Friday, September 8, 2017

Will film eventually stop being capable of art?

Rudolf Arnheim is usually seen as just someone who got it wrong when it comes to film.  Some will admit that he did argue that film is art (in his book Film as Art  1932) and thus raised the status of film.  But he also was unhappy with new technological developments in film, especially the rise of the talkie, and thought that it would be much harder for film with sound to be art than silent film. Although clearly film still has been able to be art after the decline of silent film, it is still arguable that the way in which film is art has changed over time. 

Arnheim, amazingly, was able to predict what we today would call "the virtual reality film," one that is indistinguishable from reality itself. (We haven't got there yet.)  He called this "the complete film."  For Arnheim, the rise of the complete film will make film as art impossible because art requires limitations and requires distance from life.   

(A little cultural background will be useful here:  Wikipedia's article on Arnheim provides this:  "In the fall of 1932, Arnheim had an essay published in the Berliner Tagesblatt. This was about three months before the Nazis came into power, and the essay was published about the nature of Charlie Chaplin’s and Hitler’s mustaches and what it did to the nose in terms of human character. Considering the timing of this essay, and the fact that in 1933 the sale of his book Film as Art was no longer permitted due to the Nazis, some of Arnheim’s friends advised him that he should leave the country and so in August 1933, he moved to Rome.")

Arnheim was mainly worried about the over-emphasis on naturalism which he thought came with the talkies.  He was worried about the "victory of wax museum ideals over creative art." Although he thought that, by accident, sound film really did have "artistic potentialities," these would be destroyed by further technical developments in film (so-called "progress") for example in technicolor and stereoscopic film.  What was great about silent film was its "compositional precision" and its independence from reality.  He admitted that in painting color provides possibilities but insisted that the photographer does not have a "free hand" and must "record mechanically the light values of physical reality."  

Sometimes Arnheim is accused of holding to a medium specificity thesis.  But that is not quite right.  What he argued is that the specific media of the silent film, sound film, and color film are each different and present different potentialities.  This is, I think, correct.  I also think there is something to be said for the idea that film as art should be "divergent from nature."   

One of these divergences can be seen in black and white film. For Arnheim, achromatic film had the artistic advantage of creating a "grey scale" medium.  However, Arnheim argued, similar transformations of colors within color film would not in themselves produce a specific "formative" medium.  He admitted that one can manipulate color by choosing what is to be photographed, and one can do a "montage of colored pictures," but, and here he seems to have anticipated an argument by Roger Scruton, increasingly the artistic part of the work will focus all interest on what was in front of the camera.  This, on his view, would actually relegate the camera to being a "mere mechanical recording machine."   

Arnheim goes further to consider the "three-dimensional film" and wide screen projection.  As the illusion of reality increases "the spectator will not be able to appreciate certain artistic color effects" even though, technically speaking, it would still be possible to artistically and harmoniously arrange colors on the surface.  He observes that with stereoscopic film there will no longer be a plane surface with the compositional qualities that such a surface allows. Film, then, will be reduced to being a kind of theater and not an art form of its own.  Such film-specific techniques as montage and changing camera angle will no longer be useful, and montage will even be problematic since it would take away from the illusion of reality, just as changing the position of the camera would seem to displace reality.  His prediction then: "Scenes will have to be taken in their entire length and with a stationary camera."  And this will entail a regression of film to its beginnings where we only had a fixed camera and an uncut strip.  Now my point here is that although this prediction did not come true, Arnheim may still have a point.  

Arnheim's worry is that although the "striving after likeness to nature" which is ancient in man, can be thrilling, the goal itself is dangerous.  It ignores the counter-tendency to "originate, to interpret, to mold."  Arnheim admires those painters like Paul Klee who have broken with the principle of being "true to nature" but he thinks that the development of film in the direction of this kind of realism indicates how power this idea is.   On his view, it is the very popularity of film that condemns it.  "Since on economic grounds film is much more dependent on the general public than any other form of art, the 'artistic' preferences of the public sweep everything before them."  He does not deny that quality can be "smuggled in" but in the end the "complete film" will fulfill this age-old striving.  At this point the original and copy will be indistinguishable.  When that happens "all formative potentialities which were based on the differences between model and copy are eliminated and only what is inherent in the original in the way of significant form remains to art."    At this point in his argument Arnheim quotes from a writer, H. Baer, whose essay he finds "remarkable" who holds that color film accomplishes tendencies that go far back in graphic art insofar as it has striven for color. The quote from Baer shows Arnheim's alliance with an elitist tendency:
"Uncivilized man is not as a rule satisfied with black-and-white.  Children, peasants, and primitive peoples demand the highest degree of bright-coloring."  The quote goes further to say "it is the primitives of the great cities who congregate before the film screen" and they want bright colors.  It is interesting that Arnheim would go along with this equivalence of the rise of color film with love of the kitsch effects of exclusive interest in bright colors.  

Now Arnheim admits in the end that the complete film need not be catastrophe, as long as silent film, sound film, and colored sound film can all exist side by side.  Complete film is a great way to experience opera and dance, for example.  But only the other forms would be considered by Arnheim "real" film forms.  The existence of complete film might even encourage developments in the real forms.  Sound film can for example work on distinguishing itself clearly as art from the art of the stage.  But he thinks, perhaps pessimistically, that complete film (which he here puts in scare quotes) will "supplant them all" because of its ability to imitate nature.



Monday, August 7, 2017

what the ordinary person in everyday life sees?

"Pudovkin has said film strives to lead the spectator beyond the sphere of ordinary human conceptions.  For the ordinary person in everyday life, sight is merely a means of finding his bearings in the natural world.  Roughly speaking, he sees only so much of the object surrounding him as is necessary for his purpose.  If a man is standing at the counter of a haberdasher's shop, the salesman will presumably pay less attention to the customer's facial expression than to the kind of tie he is wearing (so as to guess his taste) and to the quality of his clothes...."  (Rudolf Arnheim  Film as Art).   The first sentence seems fine, but the second is false.  The ordinary person in everyday life might use sight just to find his bearings in the natural world:  for example, I am walking in the woods and I want to know where north is, so I look to see where the sun is setting.  But this is not the only ordinary use of sight.   Sight is ordinarily often used just to entertain oneself ...for example in observing the people in a museum during an interval between looking at artworks.  The next sentence may be true, although not only for the ordinary person in everyday life but for everyone at least some of the time: for example, a great pianist may focus just on what is necessary for realizing this work by Beethoven in front of this audience.  Also the mind of the ordinary person often wanders from the purpose is at hand.  The next sentence seems wrong too since the salesman, although clearly focusing on what is necessary for the situation, is in fact focusing on aesthetic qualities. He is simply focusing on aesthetic qualities of the clothes and not on the aesthetic qualities of the face.  So, what does this say about the first sentence?   The film maker could focus on the aesthetic qualities of the face, but could equally well focus on the same aesthetic qualities of the clothes that the salesman would focus on.   The filmmaker could give us the world through the eyes of the salesman.  Yes, films take us beyond the ordinary, but let us not think that the ordinary itself is so mechanical and bland.  As Dewey would say, film as art abstracts and intensifies the aesthetics of everyday life. 

