Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Susanne Langer "Feeling and Form" in the Ross anthology: sculpture and architecture

As I said in my last post, "virtual" is a central term in the aesthetics of Suzanne Langer.  She held that artists create a virtual world, whether the art be music, dance, architecture, film, painting or sculpture.  Although she rejected the imitation theory of art, she did believe that art creates a kind of "illusion," i.e. an illusion of another world with its own space.   (The point owes something to both Kant and Nietzsche.  Kant held that we have a priori forms of intuition, i.e. space and time.  So, on his view, we construct the world through the reproductive imagination, locating things in these a priori forms.  Kant also believed that the artist genius uses the productive imagination to create a world of his/her own out of the materials of our world.  This ideas is similar to Langer's.  This is not surprising since one of her teachers was Cassirer, a Kantian.  The Nietzschean angle may be a bit more surprising:  Langer's references to Nietzsche do not show a deep understanding of his writings.  However she shares with him a view of art as creating a world of illusion, and that, unlike Plato, this is a good thing.  For Nietzsche, this is the Apollinian side of art.)

It is interesting to see how Langer applies her idea to sculpture.  She argues that the volume created by a sculptor is "a space made visible, and is more than the area which the figure actually occupies."  The work "absolutely commands" a complementary empty space which is part of the sculptural volume.  There is continuity between the figure and this space:  the void enfolds the figure and this space "has vital form" that is continuous with the figure.  She further argues that this "illusion" is based on "the semblance of organism."  What makes certain moves in sculpture inevitable or necessary is what she calls "vital function."  Sculptures then are like living organisms in that they, symbolically, "maintain themselves, resist change, strive to restore their structure..."  She admits that sculpture is not actually organic, but its form is "the form of life" that its space if vitalized.  That space is "virtual kinetic volume" which is created by the semblance of living form.

We gain a fuller understanding of Langer's idea of virtual reality when she discusses architecture.  "Architecture creates the semblance of that World which is the counterpart of a Self."  Architecture makes the totality of environment visible.  (Readers of Heidegger on "The Origins of the Work of Art" will find this to be quite familiar.)  The World of the Self is communal.  Architecture provides a created space which is a symbol of the system of functional relations that makes up our actual lived environment.  She seeks to distinguish her view from "functionalism" in architecture:  she is not talking about good planning.  Instead she is thinking of architecture as symbolic expression, as embodying the "feeling, the rhythm, the passion...with which any things at all are done."  It is the image of life which "is created in buildings."  Architecture then is "the visible semblance of an 'ethnic domain,' the symbol of humanity to be found in the strength and interplay of forms."  By "ethnic domain" she means not the domain of an ethnicity but rather the way in which architecture models the life of humanity.  As she makes clear in the next paragraph, this is a matter of how we exist as organisms.   Our actions develop organically, and they, and our feelings, have a natural pattern.  The human environment also has a functional pattern that is organic in nature.  Thus "any building that can create the illusion of an ethnic world, a 'place' articulated by the imprint of human life, must seem organic, like a living form."  Architecture should do this.  She finds this philosophy already in the writings of Sullivan, Wright, and Le Corbusier, with all of their talk of organic this and that.  These terms, she says, refer to "virtual space, the created domain of human relations and activities."  And this place, created by the architect, "is an illusion." It is atmosphere.  And it can be lost with any revision of the building.  Along with her architectural heroes she holds that decoration can destroy this illusion:  

So, "the primary illusion of plastic art, virtual space, appears in architecture as envisagement of an ethnic domain...."

So we might ask ourselves:  is Langer right?  Has she added anything to the history of aesthetics?  This might be difficult for me to answer since she clearly is saying some of this in opposition to Dewey.  She clearly wants to overcome the idea of continuity between art and everyday life.   I think however that the two could be synthesized.   I agree that art creates a world of illusion or, rather, each artwork creates its own illusion.  Speaking of architecture as creating virtual space seems to help.  So too with sculpture.  And I think what she has to say about painting is truly insightful.  In architecture, you are both walking in a real space and also transported into another space when walking through Falling Water.  Dewey speaks of refinement and intensification of experience, and he, like Langer, is very aware of how visual art both excludes all of the other sense, but also incorporates them indirectly, so that in seeing a painting of oranges you can sometimes almost smell the oranges.   One refines and intensifies ordinary experiences by way of creating a virtual reality.   When I have spoken of aura in previous writings might I not be saying the same thing as what Langer means by "virtual" or "image" or "illusion." 


