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Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Debate of the Ages! Ok, not really, but it was fun.

Ok, I had a lot of reaction to my Wha' Happen'd post (one email), so in the fine tradition of my forebears, I argued my butt off. However, it's always fun to debate with someone who actually argues back with good arguments. A rarity these days. Also, considering that he put me on his blog, I decided to return the favor. So, here is what is likely to be the longest post ever; the unedited email debate of the past week. Ok, so I edited for line breaks and a little spelling, but the important stuff is all here.
By the by, for anyone wondering, I have been debating Ted Stoltzfus, an old friend from Pennsylvania and a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Art and Design. Check out his own Not a Blog , and enjoy. I hope you've enjoyed the debate, and it may be picked up in the future.

By the way, It works well if you picture us as a pair of elderly British men sitting before a fireplace in a Victorian home, each with a glass of brandy and huge mutton chops.

Ted:
Hey, I read your latest blog entry and I typed an entire comment in the little box before I realized that blogger doesn't allow for anonymous comments. So I'm emailing it to you instead. Comment was: "Mixed media" is not an art movement, it's a medium. Specifically, a medium that uses multiple media. Neither "Fountain" nor the works of Pollock are mixed media, while there are other works that you would probably not consider to be representative of "anything goes" which *are* mixed media. Some Saturday Evening Post covers by Norman Rockwell come to mind. If you want to criticize certain artists or even entire movements, that's fine, but try to get the terms right. That's like me saying, "man, atonal music is lousy. Especially the kind with notes."

Paul:
Fair enough, and your point is valid. I should have clarified that when I mentioned mixed media, I was naming a medium I dislike, a medium I see as a representative of a philosophy I don't like. The same as saying that serialism is a form of composition I don't like as it represents the larger movement which was atonality. Mixed media is to avante garde what serialism is to atonal. A form versus a concept. I did not state that, so I will certainly have to go back and edit that. (And so I did)

Ted:
Here's kind of where the anaology between music and art breaks down. Mixed media is used fairly often, and it's quite simple to make an aesthetically pleasing piece of art with more than one medium. It happens all the time. Contrairiwise, I don't think it would be easy to make a serialized piece of music sound good, because you're required, by definition, to use all the notes in the scale. I don't think there's an artistic equivelent to something this restrictive.

I think rather than "mixed media", what you really thinking about is collage. Collage is a form of mixed media, and it's a lot more difficult to pull off because you're using found images, rather than making your own. Still, that's not to say you can't make pretty pictures with it.

>>Mixed media is to avant garde what serialism is to atonal.

I'll admit: I tried to figure this out, but this sentence doesn't make any sense to me. Mixed media is a medium. Avant garde is a temporal distinction, not limited to visual art. Serialism is a method. Atonality is a musical quality.

Mixed media isn't a form or a method; it's just more than one kind of "stuff" on the canvas. Ink and watercolor: mixed media. Pencil and ink: mixed media. Colored lithographs: mixed media.

I'm willing to bet that you have nothing against mixed media itself. Maybe you're thinking of collage?

It sounds to me like you're against modern art in general, although you have to be careful with this because I highly doubt you consider *all* modern art garbage. I mean, I don't consider all modern music garbage, even if it did spawn some garbage-esque things such as atonality. I guess you'd want to critisize certain movements in modern art, like minimalism.

But Dadism: come on! It's hilarious! The point was to offend people's sensibilities as to what art was back in the 1920's. The fact that you're *still* offended eighty years later... well. It's working, right?