Arnheim is not out of accord with this.  For he also gives an excellent description of how a film maker can make something ordinary extraordinary and, through doing so, can highlight features of the world surrounding us that we do not normally notice.

"If an ordinary picture of some men in a rowing boat appears on the screen, the spectator will perhaps perceive that there is a boat, and nothing further.  But if, for example, the camera is suspended high up, so that the spectator sees the boat and the men from above, the result is a view very seldom seen in real life.  The interest is thereby diverted from the subject to the form.  The spectator notices how strikingly spindle-shaped is the boat and how curiously the bodies of the men swing to and fro.  Things that previously remained unnoticed are the more striking because, the object itself appears strange and unusual.  The spectator is thus brought to see something familiar as something new."  (Arnheim  Film as Art)   

Notice that this transformation is not fully described when it is described as a change from subject to form.  It could better be described as a change from seeing the subject just in terms of conventional labels and noticing other features of the subject through seeing it "as something new."  Seeing something formally is not the same as seeing "as something new"!  

To continue on the same quote:  "At this moment, he becomes capable of true observation.  For it is not only that he is now stimulated to notice whether the natural objects have been rendered characteristically or colorlessly, with originality or obviously, but by stimulating the interest through the unusualness of the aspect the objects themselves become more vivid and therefore more capable of effect.  In watching a good shot of a horse I shall have a much stronger feeling that 'here is an actual horse - a big beast with satiny skin and with such a smell...'  That is to say, therefore, not only form but objective qualities will impose themselves more compellingly."  (Film as Art  43-44)  

Thanks to Noel Carroll  Philosophical Problems of Classical Film Theory (Princeton U. Press, 1988)  for drawing my attention to these quotes.  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Shimmering of Being

This is an experiment in exploring the core of my philosophical position.  Although I have always been closely associated with the American Society for Aesthetics, an essentially analytic philosophy institution, I have an even more fundamental equipment to something else, something more metaphysical.  My early article "Sparkle and Shine" began to indicate this tendency.   My chapter on "aura" in The Extraordinary in the Ordinary pushes it further.   My main heroes in philosophy have been Plato, Nietzsche and Dewey, although other figures have of course played a prominent role, for instance Aristotle, Marx, Husserl, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Goodman.  From Plato I have learned that the philosophical quest leads to grasping of the good which allows us to see the good in things, the axiological dimension, and, in particular, the ways in which things participate in their essences.  Beauty is the most prominent manifestation of this experience.  From Aristotle I have learned that things are greater than the sums of their parts if those things are organic wholes.  From Kant I have learned that works of genius give us aesthetic ideas which provide us with as if unending thought and connect us to the idea of the supersensible.,  From Nietzsche I have learned that to be true to the earth is to learn how to dance.  From Goodman I have learned that there are many ways the world is. From Wittgenstein I have learned that philosophy is not science and that the search for essences is deeply connected with seeing as.  From Dewey I have learned most everything else, that we need to recover the continuity between everyday life and the fine arts.  From Husserl I learned to look for essences in life experience.  From Heidegger I have learned that what we have forgotten is Being.  

What have religion, art, and even philosophy in one of its modes, looked for?  It is the shimmering of Being.  Being shimmers when it goes beyond itself.  This happens by way of the eruption of consciousness.  I think, therefore Being shimmers.  We see Being when we see/grasp the shimmer of Being.  Being becomes evident when the essential nature of things is revealed.  Essences are emergent upon things and practices, especially those practices aimed towards essences.  Essences, as emergent, and change within the field of consciousness.   A somewhat misleading way to search for essences is to try to come up with a definition in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions.  A better way is to look for a philosophical definition in terms of a key metaphor.  The great definitions of philosophy are the ones that captured a things essential nature in the sense that they were able to light a path to future creation.   Great definitions are evaluative as well as classificatory.  Revelation of essences is worthless without a path to creativity opening up.   Essences are tied to paradigms.  New definitions of essences happen in tandem with new paradigms.  For example Danto's new definition of art was tied to the paradigm of Warhol's Brillo Boxes.   The search for essences is a cultural thing in which philosophy and the arts, for example, work in tandem.  To look at the search for essences just in philosophy is to miss the organic nature of the cultural quest.  Moreover, the essence is not an abstraction:  it is to be found closely associated with the paradigmatic particular.   New revelations of essence are both ideal and real.  The dichotomy of idealism and realism is the great hangup for philosophy.  Plato discovered the shimmering of Being. The point for the philosopher king is not to have a list of definitions in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions but to see how the light of Being reveals things.  The important part of the allegory of the cave comes at the end.  What really is is what shimmers with possibility, or better, with potential.  There is a language game involved with the search for Being:  this is a philosophical language game.  Today we are at a loss for Being.  We are alienated from the quest for Being.  

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Film Aesthetics and the pursuit of knowledge 2001 A Space Odyssey

Most philosophical discussions of whether film can give us knowledge are disappointing to me.   I think this is because they begin with a certain overly narrow notion of knowledge, one that sees knowledge either on a strictly scientific model or as a matter of belief supported by sufficient reasons, the belief expressed in some specific proposition.  Knowledge could be understood in a broader way however.  I like to think of culture in a Hegel-like way as consisting of a number of closely interrelated disciplines that evolve over time.  To see knowledge as somehow isolated, restrained within the domains of science or science plus philosophy, is to deny the depth of these inter-relations.  Philosophers, for example, do not think their thoughts in isolation from every other aspect of the culture.  The films I have seen in my life have played an important role in the ongoing development of my philosophical thoughts and writings.  This must be true for others as well.  There is an overly narrow conception of knowledge which sees is as based on reasoning of a mechanical sort.  Much of this, I believe, quite controversially I know, is based on over-reliance on the syllogism as the main basis for knowledge.  I am not by any means anti-logic, but I am against the primacy of the syllogism.  The syllogism provides us the the idea that two premises can automatically guarantee a conclusion.  If A then B, A, therefore B, is one example.   The reality of reasoning is usually more a matter of trying to get from A to B, and if the inference seems powerful we hypothesize a hypothetical, if A than B.  The real question is what prompts us to see B as necessarily following from A.  Cultural background usually provides the basis for what we consider an obvious inference.  

Turn now to film and its interrelations with philosophy.  When I was in my teens the minister of my church, Episcopalian, gave a sermon based on a movie by Stanley Kubrick that had just come out, 2001: A Space Odyssey .  Father Wilder was convinced that this movie said something deep about our relationship to the universe, something that connected up with his notion of Christianity.  Although I was already beginning to have deep doubts about Christianity and even about the existence of God I was moved not only by the movie but also by the sermon.  I believe that the movie and the sermon had together a profound affect on my belief-system.  

