American Art and Culture
American Art and Culture ART 100
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NOTIC E Warning Concerning Copyright Restrictions The copyright law of the United States Title 17 United States Code governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material Under certain conditions specified in the law libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other than private study scholarship or research If a user makes a request for or later uses a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of fair usequot that user may be liable for copyright infringement This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if in its judgement fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law SCAN NED COPY IS BEST COPY AVAILABLE Aesthetic Theories and Philosophical Questions When we begin to think about artits origins meaning significance and role in societywe raise questions that have been asked for centuries and across cultures Because the world human interests and art change over time the nature of these questions has varied in subtle ways as have the responses Even so an instructive exercise is to note how our own beliefs and those of our students correspond to the theories put forward throughout history This chapter first provides an overview of theoretical perspectives about art and our experiences with it Some useful distinctions are then made for teachers identifying philosophical questions and helping their students also to recognize them Aesthetic Theories To engage students in philosophical inquiry about art teachers need not be familiar with all facets of aesthetic theories Indeed teachers who have no knowledge of the history of aesthetics may involve their students in philosophical inquiry However encouraging students to see that their Views are not necessarily unique and that others who have held similar beliefs have written them down to be studied and reflected on is useful instruction This also aids students in understanding their connections to others they come to know that they are part of an ongoing dialogue among people over time who have thought about art and their responses to it Teachers who are familiar with various aesthetic perspectives can better plan for philosophical inquiry within the curriculum Dialogues will be richer to the extent that teachers are able to see student comments in light of those offered by others As they explore themes topics and questions for philosophical focus teachers can draw on their increased understanding of the com plexities involved the related issues and questions and the various positions that have been taken with respect to them in order to design units lessons and activities What Is a Theory A theory is an attempt to explain a certain set of phenomena or a single phenomenon The physicist who explains why a ball will bounce when thrown against a hard surface why the distance it bounces will depend in part on the hardness or softness of the surface and why some balls bounce farther than others when thrown against hard or soft surfaces is providing a theory Like scientific theories aesthetic theories are also attempts to explain phenomena in particular the human experiences the range of objects and the varied events associated with beauty and art Often in attempts to address philosophical ques tions about art explanations are based on broader philosophical views about the world and our place in it Theories of art sometimes can be seen as part of broader theoretical frameworks Plato for example proposed a theory of art that was part of a larger philosophical view that included theories of reality truth knowledge human nature and society Other philosophical positions about art can similarly be placed within larger frameworks This is also true with those of us who are not philosophers as sud39i We can often identify beliefs about art that are con sistent with beliefs about other important issues in the world A Word about Categories An artwork is relational it always exists in relation to other things people or events Someone makes the artwork so the artwork always stands in some kind of relationship with the artmaker An artwork is made in a certain time and place when certain ideas are prominent within the culture An artwork is also responded to in a certain time and place within cer tain ideological contexts Interestingly the context in which an artwork is made is not always the context in which it is experienced Responders vary Individuals and groups change as do the circum stances under which these individuals or groups respond to art When we offer explanations about art and its significance we do so with assumptions about artworks in relation to makers perceivers and the contexts in Which artworks are made and or per ceived One way in which aesthetic theories differ from one another is in the degree of emphasis placed upon these relationships Chapter 2 Aesthetic theories can be comprehensive or limited The focus of an aesthetic theory might be limited to the notion of the creative process in considering the relationship between the maker and art object for example A more comprehensive aesthetic theory might begin with the relationship between the maker and the art object but include implications for the other relationships based upon this view When teachers are familiar with different theo retical positions they may wish to draw on them for use as starting points for discussions or as models for the