Monday, February 07, 2011

Not Much Art "For the People"? Perhaps It Depends on How You Measure It

There were several great comments on last week's thread about arts funding, but one by an anonymous commenter haunted me all weekend:
The great successful few and the outspoken agenda pushers have all but destroyed public interest in supporting the arts. In eyes of the public artists are already elitist, detached and entitled, so why back them up with hard to come by resources.

This is an incredibly sad situation, but this is what happens when so many artists have pursued their individual ideals and fancies and failed to consider what relevance their work has to the broader swath of human existence.

I'm personally frustrated by the whole situation, because most people have missed the point. The WPA worked because the art directly addressed public and social engagement, and right now too many artists want their own personal projects to be subsidized regardless of the social necessity of their work. For people to support the arts, it has to matter to them and somehow artists have failed to make art matter to a large percentage of the population.
I have to admit to struggling with this issue. On one hand, I think we expect far too much of our art with regards to how many people should know and/or celebrate it. Go back a century and ask your average American to name five famous works of art and you'd find precious few contemporary works in their answer. I suspect the main reason why is that there was no way for the average American to view the art of their day even if they wished to. The works they would have known would have been ones that either had made it into the books they saw at school, the museums they had visited, or, perhaps most commonly, the works that made it into the newspapers (usually because of scandal or other non-aesthetics-based notoriety).

There were a few contemporary works that caused a widespread stir because of their artistic accomplishments, but very few. So even if your average American could name three high-profile works of contemporary art, if you asked 1000 Americans, you would have probably seen an overwhelming number of them choose the same three works (again, usually infamous or ones tainted with scandal). Those three works then, would be the most famous contemporary works of their day and the public would support or condemn them according to their preferences. But they would receive the lion's share of discourse. Not necessarily because they "spoke to the people" any more than other work, but more by default (i.e., having been selected by the authorities in the field and press to be talked about in the very few channels in which art was discussed). The People simply didn't know about much other contemporary work. Information about it simply wasn't that accessible. This, in my opinion, created a concentrated, but by today's measures false, sense of enthusiasm for a select group of works, making it look like Americans cared more about the art of their day because they all used the same examples whenever the subject came up.

Today, though, with the Internet connecting us all instantaneously, your average American who cares might be able, from the comfort of their home, to look up what is the latest work to grace the Turbine at the Tate Modern, or see images of the work by the artists rumored to be in the running for the upcoming Venice Biennial's Silver Lion Prize, or check out who their favorite blogger cited as the artwork of the week. I think perhaps it's this plethora of choices that only suggests an ambivalence about contemporary art. I suspect it's precisely because you can so much more easily find work that specifically appeals to you today that there is no longer the sort of forced, concentrated consensus that fewer choices created. This lack of concentrated interest doesn't necessarily translate into less interest over all, though.

I also think that because there are more artists seeking attention than ever before, this also contributes to a sense that not enough people care (because a larger number of people would need to care to meet the desire by the larger number of artists seeking to be celebrated).

But I've drifted a bit from the point the commenter was making. It was directly discussing governmental funding and a resistance to that. I don't think that interest in chopping away at the arts is as widespread as the GOP's current plans might suggest. The argument seems to be that the People elected them over the Democrats, therefore the people must endorse these cuts. But the fact of the matter is the GOP refused to identify where they would propose cuts during the campaign. So one can conclude from the election results only that Americans supported trimming the fat only in the abstract. Notoriously, once specific programs are proposed for cuts, the public's enthusiasm wanes considerably.

Labels: art appreciation, art viewing


Anonymous Anonymous said...

it was certainly nice to see all the contemporary art on public display at the super bowl. yes, it's in a private stadium and tickets are expensive, but it still speaks to the power of Art that the builders and owners felt the need and the desire to include so much of it.

