Is Art Necessarily Designed To Be Beautiful?

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Is Art Necessarily Designed To Be Beautiful?
invizzy
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Posted Jan 30, 2013 - 7:24 AM:
Subject: Is Art Necessarily Designed To Be Beautiful?

Although beauty is part of many people’s understanding of art, a common objection to its use in a definition is that there are beautiful things in the world beside art. This rules it out as sufficient for a functionalist condition.

One possible tactic in using beauty in a definition is by defining art as something ‘designed to be beautiful’. Just as being able to cut does not make something a knife, it can be argued that something is a knife by being designed to cut (perhaps in a certain way e.g., holding by handle, slicing). Could the same principle hold for art? Namely art as designed for beauty.

One main objection to this idea is that beautiful objects are seemingly designed to be beautiful. While it may be true that things like luxury cars are often designed to be beautiful in the ‘men in white coats planning to make nice cars’ sense of the word, in essential terms it can be argued that this type of beauty is only accidental. This does not mean that beauty is not part of car design in the broad sense, or accidental in the sense of ‘by chance’. Rather it means that cars by their nature are not essentially beautiful. A car can never be so ugly as to not qualify as a car, as nothing about cars are necessarily beautiful. Cars perhaps have other essential qualities, to be designed to move for instance, and if they were not may not qualify as a car. It seems unlikely, however, that aesthetics is a determining feature of ‘carness’.

Using 'design of beauty’ to define art, perhaps broadly so as to encompass the pleasure felt by viewing Bacon, Hirst and Duchamp, seems to retain much of the folk understanding of art and way we judge it (ie. that some art is better designed to bring pleasure to an audience than others).

What do you think? Is design the key to the concept of beauty in art?

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Posted Jan 30, 2013 - 7:34 AM:

I don't personally understand the fascination people have with the definition of art.

Let's say, hypothetically speaking, that someone came up with a clear, precise definition of what exactly were the necessary and sufficient qualities of art, and everyone in the world agreed on it.
Then, we can look at a given object, and because the definition of art is clear and precise, we can say, "Yes, this is art, it matches the definition" or "No, this certainly is not art, it is missing this condition for qualifying as art."

That's great and all, but...like, so what? That's pretty much the end result of agreeing on a definition -- we all agree, and then we can easily distinguish art from non-art. That's the maximum significance the conversation about the definition of art can have. And, imo, that seems pretty insignficant.
invizzy
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Posted Jan 30, 2013 - 7:43 AM:

A lot of money and time is spent on art, wouldn't it be handy to know when something qualifies? There are a lot of funding bodies that would like to know I'm sure! This seems like a ridiculous thing to say!

There are galleries that are attempting to display video games, should they continue to do so? Knowing what art is will tell us when something is good art, arguably even more important.

When is exactly kniowledge a bad idea?
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Posted Jan 30, 2013 - 8:59 AM:

GilesField wrote:
A lot of money and time is spent on art, wouldn't it be handy to know when something qualifies? There are a lot of funding bodies that would like to know I'm sure! This seems like a ridiculous thing to say!

There are galleries that are attempting to display video games, should they continue to do so? Knowing what art is will tell us when something is good art, arguably even more important.

When is exactly kniowledge a bad idea?

I thought this was answered pretty well by mric and by myself.

You ask if knowledge is ever a bad idea. But people already know how to judge art, without needing a definition. Something "qualifies" when it comes to function as art owing to the way it is treated in society, i.e., being bought, being displayed in a gallery, etc. And this happens despite the lack of a universally adhered to definition.

As for beauty, it is no longer the case that all or even many artworks are made to be beautiful. Talk to artists, and they will tell you that they do not want to make beautiful objects. Talk to people who like contemporary art and they will often tell you they are interested in things that are "though-provoking", "weird", or culturally pertinent in some way. Beauty doesn't always matter.

Here is some beautiful shit for you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artist's_shit

Do you just say it's not art?
invizzy
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Posted Jan 30, 2013 - 9:30 AM:

I just think your idea of 'beauty' is too narrow. Personally, I think Santayana's idea of 'pleasure objectified' is pretty close to the mark and that enables art to come in all shapes and sizes. Art is designed to please, perhaps by being revolutionary, new or shocking but pleasing nonetheless.

You can't design art by trying to design it for no-one to like, that just doesn't make sense. Art is for pleasing (I still think beauty is the appropriate term). The more pleasing, the better. This will cover 'thought-provoking', 'weird' and culturally pertinant.

Pleasing can be very broad, there are many ways to please. Tragedy and shock art still please (largely because they are known not to be 'real'). This is why the free market is a useful way to judge art, demand meaning that masterpieces are worth more than bad art.

Can you think of any great art that doesn't please?
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Posted Jan 30, 2013 - 9:39 AM:

GilesField wrote:
A lot of money and time is spent on art, wouldn't it be handy to know when something qualifies? There are a lot of funding bodies that would like to know I'm sure! This seems like a ridiculous thing to say!

There are galleries that are attempting to display video games, should they continue to do so? Knowing what art is will tell us when something is good art, arguably even more important.