development of points of view The categories of aesthetic theories outlined below are easily grasped and students can be encouraged to consider how and in what ways their own beliefs correspond to them As with most category systems a particular belief may fall into more than one category or cate gories may overlap Being familiar with types of theories is not so that we might pigeonhole a state ment or belief Rather the knowledge helps students and teachers generally organize their own thoughts about art and what others have said or written Theories and Our Responses to Artworks Most people have beliefs associated with making and responding to art When making judgments or offering interpretations about works of art people tend to rely on their own set of beliefs about art These beliefs often suggest one or more traditional theories of art Elvis on Velvet Blackvelvet paintings often depict such subjects as cowboys clowns leopards tigers and praying hands and are rarely displayed in art galleries or museums One of the most common subjects is Elvis Presley Student responses to one Elvis painting on Aesthetic Theories and Philosophical Questions 21 Anonymous Elvis Presley undated Puint velvet 28 x 39 77 x 99 an Courtesy lennifer Heath Photo Caroline Hinkley Some Facts about Velvet Paintings In the midnineteenth century in England wealthy young women were expected to be accomplished in the art of painting on velvet which was considered part of a cultured hobby In the 1930s Mexicanbased compa nies began massproducing black velvet paintings One Mexican rm currently employs a small staff of painters Each painter makes about ten paintings a day the firm turns out about 3000 paintings a week The subjects of blackvelvet paintings depend on what is popular A painting might depict unicorns Clint Eastwood Michael Jackson or some other star of the moment Many velvet paintings are appropriat ed from famous paintings such as Mona Lisa or The Last Supper Some contemporary artists work in black velvet Julian Schnabel Peter Alexander Eleanor Dickinson and Paul Mavrides 20 velvet show the way in which theoretical perspec tives can in uence responses to artworks2 Each response suggests a different theory Formalist Theory That painting of Elvis on velvet is a good painting because it is composed well It has balance and the color choices help to lead the eye around the en tire wor The student who offered this positive judgment of the Elvis painting used standards that have to do with the formal arrangement of the parts of the painting She might have mentioned other formal qualities such as texture line space and form Formalism the theory that holds that artworks have the capacity to elicit a significant response if they are arranged appropriately has dominated Western thinking about art during the twentieth century If asked to say more about why balance and good com position are important the formalist might well say It just works which means for many that the arrangement has the capacity to elicit a significant response Clive Bell and Roger Fry major proponents of the Formalist theory talked about this elusive arrangement as significant form The Formalist theory of art has its roots with those who have talked about a particular kind of experience that we can have when considering beauty or artworks that embody beauty This aesthetic experience is thought to be best when the artwork that triggers it is well organized According to this View the elements of art and the aesthetic experi ences prompted by art are thought to be universal extending beyond cultural or historical contexts Thus for those who first put forward Formalist ideas aesthetic experience need not be limited to those educated in art history or familiar with the origins of Chapter 2 and nuances in art produced in unfamiliar cultures and places Given this view of the universality of good form in art Formalism was thought by its first proponents to be more democratic than other theo ries of art Theorists in the last few decades however have been increasingly critical of Formalism and its attendant views of the world because it guided the creation of art valued for its form alone As works of art became increasingly about themselves and not about things of importance to the general public people became alienated from and distrustful of art According to Formalist thought each kind of artsuch as painting music and poetryhas certain elements arranged according to principles For an artwork to be well organized these elements must be arranged in accordance with the principles associ ated with the particular art form Thus Formalist assumptions can guide the perception understand ing and appreciation of all kinds of art not just visual art For the Formalist things such as subject matter moods or feelings social issues and artists inten tions are external to the artwork and do not have aesthetic significance They are incidental at best and possibly harmful in that too much attention to them will work against having an aesthetic experience While other kinds of aesthetic theories do not rule out the significance of formal arrangement of the parts of the work they focus on other aspects of art or relationships associated with art Expressionist Theories llThat painting ofElvis on velvet is a good painting because of the feelings it expresses One cannot avoid noticing the look of sadness in the singer39s eyes and see how this sadness is coupled with pride All parts of the paintingthe colors the