Paul:

Atonality is far more than a musical quality, it is indeed seen as an entity and a philosophy on its own. It encompasses (to me at the very least) an attitude toward music, a way of looking at the history of music, and indeed an idea of what music is. Atonality questions what can be construed as valid music in the same way that Avant Garde questions what art is, and indeed requires that things be new and different. I use the term Atonality perhaps a bit too loosely here, but every time the subject of atonality comes up, it always comes up as a distinction from traditional musical idioms. It discards many (if not all) of the basics of harmony that musicians took for granted since the advent of true harmony in the late Renaissance, and melody is almost incedental. It is so emcompassing to say that something is "atonal" that it cannot be used to simply as a designation for a particular medium to work in, like it would be to say that I am writing a French Baroque Opera, or even a Sonata, or that I am writing in a Romantic or Classical idiom. Atonality represents utter chaos and a questioning of what music is so much so that there are many subcategories within the idea of atonality. When one writes an opera, the basics of form go back to Monteverdi in the early 1600's, though it has grown more complex since then. However, someone can write an Atonal symphony, sonata, partita, opera, or whatever. And people talk about atonality like it's all the rage and that we are finally loosed from the bonds of the tonal world that we had to exist in for centuries because we hadn't progressed enough yet. This I see as being very similar to people in the art world moving away from traditional methods and mediums. Painting is out, painted sculpture is in. I unfortunately am ensconsed in crap art when I go into the art building over at school. One student took a McDonalds poster, tore it up, and folded it over itself. It was hanging in the stairwell. It was replaced by what appears to be pink foam insulation (these were unfortunate attempts at installation pieces). The students are urged to move away from from doing paintings, and instead working in the freedom of mixed media. I am not making this up, nor am I paraphrasing. I have no problem with well executed mixed media, as Picasso and Matisse have done. I also have no problem with well executed Atonal music, Verklarte Nacht by Schoenberg being a wonderful piece of music. But these men were geniuses of the form, and probably would have excelled whatever direction they would have gone in whatever era the found themselves in. The definitions of Mixed Media and Atonality are perhaps too broad for the arguments I am making and this is where you are certainly right. Collage is a better object of my dislike (though there are occasional collages I like). However, these things end up being havens for the untalented and unimaginative, as well as dumbing down the truly creative. Minimalism has this tendency. It is very easy to make crap minimalism, but very hard to make good minimalism. I think about 90% of Philip Glass's works are fairly boring (I love his Dracula soundtrack, however). As for Dada, I am not offended by it, just profoundly bored by it. It's not provacative to me, it just makes me want to go to sleep. The more someone says, wringing their hands, "Ho ho, look at these paraplegic people having sex with cow corpses over an American flag with the words 'no nukes' written on it! Hah! And I'm gay! And Republicans are evil!" the more I want to shrug my shoulders and go to Hardees for a thickburger. I don't go pasty, mouth agape. I expect that kind of stuff. Now, if an artist drew a landscape with children laughing and holding hands, then I would worry. What I want to expect are profound statements that catch me by surprise, make me think, and dig into my soul. When I go in to a museum and see a page torn out of a Playboy with the words "racism is wrong" written on the butt of the centerfold, I shudder to think that it's probably worth more than my car, and then I blink, sniff a few times, and move on to the next gallery. As for Avante Garde that I like, I love Salvador Dali. I love Surrealism. However, Salvador Dali's paintings impress me on a technical level as well as being wacked out. They aren't that engaging to me on an intellectual level (except his pseudo religious stuff, which very strangely gets used on the covers of a a lot of Christian books as those paintings were not from a traditional Christian viewpoint. But, I digress), but I love the detail in them, and his optical ollusions are awesome. Oh, and yes, making interesting 12 tone music is super hard. Frank Zappa tried and quit. Aaron Copland eventually left it. If you want to hear an interesting spin on 12 tone music, check out Ron Jarzombek's compositions. His website is ronjarzombek.com. He's also probably one of the best living guitarists.

Ted:

That's all fine and good, but you understand about mixed media, right? Again, the two "art" pieces you cite *aren't mixed media* (well, the pink one might have been).

Because mixed media is used very frequently by a lot of people, I have to disagree with you that it's a haven for the untalented. That's like saying America is a haven for liberals. Just because there are a lot of liberals in America doesn't mean there's a direct relationship there. Likewise, just because mixed media attracts its share of bad artists doesn't mean it caters to their uncreative-ness. The reason so many things (good and bad) get classified as mixed media is because as soon as you use more than one medium in a composition, it becomes mixed.