When is exactly kniowledge a bad idea?


Definitions should not be confused with knowledge, so...I'm not saying knowledge is a bad idea. That's not the point at all.

Definitions are semi-arbitrary -- one common way of looking at it is, I have an idea, and I can describe that idea in a relatively large number of words. Instead of continuing to use that same large number of words every time I bring up the idea, what I can do is define a new word as that description I previously made. So, if I have this concept that I describe as "The expression of human creativity and imagination," instead of using that big long chunky phrase every time I want to talk about it, I can just define 'art' as 'The expression of human creativity and imagination', and now I have made it a lot easier to talk about the concept, not having to use a ridiculous amount of words every time I bring it up.

But, my defining the word that way isn't 'Knowledge'. It doesn't tell me anything new about the world that I didn't know before. It's just a word, and a definition. Not a fact about the world.

Now, let's say someone spends a lot of money on Piece A, we'll call it. They spend this money on Piece A in the year 2012, and in the year 2012, the definition of 'art' is such that Piece A qualifies.

Now, it's 2013 and the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary have decided to update the definition of art. With this new definition, Piece A no longer qualifies.

Who cares? Does the person who bought the piece care that it doesn't qualify? Presumably he didn't buy the piece merely because it qualifies according to the definitiong given in the Oxford English Dictionary. Presumably he bought it either because he enjoys it for some reason, or he thought it would raise in value. I don't know about you, but a changing definition of a word isn't going to change how I enjoy something. If a watermelon today fits the definition of Fruit, but tomorrow definitions change and it's then called a Vegetable, that doens't change my enjoyment of it.

Now, arguably, if the definition changes then maybe that will affect the future value of Piece A, but on philosophy forums, when people are talking about art, they're not talking about it from the point of view of an investor, so that's not really a relevant point anyway.

So, if you liked a piece, and this year it qualifies as 'art' but next year it doesn't, would you stop liking it? Are your tastes based on the definitions of words, or on something else?

Edited by Flannel Jesus on Jan 30, 2013 - 9:47 AM
invizzy
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Posted Jan 30, 2013 - 10:14 AM:

Flannel Jesus wrote:


Definitions should not be confused with knowledge, so...I'm not saying knowledge is a bad idea. That's not the point at all.

Definitions are semi-arbitrary -- one common way of looking at it is, I have an idea, and I can describe that idea in a relatively large number of words. Instead of continuing to use that same large number of words every time I bring up the idea, what I can do is define a new word as that description I previously made. So, if I have this concept that I describe as "The expression of human creativity and imagination," instead of using that big long chunky phrase every time I want to talk about it, I can just define 'art' as 'The expression of human creativity and imagination', and now I have made it a lot easier to talk about the concept, not having to use a ridiculous amount of words every time I bring it up.

But, my defining the word that way isn't 'Knowledge'. It doesn't tell me anything new about the world that I didn't know before. It's just a word, and a definition. Not a fact about the world.

Now, let's say someone spends a lot of money on Piece A, we'll call it. They spend this money on Piece A in the year 2012, and in the year 2012, the definition of 'art' is such that Piece A qualifies.

Now, it's 2013 and the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary have decided to update the definition of art. With this new definition, Piece A no longer qualifies.

Who cares? Does the person who bought the piece care that it doesn't qualify? If he has anything more than a peanut brain, he wouldn't. Presumably he didn't buy the piece merely because it qualifies according to the definitiong given in the Oxford English Dictionary. Presumably he bought it either because he enjoys it for some reason, or he thought it would raise in value. I don't know about you, but a changing definition of a word isn't going to change how I enjoy something. If a watermelon today fits the definition of Fruit, but tomorrow definitions change and it's then called a Vegetable, that doens't change my enjoyment of it.

Now, arguably, if the definition changes then maybe that will affect the future value of Piece A, but on philosophy forums, when people are talking about art, they're not talking about it from the point of view of an investor, so that's not really a relevant point anyway.

So, if you liked a piece, and this year it qualifies as 'art' but next year it doesn't, would you stop liking it? Are your tastes based on the definitions of words, or on something else?


I think you're getting confused between a dictionary definition and a more philosophical definition which states necessary and sufficient conditions. Words are perhaps not as arbitary as you might think, we all use words but we also mean something by those words. You can't simply define 'art' as '"the expression of human creativity and imagination" because that would confuse other speakers. We learn words by the way they are used, not by memorising definitions.

In this way the Oxford are not going to tell you how you should use the word, but how you already use it. Like it or not there are grey areas of art, Duchamp and Hirst exploit that, video games struggle over that. If you are funding art, then we may ask why or which art should we fund as well as the best examples of art? A definition of art will help with all of this this.

Knowing a Watermelon is a fruit may not change its taste but it may tell you how it is grown, when something is a Watermelon, how often you should eat it and whether the Vegetable Growers Association should bother wasting their time with it.
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Posted Jan 30, 2013 - 10:49 AM:

GilesField wrote:
I just think your idea of 'beauty' is too narrow. Personally, I think Santayana's idea of 'pleasure objectified' is pretty close to the mark and that enables art to come in all shapes and sizes. Art is designed to please, perhaps by being revolutionary, new or shocking but pleasing nonetheless.