brashstrokes the way the singer is positionedadd to the overall mood of the work quot Aesthetic Theories and Philosophical Questions TArt toiart s sa ke awhilemp the well fede w V I CaoYu39Chinese39fdrainatist1980 Art is the objectification of feeling Suzanne Langer American educator and philosopher 1967 Art is a form of cathaisisquot Dorothy Parker Ameiican Wiiter An artist can evoke emotions even if he distorts the natural order of things what we call 39reality Isaac Bashevis Singer AmeIican Wiiter This student has judged the painting of Elvis as a good painting on the basis of its capacity to express moods or feelings Philosophers who have presented Expressionist theories of art have focused on and explored the potential of artworks to express feel ings Some Expressionist theorists have talked about the capacity of artworks to evoke certain feelings Tolstoy thought that a feeling that is felt by the artist is communicated through the art suggesting that the perceiver in experiencing the work of art is moved to feeling a certain way presumably the same way the artist felt Expressionist theories are compelling because most of us acknowledge that feelings or emotions are powerfully tied to artworks and our experiences with u them Students are quick to note sa or happy pictures for example and to talk about artworks in such ways with little difficulty These theories are philosophically interesting however because it is hard to explain how it is that something physicalan objectcan express or elicit something so subjective or private as an emotion As students become more experienced in thinking philosophically they too will wonder how a picture can be sad or happy since we usually talk about only people being sad or happy They might even wonder if a happy artist can pro duce a sad picture and if so how this works While the Formalist pays little attention to subject matter or feelings expressed in art those who sub stribe to Expressionist theories often will attribute the expressive character of an artwork to the formal elementssuch as color line texture and use of spacewhich with subject matter help create the feelings expressed or evoked by the artwork Within this perspective the formal elements are significant but only insofar as they are involved in expressing or evoking feelings Chapter 2 Contextualist Theories In attempting to offer explanations about artworks and our experiences with them some theoreticians have focused on the social political and histori cal contexts in which artworks are made and encountered Contextualist theories can be organized into three general types lnstrumentalist theories lnstitutionalist theories and Linguistic theories lnstrumentalist Theories The painting of Elvis on velvet is signi cant because it helps to keep alive the memory of someone who was so important in the history ofmusic This student values the Elvis painting because of what it does The focus is not on the way the ele ments of the painting are organized nor is it on the mood or feelings expressed or evoked Instead the artwork is valued for the role it plays in our social history This view falls within the category of instrumentalist theories Sometimes referred to as Functionalist these theories hold that art is and or should be primarily functional it does or should do something significant Some lnstrumentalist theories of art are tied to broader ideological views Marxism for example is a general explanation of reality knowledge human nature and value that has impli cations for the way we understand make and respond to art Professing that artworks embody the interests and values of the dominant class of a cul ture Marxistinfluenced discussions seek to expose ways in which artworks subtly reflect dominant cul tural views These discussions often explore the ways in which dominant views are embedded in the art produced by a culture and function to maintain inequitable social relations in light of sud 1 areas as economic class race and gender Marxistinfluenced Aesthetic Theories and Philosophical Questions positions recognize that art can be intentionally pro duced to change social conditions and d1allenge dominant views Art can be used not only to high light problems or inequities in society but also to provide a way of thinking and behaving that will eliminate the problems or inequities and ultimately change the world for the better Feminist world views also have implications for what constitutes good art Here agairL the focus is on arts function in society and how it promotes the dominant Views of gender differences and relation ships From a feminist perspective art can be used to highlight genderrelated inequities and to provide the Viewer with an alternative way of understand ing the worlda way devoid of discrimination based on gender Not all lnstrumentalist theories are tied to ideo logical positions sud 1 as Marxism or feminism Generally an lnstrumentalist view is one that sees the message of an artwork as its most significant aspect and the value of att as its capacity to change the way people think believe or behave An instrumentalist view is also assumed in making judg ments according to the way a particular artwork practically functions An lnstrumentalist would argue for instance that a chair is good because it is comfortable or can hold an appropriate amount of weight By contrast a Formalist might value the chair because it exemplifies an attractive color sd ieme and an Expressionist might say that the hair