The term "mixed media" is wholly independent of style, intent, compositional format, dimensionality, theme, even the media itself.

Also, use paragraph breaks!

Paul:

No, I know they aren't mixed media, they are installation pieces (Actually, the McDonald's poster was mixed media, it was painted by the person as well as torn up and hung. It was just hard to tell it was painted because the paint she used was nearly identical to the colors already on the poster). The mixed media that annoys me is people making a simplistic sculpture, slapping on some different paints, and then calling it "painted sculpture." The reason I firmly believe that it is indeed a haven for th un-talented is because there are so many areas and mediums that are difficult to work in and get any result, let alone a bad one. Take writing in the Palestrina style for example. To write a late renaissance vocal piece in the idioms of Palestrina takes lots of work and requires a good imagination to make something that follows the rules. It gets even more difficult when one tries to write in more than two voices, let alone 6 or more like Palestrina and others would sometimes do. Hardly anyone even tries to write like that anymore, not just because it's gone out of style, but because it's incredibly hard to get any results out of it, let alone good results (Randall Thompson could, and I recommend his Alleluia, even though it's not entirely in the idioms of Palestrina, it comes as close as most modern composers are willing to get).
And time after time, the only people I see who say they are working in "mixed media," "found art," "installation pieces," are doing horribley conceived and unimaginative crap. You are correct in saying they are rather broad areas, and I imagine even a Giotto fresco could be considered an installation piece. However, just as in "chance music," "serialism," "quotation collage," or other modern types composing, they don't end up (99% of the time) giving more freedom to the genius, they give a forum where the unimaginative can say, "Hey, writing fugues and symphonies are hard. But, I could do a quotation collage!" It is almost always as such when anything is possible. The person who works in the given medium does not exploit all that is available to him, but instead does what is easiest. Geniuses like Charles Ives can do a quotation collage and have it come out as something quasi-interesting. But, most people who do one realize that it means less work. Just like someone who will do an atonal sonata. They don't have to adhere to music theory rules, so they can write a piece in five minutes. Again, there are geniuses in the field, such as Copland, Schoenberg, and Berg, but they are quite the exception rather than the rule.
The reason Bach's music is so transcendental is because he would work in one of the most limiting and challenging forms available to him, to see if he could make musical what was not inherently musical: the canon. It's hard to write a good canon, especially with all the rules one must adhere to, but Bach could write incredibly emotional and moving canons, even making it harder on himself by imposing restrictions such as diminution, agmentation, retrograde, follower at another interval than an octave, inversion, etc. It gave his genius room to flourish. He had to think about everything he was doing.
It's the same as in math class when we must solve very difficult equations with many restrictions and rules. We must use all our brainpower within the restrictions given to come up with a result. There's never a "free math" day, when we are given a pile of numbers and told to arrange them in any pattern we see fit. There would certainly be a genius or two who would make something great out of it, but the average person would flounder, not knowing where to go next. This is my problem with many of the modern mediums, those who teach and practice them simply don't make the most of them, but take the easy way out. It's the same as with the teachers where I am. They don't do difficult, challenging things that require thought, they do the easiest things possible and urge their students to do the same. This really annoys me because while those teachers might have gotten training in traditional disciplines, most of them are not giving that to their students. Instead, they urge them to do things like the afformentioned installation pieces, and things like painted scultpure (which again, in and of itself is fine, but is bastardized so much). There are only a couple of teachers at my school who do work in traditional painting methods, and they are always being sabotaged by the rest of the department, who recently employed a 27 woman with horrendous education and no talent simply because she is a young woman. The students hate it because they want to be challenged by their teachers and they just aren't. And when the students stand there to have their paintings critiqued, they are criticized for working in painting, which to the teachers is a dead medium. The painting teachers put up with this stuff a lot. They get criticized for being dinosaurs and narrow minded, when the most incredibley vicious and narrow minded crap spews out of the mouth of these modern teachers (I mean vicious, the young woman teacher mentioned above called a student's painting incestuous, simply because it was a painting). They don't allow anyone to have a traditional view of the mediums, calling things what they are, or allowing there to be definitional boundaries so people can tell what's what. They call painted sculpture, "paintings." Painting takes a two-dimensional flat surface and creates the illusion of depth, another world, a window that we can look through. Even the most abstract painting (which I do like, if well executed) is about this. But, the teachers here blur the lines so they don't have to think. Again, I understand what you're saying, and you're right that I shouldn't be so hard on *good* mixed media, *good* avante garde, or *good* installation art. But, even though some can do genius punk music (The Clash), it is still a haven for the untalented. So I see it with mixed media, found art, and other mediums of the sort. I hope it's different in other parts of the country. But, what I've seen here, the more broad the working area, the dumber the results.
You are an intelligent fellow, and artistically inclined, so I imagine you can work well with such freedom. But, as you also know, there plenty of hacks who gravititate towards this stuff because it's harder to tell what's crap and what's good. The average person can see what the difference is between a good oil-painted portrait and a bad one. It's hard even for experienced people to tell what good found art is and what bad found art is.

