But actually, I think one of the ways you can sort of get on the same page is by trying something. For example, if you love music, try learning to play an instrument. If you love visual art, try taking a drawing class. You don’t have to be good or anything, but you can start to appreciate what you’re experiencing in a different way. I think that really works.
Well, I see what you mean, but I feel like you have to reach a certain level before it really helps the type of understanding you’re talking about. I play guitar, and my skill level (including the “quality of my ear”) isn’t good enough where I can create my own music—if I could write my own songs, then I think it might help me in the way you’re suggesting. Perhaps a “short-cut” might be learning about visual art processes and techniques.
Jazz — perhaps. Either way, in knowing how to play an instrument, you already are a step ahead in terms of appreciating music than those who do not know how. You are understanding something that musicians understand, and that composers want them to, even if you are not advanced.
Keep going! :) It only gets more interesting.
It is difficult but an omniscient person would be able to. In other words, we can’t identify the precise meaning of instrumental music because that would involve tracking millions of little intertwining connections, not because there is something mystical about art or beauty or the human that is beyond the laws of cause and effect.
I still don’t know why the meaning must be rational, or why it must be translatable into some message that helps one live life better. I agree that we learn some thing about the artist via their art, but that “thing” is not limited to rational or wise ideas about how to live one’s life.
I want to throw out something else. Human beings have the capacity to find messages in anything—including things that don’t necessary have messages. So, in a way, I think we could find wisdom in any art—including instrumental music—but we might have to strain ourselves…I want to say, “to a ridiculous degree,” but this implies that the wisdom we find (construct?) isn’t meaningful; the interpretation we construct can be meaningful and helpful to us, but it’s might also be ridiculous in the sense that we’re searching for and finding something that isn’t really there.
More importantly, I’m suggesting that art can be meaningful without an insightful or wise message. I don’t think this is necessary for greatness.
For movies, trying to make a movie that makes the most money possible.
Yeah, this might be a worthless objective—relative to art—but it’s not an artistic objective. I believe that all art has artistic objectives, when I asked about worthless objectives and attempts, I meant worthless artistic objectives. I believe that even highly commercial films have artistic objectives. These films may not care so much about the artistic objectives (which is often the reason the films aren’t very good), but they do have these objectives. For example, the artistic objective might be telling an entertaining story about good triumphing over evil or finding true love. The film may succeed marvelously or fail terribly, but I don’t think this objective is worthless.
Re: the biological basis for aesthetic values, the link isn’t entirely clear to me, and it’s still highly problematic. Why must aesthetic values be rooted in biological ones? Are you doing this because biological “facts” provide a more objective foundation? The move makes sense, but I think you need a more compelling reason for showing a link between the two. Indeed, between biological and social values, doesn’t aesthetic values fall within the latter category?
Even if there is a strong link between biological values and aesthetic ones, isn’t the relationship a lot more complex than you’re suggesting? For example, pain aversion and the desire for health might be strong motivators, but so are the desire for pleasure—the latter often overriding the former (as the obesity problem would support). If we extrapolate aesthetic values from this, we might conclude that escapist films are better works of art than more serious films which aren’t so entertaining.
These fundamental values are the kind that I think we should build our philosophy on rather than relying on social constructions or on pretending we have objective knowledge or in refusing to have opinions at all.
I think there is another approach, though—one that relies on the nature of art—i.e., what it is and what it tries to do; also, one that relies on criteria (e.g., originality, timelessness, etc.) and principles (e.g., judging art based on its own terms, etc.) that most people agree on. I don’t think we have to find a biological link (or there may be one).
So we have a desire to use reason to understand the world, we have a will to learn from the past to be able to better manage our futures, we have the aversion of pain and the desire of pleasure/comfort – what else do we have? Also we have an innate appreciation of beauty.
I want to stop right there. Why is understanding the world via reason more important, more crucial for artistic greatness, than beauty? Or how about laughter? If an artwork is extraordinarily beautiful or moving—and not containing some wisdom based on logic—why can’t this be a great work of art?
My argument is that works of art make statements about the world that can be traced back to the artist. We can categorize these statements in terms of how accurate, wise, or interesting they are. It is absolutely intuitive to say that it is better for a work to make wise statements than unwise statements.
I’m OK with the first sentence. The problem occurs from the link with the next two sentences—especially with the use of the word, “wise.” The statements about the world may be interesting. No problem there. The statements may be accurate. OK, that’s a little more problematic, as the “statements” might be neither, but I can live with this. The “statements” may be wise, but it may not be—and by “not be” I don’t mean unwise. I mean that the statement may be neither—that you’re applying a false dichotomy. For example, is beauty wise or unwise? What about laughter?
Oh, I’d love to, if it weren’t for the time and effort required. :)
But even if not, my point is only that all this “beauty, powerful, emotional, feelings” stuff about art is only mysterious and difficult to articulate because it involves such an incredibly complex number of variables that nobody will ever be able to calculate, and not because there is something mystical, supernatural, or inherently indescribable going on.