is valuable or significant because it conveys a feeling of warmth The student who commented that the signifi cance of the Elvis painting is to keep Elvis memory alive has also referred to the way an artwork func tions However the significance is placed in the broader context of social history rather than its com fort and use in the here and now lnstrumentalist To say that a work of art is good but incomprehensible to the majority of men is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can39t eat it Leo Tolstoy Russian novelist and philosopher 1898 Progressive art can assist 39people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives Ultimately it can propel people toward social emancipation Angela Davis American political activist 1984 In a decaying society art if it is truth ful must also re ect decay And unless it wants to break faith with its social function art must show the world as changeable And help to change it Emst Fischer Austrian editor poet and critic 1959 theories encompass sud r differences about how and why an artwork has a particular function or use This view falls within the broad category of Contextualist theories because it focuses on the work of art in relation to the social political and historical context in whid39r it is made perceived and used lnstitutionalist Theories Focusing upon the social context in which art works are treated perceived and used some philosophers have proposed that art can be defined by the way in which objects or events are treated in society Here the focus is not upon the characteristics of the object or event itself nor is it on an artwork s expressive potential Rather attention is paid to the social practices accompanying it The philosopher Arthur Danto coined the word artworld to sug gest the community in which members are involved with treating curating collecting selling studying and writing about artworks Another philosopher George Dickie claimed that something is a work of art when artworld members put forward certain objects to be perceived interpreted and judged as works of art Other philosophers have questioned and refined certain aspects of the theory since it was first proposed lnstitutionalist theories hold that appreciation and interpretation of objects deemed art by members of the artworld is different from appreciation and interpretation of objects that have not been designated as art When we encounter objects in artworld contexts sud r as museums and galleries we treat them differently from how we might treat them in ordinary contexts lnstitutionalist theories do not provide standards for judging the significance of artworks rather they attempt to explain how it is that certain objects or events come to be called art Chapter 2 Linguistic Theories Some theoreticians consider art a special kind of lan guage We learn to speak and understand ordinary language through social interaction Languages con sist of systems of symbols that are learned along with rules for their use When we know the lan guage or symbol system we can understand what is being said Artworks according to linguistic theories can be understood to the extent that one is familiar with the appropriate language or symbol system Just as there are language communities in Which sentences are read or understood by members of a community there are aesthetic language communi ties in which aesthetic objects can be read When we consider artworks as embodying symbol systems we can better understand why we have difficulty reading or understanding aesthetic objects created in cultures other than our own EH Gombrid i and Nelson Goodman are two important thinkers who have considered the complex relationship between art and language Although their explanations differ they and others who have explored this relationship nonetheless assume that the ability to understand the meanings of artworks is inextricably linked to social context Another perspective on art and language use is what has been called the open concept perspec tive Attending to the way in which the term art is used within our language community the philoso pher Morris Weitz maintained in the 1950s that it is impossible to define the term Because we ordinarily use the term art to designate objects or events that have widely different characteristics we cannot offer a final list of conditions that must be present in order to appropriately use the term Considering that what is presented and accepted as art is consis tently changing Weitz suggested that the term art is what he called an open concept He proposed Aesthetic Theories and Philosophical Questions that theories of art while inadequate as definitions can provide useful perspectives from which to con sider and appreciate artworks we encounter Weitz and others who have explored his view have not offered a theory of art in the traditional sense The open concept view is presented here because it draws upon our understanding of art in its social con text specifically in the context of language use Fur thermore Weitzs position that art cannot be defined served as an important departure point for the views of many later philosophers in this century including those of Dickie and Dante mentioned above Theories that link art to language do not provide standards for judging the merits of artworks The focus again is upon understanding how it is that we can express and interpret meaning in art Imitation Theories This painting of Elvis is great It s hard to believe that it s a painting