2/07/2011 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the work of Komar and Melamid? One of their projects was to poll the residents of a country and determine what kind of art the residents preferred and what kind of art they did not. In the United States, the majority of people preferred realistic landscapes with some animals, the figure of George Washington and lots of blue sky. In fact the world over most people preferred blue paintings. Americans did not want red, abstract paintings, or paintings larger than a dishwasher.

It has been said before on this blog, that the government prefers to fund realistic art, that has some kind of social/education function. It should involve minority children or the elderly.

The government no longer funds individual artist projects, art involving nudity, sexuality or conceptual ideas. Institutions that want funding for these projects must seek elsewhere. Other funding sources are also becoming more conservative.

On the other hand, corporations prefer art that is large, colorful, abstract, but has no higher meaning beyond its decorative purpose.

2/07/2011 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

If you go back a century, the US population was 20% of what it is today, culture was limited and art was for the well to do. The Met was founded in 1870, the Frick in 1920, the Whitney in 1930, and MoMA in 1936

I would suggest that the cultural start of American modern art was The Armory Show in 1913.

The resulting Armory Show exhibition opened in New York in February 1913, and a selection of the foreign works traveled to Chicago and Boston in March and April. It included approximately 1300 American and European works of art, arranged in the exhibition space to advance the notion that the roots of modernism could be seen in the works of the old masters, from which the dramatically new art of living artists had evolved. Savvy and sensational publicity, combined with strategic word-of-mouth, resulted in attendance figures over 200,000 and over $44 thousand in sales. The Armory Show had demonstrated that modern art had a place in the public taste, that there was a market for it and legitimate critical support as well. [From the Walt Kuhn archive at the Smitsonian]

I can't remember that far back, but I do remember seeing the LIFE magazine spreads on Jackson Pollock and other modern artists with the attendant guffaws but I doubt this caused interest in the arts to decline, if anything it became stronger.

Attempts to cut funding for the arts, and I'm not referring to individual grants, are being made for purely political reasons. Or self serving aesthetic reasons? It is time to reflect the true visual history of this country and collective culture. The one-sidedness must stop.??? In either case, cutting funding for the arts is a right wing attempt to silence PDB and NPR at the expense of the nations museums and non-profits.

2/07/2011 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

If a government wants to fund art "for the people", then it has to be accessible *as-is* -- no explanation necessary, no commentary, no in-depth talks by the artist droning on and on about the esoteric conceptual merit of "insert-your-most-irritating-obscure-subject-here".

Here is an example of a recent publicly-funded project in Dana Point, California (see ). Notice the pictorial, representational murals with understandable connections to the location in which they were installed. This is "art for the people" (just like the WPA projects).

Some people champion the idea that public art should make the general population reach and learn and struggle to understand what the "elitist" art aficionado appears to appreciate; this rarely works in practice. It just tends to annoy the citizens.

2/07/2011 04:06:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I propose that the best way to fund the arts, and totally sidestep all issues of perceived elitism or individual bias, would be to forget about grantmaking and put into place a public healthcare program like they have in civilized countries. That in itself would do more to help individual artists continue to focus on their work than anything else the government could do, and everyone else in the country would benefit as well. Except maybe insurance company executives...

2/08/2011 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Saskia said...

I for one am strongly opposed to the idea that art needs to have any social necessity at all. Or purpose, for that matter. But "purpose" is so highly valued-- it's completely ingrained in the American psyche and the psyche of capitalism that I doubt I'd ever be able to convince anyone that funding something with no tangible benefits or purpose was a good idea at all...

So I didn't add anything towards solving that problem, but can't we consider giving some value to the purposeless?

2/08/2011 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

I think that's the battle, how to convince everyone their tax dollars -- given to purposelessness -- actually benefit our collective quality of life. Its easier to hold up a controversial (or silly or offensive or out of context or unpopular) work of art and make the case that its a waste of money.

And it doesn't help to have an NEA Chairman who seems to want to turn art into a business venture. We need to lobby for the purposeless!