Let's consider knowledge in a different way than it is usually considered.  Knowledge is a matter of belief systems, or, better, a space or field of belief, and the fit between such a field and the world.  I agree with Nelson Goodman that there are many ways the world is:  but there is still "the world."  My Hegelian side adds that these different ways the world is, whether through film or through philosophy, or through a specific philosophy, interact with each other dialectically.  I even think that there are religious ways the world is and that these religious ways also relate dialectically with ways the world is that are more prominent in the mind of an atheist.  Movies do not usually reshape belief space by presenting arguments but rather by making it more likely that we see B as following from A.   2001  implied some things explicitly that, in my own thinking, had no impact, for example that mankind might evolve into something much more profound through contact with mysterious more highly evolved species.  Sure, that might be true, but what was more moving about this movie was, and still is, harder to describe.  It is partly that we should see evolution as having a possible upbeat side and that technology as it advances may contain possibilities that go beyond our expectations.  The opening up of possibilities for thinking rather than actual support for propositions is how movies can contribute to knowledge.  Wikipedia observes that the movie :   "deals with the themes of existentialism, human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and extraterrestrial life."  Again, it does not proves points in any of these areas, but it does transform the belief space of receptive audience members concerning these things.  If knowledge is understood not just as justified true belief but as an ability to achieve improved interaction with the world through improved models of that world, then changed belief space falls within the domain of knowledge.  

Wartenberg notes "a number of philosophers have argued that films can have at most a heuristic or pedagogic function in relation to philosophy. Others have asserted that there are clear limits to what films can accomplish philosophically. Both of these types of views regard the narrative character of fiction films as disqualifying them from genuinely being or doing philosophy."   I count myself in the other group of philosophers, the small group that believes that the role of film in relation to philosophy (and even in relation to science) is not heuristic or pedagogic.  I also question whether there are clear limits to what films can accomplish philosophically, but only because I do not see many instances of "clear limits" in this domain.  I do agree that films do not provide arguments.  However I question the dominance of the syllogism as a picture of what we do in argumentation.  Actually, philosophical argumentation is always a form of narrative:  a form of story-telling.  This is true even when everything is done to hide it narrative nature.  The syllogistic form is just distorted story-telling.   The greatness of a great work of philosophy is not the conclusion it proves but the story it tells.  This is why we have philosophical classics, for example Plato's Symposium, and why we go back to them again and again.  I do not want to simply say that philosophy is just another form of literature;  but it does share more in common with literature than most philosophers are willing to admit.  And also with film.  

I have a problem with the typical way that philosophers of film defend the idea that films can give us knowledge.  The idea is that film can do philosophy via giving us thought experiments.  Sure, film can do this and in this way film is much like much of contemporary philosophy.  But film's capacity to give us knowledge should not be limited to paradigms like The Matrix which seems to raise again problems first brought up by Descartes.   The idea of "themes" suggested above by our discussion of 2001 and constantly brought up by high school teachers when discussing literature can perhaps be more helpful here.  By bringing up themes and raising issues film can affect our belief space.  By the way, belief space can be affected by not actually changing beliefs, if by a belief one simply means holding a proposition to be true.  Changing belief space is more like changing an attitude or set of attitudes:  changing what one considers to be important in relation to belief.  A film might not convince me that there is a God but might change my attitude towards what is rationally possible for those who believe in God.  We constantly build and work on belief spaces for beliefs we do not actually hold.  Even though I am no longer an Episcopalian I still have a belief space with regards to Episcopalian belief, about what is possible there and about what follows from what.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Dewey's advice for studio art education

Dewey wrote a lot about education early in his life, but very little about art education.  Later he wrote Art as Experience which was his most influential writing in aesthetics, and yet this book says little directly about art education.  My experiment here is to imagine a list of practical recommendations for the art studio based on this later work.  I'll try to provide quotes and page references (from the Perigree printing of 2005) to back this up.  I will probably add to this and revise over the next month.  

Advice to Artists

1.     The business of an artist is to create “an experience” for herself and for audience members.  An experience is an organic whole.
2.     The creative process, when authentic, begins with a striking moment followed by development towards completion.
3.     The artist should also attend to how the audience will respond creatively to her work:  the audience members too will undergo development towards conclusion.
4.     Attend always to your medium:  the arts are different based on the exploitation “of the energy that is characteristic of the material used as a medium.”  (253)
5.     Art is a matter of self-expression.
6.     Just as the physical materials change so too  inner materials are progressively reformed in the creative process. (77)  It is through this that the expressive at is built up.
7.     Take materials from the public realm, transmit and intensify the qualities in your medium.  Then put back into the public realm.
8.     Focus on developing rhythm in your work.  “Rhythm is rationality among qualities.” (175)
9.     Rhythm requires both repetition and variation.
10. A work that has rhythm is one in which parts and whole interpret each other.  (177)  Good work allows the distinctive parts to re-enforce each other, building up a complex integrated experience.
11.   Rhythms  “consolidate and organize the energies involved in having an experience” (177)
12.  Art is the organization of energies.  (192)
13.   Rhythm of nature comes before rhythm of art:  artistic form is rooted in these rhythms.  Bring the rhythms of everyday life into the studio.  (153)
14.   The studio artist should also be creative in her appreciation of art.  She should seek to “grasp the phases of objects that specially interest a particular artist.”  (134)
15.   The artist should see her work as drawing from the past into the present and projecting into the future:  “the expressiveness of the object of art is due to the fact that it presents a thorough and complete interpenetration of the materials of undergoing and action.”   (107) 

16.   In good art the means are fused with the ends.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

On Heidegger on the relation between metaphysics and aesthetics.

I am currently reading Heidegger's An Introduction to Metaphysics. Far from being an introduction, this is one of the hardest books I have ever read.  I am attracted to it from the standpoint of thinking about the relationship between aesthetics and metaphysics.  My working hypothesis is that aesthetics has been vastly under-related in its importance to philosophy and to the central problems of philosophy.   Heidegger, it seems to me, is onto something with regards to this topic.  Heidegger seeks for the roots of philosophy in the pre-Socratic philosophers and, in particular, in Heraclitus and Parmenides.  The question at issue is "what is being?"  Heraclitus understands being in terms of "logos."  And of course Heidegger has his own interpretation of "logos" via Heraclitus and Parmenides.  For Heidegger, logos is a gathering and togetherness  (134).  It is also a gathering and togetherness that shines.  Being disclosed itself to the Greeks as physis which Heidegger describes in this way "the realm of emerging and abiding is intrinsically at the same time a shining appearing" as he identifies the root of physis with phainesthai:  "Phyein, self-sufficient emergence, is phainesthai, to flare up, to show itself, to appear." (101)  So this unity this appearing is a shining forth which is also a collection. Further, the gathering we are talking about is not just a heaping but a unity of things that conflict:  "It does not let them fall into haphazard dispersion.   In thus maintaining a bond, the logos has the character of permeating power, of physis."  (134)  There is a uniting of oppositions that also maintains their tension.  

