mainstream. Its prominent theorists believe that they are looking at the future of art as a whole, and so they label the traditional arts and the unreceptive public as hopelessly backward and nostalgic.

Tending as I do to view such art as generally more decorative than meaningful, I'm inclined to view such art, rather than the criticism of it, as elitist. Most ordinary people would rather see a sculpture or a painting that looks like something, created by an artist whose talent they can readily appreciate.


There's an interesting tension in describing primarily 'decorative' art as elitist and more difficult and the 'meaningful' art as easier to appreciate from the public standpoint. Usually with other mediums it's the other way around. Jfrutal's Lady Gaga reference exemplifies this. Terms like 'elitist' and 'populist' aren't absolute; in an area as complex as art, there will always be layers and layers of overlap. Dada, for example, began as a movement against 'bourgeois' art forms towards art that everyone could understand. Some systems artists, as well, try to make art that's not limited by culture, or even scale; they want art that literally anyone can experience and comprehend. (Oh the irony of high concept populism.)

Back to the systems art of contemporary times, which can't be accused of being merely decorative, because oftentimes it's not even visible. It wholly embraces the didactic function of art, doing away with the idea of 'art for art's sake.' Not sure how I feel about all that.

We might also look at it from the standpoint of art that merely 'distracts' v. art that invites 'contemplation,' or art that is absorbed in the viewer v. art that absorbs the viewer.

Edited by KShaw, 29 October 2010 - 12:20 AM.


#12 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 8,946 posts

Posted 29 October 2010 - 08:38 AM

So, do you think Scruton's issue is primarily realism/representational vs abstract?

No idea. Haven't watched the videos yet. I was responding to one comment in the thread.

Most ordinary people would rather see a sculpture or a painting that looks like something, created by an artist whose talent they can readily appreciate.

Sure, and most people would rather be entertained than be challenged. That does not mean the challenging material is without merit or value. Nutcracker is more popular than Concerto Barocco. More people would rather watch a Coppelia than Paul Taylor's Aureole or Tudor's Dark Elegies. Most ordinary people seem to prefer Lady Gaga over John Coltrane.

Maybe, but people exposed to Concerto Barocco or John Coltrane wouldn't think, "My kid could do that." Excellence of that kind is readily recognized across lines of taste.

Also, Dark Elegies is there if you want it, but it isn't foisted on the masses the way that sculptures and paintings confront us in public spaces, where public appreciation should be a relevant factor.

Also, a good traditional stained glass window that anyone can see is beautiful is just plain better than a modern minimalist one that only a trained liturgical expert could possibly be confused enough to think is just as good as the first window.

And just like the historic masters, time will more than likely winnow out the less noteworthy.

Maybe. But isn't there something in the current milieu that militates against the whole notion of winnowing out the less noteworthy, or even making value judgments between what is worthy and what isn't? Might that be worth railing against?

#13 jfutral

jfutral

    Member

  • Member
  • 271 posts

Posted 29 October 2010 - 09:15 AM

Where does systems art fit into the continuum?


I know you are talking about something specific, but the use of the word "system" I think is appropriate overall, vs genre or style. That is what most any art movement addresses, the system of art that has gone on before and become the system that everyone has gotten used to. This includes the viewers as well as the critics and schools.

At the same time, the populist message/approach is belied by the reality that systems art is more or less elitist. It hasn't broken through to the mainstream. Its prominent theorists believe that they are looking at the future of art as a whole, and so they label the traditional arts and the unreceptive public as hopelessly backward and nostalgic.


That's where the frustration comes in with the notion of novelty (as in something new, not something trivial). When culture or society as a whole has gotten used to something, then the something new can take time to get used to. Sometimes people never get used to something. I learned I could never again make bulgogi for my in-laws when they visited. For another couple, a soup I thought of as simple and earthy (corn, wild rice, and summer sausage) was too spicy, even though there are no spices added.

Terms like 'elitist' and 'populist' aren't absolute; in an area as complex as art, there will always be layers and layers of overlap. Dada, for example, began as a movement against 'bourgeois' art forms towards art that everyone could understand. Some systems artists, as well, try to make art that's not limited by culture, or even scale; they want art that literally anyone can experience and comprehend. (Oh the irony of high concept populism.)

Back to the systems art of contemporary times, which can't be accused of being merely decorative, because oftentimes it's not even visible. It wholly embraces the didactic function of art, doing away with the idea of 'art for art's sake.' Not sure how I feel about all that.