because it looks just like him almost as ifit were a photograph One of the oldest theories about art is one that assumes that art is a kind of imitation of the world Plato assumed this when he criticized art saying it is merely an imitation of the world and as sucl39L was less than the real thing and unnecessary at best Other philosophers have extolled the value of art for showing us pieces of the world that might otherwise go unnoticed Philosophical discussions have cen tered on how an artwork can mirror reality and have included terms such as representation to explain the phenomenon claiming that artists re present reality through a variety of media selecting certain aspects of the world to emphasize and hold our attention The student who valued the Elvis painting did so because it looked real Realism is a style in art often 26 The Haida word for mask is niijanguu which means to copy 50 when I make a mask it s actually copying an image or an idea from the spirit world I believe that we re connected to the supernatural or spirit world through our minds When I create a new mask or dance or image I m a medium to transmit those images from the spirit world Masks also help to bring you into a particular state of mind They are objects of the images that we carry around in our minds and the masked dances are reenactrnents of our dreams and memories Robert Davidson wood carver and sculptor 22 Robert Davidson Dogfish Mother Mask 1988 Red cedar copper human hair shells 32 x 22 l x 15 82 x 572 x 38 cm Photo Ulli Steltzer associated with imitation theories Many people including a large proportion of our students tend to judge art according to standards of realism For instance a moviegoer talks about how a film does or does not correspond to the real world Similarly paintings and sculpture are often judged by how realistically they portray the subject matter and the artist is thought to be talented to the extent that she or he can draw or paint things as they appear imitation theories can also accommodate art that is not realistic However much depends on what counts as real If the world and our experience of it is seen as spiritual then awork of art that shows this spirituality can be judged as significant using imitationist assumptions On the other hand lmpressionistic painting also might be said to present the real worldthe real world of light and color The psychoanalytic perspective might also be included in the category of lmitationist theories Governing this way of thinking about art is the belief that all behavior is significant as artworks are considered in terms of the underlying psychosexual social contexts in which they have been produced Psychoanalytic perspectives can be traced to Freud Chapter 2 who investigated the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci in an attempt to identify the fears and anxi eties that he believed explained Leonardo s behavior and ultimately his ait From this perspective the artist s biography is the focus of investigation and the artworks produced serve to suggest and rein force findings about the aitist s psyche Psychoanalytic perspectives can be categorized here because these findings constitute the world that is mirrored in the art produced Which Theory is Tme This question often comes up when an artwork is understood and appreciated from different perspec tives Understandably most people want to know the truth Unfortunately the answer is complicated and can be related to broad philosophical ways of Viewing the world in general and the notion of truth in specific Discussing the theories that might be presented addressing philosophical questions about art is not so much to provide a final true answer to What is a1t7 and What are aitworks7 but to provide ways in which these questions have been answered by others The perspectives are offered to help teachers provide their students with general ways of addressing and thinking critically about aesthetic issues Students can be helped to try on different views as a way of reflecting on clarifying and refining their own ideas In attempts to understand art from cultures other than their 3er they can explore the beliefs about art that inform the making and responding to art in those cultural groups using these general categories as points of entry into their investigations Aesthetic Theories and Philosophical Questions Donald Kuspit an art historian philoso pher and critic often considers art from a psychoanalytic perspective In a 1994 article in which he analyzes activist art which escalated in the 19805 he talks about the moralizing artist as an artist who is interested in the moral message of an artworkto the exclusion of con cern for its aesthetic properties He dis cusses Freud39s notion of the superego as a way of introducing his analysis of the moralizing artist By identifying with an adult important to him the child acquires a sense of authority and status that makes him feel selfimportant He feels guilty and worthless when his superego turns on him for acting in a way his parent would not approve This includes ways that would directly threaten the parents authority and status in gfect dethron ing the parent One might note that an artist s overt attempt to overthrow and oust the artistic style of his parent artist guresis one such way The moralizing artist by way 3 his opposition to existing society and aes thetically oriented art reenacts the process of superego formation For soci ety is the parent 3 us all and