You can't design art by trying to design it for no-one to like, that just doesn't make sense. Art is for pleasing (I still think beauty is the appropriate term). The more pleasing, the better. This will cover 'thought-provoking', 'weird' and culturally pertinant.

Pleasing can be very broad, there are many ways to please. Tragedy and shock art still please (largely because they are known not to be 'real'). This is why the free market is a useful way to judge art, demand meaning that masterpieces are worth more than bad art.

Can you think of any great art that doesn't please?

Here is Santayana defining beauty:

"We have now reached our definition of beauty, which, in the terms of our successive analysis and narrowing of the conception, is value positive, intrinsic, and objectified. Or, in less technical language, Beauty is pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing. ... Beauty is a value, that is, it is not a perception of a matter of fact or of a relation: it is an emotion, an affection of our volitional and appreciative nature. An object cannot be beautiful if it can give pleasure to nobody: a beauty to which all men were forever indifferent is a contradiction in terms. ... Beauty is therefore a positive value that is intrinsic; it is a pleasure."

Beauty, then, is a kind of pleasure, regarded as belonging to objects. Thus, even though beauty is an "emotion", we attribute it to people, mountains, flowers and paintings. Of all these beautiful things, only those which are made by people, such as paintings, are regarded as art. But if you want to use this as a definition of art, you have to say that all art is made to be beautiful.

I argued that this was not true, and you responded that my idea of beauty was too narrow. But notice that Santayana did not say that any pleasure at all is beauty. Only a specific kind of pleasure, and one that is also attributed to the object, counts as beauty.

But what about your alternative formulation, namely anything designed to please? I am not going to offer counterexamples again, because I know from the other thread that you won't accept them (for reasons I cannot fathom). Instead, I'm going to challenge the idea that all artworks are made to please. Why did Van Gogh persist in creating paintings that nobody wanted? Maybe because what was essential to what he was doing was not that he was producing pleasing or potentially pleasing objects, but that he was producing paintings that looked like this and not like that (with, of course, the hope that someone would find them pleasing).

And as I say, it is simply not plausible that artists produce their work to evoke pleasure, unless you gather all possible reactions to artworks--shock, disgust, disorientation, uneasiness, disturbing revelation, horror--under the umbrella term of "pleasure", in which case you are (1) presupposing a knowledge of what art is, because art today has different effects on people than it did a few hundred years ago, and (2) offering a pretty weak definition, one that I don't think does justice to the practice of art, probably because "pleasure" in your definition has become almost meaningless. Can you give an example of how your definition might be used? Is there a practical situation you can think of? And just in philosophy or anthropology, how does your definition promise a fuller appreciation of what people are doing when they create art?

And let me ask: did Manzoni intend to make a pleasing artwork when he went about putting his shit in cans? What about Warhol's Brillo boxes?

Me, I don't have my own strict definition and doubt if there could be one of much use. Having said that, I think of art as creativity abstracted, as what happens when we take the ways we have of making things, as applied in specific useful endeavours, and develop and apply them for their own sake. Art is creativity as such.

Edited by jamalrob on Jan 30, 2013 - 12:01 PM. Reason: evoke/invoke
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Posted Jan 30, 2013 - 11:00 AM:

GilesField wrote:
If you are funding art, then we may ask why or which art should we fund as well as the best examples of art? A definition of art will help with all of this this.


Why? Surely if something deserves funding, again, it deserves it regardless of the usage of some word. Art is just a word. Like you said, it's just based on how people use it.

The saying goes, 'A rose by any other name is just as sweet.'
Art by any other name is just as <<whatever qualities you currently think art has>>.
Why does the name matter?
When I cease calling Piece A art, nothing about Piece A changes.
When I start calling Piece B art, nothing about Piece B changes.

It's just a word.

Things don't deserve funding because they're called art.
If Piece A deserved funding while being called art, why would it not deserve funding after people stop calling it art?
If Piece B didn't deserve funding when it wasn't called art, why would it deserve funding after people start calling it art?/
Nothing about either piece changed, other than the words people used to categorize them.
I don't see why any relevant judgements about those pieces should change either.
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Posted Jan 30, 2013 - 5:51 PM:

The public funding of art should have ended last century, with the one exception being the incidental funding of art through making internet access more available. I agree that art can't be defined, but if I were to try it would be based on the intention of the artist. It seems it would be art of it were made from the need to create or be heard, it wouldn't be art if it were made for any other reason. One can only guess at an artist's intentions, but perhaps an educated guess isn't that hard to make.

With the internet art is everywhere, why should we look at the art of any artist other than those who would be willing to have a two way communication with us? Then there's always hope for the artist aspiring to greatness, some works of art will just last, for whatever reason.

I like to look at art from the early 1900s and earlier in a museum, but it's unpleasant to look at modern art unless it's on the internet or a casual showcase. I mean the world is full of people who won't give you the time of day, should we give them our time nonetheless?

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