This I propose is the root also of aesthetic experience.  To experience something aesthetically is to experience it as something that shines (metaphorically) due to emergence of a unity that pulls together tensions and opposites. Here is one possible way to interpret this:  Being is not just a bare "is" of identity or predication or even existence but something more like Danto's "is" of artistic identification. Being happens when the essentiality of something shines forth for us as a gathering that overcoming opposition. When this happens we have "aura":  i.e. the intensification of experience associated with the various aesthetic terms, most significantly "beauty."  This is, of course, beyond the dichotomy of subjective/objective.  

Heidegger connects all of this interestingly with the nature of man himself:  "We do not learn who man is by learned definitions;  we learn it only when man contends with the essent, striving to bring it into its being, i.e. into limit and form, that is to say when he projects something new (not yet present), when he creates original poetry, when he builds poetically."  (144)  If that is right then it follows that finding out who man is would be only possible through looking at his artistic creative activity.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Heidegger's Other Passage on Van Gogh

The first chapter of Heidegger's An Introduction to Metaphysics is titled "The Fundamental Question of Metaphysics."  It was one of a series of lectures first delivered in 1935 and then revised in 1953. Aestheticians have long been interested in Heidegger's discussion of a painting of shoes by Van Gogh which appears in his "The Origin of the Work of Art" which also was drafted between 1935 and 1937 and was also re-edited in 1950 and again in 1960.  So it is not surprising that Van Gogh's painting also appears in "The Fundamental Question."  It is a short passage and it, of course, serves a somewhat different purpose than in the other essay.  I am working here from the Ralph Manheim translation (Yale University Press, 1959).  Here is the quote:

"A painting by Van Gogh.  A pair of rough peasant shoes, nothing else. Actually the painting represents nothing.  But as to what is in that picture, you are immediately alone with it as though you yourself were making your way wearily homeward with your hoe on an evening in late fall after the last potato fires have died down. What is here?  The canvas?  The brush strokes?  The spots of color?"  (35)

The point at issue in this passage is not the nature or origin or the work of art.  Rather Heidegger is interested in the question of being.  A few paragraphs earlier he asks "Wherein lies and wherein consists being?"  The question is also reformulated as "Wherein consists its being?" when referring to a heavy storm "coming up in the mountains."  The next few paragraphs cover a "mountain range under a broad sky,"  "the door of any early romanesque church," and "a state," all before we get to Van Gogh case.  After this Heidegger asks "what in all these things we have just mentioned is the being of the essent [thing]?"   In each case there are a lot of questions, and it is not at all clear what Heidegger is intending to say or how he would answer these questions.  Aesthetic issues play a role in some of these cases, but not all, and they are not dominant. When discussing the mountain range, he does consider that it might reveal itself to the traveler who "enjoys the landscape" but also to the meteorologist preparing a weather report.  And he also considers that each of these may only be an aspect of the object and Being may be either be behind these aspects or in them.  

In the Van Gogh paragraph Heidegger assumes, as in "Origin," that we are looking at peasant shoes.  (It has been argued that these are actually Van Gogh's own shoes.)  The sentence fragment that opens the paragraph seems to indicate that we are concerned here with the being of the painting, not of the shoes.  So we have him ask "wherein consists being in the painting?"  He says that the painting "represents nothing" although that is odd since it represents peasant shoes.  The next sentence also refers not to what we would ordinarily think of as the being of the painting but rather to the experiences of a particularly imaginative viewer of the painting. What "is" in the picture turns out to be related to how the picture is experienced by this imaginative viewer.  To repeat:  "you are immediately alone with it [being] as though you yourself were making your way wearily homeward with your hoe...."  The imaginative viewer imagines being a very specific peasant at a certain time of day and year.  Somehow this is in the experience of the painting, or in the painting, or the Being in the painting.  The end of the paragraph comes as an even greater surprise since, after asking "What is here?" i.e. in the panting we have additional questions, which are also possible answers, and which actually refer to the physical substances of the painting:  "The canvas?  The brush strokes? The spots of color?" It is being suggested here that the being is encountered through the imaginative viewing of the painting, but is also there on the canvas, and in the brush strokes.

The rest of the essay has its own disturbing nature.  Heidegger has joined the Nazi party two years previously, and, although he resigned from the Rectorship of his university in 1934 he continued to be a member of the party until the end of WWII.  Moreover, in the essay he makes some pronounced political statements, mostly pro-German and anti both American and Russian.  

He spends some pages worrying over a comment by Nietzsche that "Being" is a "high concept" that is also "the last cloudy streak of evaporating reality."  Nietzsche even refers to Being as an "error," this in The Twilight of Idols.  Heidegger takes Nietzsche to be saying something more like that Being is seen by people today as a mere vapor:  sure the word is empty but it is no fault of the word. Rather, we have "fallen out of" Being, and without knowing it. Being, he suggests, is not a mere word but "the spiritual destiny of the Western world."  

It is odd today to take seriously notions of the spiritual destiny of the Western world, as though the Western world is all that important. I know all about the ideas of a history of the West, one which sees Europe as central.  But, being a Californian, living in a multi-ethnic community, and teaching students from all countries in the 21st. century, it just doesn't make any sense to me to worry about the spiritual destiny of the Western world any more than it makes sense for me to worry about the spiritual destiny of Germany.  I could see a German worrying about that, just as I can see myself worrying about the spiritual destiny of America.  But I am not sure that the spiritual destiny of America, if there is such, is any closer to the spiritual destiny of Europe than it is to that of Humanity or The World.  Let's just say we feel a special affinity to Europe.

Of course Heidegger would not be sympathetic, partly because he already has a role for America to play in his story:  "This Europe, in its ruinous blindness forever on the point of cutting its own throat, lies today in a great pincers, squeezed between Russia on the one side and America on the other."  (37)  And in a few short years Europe (by which he mainly means Germany) is fighting both. America and Russia are the sources of spiritual decline. 

This is not to say that he has no enduring insight.  He associates America and Russia with something that is still problematic today:  "the same dreary technological frenzy, the same unrestricted organization of the average man....and time as history has vanished from the lives of all peoples"  (37-38)  The illness he associates with America and Russia is actually just universal, taking in German and Europe every bit as much as every other part of our civilized world.  Set aside the mistake about Germany (at least the Germany of his time) it might still be worthwhile to look for "new spiritual energies unfolding historically from out of the center."  (39)  We just need to reinterpret "the center."

Of course the bigger issue is how to interpret "spiritual."  