Ted:
Here're a couple of things I disagree with.

1. You can't compare math and art. Period. Don't even try. A "free mathday"--while funny in an absurd kind of way--is just plain nonsensical. Math is defined by its rules. Eliminate them, and it's not math anymore. But art is *not* defined by its rules. If it were, we'd still be creatingthe canonical art whose purpose it to tell a story as seen during themiddle ages or roman times, or even ancient Egypt or Greece. There hasbeen no advancement in art without rule breaking. This is opposed to mathwhere new rules are invented (or discovered, if you will) while the old rules still apply. Naturally the old rules still "apply" in art--if your intent is to do something in the style where certain rules are required and you follow them. But that's not the only way of doing things. Analogies between math and art don't work.

2. In many cases, you equate "difficult" with "good". People are taking the easy way out, not working to their potential; their art is crap. Geniuses of the craft are looking for restrictions, challenging themselves to do the best they can; their art is fantastic. Why is something better art if it's hard to do? I agree that often, difficult art is better, but just because something is easy to do, does this make it bad?

3. You said:

>>Painting takes a two-dimensional flat surface and creates the illusion of depth, another world, a window that we can look through. Even the most abstract painting (which I do like, if well executed) is about this.

This is NOT what painting is about. Some painting is, but not all. Not even close. You can't generalize as much as you are in this discussion. If you want to talk about a particular type of painting as being about this, fine, define your terms. But this statement is just flat-out wrong.

4. Finally, I'm curious: why do you even care? In a previous email, you said something like bad art is something you just yawn at and move on.

>From Hamlet: "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."

Despite this (and, no, I'm not calling you a lady, just taking a quote to illustrate a point), you go out of you way to write these very long, in-depth essays about the downfall of traditional art in modern society. Why?

Frankly, when I see bad art in galleries, I don't care. I don't feel threatened. This is opposed to seeing bad writing get published. When that happens I very much feel threatened and annoyed, as evidenced by the number and strength of Not A BlogT entries I've written on bad science fiction and fantasy.

But when you get right down to it, most bad avant garde art exists in its own universe, seperated by opinion, not to mention location, from ordinary people. (This is why bad writing annoys me--it is popular with a great number of ordinary people whom, I believe, should know better.) But bad art is no threat to me because, as long as it is sufficiently bad, no one will take it seriously (as they shouldn't), and the artist will forever be trapped in a lackluster existence of producing just enough bad art to survive, if that. The worst of them get government grants, but that's a different topic.

The point is: art that is bad hangs around with other art that is bad, out of the limelight. Sure it might be worth something, but even if one person buys a piece of art for thousands of dollars, it doesn't mean that's what it's worth. The first purchasers might be the only ones willing to pay that much.

