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TSE  August 2001

TSE August 2001

Subject:

Re: Definition of art

From:

"Jon Rouse" <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 18 Aug 2001 05:36:07 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (95 lines)

> Anything you do is an expression.
> Once your expression influences someone beside yourself, it becomes art.
>
> Neat, huh?

Many thanks, Michael, for taking the plunge, and attempting to answer the
original question, which it seems everyone else has been hedging round
shamelessly.  I can't agree with it, of course (I suspect this is one of the
principal reasons why everyone else has been hedging so badly - it's the
kind of question you just don't want to answer).

Let's say I walk down the street and shoot someone dead.  This is, I should
point out, about as unlikely an event as you could possibly imagine, but,
you know, hey, we all have bad moods, I guess somehow it could happen (this
would involve finding a gun and being interested in knowing how to use it,
but let's not get bogged down in pedantry).  By your definition this is Art.
Serial killers may sympathise with the perspective, but I doubt you'd get
too many others on board.

I guess if I'm going to disagree with you, I'm under some obligation to
provide an alternative definition.

OK.  I think there are several strands to this.  I think there is a
subjective strand, which declares, '*I* think this is Art,' which is a
personal response, and we probably all feel it at some point, even if no-one
agrees with us and we're generally considered bonkers for thinking it.  I
think this is perfectly valid, within our own subjective framework, but it's
unlikely to persuade the world at large.  Everyone has idiosyncratic notions
of Art, but it doesn't affect the canon, as it were.  Just because *I* like
it, it doesn't automatically become Art.  Yeah, maybe in *my* head, but not
at large.  This is not to say that 'in *my* head' doesn't count, but it
accepts that if you are looking to 'define' Art in any useful,
non-subjective fashion, you have to come up with a definition that other
people are going to agree with.  It's perfectly permissible to introduce a
wholly subjective notion of Art (such is the nature of the beast), but it
doesn't really get us anywhere.

Phew, no wonder the scholars steered clear of this one.  I'm obviously the
only one on the list daft enough to take this ridiculous task on...

The second strand is, then, the acceptance by a significant number, or a
significant group, of individuals, that something 'is' Art.  You very rarely
hear in the Western world the argument that the Mona Lisa, or 'Hamlet' are
*not* Art, and the rare commentators that suggest such things are generally
buried and forgotten very quickly.  There seems to be an acceptance, at some
cultural  level, that some things 'are' Art.  They just 'are', and
questioning of this premise is simply not given much credence, at least
contemporaneously.  Maybe over hundreds of years the perspective gets
changed, but let's face it, we're not going to wake up tomorrow, read a
headline in the paper saying, 'Mona Lisa Declared No Longer Art,' and all
shrug our shoulders, and say, 'OK', and suddenly it isn't any more.  Like it
or not, there is some kind of canon out there.  There may be individuals
railing against it, but by and large, the canon persists.  What's 'in' the
canon may, of course, differ from group to group.  There may be broadly
accepted 'works of Art', but more likely there are factions.

There is also the fashionable strand, which is more 'fuzzy', but which
involves the latest media darlings being discussed 'as' 'Art', though they
probably have a limited shelf life, and will not be considered 'as' 'Art' in
20, or 200, years' time.  But they kick against the conventional notion of
Art for a while, and so are discussed in the same terms.  If they are
talented, or lucky, they survive in, as it were, the Art gene pool.

In short, then, it seems to me useful to model three strands to the
definition of Art: (i) the wholly subjective, which is perfectly valid, but
ultimately meaningless beyond the subjective experience, unless it finds
sufficient support to leap to the second (or third) step; (ii) the
quasi-objective, which accepts certain standards 'as' 'Art', and by and
large accepts a notional canon (though there is no reason to presume this
canon is universal, or has meaning to more than one cultural group -
different groups may accept different canon, but there is still an
'objective' background as opposed to individual whimsy); or (iii) that which
fights against (ii) in an attempt to update the template, as it were, which
is likely to be popularly considered 'Art' over a small time-frame.

Or, to put it another way, you can define Art as: (i) wholly subjective,
which is valid, but not useful; (ii) quasi-objective in that it relates to,
or opposes, an accepted standard within a culture or a time-period; or (iii)
it is wholly objective, which is clearly nonsense, and I have not tried to
argue for.

Attepting to define Art is, of course, an absurd pursuit, and I don't
pretend I consider the above worth much beyond ridicule; by all means pull
this ludicrous stance to pieces - so long as it provokes debate about the
original question, and not just the rather disturbing bitching which seems
depressingly to have prevailed on this thread so far.  I'm delighted to be
wrong (it won't be a new experience, believe me), just so long as we are
addressing the original question, and not personal prejudices, which
bizarrely seem to have prevailed so far over attempts to respond to what I
would have thought was an authentic question for most of us to consider.

Jon


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