I’m making several points.
1. The value of beauty, etc.doesn’t depend on translating them into words.
2. The value of beauty, etc.doesn’t depend extrapolating wisdom or insight from them—and this may not always be possible and to do so might be completely inappropriate and off base.
3. Beauty, etc. and their expression can tell us a lot about the artist (especially the “how” part), and we can translate this into words, at least to some degree. But the information we gain isn’t necessarily the same as practical insight or wisdom. So I’m not saying that beauty, etc. are so mystical and supernatural that they’re beyond words. I’m saying the words we say aren’t necessarily wise or helpful in terms of how one lives his/her life.
I thought the left brain-right brain distinction wasn’t valued much anymore in psychology. But anyway, taken as a metaphor, I don’t really like being thrown in the rationalist side. Only about a year ago or less I was on here preaching relativism to you.
Right, but clearly you’re in the rationalist camp now, right? (That’s not a bad thing, per se. Btw, I don’t think relativism and rationalism oppose each other, do they?)
Much of this was covered in the Bell thread but the problem is getting words to represent an object (reality) which brings in Wittgenstein.
Ultimately, what would be the point of an absolute rationalizing?
Wittgenstein thought the unspeakable should remain unspoken.
Feelings unspoken are unforgettable. – Nostalghia 1983 DIR Andrei Tarkovsky
I don’t have time to write much now but the point of an absolute rationalizing is to argue that every work of art is an expression of a worldview and that we can know about the maker’s worldview by looking at the expression. I don’t think art appreciation requires a heavy rationalizing of the work, but art criticism probably does because it involves evaluating the worldview behind the work. I think Jazz’s approach to deciding what makes art great is backwards because it is trying to mold your definition of great art to fit all the “big names” that you want to be considered great artists. I think a proper approach would have to be based on philosophy first where you choose what you value, and then you see what fits into your category – and in doing so, we can expect a lot of well-known artists to not make the cut do to a difference of values. If you’re including criteria such as “timelessness” and “originality” onto your list of determining what makes art great, then you aren’t making the same kind of category as I am. Jazz’s notion of great art is a historical canon, a sociological perspective where the greatness of art is partially determined by who likes it and when it was made. Mine is an individual canon based on my views and values that I think I have good reasons for. It is not useful for university text books or for anthropologists but it is a more useful category for me. It’s different from a subjective category though because I should hopefully have reasons behind every choice and those reasons are based on facts that are more than subjective.
“Ultimately, what would be the point of an absolute rationalizing?”
Right . . . if the point of art is merely to paraphrase rational ideas, why not just write down the ideas instead? It would be a big time saver.
My approach requires quite a bit of judgment by the individual. For example, the crux of the process depends on determining what a film is about; the terms and conditions the film sets for itself; it’s central theme, etc. There often isn’t one and only one correct answer; people can disagree about this question. To determine whether has succeeded in achieving what it set out for itself, I look to criteria like originality, timelessness, intensity of feeling, wholeness, etc. The weighting and application of this criteria can differ from person to person. Judgments about whether a film possesses these qualities can also differ from person to person. What makes the process intersubjective is that the principles and criteria used are appropriate for judging art. But it’s a process for an indvidual to determine for him/herself if a film is any good or not; and that processe doesn’t guarantee that the established greats will make the cut.
I don’t think these criteria have anything to do with art and I can think of examples of artful movies that intentionally don’t meet some of those criteria. Why does a work of art have to be original? What about filmmakers like Bergman who made several movies in the same style? Why wholeness? How do you reconcile that with Korine’s Trash Humpers and his (correct) view that messiness is no worse than neatness/perfectness in a work of art? Intensity of feeling can apply to most Hollywood movies and most of them don’t have real artistic aspirations. I think before we can come up with criteria we need to ask what art should try to do. My answer is to teach us about life, and so I get the value of profundity. Your answer seems to be that art can do whatever it wants as long as it does that successfully. A criteria so broad opens the door for works without much depth. You wanted an example of a suspect artistic aspiration: take films that are full of formal complexity but lack profundity. The filmmakers are quite good at making references, in-jokes, playing with audience expectations and storytelling and genre conventions, using music ironically, being witty and playful but never making a single insight into life. The value in all the tricks is entertainment value, shock value, or in telling the audience everything they want to hear about themselves but that isn’t true. I think it’s obvious that profundity trumps this approach.