We might also look at it from the standpoint of art that merely 'distracts' v. art that invites 'contemplation,' or art that is absorbed in the viewer v. art that absorbs the viewer.


I think all the points you make are what Scruton opposes about contemporary art. While I was happy to be corrected when I read the excerpts Amazon provided from his book where he seems to point out beauty does not only mean pretty, I did learn a bit more about MLeary's charge of Scruton being anti-Turner award.

"Tension" is a good word to use. I am reminded somewhat of the other thread here on snobbery. When is developing a taste for something or preferring one brand of scotch to another being elitist vs just being indicative of your tastes? I think it comes when one views with disdain those who do not share one's taste. I see that it in Scruton, many modern artists, and many ballet dancers when they look at modern dancers. When is that elitism really frustration that others not only can't or won't appreciate what you are doing, but actively combating what you are doing?

I think for some people this is a natural tendency when they have spent the better part of their lives sacrificing their life for the pursuit of what they feel is important. It is not difficult to feel offended when someone comes along and you feel like they are telling you what you pursued, the skill you worked so hard to develop or the qualities you studied in others for so long is not or no longer important or primary—never mind if the offense is real or perceived.

I find Scruton's appeal to Plato and then deriding the affect of the Enlightenment to be ironic. He seems to make no connection to the humanist underpinnings shared between Plato, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and Modernity.

Joe

#14 jfutral

jfutral

    Member

  • Member
  • 271 posts

Posted 29 October 2010 - 09:54 AM

Maybe, but people exposed to Concerto Barocco or John Coltrane wouldn't think, "My kid could do that." Excellence of that kind is readily recognized across lines of taste.


You haven't heard the people I know who hate jazz.

Also, Dark Elegies is there if you want it, but it isn't foisted on the masses the way that sculptures and paintings confront us in public spaces, where public appreciation should be a relevant factor.


I think that is a different topic. Or maybe it isn't. I have my own opinions about public art. It is all the rage here in Atlanta and a lot of money is being thrown that direction. So much for those of us who aren't into creating public art.

Also, a good traditional stained glass window that anyone can see is beautiful is just plain better than a modern minimalist one that only a trained liturgical expert could possibly be confused enough to think is just as good as the first window.


Yeah, that Frank Lloyd Wright was such a minimalist hack. And that Marc Chagall, what a modernist schmuck. ;-)

Stained glass seems to be one area where I find most people think ANY coloured glass is beautiful. Go figure.

And just like the historic masters, time will more than likely winnow out the less noteworthy.

Maybe. But isn't there something in the current milieu that militates against the whole notion of winnowing out the less noteworthy, or even making value judgments between what is worthy and what isn't? Might that be worth railing against?


I guess we could set up a system like China or the Soviet Union where the only people allowed to be artists are the ones the State selects. And then if they don't live up to expectations they can go work the gulags. I do remember one theatre in Cleveland that had what they called the "bad actor cage". Take heart. Even Bach, in his day, was considered a schmuck by many.

The thing is, railing against a system is where much modern art and artists began. 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. Modern architecture came about the same way.

Joe

Edited by jfutral, 29 October 2010 - 09:55 AM.


#15 jfutral

jfutral

    Member

  • Member
  • 271 posts

Posted 29 October 2010 - 10:38 AM

"My kid could do that."


You know, this quip has long bothered me. Along the same lines is "If I can do it, it isn't art". To me the point of art isn't who can or can't do it. The point is just do it! I think the more EVERYONE did art, the less need for anyone to tell us what is and isn't art, much less what is and isn't good art. If your kid can "do that" then tell him to do it! And keep doing it. Art is 100% participatory. Art only exists if people participate. This is where I believe the idea of "there is no art, only artists" comes from.

Joe

#16 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 8,946 posts

Posted 29 October 2010 - 11:44 AM

You haven't heard the people I know who hate jazz.

Touche. But I think even the average jazz hater, unless he is unusually blinkered, would at least grudgingly admit if pressed that it involves talent and skill. "My kid could do that" would be, I think, an unusually blinkered response to John Coltrane. But not to Jackson Pollock.

Also, Dark Elegies is there if you want it, but it isn't foisted on the masses the way that sculptures and paintings confront us in public spaces, where public appreciation should be a relevant factor.

I think that is a different topic. Or maybe it isn't. I have my own opinions about public art. It is all the rage here in Atlanta and a lot of money is being thrown that direction. So much for those of us who aren't into creating public art.

Well, FWIW, it was the subject I meant to invoke when I pointed out that the question of art today is bigger than museum collections.