aestheti cally oriented art is the parent of every artist Tlhe moralizing artist identi es with an existing society and aes thetically oriented art he experiences as had even irreparahly had so that their authority and status are rejected The moralizing artist feels guilty because of his negative attitude toward the worlds 28 Philosophical Pluralism Throughout history certain theories of art seemed to be consistent with the way people generally viewed the world What has been considered art during dif ferent periods of history has also been more or less consistent with these broad views For many reasons today s world is a pluralistic one in which numerous world views can be identified even within North American culture Not surprisingly the range of what we call art reflects this pluralism both in the way it looks and in the reasons for its rreation Consistent with a pluralistic society is the view that art can be different things have different purposes and be governed by a range of aesthetic standards Accord ingly another way of answering the question What is art7 assumes a pluralistic stance Art is and can be any number of things For the pluralist an artwork can be reasonably judged by different standards re ecting different theories of art depending on the circumstances under which it is made viewed and or considered For instance the pluralist would not have a problem with considering the Elvis painting from all the perspectives outlined above indeed appreciation of the painting is enhanced when it is considered from these various viewpoints The emphasis is not on truth or being right but is directed toward gaining the fullest understanding of artworks Another form of pluralism is based on the recog nition that in our culturally diverse world art means different things to different cultural groups The pluralist would seek to understand the uses princi ples and standards governing the creation of and response to artworks within the culture in which they are produced Recognizing Philosophical Questions To plan for philosophical discussions both tead rers and students need to be able to distinguish philo sophical from other kinds of questions Teachers also need to be able to identify philosophical questions relevant to the rest of the curriculum and to the stu dents interests and needs Students routinely ask questions during the course of an att class Not all of their questions are philosophical some are practical ones that have to do with moving effectively efficiently or appropri ately through a planned activity Some of their ques tions are about artists and artworks questions that can be addressed by providing information or show ing where the information can be found The GeneralvsPurticulur Distinction A useful way to think about philosophical questions is to think of them as being about things in general rather than about particular things A discussion about the meaning or significance of a particular art work may lead to discussions about general criteria for judging artworks In this case because the focus is temporarily away from the artwork in question and is instead on general notions of art the ensuing discussion will be a philosophical one One reason that general philosophical questions are so interest ing is that they are interwoven with or just below the surface of much of our involvement with art whether it be in creating or responding to it The WuystoAnswer Distinction Another way to distinguish among types of ques tions is to consider the way in which we go about answering them While it makes sense to spend time discussing or arguing about the answers to some types of questions in a philosophical dialogue it makes no sense to do so with others Chapter 2 Questions of Fact It makes little sense to argue about questions of fact A question of fact or an empirical question requires observation or measurement in order to arrive at an answer When we consider artworks we often raise questions of fact We may want to know who made the artwork or when it was created We may wish to know how the work was originally used or how the people who first saw it responded to it While considering philosophical theories we might want to know what a particular theorist had to say about a topic To get the information we might need to do research Students can do research to address questions about the origins or data asso ciated with particular artworks This research may indeed take time and may result in conflicting answers to the original questions but the question remains a question of fact requiring the collection of data Even this distinction is questionable howev er because we might argue that there is no such thing as a purely factual question a question that does not involve subjectivity or bias both in asking the question and in selecting those things that count as data to be collected Despite the degree of difficulty in finding answers to questions of fact and despite some philosophical disagreement about the possibility of facts and factual questions gener ally speaking when a questioner essentially seeks information of some sort the question typically need not prompt philosophical discussion Questions of Interpretation Interpretation is so central a human activity that we rarely even think about it We encounter our world through our senses collecting and interpreting sensory data along the way Much of our activity is habitual formed through repeated encounters with and inter pretations of similar information