Did Susanne Langer invent virtual reality?

I have long thought that Susanne Langer originated the term "virtual reality."  She did not, however there is reason to believe that she inspired the term since "virtual" this and virtual that appear throughout her Feeling and Form (1953).  Here is an account of the origin of the term from Science Focus:  The online home of BBC Focus Magazine  (author unknown)  "The History of Virtual Reality"    here

"In 1982, Thomas G Zimmerman would file a patent for such an optical flex sensor, and would go on to work with Dr Jaron Lanier – the man who coined the term ‘virtual reality’ – to add ultrasonic and magnetic hand position tracking technology to a glove. This led to what would become the Nintendo Power Glove sold alongside a small number – two – of NES games in 1987. "Virtual reality originally meant an extended version of virtual worlds," says Lanier, who these days is to be found working for Microsoft Research as well as writing books and music. “Ivan [Sutherland] had talked about the virtual world that you would see through a headset like that. He didn’t make up that term; it actually comes from an art historian called Susanne Langer, who was using it as a way to think about modernist painting. To me, what virtual reality originally meant was moving beyond the headset experience to include some other elements, which would include your own body being present, so to have an avatar where you could pick up things, and also where there could be multiple people, where it could be social.”

Langer, of course, was not an art historian but a philosopher of art.  Feeling and Form, which I will discuss in my next post, was a major work of mid-20th century aesthetics.   Also, Langer used "virtual" not just in relation to modernist painting but in relation to several arts including sculpture, architecture, and dance.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Dewey's Aesthetics as presented in the Ross Anthology explained

What I am going to discuss here is the material that comes after the discussion of "an experience" as it appears in Dewey's Art as Experience.   Dewey says that art denotes a process of doing and making and this involves making things out of materials.  Thus we should not ignore what he refers to as the skilled action aspect of art, the execution.  "Esthetic" on the other hand refers to experience as appreciative, perceiving and enjoying.  This is the standpoint of the consumer of the work of art.  But the distinction between the artistic and the aesthetic is not real separation.  We should not, for example, see art just as skill or a matter of technique.  To perfectly execute a work of art you must take into account the experience of the perceiver, and this requires an imaginative effort that machines, for example, could not bring about.  Again and again in reading Dewey one is struck by the way in which each of several elements are related to form the whole of art.  There is the artist, the materials, the subject matter, the making activity, and the audience.  At one point he says that artistic craftsmanship must be loving of the subject matter.  But it also must be loving of the materials.   We will see more about materials when we discuss the medium of art.  And, of course, an artistic work must be framed for the enjoyment of others.  Something is artistic when the perceived result has controlled the very process of production.   So when we talk about expression we are talking both about the process and the result.  The object should not be seen in isolation from the process of production.  This implies that we should not ignore what the individual artist contributes.  Also, what is expressed presents material by way of personal experience.  Material comes from the public world and then it transformed by way of the artist for the appreciation of others.  

Dewey makes a strong distinction between scientific and artist meaning.  Scientific meaning does not supply experience.  It only gives us the set of condition under which an experience may be had.  For example it can tell us how to bring water into existence by combining hydrogen and oxygen.  It does not however explore the inner nature of things, unlike art.  Nor does it constitute experience in the way art does.  Dewey holds that a even a city can express itself, as for instance in its festivals.  I think of the annual carnival in Mazatlan, Mexico.  The city can then become an expressive object.  However it is more typical to think of the individual arts in terms of their respective media.   As I suggested above, the work of art only is complete in the experience of the audience members.  And so we must take into account the artist, the meaning, and the audience member (real or just imagined).  The artist in making her work has to think of the audience member and vicariously become that person.  As a somewhat strange aside Dewey notes Matisse's quote that a work of art is like a new-born child:  it needs time for understanding.  This brings in one more factor in the nature of art.  It is not only the artist, the subject matter, and the audience, but also the work of art itself which must be seen as part of the dynamic work of art.  The artist then approaches the work of art after it is completed almost as though it were an object in nature - another source of inspiration.  Beauty, then, on this account, is not to be seen as anything like a platonic Form, but rather as the name of the aesthetic quality that comes with expression in a specific medium.  So, to sum up, the artist assimilates the materials of art and then sends them again out into the world:  the material of art is not then private although it is individual.  It is how it is rendered that makes it fresh. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Paragraphs 34 and 35 in Kant's Critique of Judgment