2/08/2011 02:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Let's consider Fine Art as any other project that gets public funding through tax dollars -- does it serve the people? Yes.

It used to serve them more before smart phones and MP3 players, because it gave people something to occupy their time while they waited in long lines at the Post Office, DMV, or other governmental buildings. The art on the walls was their only diversion/relaxation/entertainment.

Science has shown that viewing landscapes lowers blood pressure and stress response, while viewing abstract art heightens distress:

"In a Swedish study of heart patients in the 1990s, 160 patients were divided into three groups. The first group was asked to view art of the natural world. The second group was asked to look at abstract art. The third group (the control group) looked at neither.

The first group exhibited lower anxiety and needed less pain medication than the other two groups. What's more, on average they needed to spend one fewer day in the hospital than those in the control group. The group whose members looked at abstract artwork displayed more anxiety, felt worse and needed more painkillers."

Art "for the people" is art that they understand and identify with -- and that makes them feel better.

Now I am not adverse to art on the edge -- art that exists for technical or psychological edification or hypothetical argument (I just want it to be worth my time -- there's an awful lot of very bad stuff out there!), but I can't in good conscience ask the average American taxpayer to fund this kind of art. Art "for the people" NEEDS to be accessible.

(Side note: If you think that art is purposeless, you are not doing it right. LOL!)

2/08/2011 03:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Vinson Valega said...

Public arts funding should exist at both the federal and state level. Some projects should be funded with nation-wide exposure, but most money should go to individual communities and let them decide what type of public art they want in their communities.

As for artist making "useful" art, that's the stupidest idea I've heard in a long time. Art - by definition - is expression. If what you express as an artist has some "concrete" usefulness, which I'm assuming is what's being addressed by that original comment - then, great!

But is expression and emotion, etc. Without it, life would not be worth living. But since we can't eliminate it, we'll never know what life would be without it, right?

I say we eliminate all artistic expression and then see if folks miss how irrelevant and "elitist" it is.

2/08/2011 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Doreen said...

Sorry I did not catch the previous thread but the remark you quoted is ill informed. There are many artists whose work is primarily public who are not represented by galleries or shown regularly in museums and are rather unknown by name. Just here in NYC when I pass through yet another subway station or park and notice "public art", I am often struck that I do not know who the artist is who produced this. Some of it is good and some if it is awful but it is not regularly just known or famous artists. Perhaps the writer is just focusing on the "elites" and not paying as much attention to the plurality of public art that is all over, not just here in NYC.

2/08/2011 06:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

If you divide the 2010 budget of the NEA by the 2010 military budget, the quotient is .0003. Looked at another way, if you reduced military spending by one percent, the total savings would be more than three times the annual NEA budget. Medicare's budget is almost as big as the military budget.

If you divide the 2006 NEA budget by the total private contributions to the arts in 2006, the quotient is .05. The overarching majority of arts programs in this country obtain most of their revenue from private donations and earned income.

So on one hand, you have people arguing that public support of the arts is indispensible, which is ridiculous. On the other hand, you have people arguing that we should cut arts and humanities funding because they're worried about excessive federal spending, which is even more ridiculous.

The underlying question of this post and the one it continues is whether the number of arts nonprofits and quantity of government support are correct, given the intensity and concentration of public interest in art. The irony is that this is exactly the kind of question that the market could answer if it were free to operate efficiently. We could find out exactly what matters to whom if the What existed only by virtue of appealing to particular Whoms. With things as they are, we're forced to speculate about things we can't know and argue on behalf of our political preferences. And in "we" I include Rocco Landesman.

2/09/2011 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Mary said...

I think all that accessible art would put me in a coma.

Any time a condition is put on arts funding, we lose. It has to be as open as we can stand it (I suppose there have to be SOME limits but don't ask me to limit it) if we only fund art that is accessible, no one benefits.

The problem with allowing the market (I just puked in my mouth) to decide what succeeds is that you again limit what is possible. We need the market, we need philanthropy but above all, we need to have the people participate by paying taxes and allowing artists to make as much purposeless art, music, dance, theatre available to all as possible.