Another problem with your approach is that it forces you to juggle multiple criteria. Suppose I can give each movie a grading rubrick. Movie A has 9/10 originality, N/A Timelessness, 7.75/10 wholeness, 9/10 intensity of feeling but Movie B has 8/10 originality, 9/10 timelessness, 8/10 wholeness, and 7.5/10 intensity of feeling. How do we say which is better? Is every criteria worth the same? Does 9 timelessness + 7 wholeness = 9 wholeness + 7 timelessness? It’s more likely that the variables are more slippery than that. How you decide to weight the categories (and I know this is all done intuitively and not with actual numbers) plays the biggest role in your verdict on the quality of the film. And because this weighing of the criteria all happens off the top of the head and is thus not totally consistent from movie to movie, the system pretty much comes down to taste and your mood at the time of watching. If you have only a single criterion for artistic greatness, you eliminate this problem. If I know your criteria but not your tastes, and I watch some movies, would I be able to predict how you place each one? No, I would be making total guesses. If you knew my criteria but not my tastes, you could immediately place many movies you see into either my category of great art or not-great art.
The “process for an individual to determine for himself whether a film is any or good or not” still exists but we need to distinguish between two processes that go on: one is that the individual is deciding whether the film possess what’s needed to be great art, and the other is the process of determining whether the individual likes the movie. Your tastes don’t have to coincide exactly with your criteria. The process you describe seems to be the latter, a process of deciding whether you like something rather than whether it is actually good by a stable, clear definition.
I think a rationalist has to believe that we have access to truth though, at least more access than I believe we have. And to me, rationalism is very much opposed to relativism. The fundamental belief of relativism is that we can’t assert the superiority of values over other values (because it’s all opinion). A rationalist would want to assert some values as superior. Right now I’m reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and so far I seem pretty aligned with him because he constantly reminds us of the impossibility of deriving truth from the appearances of objects, while wanting to build a moral foundation on (transcendental) logic.
Biological values are nearly universal, that’s what makes them valuable. It’s a much more secure basis to build on than social values. We should take social constructions for being just those, and not for having any bearing on right or wrong.
I don’t see how. You said it yourself – the obesity problem. It’s a problem because obesity is bad for your health and will result in more pain/less pleasure than eating healthier/being more active. We know this, that’s why we promote awareness about obesity. That is a consequence of the human desire to be healthy/comfortable/painless. You’ll see the same value in pretty much every society that knows of the health problems associated with obesity (unless it contradicts social [maybe religious] values that are too deeply rooted in the culture to be eliminated by new medical knowledge – I don’t know of any such society currently existing in regards to obesity, I’m just saying). The point I’m making with this distinction is that we should build our basis on the most universal values.
The critieria I listed are general standards of artistic excellence, not essential qualities. In other words, great art tends to exhibit the criteria I listed, but some of them may not. Think of the criteria as compelling reasons an individual could use to make a case for an artwork’s greatness. The individual doesn’t have to use all the criteria listed and they can even prioritize them differently, but a strong case would depend on th using some of the criteria. A great work of art would exhibit some of these propertities and/or exhibit them in to an extraordinary degree.
Having said that, I think the appropriateness and application of each criteria depends on the what the film is about and the terms and conditions it sets for itself. For example, while great filmmaking technique may be a hallmark of excellence, in some cases “shoddier” filmmaking may actually serve a film more—consider films by John Waters or John Carpenter. So we first look at what a film is about and what it’s trying to do before looking for general standards of excellence.
_I think before we can come up with criteria we need to ask what art should try to do. My answer is to teach us about life, and so I get the value of profundity. Your answer seems to be that art can do whatever it wants as long as it does that successfully
I’m saying that I can’t think of any aesthetic goal that we automatically reject as worthless. Again, I’m still curious to hear about aesthetic goals that you consider worthless. Moreoever, I’m still don’t know the reason art should only teach us about life—why it can’t, for example, move us via beauty or some other emotion. And there may be other valid aesthetic objectives that exist.
A criteria so broad opens the door for works without much depth. You wanted an example of a suspect artistic aspiration: take films that are full of formal complexity but lack profundity.
First of all, this assumes that depth is essential—and you haven’t shown why this is the case, imo. Second, what exactly is the artitstic goal here? I suspect that the film is about more than formal complexity and has objectives beyond that. Maybe if you gave a specific example that would help.
How do we say which is better? Is every criteria worth the same? Does 9 timelessness + 7 wholeness = 9 wholeness + 7 timelessness? It’s more likely that the variables are more slippery than that. How you decide to weight the categories (and I know this is all done intuitively and not with actual numbers) plays the biggest role in your verdict on the quality of the film.
The weighting of the criteria and applying the criteria to the film depend on two things: 1) the nature of the film—i.e., what it’s about, the terms and conditions it sets for itself; 2) personal preference and taste. I’ve written about #1; as for #2, personal tastes and preferences will factor in to some degree; it’s unavoidable, imo, but I don’t think it’s a major problem. For example, influence is another valid criterion for judging a work of art, but I don’t put much stock into it. Why? Well, I think other factors besides the quality of the artwork, contribute to influence. People have reasons for favoring one criterion over another; and they may differ in the criteria they use to justify their judgment of a film. Bottom line: is the justification convincing and compelling? Imo, a compelling case will depend on using these general standards of excellence in relation to the film’s specific objectives and “aboutness.”
If you have only a single criterion for artistic greatness, you eliminate this problem.