Paragraph 34 stresses that there can be no objective principles of taste.  Such a principle would make it possible to deduce by syllogism that something is beautiful.  But Kant believes that to experience beauty I must immediately feel pleasure in the presentation of the object, and not be persuaded of its beauty by proof.  Critics, as Hume says, may reason better than cooks, but they still cannot expect to establish the value of a work of art by way of proof.  They can only expect their judgments to be based on reflection on the proper state of their immediate pleasure or pain in response to the object.  Kant stresses that all precepts and rules need to be rejected here.  (This may go against Hume, who does allow empirically grounded principles of taste.)   

To be sure, reasoning can help critics perfect and extend their judgments of taste.  But rather than finding a universal formula, critics, when acting according to their proper role, investigate the cognitive faculties and their practice of making judgments, as well as explaining, by examples, the form of purposiveness which "constitutes the beauty of the object." (The latter seems to be what we normally expect of critics, although to see the objects of criticism as simply examples seems to put it the wrong way around.)  

The critique of taste, then, is "the art or science of reducing to rules the reciprocal relation between the understanding and the imagination in the given representation." This is a phenomenological point, a point about the structure of our experience of an aesthetic object.   The representation in our mind, say of the Virginia State House by Thomas Jefferson, will exhibit in it this relation between understanding and imagination.  The reference to "reducing to rules" is puzzling since we are supposed to reject objective principles, but see below.  The reciprocity of the relation is also explained below. 

The critique of taste will explain the accordance or discordance between the two faculties, imagination and understanding.  It is an art if it only shows by examples; whereas it is a science if it derives this possibility from the nature of these faculties.  Here, by “science,” Kant means the sort of thing he is doing is doing here.   He calls this "Transcendental Critique."  The Transcendental Critique derives the subjective principle of taste as an a priori principle.  This is all Kant means by "reducing to rules." As art, the critique of taste applies physiological (psychological) rules concerning how taste actually proceeds.  He also thinks it "criticizes the products of beautiful art..." although it is not clear how it could do this.
#35 The principle of taste is the subjective principle of judgment in general.  

The subjective condition of all judgments is the faculty of judgment itself.  For beauty to exist there has to be an accord of the two representative powers: the imagination and the understanding.  And “because no concept of the object lies here at the basis of the judgment, it can only consist in the subsumption of the imagination itself…under the conditions that the understanding requires to pass from intuition to concepts.”  Moreover, “because the freedom of the imagination consists in the fact that it schematizes without any concept, the judgment of taste must rest on a mere sensation of the reciprocal activity of the imagination in its freedom and the understanding with its conformity to law.”  This is hard to parse out.  The judgment of taste rests on a feeling in which we judge the object by the purposiveness of its representation in respect of the furtherance of the cognitive faculty in its free play.  In taste there is subsumption not of intuitions under concepts but of the faculty of intuitions, that is, the imagination, under the faculty of concepts, the understanding.  This is freedom harmonizing with conformity to law. To discover the ground of a deduction of taste we need to consider the form of this kind of judgment.

This all goes along with the tenor of the rest of the Critique of Judgment.  Taste is a yin-yang thing:  it involves both the imagination and the understanding, both freedom and law in a reciprocal relationship.  Kant elsewhere talks about the need for academic training for the genius artist, a similar kind of balance.   

Kant says "the judgment of taste is not determinable by concepts" for "it is based only on the subjective formal condition of a judgment in general."  He further says "the subjective condition of all judgments is the faculty of judgment itself."   

It is puzzling exactly what is going on here.  I think that Kant is stressing that in judgments of taste there is a movement from intuition to concepts as we also find in objective reasoning, and yet the concepts at the end of the line are indeterminate and hence not true concepts of the understanding.  Later, these will be referred to as aesthetic ideas.  