Finally, I'm willing to bet that a vast majority of the art at your school is worth precisely zero, including the faculty pieces on display. Just because it's in a gallery doesn't mean it's worth anything whatsoever. In fact, many times art is in a gallery just *because* it's not worth anything. If it were worth something, it would be hanging in someone's living room. This is especially true for art schools. If you want to see real art, go to a real art gallery.

Paul:
I would contend that math and art can be compared. So much of art is based in mathematical principles, whether one talks about the visual arts or music. Case in point, for visual arts, Botticelli made amazing paintings that relied on geometrical figures, which is central to its beauty. A fugue by Bach (ok, a fugue by anyone, really) reveals much of the mathematical mind of the person who wrote it: the symmetry of form, the balance, the interval relationships. The most obvious comparison is in the music of Schoenberg, where the music appears to have been produced by a giant calculator, especially Serialism (which, much as I don't like Serialism, it is still music, though it's getting close to the boundary). Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky is patterned after a cathedral's architecture, relying on geometrical form for its construction. As you say, remove the rules and it's not math anymore. Completely correct. Same with art. Yes, within the specific mediums there is so much subjective freedom, the same way there is more than one way to solve a given math problem, or to arrive at a proof. But, blur the lines, destroy the unique and special properties of given mediums, and they become meaningless and lose their timeless value. The rules are there to show what can be done, not simply what can't. Heck, there are mathemeticians that spend their lives analyzing sound frequiencies, trying to figure out why certain things are pleasing to the ear, trying to find a perfect tuning system, or what bracing will make a guitar soundboard resonate better. Advancements have been made, or simply changes? Aesthetics have been around for thousands of years, so while styles may change, such as Baroque giving way to Classical, what's beautiful and daring pretty much stayed the same. Bach used chromaticism long before it was in vogue, and is just as disturbing to the unjaded ear as it was then. Chromaticism has always suggested the same things, it's just that people use it more now. Plato wrote on what different types of sounds in music would do to a person's mood. The tools have not changed, really, and while rule breaking (necessary as it is in many cases) really just leads to a change of style which is based on a culture's own preferences. Beethoven used parallel fifths, which were against the rules of composing according to the Baroque ideals. However, it is precisely because of their effect, which had been known of since, and even used during, the Medieval. Heck, Bach, the quintessential Baroque composer used parallel fifths when it suited him. Was he still firmly in the Baroque idioms? Yes. He did nothing in a Classical style, yet he broke that rule. Debussy broke many rules for his pieces. Yet, he himself said that one need training to know how to break them effectively. The rules are always there to show what certain things will do, and are not a list of thou shalt nots. I am trying right now to learn to compose in the Palestrina style, which requires hard work as it has many rules. I am going to learn them, and then learn how to break them. Palestrina occasionally broke some of the rules, but not many, because he wanted a certain sound, a sound that his era considered good. Then, in the Baroque, they tried to go back to the Palestrina style, but did so with their culture's ears, and it ended up sounding Baroque. So, it was actually worse, in that sense. It was merely different music from a different era, and couldn't really be mixed with theirs. Was the Baroque music better? Only if one liked it more. Was it more complex? In many cases, no. Some of the most difficult keyboard and lute music ever written comes from the late Renaissance, from composers such as William Byrd and John Dowland. It wasn't an advancement, it was a shift in what was valued about certain note patterns. What sounded good to the Renaissance ear, did not necessarily to the Baroque ear. The idioms that the Baroque composers used already existed for the most part, the Renaissance composers just didn't like them. Once composers grew tired of the Renaissance idioms, they latched onto new ones. Or at least, unused ones. The idea that the music was getting better is actually a large reason why we don't have much of an idea as to Baroque performance practice. The Classicists thought they were the pinnacle of musical evolution and completely forgot and did away with Baroque performance idioms. It's a shame that so much unpublished Baroque music was lost during the Classical because the performers of the time gave little to no credence as to their worth. I apologize for making it sound like I equate difficult with good. I do enjoy