2/09/2011 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The problem with allowing the market (I just puked in my mouth) to decide what succeeds is that you again limit what is possible.

You seem to know of some other system that never reaches a financial, aesthetic, or political limit. Do tell us what it is. Also, I've never understood the notion that the market will only fund accessible work. The art fairs are private enterprises, as are the cutting-edge galleries, however one might define that. I've never heard anyone lament that the work in them is too accessible.

we need to have the people participate by paying taxes and allowing artists to make as much purposeless art, music, dance, theatre available to all as possible.

Given enough resources it would be possible to send the Metropolitan Opera to perform at a high school in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Unfortunately for those high schoolers, somone has to decide how much is possible, not hypothetically, but actually.

2/09/2011 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

I'm having trouble with the word 'purposeless'. To me it rubs up against 'meaningless'. But I agree that art should be valued as an end, not a means to an end. Lots of arts people have fallen into the justification trap, making servile claims about how art can improve other facets of life: raise your child's test scores, bring the right kind of industry into your city, etc. In the end, its not been helpful.

But if making or looking at art should happen to make one more accutely aware of existence or spark a creative solution to a problem of existence, I wouldn't complain. It's done that before, hasn't it?

2/09/2011 02:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Blogger Mary said...
"Any time a condition is put on arts funding, we lose."

Private funding has no boundaries, you are free to throw your money at anything you want (no one stops this, no one wants to stop this, no one presumes to stop this).

Public funding through tax dollars is democratic -- that is to say that it is *supposed* to reflect the majority ("the benefit of the people at large").

And at a conceptual level, if you make/fund/appreciate "purposeless" art, you haven't learned enough about art yet. All art has purpose, it is a matter of what it's purpose IS that channels what kind of impact it HAS.

(It's so quaint that people still want to argue "art for art's sake". It's cute.)

2/09/2011 02:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

(It's so quaint that people still want to argue "art for art's sake". It's cute.)

Then watch me be downright adorable. Art can be pressed into any kind of service. But the only thing it does both inherently and well is act as a repository for visual quality. The impact is determined by the fullness of a given repository. Subsequent impact from content rides in on formal impact, although content itself is just recognizable form.

2/09/2011 03:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Anonymous Franklin said...
"Then watch me be downright adorable. Art can be pressed into any kind of service. But the only thing it does both inherently and well is act as a repository for visual quality."

I enjoy reading your comments, because you seem to think about what you want to say. However, we may speak a similar language, but use very different dialects. : )

The stream of material/thought which is currently presented in the forum of "Art" is not necessarily visual, and not necessarily *of* quality (although you may mean that it exhibits *a* quality, which could be said about anything... ). Much of the time, neither is done "well" -- this is why there are so many students and so few masters (and there is subsequent argument about *that*, too -- lol!).

I'm guessing you mean "viewer" when you say "repository", with "fullness" meaning "understanding" -- except that may not be what you mean since the following sentences seem to suggest an argument about the relationship of form to content.

I guess what I'm saying is that I don't see how your statements champion the archaic idea of purposelessness/"art-for-art's-sake".... enlighten me?

2/09/2011 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

If all who purport to care about art stood squarely and forcefully behind the art for art's sake argument, it wouldn't be so vulnerable to attack. There is strength in conviction and strength in numbers. There's nothing cute about it.

2/09/2011 04:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

In response to those who rally to champion "purposelessness" in art, and "art for art's sake", please take a few moments and learn about the subject (and the history of the subject), then feel free to discuss with justification.

(We need to be on a more even conceptual level before valid discussion can take place -- otherwise it's meaningless.)