What however should we make of the following sentence: "It [the judgment of taste] must therefore rest on a feeling, which makes us judge the object by the purposiveness of the representation (by which an object is given) in respect of the furtherance of the cognitive faculty in its free play."  Kant seems to be saying that the judgment of taste rests on some fusion of the purposiveness in the object with the sense that free play furthers our cognitive powers, a fusion of something seemingly objective and something else seemingly subjective.   It is also hard to know what it means to subsume the faculty of intuitions under the faculty of concepts so that the first "in its freedom harmonizes with the latter in its conformity to law" and how this relates to appropriate appreciation of an art object. 

Well, as you can see, I have not fully understood these two chapters, but this is the best I can do for now.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Richard A. Richards "Engineered Niches and Naturalized Aesthetics"

Naturalized aesthetics is a hot topic these days and Richards, in his recent Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism article (75:4 2017, 465-477) gives an impressive (but so far, I think, unsuccessful) defense of it against possible objections.  He begins by reviewing the usual avenues for a naturalized aesthetics:  evolutionary theory, empirical aesthetics, mirror neurons, and so forth, and then he moves on to his own thought that the ecological theory of niches, in which it is argued that animals, especially humans, change their environments to better meet their needs, and then pass these environments down to their progeny, can solve the problem of normativity.  These niches include what he calls "architectural technologies" such as, in art, the buildings that enable artistic practice, for example tango clubs and art studios.  This is all supposed to overcome the age old is/ought problem first raised by Hume:  how are we supposed to get from scientific descriptions to norms either in ethics or in aesthetics?  As George Dickie put it in 1997  "No matter how many data are collected, they still remain descriptions (the is) and no normative principles (the oughts) can be derived from the descriptions alone." (468) 

But does Richards manage to solve this problem?  He thinks he can do it by expanding our conception of science to include the social sciences (including psychology).   The social sciences are perfectly capable of describing the processes used for actual evaluation that occur in the artworld.  So the is/ought problem is solved?   It seems obvious that evaluations happen all of the time in the various artworlds.  But it is hard to see how this in itself tells us what we want to know in philosophical investigation.  And if someone in art or one of the social sciences asks "what justifies this evaluation" or "what really is dance?" isn't that person just doing philosophy, except in an amateur way?  

Richards general response to the is/ought problem is that the opposition relies "on an overly narrow understanding of the science and that we need to look at the ecology of art and how art behaviors are expressed in the engineered art niches that contain cognitive, epistemic, pedagogical, and institutional technologies."  Yet this is just fancy new language for stuff that already happens and has happened for a long time in the sociology of art and the psychology of art.  The expansion of "science" happened a long time ago.

More important: Where does philosophy come in?  I like to put it this way:  what would Socrates say to this sort of solution?   I think that he would not be happy with simply allowing the institutional authority figures to define the concepts whatever they are.  If he met a practitioner of ballet he would want to ask him or her:  "what is ballet?" and would pursue the question through several failed answers. 

Richards says "when we learn the concept of ballet -  what ballet is, for instance - we learn what counts as the proper kind of activity for a ballet niche."  This is true, but limited.  When we learn the concept of ballet in this sense we learn what is ordinarily accepted about ballet, i.e. the dictionary definition and the common sense of the discipline.  But this sounds an awful lot like what one of Socrates interlocutors would have said to him whenever he asked his famous "what is?" questions.  Philosophical questions about concepts seek to push beyond the conventions of a field.  The standard answers just aren't adequate.  This is why philosophical questioning is more associated with revolutionary thinking, whereas mere description of conventions is much more conservative.  

I do not doubt that, as Richards puts it, "a naturalistic, scientific approach to the arts can lend insights into the normativity and conceptual basis of our experience of the arts" (475) but I also agree with the criticism that "science cannot tell us how we should conceive, experience, and evaluate art."  (475)  Of course science, and perhaps even more established teachers in the field, can tell the ballet dancer how he/she is expected to behave in certain contexts.  None of this however can answer the philosophical questions "what is dance?" and "how should we evaluate dance?"   And note that different teachers will have different "philosophy's of dance":  their debates will not be answerable by a survey or a sociology of dance. 