I think that would be fine if artistic greatness could be boiled down to one criterion. I think this is possible, but, imo, it’s too narrow a definition. In other words, I believe greatness goes beyond one criterion.
If I know your criteria but not your tastes, and I watch some movies, would I be able to predict how you place each one?
But why is predicting my judgments important? To me, I don’t think that’s very valuable or important. What’s important is that the process allows an individual to judge an artwork for themselves. The process is dynamic and flexible—accomodating individuals as well as individual films. This sounds silly, but I think of it as the Jeet Kung Do of movie analysis. JKD was Bruce Lee’s martial art approach—form without form, patterning it after water. Because of this formless approach, it could adjust to any style of fighting. Similiarly, my approach adjusts to any film, without unfairly judging the film.
The process you describe seems to be the latter, a process of deciding whether you like something rather than whether it is actually good by a stable, clear definition.
I wish Greg were here to read this^ because I’ve been making a case (unsuccessfully) that judging art isn’t the same as what one likes. My process isn’t about liking something or not. It’s about judging a film on its own terms, using general standards of excellence. One’s personal preferences and tastes will influence the use of these standards, but the influence of personal taste and influences are much smaller. If my system were as you suggest, then the presence of strong narratives, with likable characters (like anti-heroes in the Rick Blaine mold) would be the criteria I’d be talking about. Action films would also be higher on the list, especially over trash art or historical costume dramas.
I think a rationalist has to believe that we have access to truth though, at least more access than I believe we have. And to me, rationalism is very much opposed to relativism. The fundamental belief of relativism is that we can’t assert the superiority of values over other values (because it’s all opinion). A rationalist would want to assert some values as superior.
I don’t know enough to have an opinion, but I don’t think this is a big point.
Biological values are nearly universal, that’s what makes them valuable. It’s a much more secure basis to build on than social values.
OK, but even if biological values have these properties, I don’t know if basing aesthetic values on biological ones is simply a matter of choice. My sense is that art is basically a social or human construct. There might be some link to biology, but in terms of what constitutes good or bad art, I don’t think we can escape the social component. (I’m not doing a good job of talking about this, fwiw.)
I don’t see how. You said it yourself – the obesity problem.
My point is that the desire for good health doesn’t trump every other desire—just as the desire for helpful tips on how to live doesn’t trump every other desire we want from films. Indeed, all these desires compete with one another. If it didn’t, if people valued physical health above everything else, we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic.
The point I’m making with this distinction is that we should build our basis on the most universal values.
But is good health—or insight into living—the only universal values? Personally, I don’t think so.
Since you keep saying I haven’t answered why profundity and wisdom are the essential qualities, I’ll go over it again:
Most desires have negative consequences if taken in extremes. We like food but have to be careful of what to eat. Or we like to think of ourselves in a certain (false) way but it hurts us in the long run to do so. So even desires that are built into us are not untouchable and need to be watched. But can the same really be said for wisdom, understanding, profundity? It’s a universal value that has no negative consequences. There is no danger of being too wise or understanding people too well. That makes it more or less untouchable for me. You can’t say the same for aesthetic beauty because as they say, it’s in the eye of the beholder and thus provides a less solid basis for making factual statements about works. And again, I would argue that if one finds something beautiful about something, then there must be reasons why (e.g. it reminds you of something, or you feel for the character, or you understand the idea the artist is trying to convey) even if the viewer is unable to articulate them, so there must be ideas there. One could even say that beauty is the form that perceived profundity takes in the viewer, the reaction that messages perceived to be profound told through art cause in the brain. The question: Why is profundity essential for making great art? is like asking Why is logic essential for making great philosophy? It’s a value it would be absurd to reject. A profound work of art can also have other qualities (like formal cleverness) but it’s success or failure in those aspects wouldn’t effect its artfulness the way I define it. I think my theory works pretty well because it is more objective and comes down less to an opinion (that’s the relevance of it being easier to predict which category movies land in: because the line I draw is very clear where yours is so flexible that it is barely there). Is this model an a priori truth woven into the fabric of reality? No, but if we’re trying to create a science for the evaluation of art (if one thinks such a thing is useful) then I think this model has more to offer as it is less subjective and forces critics to provide verifiable reasons for their opinions. I don’t think asking why profundity being the essential criterion must be true (although I do think it’s a good choice) is the right question – rather we should ask, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this model? So long as we are not pretending we have some claim to objective truth, we can talk about usefulness rather than truth.
I wish Greg were here to read this^ because I’ve been making a case (unsuccessfully) that judging art isn’t the same as what one likes.
His argument applies more to your model than mine because yours leaves more room for personal opinion. With that being said, although my model has a clear separation between greatness and taste, I’m sure he would challenge it for that very reason, saying something along the lines of a firm category of greatness being too exclusive to be useful.