Also, a good traditional stained glass window that anyone can see is beautiful is just plain better than a modern minimalist one that only a trained liturgical expert could possibly be confused enough to think is just as good as the first window.


Yeah, that Frank Lloyd Wright was such a minimalist hack. And that Marc Chagall, what a modernist schmuck. ;-)

Stained glass seems to be one area where I find most people think ANY coloured glass is beautiful. Go figure.

Okay, perhaps I wasn't clear enough. I'm still addressing public art, and in this case specifically stained glass found in churches (hence my (slighting) reference to liturgical experts).

In this connection, Wright and Chagall pose two very different issues. While colored glass, as you indicate, is pretty much always pretty, Wright's characteristic stained glass work is secular rather than sacred in nature (although he seems to have used stained glass in at least one church that I can find, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee -- though I can't find an image from the inside!), and I hope most people would prefer something else in church. (Of course, I'm generally not a fan of Wright's church architecture (or church architecture inspired by Wright), but that might be a question for another time.)

Chagall is very much another story. His work in stained glass includes significant amounts of sacred work that I quite like. There is also a significant level of continuity in his work with the sensibilities of traditional stained glass. If more liturgical "experts" went in for Chagall style work, I would complain less. It's the work we actually get in too many churches, not the work that a Chagall might do, that I'm complaining about.

Unhappily I don't have ready access to images of some of the uninspiring stained glass that I've seen in modern church buildings, but here is a typical example of the sort of thing I'm thinking of -- not outright lame, like something along the lines of this or this, but just pretty and nothing more. Now here is a more traditional window, not from some magnificent European cathedral, but from a contemporary Methodist church building. And then there's work that is actually awesome. Would anyone really rather pray and worship in a church with the first window than the last? Really?

Tangential anecdote: When Sarah was very, very young -- I would guess around two -- we took her to a typical modern spaceship of a church that had ugly stained glass windows with large, candy-colored panes of glass and very little artistic sensibility. A short time beforehand, every woman in a picture was "Mary" to Sarah, but just recently she had discovered Disney sing-along videos. In the rear of the church, which was dedicated to the Annunication, was a window meant to represent the Holy Spirit descending on the Virgin Mary. And Sarah -- who knew her animal morphology extremely well -- took one look at the window and blurted, "It's Pocahontas! And a duck!" And, amid suppressed laughter, Suz and I had to admit that, yes, the bird in the picture actually did look strikingly like a duck.

I guess we could set up a system like China or the Soviet Union where the only people allowed to be artists are the ones the State selects.

8O Where did THAT come from? Is the discussion going downhill?

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?

#17 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,031 posts

Posted 29 October 2010 - 12:15 PM

The masters still dominate the museums of Europe, at least the ones I visited, such as in Florence. The smaller galleries like Pace West and the others on that block in NYC are a small part of the whole. Even throughout his documentary, he seems to continually refer to the same works over and over. If the world were turning as he states, seems like he could have found a greater range of work to demonstrate his point.

While I share a similar disdain for the hyper-indiviualism of Modernity, no, the world is not coming to an end because of it. There is no artistic armageddon on the verge of annihilating our senses. And I have no problem with teachers and professors (of art or otherwise) encouraging their students to find their own voice, to expand their imaginations and creativity beyond what has gone before, and to find new ways of expressing beauty.

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. 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."

I know there are good modern day artists out there. But "modern art" as a movement has a particular philosophy behind it. Sure there are many different facets, genres, and trends in "modern art," but there is a reason, like you said, that most of the art masters are regulated to the museums of old world Europe. 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. 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.

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. 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.

#18 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 8,946 posts

Posted 29 October 2010 - 12:17 PM

"My kid could do that."

You know, this quip has long bothered me. Along the same lines is "If I can do it, it isn't art". To me the point of art isn't who can or can't do it. The point is just do it! I think the more EVERYONE did art, the less need for anyone to tell us what is and isn't art, much less what is and isn't good art. If your kid can "do that" then tell him to do it! And keep doing it. Art is 100% participatory. Art only exists if people participate. This is where I believe the idea of "there is no art, only artists" comes from.

Oh, I certainly agree that art should be for everyone, and I absolutely agree in rejecting the slogan "If I can do it it isn't art." OTOH, I think the quip "My kid could do that" potentially expresses a different and valid insight: not that it isn't art, but that it doesn't appear to represent a level of accomplishment worth noting in a larger forum than a refrigerator door or a Facebook page.