2/09/2011 05:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I mean quality in the sense of "goodness," not "trait" or "property." I am saying that it resides in the object, not the viewer. Work that has neither visual properties nor a visual context, even if it's an empty room, is in fact not presented as art. Work with little intention to function visually is sometimes presented as art, but that presentation is no more than a request for a certain kind of a response. The viewer can decline it. I have no trouble allowing for successful sound art, performance art, relational art, or whatnot within the category of art, but visual art does not allow for maximally successful creative work with sound, performance, or relations. In other words, art can do these things well, but it doesn't do them inherently, so they succeed as a kind of graft onto a basically visual project that could exist without them.

Since quality resides in the object, and content is recognizable form, formal failures negate other successes as far as artistic value is concerned. That is essentially a position of art for art's sake. I part ways with the original formulators of that position in that art for art's sake is not necessarily an enabling working attitude. Excellent art has come into existence thanks to religion, politics, and other motivations. It's likewise true that these other motivations are also not necessarily enabling working attitudes. It all depends on the artist's psyche and circumstances.

2/09/2011 07:09:00 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Public funding of the arts through tax dollars balances the market. It allows professional curators, arts educators and the museums and university galleries, arts and other cultural centers that sustain them to have a say in what is interesting, important, vital when not necessarily commercial.

We don't need to send the Metropolitan Opera to the U.P., but the people in all far reaches of this country want, and need to have access to live music, live theatre, live artists installing work in their museums. Why should only the rich (or those lucky to live in metropolitan areas that can afford to provide) have access? And why should what is performed or presented be popular, accessible, consumable? Where is the critical discrimination that is necessary to weed out the bad, boring, or otherwise stupid work? The market can't do that.

These institutions cannot survive without government funding, and I would be very sad and disappointed if the exhibitions, programming, collections were solely determined by the market. The market looks only to maximize profit and art should not have to be about profit, it should not have to be about many, many things which is why "purposeless" seemed to fit the bill. Perhaps its not the best description of what art should be, but I dare you to come up with such a definition.

2/09/2011 08:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Where is the critical discrimination that is necessary to weed out the bad, boring, or otherwise stupid work?

I asked myself this very question upon seeing MoMA's Gabriel Orozco exhibition, a pile of insipid junk if I ever saw one, and made possible by a lapse of taste that some people think is the exclusive province of the market. Needless to say there is some variation of opinion about that matter.

These institutions cannot survive without government funding...

Again, it's 5% of private donations, and that doesn't even account for earned income. They would probably scale back slightly and continue as they were.

2/09/2011 10:05:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Since quality resides in the object...

This is false. Quality is subjective. The perception of quality resides in the viewer.

2/10/2011 10:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Franklin's comment: "content itself is just recognizable form."
YES! Exactly. Thank you. This simple sentence says it so well!

"Art for Art's Sake" seems to be a catch phrase that is not ideal. NEW and interesting work does not need to be guided by a political agenda or academic treatise (which often tends to be thought out literally; meaning "with words" and then made into form through constructed environments, objects, or found material.) which often needs to rely on a context, and independent of that context it loses value.

Making something UNrecognizable is to make something new, it may not be meaningless, but the meaning is open, it is not dependant on an agenda.

2/10/2011 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Saskia said...

I'm having trouble with the word 'purposeless'. To me it rubs up against 'meaningless'.

No, to me purpose is more closely related to intent. Something can have no intent and still have meaning...

Haven't you never made art that didn't have any intent behind it? Sometimes that's how I stumble upon the best things, things that I could have never intended otherwise...
It's even harder to do that if your aim is to make you art have social necessity or some sort of other outside benefit. Not that art never have outside benefits, but they are not the central aim, purpose, intent... reason for being. They are just a residual effect.

2/10/2011 02:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Kudos to Ed! He was just part of a dicussion Panel for the CAA and he is still able to post our comments. (I know because I attended.)
He is a multitask-master!

2/10/2011 03:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Quality is subjective. The perception of quality resides in the viewer.