Since you keep saying I haven’t answered why profundity and wisdom are the essential qualities,…
…of art. I don’t need convincing that wisdom and profundity are very, very valuable, nor do I need convincing that depth and wisdom are valid criteria of artistic excellence. What I do need convincing about is why great art must be profound or wise—in a way that can instruct one on how to live; why great art cannot be merely sublimely beautiful or moving; hilarious or great fun.
Before I proceed, I’d like you to clarify what you mean by profundity, wisdom and understanding. At times, I get the sense you’re using these terms in a broad way—e.g., emotions or beauty can be profound—and at other (most) times, you seem to use these words more narrowly—e.g., specifically referring to message that helps a person to live. So, which do you mean? I don’t have too much of problem with profundity in the broad sense, but I don’t agree that all great art must have some wise message, either direct or hidden
It’s a universal value that has no negative consequences. There is no danger of being too wise or understanding people too well.
1. Are there really no consequences for more understanding and wisdom? One could argue that if happiness is important, one might not want to be too wise and knowledgeable. On a similar note, more understanding and wisdom gives person more power and with more power comes more responsibility—which can be a heavy burden—ergo, if you want to be really happy, you might not want too much knowledge. Perhaps, these aren’t compelling reasons to you. Honestly, they’re not too compelling to me. I think I’d choose greater wisdom and understanding, but I do see some drawbacks.
2. Suppose greater wisdom and understanding have no negative consequences. Does that mean you’d only want art that provided wisdom and understanding—all the time? How would you feel if you never could experience lite entertainment? To me, I’d be miserable. It’s like restricting someone to only the healthiest food and healthiest activity. If what I’m saying is true, then this suggests that we need art that DOESN’T contain serious messages that help us live life.
3. The absence of negative consequences speaks favorably of wisdom and understanding, but I’m not sure if says anything about the necessity in great art. Let me ask you a question: would you agree that saying something is important is not necessarily the same as saying something is necessary? You seem to be making arguments for the importance and value of wisdom, but you’re preaching to the choir. I’m skeptical that wise messages are a necessary condition for great art.
And again, I would argue that if one finds something beautiful about something, then there must be reasons why (e.g. it reminds you of something, or you feel for the character, or you understand the idea the artist is trying to convey) even if the viewer is unable to articulate them, so there must be ideas there.
Do you feel this way about nature? Do you feel there must be a wise message behind natural beauty?
And once again, articulating reasons one finds something beautiful versus extrapolating a message about life are two different things.
I think my theory works pretty well because it is more objective and comes down less to an opinion (that’s the relevance of it being easier to predict which category movies land in: because the line I draw is very clear where yours is so flexible that it is barely there)
Greater objectivity is a good goal, but the objectivity has to be appropriate, and I don’t think reducing greatness to some profound message about life is appropriate.
Btw, would you agree that profundity and wisdom aren’t entirely objective criteria? What is wise or profound to one person may not be to another, right? Or are you OK with that? (I’m actually OK with that—as I think this degree of subjectivity is unavoidable.)
One last thing. I know you’re trying to construct your own evaluation process, and that appeals to me—probably because I’ve been trying to do the same thing. Your move to base aesthetic values on biological ones is an interesting one, and I understand your rationale for this move. But what about the fact that art isn’t a biological entity? As far as I can tell, art is a man-made concept and endeavor—i.e., it’s cultural, not biological. If that’s true, can you use biological values as a basis for aesthetic ones? I think there is some biological component to our appreciation of art and maybe even the concept of art itself, but my guess the connection is tenuous and indirect, at best. (I’m open to being wrong about this.) My sense is that biology-health can work as an analogy to art, but that’s about it.
Maybe replace the word “biology” with “psychology.” If art is made by people and for people then it is easy to see how psychology comes into it. If we’re building a new criteria from scratch, we should base our criteria on the most universal human values and ignore social traditions when it comes to determining social value. Considering social factors isn’t compatible with this view except for when it has to with understanding what the works are trying to do (but not when it comes time to evaluate whether what they try to do is worth doing).
At times, I get the sense you’re using these terms in a broad way—e.g., emotions or beauty can be profound—and at other (most) times, you seem to use these words more narrowly—e.g., specifically referring to message that helps a person to live. So, which do you mean? I don’t have too much of problem with profundity in the broad sense, but I don’t agree that all great art must have some wise message, either direct or hidden
I don’t think there’s a difference between the two ways. Messages about life are necessarily present in all works of art, good or bad. The more profound the messages, the more beautiful the work. They go together. Articulating reasons about why something is beautiful gets you messages about life. When it comes to nature, the process is cut short. You can find something beautiful, articulate your reasons, and through examining those reasons discover some values of yours – but you would be examining yourself and not any artist because nature is man-made and thus conceals no ideology. Things in nature are not the way they are because that is how man arranged the elements, so it doesn’t make much sense to me to try to uncover values from looking at nature.
I don’t think those are real disadvantages.
Having serious messages doesn’t mean it has to make you feel miserable. But even if one felt a need to watch an escapist movie once in a while, that wouldn’t mean that escapist movies must now be considered great art. My category of great art is made precisely to separate escapist movies from the movies with substance.