Richards anticipates this sort of objection saying:  "it may be objected that on this account, the normativity is revealed by a philosophical analysis that has just been subsumed into the scientific and that the important analysis is not itself an empirical, scientific activity" and that Dickie and others have already had insight into the role of institutions in generating normativity.  Richards' response is that, again, we should expand the notion of science to include the social sciences and that when philosophical analysis occurs it comes in when we do things like think about the nature of concepts, social causation, value and meaning, and that  the social sciences rely on these analyses.  Well, at least that gives philosophers something to do.  After aesthetics is naturalized, aestheticians can give up on must of what they do but can retreat to these more general issues.  I do not think this really answers the objection raised.  Why should philosophers hold onto analysis of the nature of concepts etc. but give up analysis of the nature of dance?  

I should also mention that Richards distinctions between niche dependent normativity and niche-independent normativity, the second form depending on individual preferences and pleasures, thus pushing to the kind of preference studies we see in empirical aesthetics.  Normative debates and conflicts is understood by Richards in terms of conflicts between these two.  He draws from this that "general critical principles are problematic" thus questioning Hume's solution to the problem of taste.  No matter, Hume himself if fairly conservative in this his gate-keepers, the good judges, are probably the same people as Richards' institutional group, at least for the most part, and Hume also has a problem accounting for the garage band that produces crude works of genius that violate all of the conventions of the artworld institution.  


Friday, February 23, 2018

Some Thoughts On Interpretation

Whenever we offer an explanation of what we have read we offer an interpretation.  Interpretations are based on understandings.  If you ask me to give an interpretation I might do so verbally or in writing.  My interpretation of a text, whether literary, religious, or philosophical, will change over time in the sense that if you ask me to give an interpretation later it will be different from the first one.  A good interpretation, for me, is one that fits that text well and satisfies me.  A really good interpretation does this for a lot of people who have read the text carefully.  Although there are interpretations of musical works and of dances I will focus here on interpretations of literary works and visual works of art, although I may have a thing or two to say about interpretation of philosophy.  Most of my comments here will take off from Steven Davies' chapter "Interpretation." in his The Philosophy of Art.  Early on Davies says "interpretation is called for when a thing's meaning or import isn't obvious."  (107)  I would say that if you like reading, understanding and interpreting you should not wait to be called to interpret.  You can give your understanding or write your interpretation of any text at any time.  The meaning of the text might seem obvious, but this does not mean that it would be fruitless to write an interpretation of it...and necessarily in doing so you will construct for the public your unique understanding of the text.  There are very few literary works or movies that have not been subjected to interpretation.  So it is hard to know what would count as something with a meaning so obvious that interpretation would be a waste of time. 

Davies gives as an example of not needing interpretation your neighbor saying "good morning" as usual.  Well, he is right that there is no need for interpretation here.  But the kinds of texts we are talking about here, i.e. in philosophy, religion, poetry, and art, are quite a bit more complicated and, as Davies himself admits, they call for interpretation. He admits that "interpretation is likely to be needed in understanding complex, multi-layered, extended discourses offering the possibility of more than one reading." (108)  

There is some confusion about the relationship between interpretation and translation.   Translation, that is, of the kinds of texts that concern us here, always requires interpretation.  The words you choose in the second language depend on the understanding you have of what you have read in the first language.  We even say sometimes that a translation is an interpretation, although normally we think of an interpretation as a more complete account of your understanding.  Bear in mind that as you create an interpretation you are also modifying and improving your understanding.  You may have a pre-understanding before you start to write an interpretation, but the interpretation is not just a recording of your understanding.  

Davies speaks of a kind of interpretation that "looks to uncover meanings beyond those that are plainly presented."  (108)   Those who give interpretations clearly want to express the meaning of what they interpret, but they need not make a big distinction between covered meanings and those that are "plainly presented."  Whatever seems at first to be plainly presented may be open to interpretation as much as anything else.  Freud, when he was engaged in interpreting dreams, often found that the things which at first seemed to be plainly presented really needed interpretation.  

