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TSE  August 2001

TSE August 2001

Subject:

Re: Definition of art

From:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sun, 19 Aug 2001 05:29:16 EDT

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In a message dated 8/18/01 12:23:35 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
[log in to unmask] writes:


> ). Because if all standards are arbitrary and equally valid, 
> it seems to me impossible to say that any particular thing is "not art" 
> (since by SOME standard you could find a basis for which THAT thing WOULD 
> be 
> art).  

Steve,

It seems to me fairly well agreed that there are no absolute standards for 
beauty, that standards are relativistic. Or at least this has been the view 
among aestheticians since the end of the 19th century. I don't know the 
philosophical literature too well, but I think Wittgenstein is important in 
this area. Although it must go back earlier, because in the advanced logic 
class TSE had at Harvard, they were already dealing with the relativisit 
nature of truth (in the various sciences). In any case, the fact that there 
are no absolute standards for beauty  does not mean "it's impossible to 
judge," although time and again people tie themselves up in that knot. 

Clive Bell pointed out that there's no single standard of beauty that will 
explain both why we think the Mona Lisa is beautiful and why we think an 
African wood carving is beautiful. I'll take it further by saying that if you 
make a list of what you think is beautiful in a horse, and another list of 
what you think is beautiful in an office building, the two lists won't match. 
This doesn't mean "it's impossible to judge" a horse. It's done all the time 
at horse shows. It simply means one doesn't judge a horse by the standards 
one would use for an office building, an automobile, or a Peruvian pot. And 
there's no set of universal or absolute standards that will work for anything 
in the world one wanted to judge.  Also, BTW, if one wants to develop the 
ability to judge horses, one has to familiarize one's self with a lot of 
horses. And if one wants to develop the ability to judge Florentine oil 
paintings, one has to look at a lot of Florentine oil paintings. A good judge 
of Florentine oil paintings isn't necessarily a good judge of horses, and 
vice versa.

I think a part of what you say is confusing you has to do with the issue of 
divided sensibility. The AKC publishes a list of standards for various breeds 
of dogs, and these are the standards used at dog shows. The standard for 
Dalmatians says both eyes have to be the same color, and one cannot show a 
Dalmatian in an AKC show if the dog has one blue eye and one brown eye. I 
guess it's a recessive quality that the breeders want to weed out. My 
Dalmatian Sweeney has one blue eye and one brown eye. Furthermore, she's 
totally off the grid so far as the Dalmatian standards are concerned. This is 
one homely Dalmatian, if measured by the AKC standards. Even if I could get 
her in a dog show, the judges would look at me as if I were crazy, and she 
wouldn't have a ghost of a chance. But I love her and so she's beautiful to 
me. And I don't have any problem about feeling this way while also knowing 
that by AKC standards, she's pretty much bottom of the heap. It's not a 
problem keeping in mind two sets of standards at the same time. It's not much 
different from inviting a friend for dinner and knowing that what the friend 
would regard as a great dinner isn't necessarily what one would choose for 
one's self. I personally think it's not especially helpful to ask what the 
"real standards" are for a good dinner. 

One problem with questions like "What is art?" "What is beauty?" "What is 
love?" "What is the meaning of life?" is that they're framed in too general a 
manner to allow any possibility of meaningful answers. They're argued by 
drunks in bars, and in frat houses all over the country, because people for 
some reason get the impression that one doesn't have to know anything to talk 
about "theoretical" questions. One can make all kinds of arbitrary 
stipulations, like "nothing is beautiful without harmony and balance." But 
this is just begging the question, because what we mean by harmony and 
balance in a suspension bridge might not match what we mean by harmony and 
balance in a floral arrangement. I personally think anyone who wants to know 
what art is ought to make an effort to look at a lot of art. Those people who 
do this turn to different and more specific kinds of questions, like "how do 
Japanese vases differ from Korean vases?" 

I hope this is not too confusing or too complicated, and that at least some 
of it is somewhat helpful. 