Well, we’ve already written a lot about this. I’ve identified my one value as being better than any other one I can think of. If there are messages in every work, then it makes sense to value the wise ones over the less wise ones. Works that don’t try to teach anything, usually have very little to teach.
Maybe replace the word “biology” with “psychology.” If art is made by people and for people then it is easy to see how psychology comes into it.
Do you mean that the desire for insightful life lessons stems from our desire for sound mental health? If so, wouldn’t you agree that wisdom and insight aren’t the only things we crave or need for our mental health?
If we’re building a new criteria from scratch, we should base our criteria on the most universal human values and ignore social traditions when it comes to determining social value.
First of all, I don’t think the goal should be to build new criteria from scratch. For me, the goal is to find criteria and principles that I believe in—whether they are old or from scratch doesn’t really matter to me. Second, I don’t think insight and wisdom are the only universal values. I’d say the desire for beauty or even God (or some spirit) are universal values. What about love—treating others with compassion and kindness? That’s valued in almost every culture and time period. Why not build aesthetic values on these values (i.e., great art is art that give us beauty, help us understand god and love others)? Third, ignoring social traditions (i.e., the history of asethetic concepts and ideas) doesn’t seem possible or wise (no pun intended). Wouldn’t you agree that art is a cultural phenomenon? It’s constructed by human beings and our ideas and understanding about art depend on these ideas, which derive from one’s culture and the history narrative of art. Can we really ignore culture and history and really and understand and evaluate art properly? That doesn’t seem likely, imo. (I would argue that profound insight is an intersubjective criterion for judging art, too.)
I don’t think there’s a difference between the two ways.
So a profound experience of beauty or emotion is the same as a profound message because underlying all profound emotions and experiences are a profound message about life? If we’re thinking about “profound message” in the same way, I disagree with this. Maybe if you help me understand what you mean by “profound message,” that would help. (I suspect definitions of key terms is huge stumbling block in this discussion.) Do you consider the descriptions of Cezanne’s paintings (that you posted in this thread) “’profound messages?” I don’t. If I recall correctly, they describe his approach to paintings, and while the descriptions give me a better appreciation of the paintings and the painter, I don’t think they were profound messages that help me live me life.
Messages about life are necessarily present in all works of art, good or bad.
Since I still don’t agree that messages about life are necessarily present in art, can you describe what you mean by “messages of life.”
When it comes to nature, the process is cut short. You can find something beautiful, articulate your reasons, and through examining those reasons discover some values of yours – but you would be examining yourself and not any artist because nature is man-made and thus conceals no ideology.
But the point is that these experiences with nature are still incredibly valuable and meaningful to many, many people—and that value that people derive from these experiences is very similar to value and meaning people derive from a lot of great art. What this suggests, imo, is that messages about life isn’t the basis for the value of nature or art. It can be one hallmark of greatness (if the messages are filled with deep insights), but not an essential quality, imo.
That more wisdom and knowledge can create a heavy burden and even make happiness more elusive? Then you need more wisdom and knowledge. ;) (I’m totally kidding.) Seriously, I, myself, would prefer more knowledge and wisdom (although maybe I’m not wise or knowledgeable enough to know better), so I don’t find the argument too compelling.
But not everyone feels the same way. People may say they value wisdom and knowledge—and in general this may be true, but I tend to think that most people value personal happiness a lot more. And I do think gaining more wisdom and knowledge can make happiness more difficult. (Check out the book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live according to the Bible. The book is depressing, almost nihilistic. [Actually, I like the book a lot, but it shows that more knowledge and wisdom can make being happy more difficult.]) Think about it. Do you think people like knowing the truth? Or are there many instances when many people prefer not to know the truth—when they rationalize and distract ourselves from seeing the truth?
In abstraction, people may say they value wisdom and knowledge, but in practice it’s a different story. What I’m saying is that not everyone values wisdom and knowledge. More people probably value money and power over wisdom and knowledge, wouldn’t you say?
Having serious messages doesn’t mean it has to make you feel miserable. But even if one felt a need to watch an escapist movie once in a while, that wouldn’t mean that escapist movies must now be considered great art.
Right escapist films, in general, aren’t necessarily great art, but my argument suggests that it could be. If we acknowledge that other forms of art—besides art with deep messages—are valuable, doesn’t this suggest that messages about life aren’t essential? Doesn’t it least open a door to the possibility that art without deep messages might also be great?
My category of great art is made precisely to separate escapist movies from the movies with substance.
Why must they be separated—unless you automatically assume that escapist films that aren’t deep are inferior? Maybe I’m sounding annoyingly coy, but I’m being genuine. A part of me thinks that escapist films that aren’t deep can be great works of art.
I’ve identified my one value as being better than any other one I can think of. If there are messages in every work, then it makes sense to value the wise ones over the less wise ones. Works that don’t try to teach anything, usually have very little to teach.