It is when our senses Aesthetic Theories and Philosophical Questions Yes madam Nature is creeping upquot James McNeill Whistler American artist to a woman who said a landscape View reminded her of his work Art is always ultimately about reality Or at all events the interpretation of what can be regarded as realquot Wolfgang Gafgen German artist 23 Students can consider genera questions about objects they encounter comparing them to artworks they have seen Photo ejfrey Dietrich 29 30 24 To think carefully about their artrelated beliefs students need to be given time and sometimes a series of questions to consider Photo Karen Shriner encounter new information that we might be aware of how we are interpreting it We ask What does this mean and respond accordingly In our encoun ters with artworks we also ask about meaning What is the work about What does it mean We need to collect data available to us in the work and in the context surrounding it Interpretation is the activity of constructing an explanation for the data We need imagination to take the information available to us and use it along with our prior knowledge to construct an interpret ation of a work of art While the process of addressing questions of meaning or interpretation is complex sometimes difficult and often timeconsuming and it sometimes leads to philosophical questions it does not in itself involve philosophical inquiry Questions of Value Questions of Concept and Metaphysical Questions In attempts to answer questions of fact and of inter pretation we sometimes ask about the best means of doing so We might want to know the best means of determining the origin of an artwork or the best means of constructing an interpretation We would thereby be entering the realm of philosophical inquiry because we would once again be considering methodology in genera terms In cases seeking the best means of doing something we would be addressing questions of value in this case questions of practical value We might also raise and address questions of moral value Is copying someone eIse s artwork wrong or aesthetic value Is that art work good To answer all questions of value we must make a judgment We judge one procedure to have more practical value than another we judge a particular action to be morally wrong and we judge a particular artwork to have aesthetic value Judgments are based on such things as standards rules principles or criteria which are often grounded in broader philosophical beliefs or theories thus a question of value leading to a judgment may well prompt philosophical discussion about beliefs or the ories assumed in making the judgment Some ques tions of value are general Are experiences with artworks worth having and as sud391 require philosophical inquiry to address them Questions of concept are those about the appro priate use of terms When we ask What is art we are asking about the conditions that should exist in order to use the term alt appropriately ln aesthetics questions of concept arise when we ask sud i questions as What is sculpture or What is a poem An immediate response might be to refer to the dictionary Unfortunately dictionary defini tions of important terms in aesthetics are far too simplistic and invariably prompt further questions We already have seen that there is no simple answer to What is art To address this question of concept as with many others we must engage in philosophi cal inquiry Theories of art are often grounded in beliefs about reality human nature and knowledge beliefs about things beyond the particular physical dqaracteristics of the material world Questions about these beliefs are meta meaning above physical and they address fundamental issues What is life What does it mean to be human What is real What is true What is knowledge Many dis cussions about art ultimately rest on these pressing metaphysical questions To participate in philosophi cal inquiry we do not always consider metaphysical questions However they sometimes do emerge dur ing philosophical discussions about art and it is important to recognize them Aesthetic Theories and Philosophical Questions When we ask general questions of value questions of concept and metaphysical questions we are ask ing philosophical questions These questions are dis tinctively different from those of fact and of interpretation in terms of the ways in Which we try to answer them As is evident when exploring the range of theoretical responses that have been offered philosophical questions rarely have easy answers but they do promise valuable exchanges as we attempt to address them Notes Jennifer Heath excerpted from Black Velvet The Art We Love to Hate San Francisco Pomegranate Artbooks 1994 The student responses to the Elvis painting are based on a discussion held with undergraduates in an art criticism class taught by the author Unless otherwise noted all quotations in this chapter are cited from one of the following references The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations New York Columbia University Press 1993 and Jonathon Green Morrows M Q International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations New York William Morrow and Company Inc 1982 Quoted in Paula A Baxter review of Eagle Transform ing The Art of Robert Davidson by Robert Davidson and Ulli Seltzer Library carnal 119 November 1994 76 Art and the Moral Imperative Analyzing Activist Art New Art Examiner January 1991 1825 a m
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