Davies makes a seemingly useful distinction between a poem and a text, the text being just an ahistorical word sequence.  But if I face a text I always face something in a historical context, so it is hard to know how the distinction is really useful.  There is no "slab of language regarded ahistorically and apart from any occasion of use" (116) or rather, you can regard a text in this way, but what would be the point?  Isn't it just confusing to say that both Cervantes and the imagined character Menard "use the same text" as though they were shopping for texts, say in a grocery store, and as though a text were like an avocado that could be used for different purposes.  When I read Cervantes I read one text, and when I read Menard (assuming his text actually existed), I read another text, and the two mean very different things although in terms of words in sequence they look the same.  

Davies' purpose is to assure that in the case "of works of art correctly identified as such, usually the range of plausible interpretations isn't unlimited..." as it would be for what he calls "texts."  I do not think what he calls "texts" exist, but I do think that there is no clear limit to how many possible interpretations there can be for what I call "text" (and what he calls "poem").  The same text (in my sense, i.e. what I am reading) may be interpreted by an unlimited number of people over an unlimited period of time, each interpretation being at least slightly different, and this is true even if the interpretations meet Davies' constraint of acknowledging and respecting "the poem's identity-conferring contents..."  (110) i.e. the historical circumstances of its creation.

A common theory of interpretation is called intentionalism.  The assumption seems to be that there is a thing in the author's mind distinct from what was written in the text which is the author's intended meaning for the text.  I have always found this implausible.  It is clear that the author intended to say exactly what he she said in the text:  unless there is a transcriber's error, what you see is clearly intended as such.  But the thought is that there is this other thing, this other set of meanings behind the text and lodged in the mind of the author, a thing called the author's intended meaning for the text.  Presumably this thing is made up of different words or of the same words in different arrangement.  But if it were in a different arrangement, why wouldn't he have used that one rather than the one he used?  

I won't deny that reading other things the author wrote before, during or after the time she wrote the text helps us to understand what she meant.  Nor would I deny that interpretation is largely a matter of trying to understand what the author meant.  But sometimes interpretation is just as much a matter of trying to understand how the text can illuminate its subject matter, or more generally, the world.  It might be that the text can do this in ways not anticipated by the author, or that the author denies that the text illuminates the world in the way you think it does.  But I don't think that would invalidate your interpretation.  The author, as it were, puts her baby out into the world and it takes on a life of its own.  Like most parents, the author cannot control the baby when it grows up,

Moreover, a lot of authors like to have their texts open to the possibility of multiple interpretation anyway.  I have no problem with isolating something like "the author's meaning," which is the meaning intended by the author, as long as literary critics still allow it that someone can provide a good interpretation of a work that would be denied by the author.  

Davies is worried about an infinite regress argument in relation to intentionalism, and responds:  "If we are to reject this argument, we must show that there are knowable intentions that do not require further interpretation.  There must be certainty that can't be denied about what the relevant intentions or mental states are.  And its true that in practice we often act this way.  That is, we interpret what others say or do by reference to their intentions and we regard those intentions as knowable, unambiguous, and as self-explanatory." (112)  This may be why Davies thought that interpretation is only needed when the meaning of something is not obvious.  However, how many things really are unambiguous or self-explanatory?  Isn't it rather that we have a cut off point and we take certain things as unambiguous to move on? 

Again, Davies seems to think it is natural to understand interpretation of religious, philosophical and artistic texts as though this was just like interpreting things like morning greetings.  But the gap here is enormous.   Even in everyday life we constantly interpret and reinterpret the intentions of others, and we are often told by others that we have totally misunderstood their intentions.  

Davies writes "I assume...that we're not barred in principle from discovering what others, including literary authors, intend." (113)  Well, you can assume that we can construct theories of what they intend, and these theories are called interpretations.  But can we ever be assured of getting this interpretation exactly right?  I suspect we are barred from that.  Also I suspect that there is nothing really ultimately to discover.  Intentions are social constructions and they are negotiated:  they also evolve, as do memories in general (which has been well established in psychology).  