Monday, June 5, 2017

Aesthetics and the Being of beings

I had previously posted on Heidegger and everyday aesthetics here  Here are some further thoughts.

I have been returning to Heidegger to think about the meaning of aesthetics and more specifically of everyday aesthetics.  Nothing I say here should be taken to imply that I am a follower of Heidegger.  Let’s just say that I take inspiration from some of the things he says.  The immediate impetus of my discussion has been reading George Steiner’s Martin Heidegger (University of Chicago Press, 1989).   

The question Heidegger was most interested in concerned the Being of beings.  Unlike Heidegger, I interpret this as a deeply aesthetic notion.  This is how I take this in a nutshell:  when we experience something with heightened aesthetic intensity we are experiencing the Being of beings, and conversely when we experience the Being of beings we experience with heightened aesthetic intensity.   The Being of a being is the dynamic essential nature of the thing under consideration.   But, as we shall see, my notion of "essence" is very unlike that of Plato or Aristotle.  Philosophy and Art are concerned with the Being of beings.   Heidegger sensed this when he placed so much attention on the arts of poetry, architecture and painting in his quest for the Being of beings.  Yet Heidegger does not seem to be aware that Being is something fundamentally aesthetic.   

(Steiner indicates that Heidegger ultimately failed to answer the question "What is the Being of beings?"  I think that what I am providing here is an answer.)

I should also note that my view could be made consistent with a certain reading of Plato, a certain reading of Kant, and a certain reading of Nietzsche.  I am very unlike Heidegger in this respect:  whereas Heidegger sees his work as a radical rejection of previous philosophers, based usually on a rather willful misreading of these figures, I see continuities and deep affinities.  When Plato, for example, talks about grasping Beauty itself in the Symposium and also talks about grasping The Good in The Republic he is talking about the same thing as when Heidegger and I talk about grasping the Being of beings.  For Plato, grasping The Beautiful and The Good (the same thing, really) is the goal of philosophy:  and that is not a matter of coming up with a definition but a matter of being able to see essences in the world.  (It is more than that, but that's a start).  What Heidegger calls "the is of what is" is just the essentiality of what is:  but a lot depends here on how we take "essences."  We cannot take them to be entities, beings.  Rather, search for essences is searching for the Being of beings.  I agree with Heidegger that Being is not a being.  Heidegger’s attacks on Plato work only as attacks on the kind of characterization we get of Plato’s ideas in introductory classes.  To think Being for Plato is every bit as much an activity as it is for Heidegger.   The path up out of the cave is a path of activity, of dialectic.  Moreover, the path down from perception of the Good is also a path of activity.  

Heidegger’s own confusion about Being needs to be cleared up, however.  Heidegger confuses mere existence with heightened experience of Being, an experience which, in my view, is also, at the same time, an emergence.  That something exists or does not exist is of little interest to the philosophy of Being.   We concern ourselves with existence in cases like "does global warming exist?" and this is only a question of whether the term "global warming" with its implied definition accurately describes the state of the world.  Modern science confirms that global warming exists.  This has nothing to do with what we are discussing here.

The philosophy of Being is only mistakenly seen as a theory about the word “is.”  The question “why is there something rather than nothing?”  is a case in point.  Heidegger made a big deal about the importance of this question.  It seems at first to be simply a religious question, one that begs the question.  That is, it simply assumes that there is an explanation for why the universe (not only this universe, but any universe) exists.  God has been the traditional answer.  Or perhaps it is thought that the question is somehow important, even though clearly God is not the best answer.  I do not think that this question is very interesting, at least not when taken literally.  But I do not think Heidegger always took it literally.

The real question (the one the stated question was really trying to ask) is rather, “why is there creativity?”  That is, "why is it that sometimes we seem to get something from nothing?"  Why is there an emergence of Being?  Why do we experience certain things as more than the sum of their parts?  Why is there potentiality as well as actuality?   Why is there meaning at all?  The question "why is there something rather than nothing" directs us to these other questions, which, when taken together, much better represent what we are getting at.  Being, as Heidegger well saw, is the ontological question, and that is quite distinct from questions of ontics.

Except that we should be suspicious of the “why” word.   Philosophy cannot really provide explanations, and certainly not causal explanations.  The characteristic philosophical question is a what question, not a why question.  Perhaps to some extent these questions just intend to get us to pay attention to the emergence of Being.  

Another area in which Heidegger and I disagree is that I see Being as emergent from natural processes, from biological, cultural and personal evolution.  I agree that Being arises from the interaction of language (in the broadest sense of that term, including all symbol systems) and the world.   But this just means that the emergence of Being is phenomenological:  it happens in consciousness.  Being happens when truth emerges in experience.  "Truth" in this sense has an ineliminable personal dimension.  Being doesn’t just happen in the thing-in-itself.  Or if it does, this is not our concern.  But Being also emerges in shared experience:  it is not purely subjective. 

Investigation into the essences of things is investigation into the ways in which  Being emerges.  Plato saw this as investigation into Forms:  asking the "what is" question, for example "what is piety?" Whenever we ask the "what is?" question of philosophy in a deep way we are trying to get at Being.   Heidegger is right, however, to see this in a different way from Plato:  Plato asks us to leave the sensuous world to experience Being.  Nietzsche and Dewey taught us otherwise.  Being emerges only through our interaction with materials, with media:  it is when, for example, the architect allows Being to emerge through the materials of wood or stone.   

Again, Heidegger thinks that existence is the key, and to a certain extent he is right.  But, to put it better, that which gives rise to the experience of awe “exists” in the strong sense that Heidegger is indicating.  So when Heidegger says that hidden being gives the rock its dense thereness (a point made by Steiner on pg. 66), I think this is best understood in terms of what Yuriko Saito has said about the Japanese gardenist's way of experiencing a rock:  the rock has a dense thereness when we see it as manifesting Being, as manifesting essentiality.   The Japanese gardenist listens to the request of the rock in the way that Heidegger asks us to return to a point at which we listen to Being.

I think that we have always been listening to Being, but I agree that this is rare and made difficult by contemporary life.  To listen to Being is to open up to the way things in the world that speak to us about inner nature (not only their inner nature, but ours) through a medium, i.e. of language, paint, or the stone as used by the architect.

Interestingly, essentiality here is not just what it is defined as but rather the way in which it manifests reality itself.  I said earlier that even Kant is misinterpreted here.   A point at which Kant and Heidegger intersect is at the notion of “aesthetic ideas” developed in Kant’s Critique of Judgment.  The Being of beings is aesthetical.

This of course is all in tune what I have previously said in this blog on aesthetic atheism.  See also my posts on Kant on aesthetical ideas.