So-called subjective phenomena are an illusory side-effect of our brains' inability to feel themselves operating. Obviously George and I have been around the block on this a few times and I only meant to give an answer to Terri's question overhead, not rehash any of this. But if quality is subjective and resides in the viewer, then certain aesthetic phenomena become impossible to explain.

2/11/2011 09:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Hi Franklin -- I was out of town all day yesterday, so I apologize for this delay. : )

Anonymous Franklin said...
"Work that has neither visual properties nor a visual context, even if it's an empty room, is in fact not presented as art."

Yes it is, has been, and continues to be presented as "art" sporadically by those "artists" who think they are creating something new and revolutionary ( : P ). Since "artist" is a self-imposed term, and "art" applies to anything created and deemed so by said "artists", then we can't exclude these well-worn and boring presentations of the empty room.

You write that quality (in your terms "goodness") exists inherently in the object (I'm guessing that this word is meant to apply to all things called "art", not just objects), then you must believe in a metaphysical existence of absolute quality? -- because in our physical reality it is nearly impossible to define and hence cannot exist as an absolute.

I have to agree a little more with George -- quality (good-ness) does in it's greatest degree exist in the perception of the viewer (I'll address the "taste" question in Edward's next thread -- lol!). However, my own view is much more akin to quantum physics, where the viewer and the viewed interact in a certain level of communication, the depth and breadth of which is dependent on how much either of them is "in to it" -- lol!.

Now back to why "art for art's sake" is an antiquated notion, and why "purposelessness" in art is absurd: The people who generally hold up this banner in the current era don't even realize that they are championing Beauty (historically speaking) -- while trying to simultaneously justify why art can be ugly or purposeless!

Okay, let's assume that when they use this phrase they really MEAN purposeless -- *nothing* created in the name of art is purposeless. Art does not exist in a vacuum, and it didn't create itself. The mere act of creation is always done with intent on some level, whether the artist is creating for their own physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual needs, or if they intend to communicate their art with a human outside of themselves -- it is a purposeful act and is done with intent.

Even the empty room is pointed at with intent by the artist who claims it.

(The question should really never be "is it art?", but "is it worthwhile?"... or is it just sucking up time that I will never get back -- lol!).

I'm still not sure how you agree with, "art for art's sake" -- I'm guessing that you might mean that an act of creation by an artist is absolute and does not require a viewer to be complete?

2/11/2011 01:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Terri, we're sort of agreeing about the empty room - I'm saying that even the empty room is enough of a visual context to qualify it as art. That would be a trite thing to attempt now, as you indicate, but I'm only talking about successful categorization as art, not successful operation as art.

Quality doesn't exist inherently in the object, but where it exists, it exists in the object. The nature of that quality isn't metaphysical, it's physical. And it's not absolute, but pervasive. A good spoon will work for any adult mouth that functions in the usual human way. Visual quality is a little harder to talk about (you'd be surprised at how hard it is to talk about the spoon) but it appeals to the same shared biology. There's a cultural overlay that gives that sense of visual quality a particular local flavor and individuality, but since art, design, or considered form-making manifests in every culture on the planet, it must be an innate part of human functioning. That not every human functions at a high visual level doesn't disprove this - not every human functions at a high level of anything.

Art for art's sake is a kind of purpose. The purpose of that sort of art is to be art. It's worth making a distinction between that kind of purpose, of wanting to connect with viewer or put shapes together or draw, and wanting to, say, convince a viewer of some political or philosophical point, which is possible in art but is extrinsic to its ultimate value as art.

Is a spoon complete without a bowl of food and an eater? Yes, because it's standing at the ready for those circumstances to prove its worth as a spoon. Likewise an art object.

2/12/2011 07:08:00 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

"Is a spoon complete without a bowl of food and an eater? Yes, because it's standing at the ready for those circumstances to prove its worth as a spoon. Likewise an art object."

Franklin, it's been a while since I've read a thought so perfectly expressed.