Let me try another angle. When you think about the purpose of art and the reason artists create, would the answer be providing messages that teach us about life? Would you say that the messages about life is what distinguishes art from any other human endeavor? I want to hear your response to these questions, but to me I’d have to say no. Religion and philosophy also provide messages about life—indeed, that seems to be closer to the heart of religion and philosophy than art.
Now, if what I’m saying is correct, this might be significant when evaluating art. Why? Well, my sense is that a good evaluation of art should be based on the nature and purpose of art. If giving messages about life aren’t at the heart of art and if it doesn’t distinguish art from any other endeavor, what does? Whatever that turns out to be used, should be at the heart of the evaluating art—at least that’s how I feel now.
Btw, what did you think about my comments about the objectivity of wisdom and knowledge—namely, that it’s not so objective. Not only do people have different ideas about what is wise and insightful, but not everyone values these things to the same degree. Also, in the case of abstract art like instrumental music, the process of translating the art into “messages” can be highly debatable—which suggests that almost any interpretation is valid. That’s highly problematic to me, if objectivity is your goal.
And if objectivity is your goal, what about making money or profit the key criterion for evaluating art? That’s more objective that wisdom or knowledge, right? Couldn’t we use the amount of money an artwork made as a basis for greatness? (I don’t agree with this approach, but I’m throwing this out there, since you mentioned that objectivity is so important.)
But we are trying to decide what to call meaningful. Are you saying that something becomes meaningful by virtue of the fact that someone finds it meaningful? I’m looking for a less personal definition of meaningful where it is possible for someone to value something that isn’t actually valuable. If we find such a definition, then it wouldn’t matter what people like or how deeply engaged they feel like they are with those works because those feelings might warrant being written off as superficial.
If we acknowledge that other forms of art—besides art with deep messages—are valuable, doesn’t this suggest that messages about life aren’t essential? Doesn’t it least open a door to the possibility that art without deep messages might also be great?
They can be valuable but not in the way great art is valuable. The social value (arguably) of An Inconvenient Truth is very different from the entertainment value of Die Hard which is very different from the comedic value of Louis CK which is all very different from the artistic value of The Brothers Karamazov. The escapist works you want to include as great art, I exclude because they don’t meet my definition of great art because they are escapist and thus don’t have artistic value. It is a very circular, insular argument but I think models should only be preoccupied with working rather than having an unquestionable basis in Truth. So long as the vast majority of the works I consider great fit under this definition and very few works that don’t meet my definition tempt me into calling them great art, then I will consider this a useful model. The way to discredit the model isn’t to question its roots but to show examples of works that we all want to call great but that clearly don’t work with this model. The examples you’ve given me though either are works that I consider to make deep statements about the world (Cezanne) or to not be great works of art (some escapist movies, Dizzy Gillespie – although I don’t know very much about jazz and if I did I might change my mind but you seemed to agree that Gillespie was basically a kind of optimistic escape-from-real-life type work).
I think the quotes I posted about Cezanne do show that he had ideas about what his work should be like which were connected to views about what life is. But as I’ve said many times already, even if an artist (say, Jarmusch) was resolved to make movies that are primarily meant to be experienced and not to be understood or rationalized, that mindset is still motivated by views about what life is like, what art is like, what art and life should be like, what we should value, etc. The answers to those questions are the ideas in the work and the better the answers to those questions, the more artistically successful I would say the artist is.
Couldn’t we use the amount of money an artwork made as a basis for greatness?
No because that model wouldn’t work in the sense that we would wind up with a canon of movies with no real value. Our goal in choosing a model is to come up with a reliable measure of determining which works of art are really great and which aren’t. An argument for valuing box office success is that it means popularity which means you’ve pleased the most amount of people. But I fundamentally disagree with the view that thumbs up are a legitimate currency of quality, so this model doesn’t work for me.
Would you say that the messages about life is what distinguishes art from any other human endeavor?
No – different human endeavors try to learn about life from different angles. Art’s is through experience.
We don’t have an official blueprint of what is wise and what isn’t but we can at least use reason to determine what we think is wise and what we think is unwise and a consensus will form which can be challenged or agreed with based on one’s reasons. I do still think there is room to say, “This person is wrong to value X or to consider X wise” – it isn’t all subjective or else we’re back at relativism. The tricky thing is to balance the notion of the strangeness of individual consciousness with the idea that we can talk about right and wrong without being a “fascist.”
Why not build aesthetic values on these values (i.e., great art is art that give us beauty, help us understand god and love others)?
I think those categories are essentially the same as mine. It would be difficult to find works that “help us find God” that don’t help us understand life.
@ MICHAEL Are you saying that something becomes meaningful by virtue of the fact that someone finds it meaningful?
Okay but then how do you separate that position from relativism?
Is every work of art (supposing there is someone that values it) equal? Do we need to count how many people value them and then in rank their quality in terms of popularity? Does it matter how much the fans value it? Are there any criteria we can use that isn’t totally subjective? Is it wrong to call Shakespeare better than Dan Brown while accrediting Shakepeare’s greatness to something other than the tradition of social norms and values?