Nothingness.  Being does not emerge out of nothingness in a straightforward way.  We should beware of hypostatizing nothingness.  Being emerges by way of negation of that which is irrelevant in the construction of a perceived/conceived whole.  But Being can just as well be said to emerge from fullness, or rather from over-fullness.   It emerges from full engagement.  If one fully engages with one's craft then sometimes light shines forth:  Being emerges.  This is creative intuition.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Comparative Aesthetics, Syllabus for a World Aesthetics

I just finished teaching a class on the Philosophy of Art in which I tried to take a world perspective.   My typical previous way of teaching this class was to follow the history of Western aesthetics from Plato to Danto and feminist aesthetics with some side trips to Eastern traditions.   As a randomizing strategy to avoid ethnocentrism I organized the course in a roughly alphabetical way by culture.   We started with African aesthetics, then Aztec aesthetics, and so on.  In each case I tried to pair an account of traditional aesthetics within the culture with something more contemporary, as for example pairing Aztec Aesthetics with Chicano Aesthetics.  My key texts were encyclopedia articles on various traditions in The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics,  Calliope's Sisters by anthropologist Richard Anderson, Crispin Sartwell's Six Names of Beauty, and Kathleen Higgins' "Comparative Aesthetics." 

Traditionally, what I was doing is called “Comparative Aesthetics.” But what is Comparative Aesthetics?  How is it different from Aesthetics proper?  What is being compared exactly?   For countries where there is not a long written tradition, Comparative Aesthetics usually involves reading some anthropology-based or art-history-based work and comparing what we see with Western aesthetics.  For countries with long written traditions, like China, Japan and India, it is more a matter of close reading of very old texts on the arts in conjunction, of course, with analysis of actual art forms.

Before going on, I would like to distinguish what I was doing from Comparative Aesthetics.  I was doing something more like "Aesthetics from a World Perspective."  Comparative Aesthetics is part of that, but I think we need to experiment with treating Western aesthetics as just part of a much larger mix.  So I began the class with discussions of Comparative Aesthetics, and then moved on to specific Non-Western traditions, specifically African Aesthetics, and then more specifically with Yoruba Aesthetics. Yet, since comparison is inevitable, as is the issue of application of Western aesthetic theories to other cultures, I followed this up with a lecture on Clive Bell's aesthetic theory.   And to avoid an essentialist approach to the aesthetics of the West, I balanced this with material on John Dewey.   Looking back on the class I probably should have also had the students read a selection from Tolstoy or Collingwood to get something of the emotionalist or art as expression tradition in Western aesthetics.   Reading Hume's essay "On the Standard of Taste" was essential to any account of aesthetics.  I  also had them read Plato's Symposium, but that was partly in order to help them understand how Western works can sometimes be surprisingly close to Easter.  Although I assigned a selection from Kant's Critique of Judgment, there just was not enough time to do it justice.   Back to the course reading line-up, we spent a week on Chinese aesthetics, a week on Indian aesthetics, a week on Japanese aesthetics, and a day on Indigenous Aesthetics.  (See the schedule at the end.)

A lot can be learned from Comparative Aesthetics, and yet there is often something almost Euro-centric about it, despite the authors' best intentions to avoid ethnocentrism.  For what is being compared almost always seems to be something Western as against something Non-western.  Moreover, the almost inescapable reality is that aesthetic texts, especially on African and Pre-Columbian aesthetics, tend to start with or center on the evolution of Western perception of these non-Western art traditions, and of attempts by writers in formerly colonial countries to establish an independent aesthetic theory.  

A typical narrative of Comparative Aesthetics takes the following form: first, the art of X was treated as a collection of curiosities; then it was seen as art paradoxically created by people without any aesthetic sensitivity; then it was treated as art which has formal qualities strangely similar to those of Western masterpieces; then it was treated as art, but only when it is "authentic," which is to say, precolonial; then it was treated as art, but only properly so when seen in its actual historical and performance context (for example the tribal mask in the context of ritual practice); then it was treated as art best seen in terms of aesthetic concepts coming out of the culture in which it was produced.  This kind of narrative may be inescapable, but it does tend to look at things from the perspective of the West, although gradually pointing towards an evolution that will finally privilege the culture of origin itself.  For a theorist from the country in question, however, the narrative is often situated within the larger narrative of trying to achieve freedom from colonialism and neo-colonialism, which is connected with the quest for dignity and respect. 

One problem I have noticed in Comparative Aesthetics writings is that Western aesthetics is commonly seen in an essentialist way.  The idea proposed (falsely) is that the essential Western aesthetics is the formalism of Clive Bell and Roger Fry.  More broadly, the essentialist claim is often that Western aesthetics is wedded to the ideas of passive contemplation, disinterestedness, and connoisseurship.  This happened for a number of reasons that are perfectly understandable.  First, Comparative Aesthetics in the visual arts seems to go back to the moment when Picasso and friends started relating to African artifacts more as art than as curiosities.  The ur-moment was Picasso coming back to his studio with an African mask and incorporating it into his Demoiselles D'Avignon ) (1907).  Second, Formalism is associated with this moment.  Formalism seemed especially well-suited to appreciation not only of Post-Impressionist Art and the Abstract Art that followed in the Western Modern Art period, but also to understanding and appreciation of non-Western traditions.  An important moment in Formalism was Bell's famous book Art, written in 1914.  It is noteworthy that Art had as its frontispiece a non-Western work, a Chinese statue.  Bell's openness to other cultures, and also to objects often seen as craft objects, came as a radical change from the time of Hegel in which Non-western art was generally regarded as inferior. 

Yet Bell’s Formalism also was closely related to Rober Fry’s, and Fry later became notorious for his comments about how African sculptures could be masterpieces and yet come from a people who have no aesthetic sensitivity.  (How Fry could had said this and not tremble at his own self-contradiction is hard to see.) 

Looking specifically at African aesthetics we can see that the Western is not quite as monolithic as it is often made out to be.  First, even Bell’s theory had its good side:  it opened us up to the possibility of seeing African art positively while at the same time calling on us to ignore context.

I can see the temptation of identifying Bell with ethnocentrism, and colonialism as well as cultural appropriation.  One has the famous Primitivism show which seemed to show that Western curators were stuck with the formalist model.  But the problem here is in part one of a misreading of what Picasso was trying to do with Les Demoiselles.  

In his otherwise excellent Encyclopedia of Aesthetics essay “African Aesthetics” (2014) Barry Hallen raises some interesting questions when it comes to Picasso.  He usefully quotes Andre Malraux saying that Picasso did not see African sculptures as simply good sculptures but saw them as magical things, and then he quotes Rubin on Picasso.  But Rubin sees Picasso’s achievement in purely formalist terms, and therefore sees only an “elective affinity” and a form of cannibalizing.  

Halley then essentializes the Western by saying that it sees the African as “incapable of aesthetic sensitivity” which is surely not only for Fry and the typical colonialist and not even for all formalists.   Moreover, as much as Hallen has a problem with Western connoisseurs’ there is no reason, given the work of Robert Ferris Thompson, to not see connoisseurs in African contexts as well. 

