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Aesthetics

Toren Does His Own Thing and Then Remembers the Assignment

(Please note that while I always refer to visual art, all of what I’m saying could apply to any medium.)

It seems a little ironic that we find no definition for art and no way to decide its value, yet we are assigned to find art and determine its value. Also we’re to find “real” art, without being silly. I’m not trying to hate on the assignment, I’m just making a point.

We have no real definition for art beyond what obviously is, and obviously isn’t. A still life painting is obviously art while a chair is obviously not. A still life of a chair is art, because it’s on canvas now. There is little fundamental difference between the expression on my face as I walk in the room (determined not art) and a classical oil painting of the expression on my face.

Definitions on a fundamental level are subjective, as they’re just your own interpretation of the word. Most of the time everyone’s definitions overlap (hence we understand each other). Therefor what is art is what most people think is art. That’s an awkward sentence and it’s kind of obvious, but it’s important since there is no serious or longstanding definition without that. If art is what you think art is, without real criteria you need your definition to overlap another way: just kind of agreeing.

People have an unfortunate tendency to follow the current trend. Currently we accept modern art, even some of the really bizarre stuff. We’ve seen maybe a tower of bicycles or something, and if that was art, why not this too? This opens an invitation for people to start smearing crap over things and putting them in galleries.

Classical painters of old acted the same way under a different paradigm. Seeing as all art of the time was photo-realistic  that was the definition. When people came along smudging and dabbing, the existing culture didn’t want to accept it, because it was outside the current collective definition. Only when the public view of impressionism changed did it actually become considered “art.”

What I’m shooting to explain from this is that trying to legally define (a descriptive, criteria based definition) it is pointless. You can say something is art and you can say something is not but there is no deciding characteristic between the two. Legal definitions don’t work because they don’t always fit into our idea of what “obviously is” and “obviously isn’t” art. We can say that all art is something made with the intent creating art, but then someone comes along with a soup can. We can say that all art must be man-made, but it may not be long until someone skips the can and presents a tomato.

The value of art is even less defined. Not only are we not exactly sure what we want to measure, but almost all are subjective, and immeasurable (qualitative?). Any attempt to value art is pretty meaningless. Our value of art comes from two sources, the same bandwagon I described above, and the effect is has on us.

Low and behold, the part of aesthetics that I think actually matters! The part with real applications! The part we haven’t really covered at all! Why we are affected by art (or affected by anything, if you’re restricting your definition of art somehow).

Aesthetic value is a term I think I made up myself, since I’m way too lazy to look for an existing term which means exactly what I’m thinking. If the class decided that aesthetic is something that causes emotion, aesthetic value is the amount of emotion it causes. Since the definition for emotion is rather unclear in what it contains, I’m rewording that. Aesthetic value is amount of reaction caused. This is immeasurable, so I’m not actually trying to determine the exact amount, only about how much aesthetic value seems to be present and why that might be.

Seeing as our mind reacts to everything we sense with some kind of subtle reaction, everything is therefore aesthetic to some extent. I’m calling this reaction “appreciation.” Every emotional reaction can be explained through evolutionary or conventional psychology, or can’t be explained at all. An image of rolling grassy hills for example is actually calming because we’ve evolved to see this landscape as a good place to live. Conversely you might be horrified by a painting of a spoon because you witnessed your family’s death as a child from a spoon wielding maniac. I believe we have a subtle reaction to everything in this way.

I’m not sure conventional emotions cover everything though. Someone might stare at a scritchy scratchy colorful abstract painting with great appreciation. I can’t tell what might cause subtle reactions being caused, but I think the main cause may be simply interest. One might be captivated simply looking over the complexity or trying to understand potential symbolism.

The above can be loosely placed into two subsections, evolved and experience based appreciation.

Evolved appreciation is the base reaction anyone would have when looking at the object. A picture of healthy fruit will look more pleasing than a picture of rotting fruit. Or a picture of someone in agony and torture is going to naturally look less pleasant than a baby laughing.

Experiential appreciation is any reaction based on our past, or outside influence. Our tendency to follow herds may also be experiential and its incredibly important to something’s aesthetic value. If someone says a brick is beautiful I would be likely to agree with them. Same if they said it was ugly, and if they didn’t mention it, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all.

The important question I see remaining is, why do some things cause evolved appreciation without any explained reason. Most music and some visual art fall into this category. I’m sure there’s more that I’m not aware of. Essentially, we know what people like, but we don’t always know why they like it. That’d be good to figure out.

Now to actually address the assignment:

Image

^is my artwork.

It is indeed art, it is not silly. In fact it sold for an awful lot of money and now its hanging in a fancy french museum.

Image

The website didn’t have any information about the artist (which seems really odd) so that kind of limits how much I can say about them. I can imagine three reasons this might be made.

1. The artist was trying to make the viewer question the definition of art, like I am.

2. The artist thought this was really deep or that it looked really good.

3. The artist figured they’d let anything in and did the laziest thing they could think of

I would say its aesthetic value is actually very high. There is not enough evolved appreciation to be noticeable, but it is interesting enough in its context that it has intrigued the man in the photo, and made its way into my blog. It would probably have higher aesthetic value for readers if I put it at the beginning because my blog post is asking the same questions. Maybe its aesthetic value would be even greater if I omitted the blog post entirely.

I often feel like I’ve just solved an entire branch of philosophy, which probably means I made a mistake a long way back that’s lead me to become so completely misguided. If someone wants to shut me down, be my guest. Also I really like comments a lot so do that. I have a lot more to say than I wrote down, so if you have a question or I explained something poorly say so. If I get lots of comments I look good.

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