A.C. Danto’s “embodied meanings”:
“‘Wittgenstein talks about a chess-player who puts a paper hat on a king, which of course, whatever meaning it has for him, means nothing under the rules of chess. So you can really take it off without anything happening.
In the 1960s and beyond, it was discovered how many paper hats there were in art.”
“Warhol is but one of a group of artists to have made this profound discovery that anything can be art. The
distinction between music and noise, between dance and movement, between literature and
mere writing, which were coeval with Warhol’s breakthrough, parallel it in every way.”
Art embodies meaning.
Anything can embody meaning and thus anything can be art.
Dan Brown’s work and Shakepeare’s work can be art, but only one can be high art.
That is where criteria come into play – between art and high art.
Okay, that seems in line with both myself and Jazz – the question is on the criteria used to make the most useful model for distinguishing art from high art (we’ve moved over to PMs though).
(we’ve moved over to PMs though)
He’s gonna wear you down with a two pronged attack…..
George Lakoff mentions a dance metaphor as alternative to a war metaphor when describing a debates.I like that. So how about: “He’s going to sweep you off your feet with his incredible grace and soon you’ll feel like you’re floating on the dance floor.” No? :) (I’m totally kidding around here, guys.)
Guys, I know Michael and I took the thread way off course, but if you—or anyone else—has anything else to add, I’d be interested in hearing it. We didn’t really speak out color. Is there a way you approach color when you look at visual art? How do you incorporate color into the approach Robert mentioned (about the way the eye moves from quadrant to quadrant)?
I should have mentioned a book by Molly Bang earlier. The book is called, Picture This: How Pictures Work. I skimmed through the book many years ago, telling myself I’d buy it at some later point, but I never got around to it. Anyway, in the boook, Bang attempts to show the way we’re affected by line, color and shapes by telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood by using simple shapes and colors. It’s really simple to read and very compelling. Like Robert’s examples from Arnheim, Bang suggests that we have innate ways of responding to lines, colors and shapes—that is, there is an inherent meaning in lines, shapes, colors as well as spatial positioning. Again, I find this really fascinating partly because it suggests that the range of meaning from visual art is a lot more limited than I would have thought.
On the other hand, most visual art isn’t just made up of simple lines, shapes and colors, so the meaning might be a lot more complex than what Bang’s book might imply.
Also, I’m not sure if filmmakers use lines, shape, color and spatial relationships in the similar way—or if these elements work in the same way as visual art.
Finally, can we assume that filmmakers are consciously and intentionally composing visual elements of the film with this knowledge in mind? What if they’re ignorant of these details?
Is it possible that filmmakers (or artists) may “break the rules” and go against the inherent meanings of lines, shapes and colors and still produce good art?
“On the other hand, most visual art isn’t just made up of simple lines, shapes and colors. . .”
Gestalt, gestalt, gestalt.
Another book that might be helpful here for you is Heinrich Wölfflin’s Principles of Art,
which traces changes in form and style from sixteenth century art to seventeenth art. Wölfflin identifies five areas where you see relatively clear shifts:
1. From linear (draughstmanly, plastic, relating to contour in projected ideation of objects) to painterly (malerisch: tactile, observing patches or systems of relative light and of non-local colour within shade, making shadow and light integral, and allowing them to replace or supersede the dominance of contours as fixed boundaries.)
2. From plane to recession: (from the ‘Will to the plane’, which orders the picture in strata parallel to the picture plane, to planes made inapparent by emphasising the forward and backward relations and engaging the spectator in recessions.)
3. From closed (tectonic) form to open (a-tectonic) form (The closed or tectonic form is the composition which is a self-contained entity which everywhere points back to itself, the typical form of ceremonial style as the revelation of law, generally within predominantly vertical and horizontal oppositions; the open or atectonic form compresses energies and angles or lines of motion which everywhere reach out beyond the composition, and override the horizontal and vertical structure, though naturally bound together by hidden rules which allow the composition to be self-contained.)
4. From multiplicity to unity: (‘Classic art achieves its unity by making the parts independent as free members, and the baroque abolishes the uniform independence of the parts in favour of a more unified total motive. In the former case, co-ordination of the accents; in the latter, subordination.’ The multiple details of the former are each uniquely contemplated: the multiplicity of the latter serves to diminish the dominance of line, and to enhance the unification of the multifarious whole.)
5. From absolute clarity to relative clarity of the subject: (i.e. from exhaustive revelation of the form of the subject, to a pictorial representation which deliberately evades objective clearness in order to deliver a perfect rendering of information or pictorial appearance obtained by other painterly means. In this way instead of the subject being presented as if arranged for contemplation, it avoids this effect and thereby escapes ever being exhausted in contemplation.)
Even if you don’t know a whole lot about the periods of painting he’s writing about, it can be interesting to apply the concepts to painting in general and even to film, really.