Kathleen Higgins has written one of the nicest pieces on the topic "Comparative Aesthetics." In Jerrold Levinson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Oxford University Press (2005 Like other writers she tends to essentialize Western aesthetics, saying that for the West, "art is understood to be designed primarily for contemplation."  Surely this would not be seen as true for Plato or Aristotle, for example, nor for Dewey, as I already mentioned. Collingwood also would not have ascribed to this theory, even though he was in fact a proponent of the view that fine art was distinct from everyday craft. Higgins stresses that many other societies make art "for purposes other than engaging contemplation; they do not distinguish between fine arts and crafts, judge artworks for their performance of practical functions, and integrate art into everyday life."  (679)

For me, a central interest of Comparative Aesthetics is the stress it places on everyday life.  Indeed, it was Higgins textbook Perspectives on Aesthetics was one of the first works to direct me towards everyday aesthetics.  Yuriko Saito's seminar work Everyday Aesthetics  draws frequently on Comparative Aesthetics, particularly on Japanese Aesthetics, for which she also wrote one of the two entries in the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics.  

At the end of the class I asked students to imagine a book on World Aesthetics.  What would be the main problems covered?  What specific cultures would be studied and how would their study be arranged?  Unlike any of the other efforts I have seen I included a section on Rasquachismo, a significant aesthetic theory for Chicano culture.  Several of my students were of Hispanic heritage and found this tradition to be particularly useful in thinking about World Aesthetics.  

One aspect of approaching aesthetics from a world perspective is that the concept of Beauty takes more prominence than it does in other Philosophy of Art classes.  Partly this is due to my choice of Six Names of Beauty by Crispin Sartwell as a key textbook. Sartwell was an early proponent both of everyday aesthetics and of Comparative Aesthetics.  Beauty becomes more prominent just as fine art becomes less so, since beauty is an attribute that fine art, nature, and everyday aesthetics share in common.  

Syllabus on World Aesthetics:  [using this approach depends on having access to The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics online through our library.]

African Aesthetics: 
1.  “African Aesthetics”  Barry Hallen Encyclopedia of Aesthetics 
2.  Appiah, K.  “Is the Post in Postmodern the Post in Postcolonial?” 
Behind the Mask  Tribal Eye  1975  David Attenborough
See  The Wikipedia article for background information on “The Tribal Eye” TV series.

African Aesthetics continued   Yoruba Aesthetics
1.      “African Aesthetics,” Rowland Abiodun The Journal of Aesthetic Education” Vol. 35, No. 4 (Winter, 2001), pp. 15-23 2.
Richard L. Anderson  Calliope’s Sisters “Yoruba Aesthetics”
Supplement ”Abiodun Understanding Yoruba Art and Aesthetics  

Lecture on Clive Bell "Art" [needed to contextualize the European reception of African and other non-Western art traditions]

American Aesthetics: 
See also my own article on Dewey in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  

Aztec and other Pre-Columbian Aesthetics
1.  Leon-Portilla, Miguel. Aztec Thought and Culture.  [handout]
2.  Richard L. Anderson   “Aztec Aesthetics ”  Calliope’s Sisters 
3.  James Maffie  “Aztec Philosophy”  Encyclopedia of Philosophy
James Maffie    Aztec Philosophy [eBook] University Press of Colorado 2013  Available through Clark Library.
“Pre-Columbian Aesthetics”  Esther Pasztory in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics 

British Aesthetics and “Beauty”
David Hume    “On the Standard of Taste”
Roger Scruton   video on Beauty  “Why Beauty Matters”
Crispin Sartwell    Six Names of Beauty   Forward and Chapter 1 “Beauty” xi-25. 

Early Chinese Aesthetics:  
1.  Liu Hsieh.  Wen-hsin tiao-lung   Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons.  522 A.D. 
Read Introduction and pp. 1-8.
Another easy to print version is here: 

Optional:  Vincent Y. C. Shih “Classicism in in Liu Hsieh's "Wen-hsin tiao-lung"”  - E-Periodica  Asiatische Studien : Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Asiengesellschaft = Études asiatiques : revue de la Société Suisse - Asie Band (Jahr): 7 (1953)  I found this by doing this google search:*

Modern Chinese Aesthetics
1.  Li Zehou  The Path of Beauty  trans.  G. Lizeng, New York   Oxford U. Press, 1994.         Selection  from first chapter.
2.  Ban Wang  “Aesthetics in Contemporary China”  Encyclopedia of Aesthetics

Chicano Aesthetics
1,  Thomas Ybarra-Frausto “The Chicano Movement/The Movement of Chicano Art.”  handout
2. Maria Anderson “A lesson in “rasquachismo” art: Chicano aesthetics & the “sensibilities of the barrio” Art, History & Culture / 31 January 2017
3. Amalia Mesa-Bains "Domesticana": The Sensibility of Chicana Rascuache”
Mesa Bains and Ybarra-Fausto

Also see Roberto Bedoya, “Spatial Justice: Rasquachification, Race and the City” Creative Time Reports, September 15, 2014,

German Aesthetics, 18th century: 
1.  Kant  Critique of Judgment   Bernard translation    We will be readings selections of this.  You may also use one of the other translations if you wish:  the Meridith and Pluhar translations are both good.
Please read The Analytic of the Beautiful which goes from Paragraph 1 to 23.  Please print out these sections so that we can discuss in class.  If you do a "search on page" and go to "The judgment of taste is aesthetical,"  that is where you start.

Greek  Aesthetics 
1. Sartwell  Ch. 4  To Kalon   Greek idea, ideal

2.  Plato     Symposium  selection on Diotima’s theory of beauty. 
Search on the page for “Diotima” and read from “And now, taking my leave of you, I would rehearse a tale of love which I heard from Diotima of Mantineia,” to the point at which Socrates concludes his story of Diotima.

Hebrew Aesthetics,  
1. Sartwell Ch. 2  Yapha This material by Sartwell is partly on Hebrew Aesthetics but mainly about such things as the beauty of flowers and jewelry.

Indian Aesthetics  
1.  Sartwell, Ch. 3  Sundara  Sanscrit  Holiness
2.  David I Gitomer  “Indian Aesthetics: Overview.”  Encyclopedia of Aesthetics
Bharata Natyasastra  200-500 CE
Read some of the first chapter.
Rasa theory of Bharata: a lecture by an Indian philosopher with good powerpoint outlines.
Classical Indian Music  Ravi Shankar & Anoushka Shankar Live: Raag Khamaj (1997)

Bharata Natyasastra  a short video
Bharata Muni’s Natyashastra Navrasa by Shiva Chopra   a short video showing standardized facial expressions for drama

Indian Aesthetics continued

1.  “Rasa”  Alan Goldman in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics
2.  “Abinavagupta”  by V.K Chari:in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics 

Indigenous Aesthetics 
1.  “Indigenous Aesthetics”  Dylan A. T. Miner  Encyclopedia of Aesthetics.