Another thing we shouldn't forget is that authors create relatively long works and then review these before publication so that the act of publication involves an intention that the whole thing be taken quite seriously together.  That is, the author already provides a lot of context for interpreting her words:  i.e. the other words in the same text.  These are the most likely to illuminate the meaning.  Words from other texts the author has written earlier or later in life may reflect a different perspective entirely.  We should not forget that on the particular day the work gets sent out the author has authorized the text as is.  Looking at other things he she may have said may help us to understand what is said here, but none of these other statements have that particular time stamp.

Davies speaks of the author's intentions being among the "external factors that cooperate with internal features to determine the work's content." (115)  I wonder whether we can ever make a clear distinction between internal and external.  Aren't intentions internal to the work?  If they are not then it would be fruitless to try to interpret the work in term of intentions.  But aren't various contextual factors of its creation also internal to the work?   Doesn't Davies himself talk about the identity of the poem as being more than what he narrowly calls "text"?  A text is a rich thing: its has many layers.  Some layers may seem relatively more external or internal:  that's about the most that can be said.

Many object to intentionalism that it does not allow for multiple interpretations.  But Davies says that the "The multiple interpretability of artworks is consistent with the claims of moderate actual intentionalism"   And so, the critics miss their mark.  The reply by the intentionalists is that meanings in addition to the intended author's meaning can exist, and also that artists may intend a variety of plausible interpretations.  Yet the two points seem to be in conflict.  It the author intends multiple meanings then there is no one author's meaning as posited in the first reply to the objection.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Dialogue with some my seminar students on the definition of art

Dialogue 1:  Dialogue with Christopher Ortuno on Morris Weitz, "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics"  Christopher is in black, I am in red.

He [Weitz] elaborates the first problem of aesthetics is, “to give a logical description of the actual functioning of the concept, including a description of the conditions under which we correctly use it or its correlates” (Weitz, 30). I wonder why he doesn't think it is an important project for aesthetics to come up with new honorific definitions of art, music, painting, photography and so forth?  That project would seem to be implied by the end of his article if what is valuable is the debates over these sorts of things.  Also, I wonder what he means by "conditions under which we correctly use it"?  Is it really that important to determine when we correctly use the phrase "work of art"?  Isn't there really a wide range of correct uses?  And isn't this just the source of debate:  i.e. some people believe "work of art" is correctly used in relation to Fountain by Duchamp and some do not.  So how do you determine whether the phrase is correctly applied in such cases?  Knowing that "work of art" is an open concept doesn't help resolve the issue.  Weitz suggests that we take our lead from decisions.   I think that the word "correct" is just not helpful here.   He paraphrases an important point made by Wittgestein, that art may be similar to games. “Games” as we call them do not all share a common property but share similar properties across a web of family style resemblances.
            In order to find a definition of art, or to find necessary and sufficient conditions, we would need a closed concept of art. However, art is not completely defined and is an ever expanding concept. In order to close the concept of art we would need to close the range of the uses of the word. This is what philosophers trying to define art have done, or tried to do and failed.
            I like the point that Weitz brings up about art as an open concept. I have often thought of the difficulty of defining art. As soon as a definition may come out, you will have not only philosopher but artists themselves trying to create art that is outside of the closed concept definition. In fact, creating a closed definition of art directly contradicts the essence of creativity that are is supposed to portray.  True, but if we provide an honorific definition this would seem not to close off creativity.  We may sometimes close a particular portion of art in history once the time has passed. For example, “Greek art” may be a definition of a kind of art at a particular time, in a particular place. More importantly, the time has passed and thus the definition of it can be closed.  Good point, and I appreciate your raising it in class.  This bracket closing of time and place makes it much easier to define “Greek art.” In fact, the definition will most likely include time and place. More importantly, since no one can add to this period of art, the concept can be closed logically.  I am not so sure of that.  To close a concept logically is to say that for any new member of a class it must meet the necessary and sufficient conditions.  But if the class is already extensionally closed then such a definition is not even needed.  All you can say about an extensionally closed class is that all the members share certain properties:  but that they share properties has nothing to do with what is essential to their membership in the class.  I think that extensionally closing a class actually forecloses on the possibility of definition. Perhaps we can define art, although, only in groups and only after the fact. In this way we can give a closed bracket definition of a particular kind. This way we will again have groups of types of art that again have family relations to one another, just like that of individual piece of art.