If we don't make distinctions between levels of achievement, why should anyone bother to participate in art? Even at the lowest levels of achievement, people want a higher standard to appreciate and aspire to. A Little League player looks up to A-Rod. He might be proud to be playing the same game, but he doesn't want to feel that he has already accomplished just as much as A-Rod. That's why he practices and works hard to improve. It doesn't make the game less fun, but more fun to recognize levels of achievement beyond your own.

Behind this is a larger issue, a falsely egalitarian anti-elitist attitude that proclaims that we have arrived, we are good enough, and those who have worked hard to improve themselves are no better than we. Here is a very interesting excerpt from a review of Sarah Palin's memoir Going Rogue that aptly expresses the issue I'm concerned about:

In her speech at the Republican Convention, Palin cited the example of Harry Truman, “a young farmer and haberdasher from Missouri” who “followed an unlikely path to the Vice-Presidency.” But Truman’s early years were spent in preparation for some future exemplary role, and for the historical destiny that he hoped, against all odds, he might someday fulfill. He regarded his ordinariness as something to be overcome, not celebrated. Though often derided in his day as a “little man,” he closely studied the lives of the greats, with special emphasis on antiquity—Hannibal, Cincinnatus, Scipio, Cyrus the Great—and consciously patterned himself after them. “Reading history, to me, was far more than a romantic adventure,” he said. “It was solid instruction and wise teaching which I somehow felt that I wanted and needed.” As President, he formed a strong bond with his Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, a product of Yale and Harvard, and a bugbear of Joseph McCarthy and his congressional allies, whom Acheson described as “political primitives.”

The appetite for betterment that drove Truman is strangely absent in Palin. Though she says that she was a voracious reader in childhood, she nowhere indicates what she learned about politics or governance from books, from the college courses she took, or even from more experienced officeholders in Alaska. She (or her collaborator) sprinkles nuggets from Plato and Pascal, but is more convincing when she cites a motivational maxim from “author and former football coach Lou Holtz.” ... When Fred Barnes, the Weekly Standard editor and writer, asked Palin who her favorite thinker was, she replied, “You.” Barnes has observed that Palin’s “Republican heroes, besides McCain, come to a grand total of two, Reagan and Lincoln.”

“Going Rogue” does indeed invoke Reagan, as so many conservative memoirs and manifestos do ... What she ignores, though, is the fact that Reagan, like Truman, immersed himself in solitary preparation. A consultant to Reagan’s first political campaign, in 1966, when he ran for governor of California, reported that “his library is stacked with books on political philosophy.” The radio scripts that he wrote and read in the nineteen-seventies, at a rate of five a week, were models of concise argument, as were his letters to contemporaries like William F. Buckley, Jr. But then Reagan, again like Truman, aspired to the heroic ideal. ...

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.

Edited by SDG, 29 October 2010 - 12:18 PM.


#19 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,031 posts

Posted 29 October 2010 - 12:28 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?

I'm almost finished with the book. When I'm finished, I'll post a couple quotes summing up Scruton's main arguments.

#20 jfutral

jfutral

    Member

  • Member
  • 271 posts

Posted 29 October 2010 - 01:11 PM

Unhappily I don't have ready access to images of some of the uninspiring stained glass that I've seen in modern church buildings, but here is a typical example of the sort of thing I'm thinking of -- not outright lame, like something along the lines of this or this, but just pretty and nothing more. Now here is a more traditional window, not from some magnificent European cathedral, but from a contemporary Methodist church building. And then there's work that is actually awesome. Would anyone really rather pray and worship in a church with the first window than the last? Really?

Would I rather? I wouldn't mind it any less. But you also, IIRC, come from a ecclesial background that has purposeful art—that is, art, if present, is intended to serve a particular purpose. If I felt similarly about art in church I would probably agree with you. But then, this is where i appreciate Francis Schaeffer when he pointed out how the temple was decorated.

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. Love your anecdote.

I guess we could set up a system like China or the Soviet Union where the only people allowed to be artists are the ones the State selects.

8O Where did THAT come from? Is the discussion going downhill?


Well, you asked if there was some way (Futral's paraphrase) to accelerate the winnowing that time brings our way. Those were the only two systems I could think of to reduce the amount of un-noteworthy work without the aid of time. That is, other than doing what people do naturally by ignoring what they don't find interesting.

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?

Well, now that is a great question and one I am largely in line with Suzi Gablick, especially after I read her book Has Modernism Failed?. Modern artists rebelled against the system, then not only in turn was co-opted, but subsumed by the system and became the system.

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.

Joe