Islamic Aesthetics
1.  "Islamic Aesthetics,"  Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Oleg Grabar, Fadlou Shehadi, Priscilla Soucek, Esra Akcan, and Jonathan M. Bloom

Japanese Aesthetics
1. Sartwell  Ch. 5  “Wabi Sabi”
2.  Saito, Yuriko  “Japanese Aesthetics,”  The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics
Latin American Aesthetics”   Encyclopedia of Aesthetics 

Navajo Aesthetics
1. Sartwell Ch. 6   Hozho
3.  Kathy M’Closkey “Towards an Understanding of Navajo Aesthetics”
4.  Berlo, Janet Catherine. 2014. "Navajo Sandpainting in the Age of Cross-Cultural Replication." Art History 37, no. 4: 688-707.

Anderson’s conclusions about aesthetics and his definition of art based on his study of Comparative Aesthetics:
Anderson  Calliope’s Sisters   Chapters 12-13

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Why Goodman’s exemplification theory of art is not enough, and neither is Danto’s artworld theory, why they need to be combined and also enhanced by the Confucian concept of li. And by the way, you will also find my current definition of art here.

This may seem really antique to some.  But I still teach this stuff from the 60s and the 70s.  And I do think that Danto’s and Goodman’s theories from this period can provide a jumping off point for theoretical advance.   I will promote here something like Goodman’s exemplification and Danto’s is of artistic identification, but in both cases, I believe there needs to be an enhancement.  The basic question to ask is “why should anyone care whether something has the is of artistic identification and why should anyone care that something exemplifies in an artistic way?”  Why should we seek to see something through the atmosphere of artistic theory?  What is the point of seeing a Franz Klein expressionist work in such a way that we can place it in Danto’s style matrix, for example?  And, in response to Goodman, why should we care to focus on properties of line, color, texture, size, etc. of an intransparent work of art made out of a common rock displayed in a museum?   It could be said in both cases that this is your big chance to notice these properties.  But we could notice them outside the museum and in completely non-art contexts (at least the properties Goodman is stressing, maybe not the ones Danto stresses).  Maybe what is happening is that the properties have become subjects of entertainment once the object entered the museum.  There is something strangely Plato-like in Goodman’s theory.  Sure, he rejects Platonism strictly speaking, but, like Plato, the focus is on words, or rather concepts, and so when we see an red abstract painting, on his view, we are aware of the ways in which the redness of red is exemplified, which means that there is indirect reference to all other things that are red.  But classifying things under the term “red” is not really of any interest unless you are some sort of obsessive collector of red thing.
Here is my suggested solution to the problem, one that Goodman would not be happy with, but Danto might be.   The idea is inspired by Crispin Sartwell’s book Six Names of Beauty.  Sartwell, in his last chapter reminds us of the way in which the philosophy of Confucius evolved through Chu Hsi and Wang-Yang-Ming to stress the importance of li, which, when found in the Analects, is generally translated as “ritual.” (143-146) Later in Chinese philosophy it is taken to mean the essence of things, not simply their Platonic essence but the way in which they partake in the community and the cosmos.  Then, with Wang Yang-Ming, a pragmatist tendency intervenes so that “li” comes to depend on the interaction of the live creature, as Dewey would put it, with the environment.   Want Yang Ming also introduces a love element to this theory, which both Sartwell and I like largely because we are both enamored by Plato’s theory of beauty and love in the Symposium. 
So let’s hypothesize, in a comparative philosophy way, that the reason why we care about arthood in Danto’s sense or in Goodman’s sense, or, better, in a combination of Goodman and Danto (since Goodman covers the cognitive dimension of our bodily encounter with exemplification, and Danto covers the cultural/historical aspect, each complementing the other, Goodman covering the way in which art involves certain ways the world is and Danto ways in which art and artworld interact) is that what emerges is “li” or, if we want to put it this way, the ritual-emergent essence, ritual being the way in which a complex whole is imbued with meaning that has reference to individual, community and cosmos, all together.   Art ultimately gets as essences in the way ritual does.  Art is our contemporary way of doing ritual (or maybe just one contemporary way). 
We who love art care about art because of something that normal people with normal vision cannot see.  Something emerges because of atmosphere, but not just the atmosphere of the artworld, or simply because there are a lot of predicates missing from the style matrix (and we are somehow aware of all of these missing things, e.g. the non-imitation and non-expression of purist art) on Danto’s account. 
Something emerges, something is there which is exhibited only to those who know how to see, and what is exhibited is the li.   Now the li is socially-historically constructed:  I am not using this term to indicate anything that science can discover or describe.  Li is complex multi-layered aura of significance; an aura of possibility, but also an actual aura as-experienced.  This aura is emergent upon relations with self, community, culture, world and universe.  (Again, we are not positing the relation to the actual universe but rather to the universe as a concept, as something experienced, as something that is part of our consciousness, as even what Kant would call an a priori concept.) 
What Danto misses is that blob of paint we see as Icarus in the Bruegel painting is not just something imagined as Icarus but rather something with heightened significance based on its relations with every other aspect of the painting: and it is also perceived as a window, in a way, to the culture at large, to our own inner selves and also to our world as much as to the world of 16th century Flanders.  It is not the atmosphere of theory or even art history so much as all of that plus all of the other appropriate atmospheres, the atmosphere of European history for example, and more.  See it through the atmosphere of what it is to be human, and of course the atmosphere of the theory of what it is to be human, as it evolves in our culture, too. 
And, speaking of Goodman, it is not that we need to simply notice all of the syntactic and semantic density of the work as symbol plus its repleteness, exemplification and complexity.  Take the print by Hokusai as his reference.  Rather there musts be something much more, something which would include not only what the Dantoian aesthete would see, but also a recognition that the curved line in the Hokusai would not have any meaning at all without its organic relations to the entire painting, and then pushing beyond that to the various organic relations that can emerge in study or contemplation between this work, self, world, etc.  It is only when the Hokusai line emerges with the aura of li that we get it, i.e. that we appreciate the painting is the best and fullest way.  Otherwise, the difference between perceiving a Hokusai and perceiving a cure in a stock market chart (when it goes up it is good for us financially) is just a matter of degree.  I think that Goodman was moving in this direction when he included a sixth symptom of the aesthetic. 
Sartwell’s thought that in loving beauty we love the entire world can be translated into the notion that the beauty of a Hokusai connects to the world not simply in terms of multiple reference (Goodman in the end is just too mechanical:  multiple reference just means more labels applied, whether metaphorically or not…and the issue is not one of application of labels). 

Something is art if it has Danto’s “is” of artistic identification, exhibits some of Goodman’s symptoms, and expresses “li.”  (This may be the first time I have ever attempted a definition of art!)