2/12/2011 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Hi Franklin -- I think it's interesting that you support a biological argument for human aesthetics and at the same time consider subjectivity "an illusory side-effect of our brains' inability to feel themselves operating".

In biology when we break operations down based on perception through peripheral organs (physical senses; i.e. eyes, ears, nose, mouth, touch... ), the organ merely is the intake device, communicating through the nervous system into the brain -- the brain processes all of the data. (This then introduces the whole concept of interpretation of data, which gets rather gnarly and is a little advanced for this discussion. : ) )

You seem to believe that the human brain, untouched and uncolored by experience, has within it the ability to process and distinguish an aesthetic experience -- I can't agree with that. That would mean that a newborn human would have an exceptionally clear view of aesthetics; and frankly, science shows us that humans *learn* to find pattern and process, that it is not innate.

If "Quality doesn't exist inherently in the object, but where it exists, it exists in the object", how do you explain the ability to take the same art object and have some people love it and some people hate it -- if they all have the same human biology? Doesn't this negate the supposition that "it appeals to the same shared biology"?

You write that quality in art is physical, it is pervasive, and it exists in the object -- when it exists. I'm guessing that you mean that there is no litmus test that tells us when Quality Exists In Art -- because if there were, we would all agree that this piece or that piece had Quality, but we don't. If it were based on biology, everyone with the human genome would *at the very least* be able to perceive Quality In Art.

Anonymous Franklin said...
"Is a spoon complete without a bowl of food and an eater? Yes, because it's standing at the ready for those circumstances to prove its worth as a spoon. Likewise an art object."

This statement assumes that art created itself, and that art exists in a vacuum, and as such, that art exists as pure potential, complete and inviolate. (If that is physical and not metaphysical, then I am a duck -- lol!)

That makes art the idea never thought -- which is not at all what we call art -- maybe we *could* include it -- but then who would the "artist" be?

Art is an act of communication with oneself and/or others; art has purpose and intent and is only complete when perceived.

You write in a lovely, admirable poetic prose -- however, the concepts are not founded in experiential reality. Science just does not back up your argument. But I still like you.

2/12/2011 03:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

It turns out that the brain as an endpoint of sensory data is only part of the story. What you describe is the feedback cycle. There's also a feedforward cycle, in which electrical activity moves outward from the neocortex to the sensory apparatus. By some estimates the quantity of feedforward is larger than the feedback by a factor of ten. The theory is that the feedforward is predictive, and surprises to those predictions are dealt with by increasingly higher levels of the neocortex. Work on this has been collected and researched by Jeff Hawkins, whose On Intelligence is worth a read if you enjoy this sort of thing. The notion of the eye as a dumb organ doesn't correlate with the science. That pattern detection you mention looks like it's the very nature of intelligence itself.

There's also probably a biological language impulse (Noam Chomsky has proposed what he calls a universal grammar) but we don't expect newborns to come into the world already speaking. There's a development phase that's consistent with biology, some kind of universal ground upon which local particulars build. I don't see why art should be any different in this respect.

Responses vary to art objects because not everyone has the same talent for detecting quality, and not everyone has cultivated the talent they have for it to the same degree or in the same way. Again, I don't see why art should be different than any other human endeavor in this respect. You get harder problems if you presume that taste is wholly learned, and then try to explain why objects from foreign (to ours), poorly-known (to us) cultures can amaze us with their beauty at first glance. Picasso probably knew next to nothing about African culture and yet saw something vital and useful to him in its sculpture. If you presume like I do that those sculptures possess extraordinary visual merits and Picasso's ability to detect them (at least circa 1907) was exceptional, it's easy to explain how that happened. If you disagree and say that the sculptures' merits were viewer constructs and Picasso's taste was learned, the ensuing explanations are crazy.