pat



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<HTML><FONT FACE=arial,helvetica><FONT  SIZE=3 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial Narrow" LANG="0"><B>In a message dated 8/18/01 12:23:35 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
<BR>[log in to unmask] writes:
<BR>
<BR></FONT><FONT  COLOR="#000000" SIZE=2 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial" LANG="0"></B>
<BR><BLOCKQUOTE TYPE=CITE style="BORDER-LEFT: #0000ff 2px solid; MARGIN-LEFT: 5px; MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px; PADDING-LEFT: 5px">). Because if all standards are arbitrary and equally valid, 
<BR>it seems to me impossible to say that any particular thing is "not art" 
<BR>(since by SOME standard you could find a basis for which THAT thing WOULD 
<BR>be 
<BR>art). &nbsp;</FONT><FONT  COLOR="#000000" SIZE=3 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial" LANG="0"></BLOCKQUOTE>
<BR></FONT><FONT  COLOR="#000000" SIZE=3 FAMILY="SANSSERIF" FACE="Arial Narrow" LANG="0"><B>
<BR>Steve,
<BR>
<BR>It seems to me fairly well agreed that there are no absolute standards for 
<BR>beauty, that standards are relativistic. Or at least this has been the view 
<BR>among aestheticians since the end of the 19th century. I don't know the 
<BR>philosophical literature too well, but I think Wittgenstein is important in 
<BR>this area. Although it must go back earlier, because in the advanced logic 
<BR>class TSE had at Harvard, they were already dealing with the relativisit 
<BR>nature of truth (in the various sciences). In any case, the fact that there 
<BR>are no absolute standards for beauty &nbsp;does not mean "it's impossible to 
<BR>judge," although time and again people tie themselves up in that knot. 
<BR>
<BR>Clive Bell pointed out that there's no single standard of beauty that will 
<BR>explain both why we think the Mona Lisa is beautiful and why we think an 
<BR>African wood carving is beautiful. I'll take it further by saying that if you 
<BR>make a list of what you think is beautiful in a horse, and another list of 
<BR>what you think is beautiful in an office building, the two lists won't match. 
<BR>This doesn't mean "it's impossible to judge" a horse. It's done all the time 
<BR>at horse shows. It simply means one doesn't judge a horse by the standards 
<BR>one would use for an office building, an automobile, or a Peruvian pot. And 
<BR>there's no set of universal or absolute standards that will work for anything 
<BR>in the world one wanted to judge. &nbsp;Also, BTW, if one wants to develop the 
<BR>ability to judge horses, one has to familiarize one's self with a lot of 
<BR>horses. And if one wants to develop the ability to judge Florentine oil 
<BR>paintings, one has to look at a lot of Florentine oil paintings. A good judge 
<BR>of Florentine oil paintings isn't necessarily a good judge of horses, and 
<BR>vice versa.
<BR>
<BR>I think a part of what you say is confusing you has to do with the issue of 
<BR>divided sensibility. The AKC publishes a list of standards for various breeds 
<BR>of dogs, and these are the standards used at dog shows. The standard for 
<BR>Dalmatians says both eyes have to be the same color, and one cannot show a 
<BR>Dalmatian in an AKC show if the dog has one blue eye and one brown eye. I 
<BR>guess it's a recessive quality that the breeders want to weed out. My 
<BR>Dalmatian Sweeney has one blue eye and one brown eye. Furthermore, she's 
<BR>totally off the grid so far as the Dalmatian standards are concerned. This is 
<BR>one homely Dalmatian, if measured by the AKC standards. Even if I could get 
<BR>her in a dog show, the judges would look at me as if I were crazy, and she 
<BR>wouldn't have a ghost of a chance. But I love her and so she's beautiful to 
<BR>me. And I don't have any problem about feeling this way while also knowing 
<BR>that by AKC standards, she's pretty much bottom of the heap. It's not a 
<BR>problem keeping in mind two sets of standards at the same time. It's not much 
<BR>different from inviting a friend for dinner and knowing that what the friend 
<BR>would regard as a great dinner isn't necessarily what one would choose for 
<BR>one's self. I personally think it's not especially helpful to ask what the 
<BR>"real standards" are for a good dinner. 
<BR>
<BR>One problem with questions like "What is art?" "What is beauty?" "What is 
<BR>love?" "What is the meaning of life?" is that they're framed in too general a 
<BR>manner to allow any possibility of meaningful answers. They're argued by 
<BR>drunks in bars, and in frat houses all over the country, because people for 
<BR>some reason get the impression that one doesn't have to know anything to talk 
<BR>about "theoretical" questions. One can make all kinds of arbitrary 
<BR>stipulations, like "nothing is beautiful without harmony and balance." But 
<BR>this is just begging the question, because what we mean by harmony and 
<BR>balance in a suspension bridge might not match what we mean by harmony and 
<BR>balance in a floral arrangement. I personally think anyone who wants to know 
<BR>what art is ought to make an effort to look at a lot of art. Those people who 
<BR>do this turn to different and more specific kinds of questions, like "how do 
<BR>Japanese vases differ from Korean vases?" 
<BR>
<BR>I hope this is not too confusing or too complicated, and that at least some 
<BR>of it is somewhat helpful. 
<BR>
<BR>pat
<BR>
<BR></B></FONT></HTML>

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