I don't know how you get from the spoon's completeness as a spoon to a claim on my behalf that art created itself. Someone made the spoon but its design presupposes facts about people that are universal as far as anything can be concerning people, and the exceptions don't disprove the main cases. If the spoon's completeness depends on the bowl of food and the eater, then it likewise depends on the makers of the food, the parents of the eater, sunlight, time, and finally the entire universe has to be brought in order to establish the completeness of the spoon. In Buddhism this is termed "mutually dependent co-arising," or what Thich Nhat Hanh calls interbeing. It's true but it's not a very useful way to talk about the quality of the spoon, which is good for entirely local spoonish reasons. The God of the Genesis story looking at the newly created world and saying "It is good" is not the same as me eating a bowl of soup and saying, "this is a nice spoon."

2/12/2011 09:59:00 PM  
Blogger Lynn Basa said...

There are an estimated 500 percent-for-art programs around the country (such as the one that funded the permanent artworks in the NYC MTA system). Except for the Art-in-Architecture program of the General Services Administration at the Federal level, all of the others have been voted in as ordinances by each state, city, or county government. In other words, it would take much more than reducing the NEA's budget to eliminate funding for public art. In fact, more public art programs are being enacted all of the time as community leaders and politicians are beginning to understand the importance of the creative economy.

2/12/2011 11:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Anonymous Franklin said...
"That pattern detection you mention looks like it's the very nature of intelligence itself."

Yes, if by intelligence you mean learning -- I respect the learning predictive cycle as a theory: consider that incoming data begins the cycle in the physical universe.

Art, like language, is a form of communication; and I have no problem seeing art as a biological imperative.

From what you've written so far, "quality" either *does* or *does not* exist in the art object, and it exists *even though* the "shared biology" *may* or *may not* be able to perceive it *when it does exist*, yet it exists on the premise of "shared biology". There can be no proof or disproof according to the way you have framed your argument.

Picasso was actually part of a generation who were introduced to African indigenous art and drew from it (art loves the new). Picasso's taste was chosen.

Considering the spoon example, it was created by a human presumably as a form to follow a function -- someone wanted to be able to raise up something to put it in to something else -- possibly food to mouth, or possibly it was invented first as a small shovel for scooping dirt -- there is no way for us to know -- the only thing we *can* presume was that it was invented by someone to do something -- it had a *purpose*, an *intent* upon creation. So in that way, the spoon is like art.

2/13/2011 02:01:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

But if quality is subjective and resides in the viewer, then certain aesthetic phenomena become impossible to explain.

This seems to be the case. It's similar to trying to explain why we fall in love with someone.

The flaw is in thinking that the aesthetic can be reduced down to a singularity which then confers 'goodness' onto an artwork.

I don't think that is what occurs, aesthetics is more like the study of a field of potentialities. Every specific aspect of the art will have a positive and negative way of being manifested, but this polarity in itself does not create 'quality.' The existence of 'quality' occurs because of the relationships between the these manifestations. This precludes having a fixed set which one might try to argue the object must possess in order to be 'good' art.

Moreover, the weighting which the culture gives to these aesthetic characteristics can change over time and this changes the cultures perception of an artworks quality. Art which was considered 'good' 100 years ago may not be seen the same way today.

When you have a large number of aesthetic aspects in relationship with one another the combinations become rather limitless. It also infers that it is possible to create artworks which break all the previous rules but do so in a way which still makes for good art.

2/13/2011 03:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

if by intelligence you mean learning

Activity is uniform all over the neocortex, and as such, it's extremely difficult to make hard distinctions between intelligence, learning, prediction, imagination, and even sentience itself. Again, I recommend Hawkins to you, because he discusses this at length.

There can be no proof or disproof according to the way you have framed your argument.

Well, not the way you have framed my framing. Not everything is visually good. When something is visually good, that property belongs to the object, and more than one person can see it because of shared biology. All people don't see it because the talent for detecting quality is unevenly distributed.

Picasso's taste was chosen.

Oh, let's not go there. It's an entirely separate discussion. I'm only going to say that his talent for detecting quality in the early 1900s was prodigious.

2/13/2011 03:06:00 PM  

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