virtuosity, but that's not all that exists in the musical world. Much of the world's most beautiful music are simple folk tunes, study pieces, or slow Adagios. It all depends on what's difficult about a given piece of art. Someone can take hours of painstaking work and composing to create a piece that a child could play. Case in point, Bach's Minuet in G. It is a very easy piece that anybody who's taken a year of piano can play. But, it belies wonderful craftsmanship that is the product of many hours of intense training. It takes, in my opinion, such training to make something simple that's worth anything. Conversely, a five year old could write something that the greatest virtuosos in the world could not play, simply because it requires things the player may not have, such as twelve fingers, inexhaustible lung capacity, etc. John Cage wrote a piece called One8. It is a Cello piece that only cellists with a bow that can play four strings at once and fingers big enough for the stretches can play. It is, unfortunately, typical John Cage: boring, long, easy to make, much of it left to the discretion of the performer. So much so, that he almost didn't write it. Everything is concept without depth. Ideas without execution to match are just that: ideas. However, it seems that the more someone is into a given field, the more complex things they will enjoy within that medium. Easyness must have context. If everything someone does is easy to produce, then what are they doing? Generally things that are easy to produce have little to no thought behind them and are not provocative or interesting. Pieces such as "Fountain" are not timeless and transcendant because of this. Clever as it is, that's all that is. Duchamp did that stuff, from his own admission, because he couldn't paint. He even laughed at his own followers that took it so seriously. "Fountain" makes a comment on something very much of the time and does it in an easy and obvious way. But, people still emulate it.
Goya's painting of the Napoleanic War was time specific, but he portrayed it in a way that represented the timelessness of the man's inhumanity to man. It required great skill and was (and is) a masterpiece. Now, he has some very simple drawings, but they belie the fact that he is capable of incredibly complex things, as evidenced by the technique involved in them. So, in that sense, they have context. The problem is that most of the works I see are very temporal, making comments on things that are going on today in a way that's easy for the viewer, regardless of training or cultural background, to comprehend. Now, this in and of itself is not a bad thing. Most people can probably glean the message of Goya's above mentioned work. However, the comment is expansive and subtle, drawing the viewer in to a moment in history that has universal ramifications. Today's art doesn't do that. It pokes fun, makes a wry comment, but the joke is over as soon as its told. Much of this also has to do with a denial of indivudual meduim's unique and special properties.
Painting for example. When mixed with other media, it loses it's uniquness. When a 3 dimensional object is introduced in a painting, it ceases to be a painting and becomes something else. The metaphorical is lost and literal is introduced, thereby eliminating the need to think. Because if a painting is not about its plasticity, then what is it about? Of course, plasticity is a painting's ability to bounce the viewer between two realities; his own, and the painter's. Even an abstract painting, if done with cool colors gives the illusion of distance. Parchment the illusion of age. Warmer colors give the illusion of life and closeness. The paint becomes transubstantiated in the hand of the artist, it becomes blood, or rock, or water. This is medium specific, and destroyed when mixed with other media. If someone wants to mix the media, fine, they may do so. They may do as much found art as they like. The problem is, most of the country (except New York, where painting is coming back), does take this stuff seriously, especially the art students who areinterested in being a part of a community and sharing feelings and beliefs, not about making transcendental art. Therapy art holds no interest for me. Neither does issue art. They don't last, and they never will. Even Picasso's Blue Period paintings, born out of misery, were not simply therapy for him, and weren't even about him and his struggles. He was more interested in timeless truths, conditions, eternal struggles. Today's art is based on opinions, which are fleeting. It is born out of peoples' desire to change rather than add to. Rather than building on the past, they scoff at it. To sum up, (I know I've taken a lot ink... uh, paper... um, ones and zeros), I am bothered that most of the country's art departments take stuff that is supposed to be whimsical seriously, force their opinions on those that want to build upon and contribute to the traditions of the past, and obliterate definitions designed to help, enlighten, and guide. The problem is that most of them think they are being independent and tolerant, though those that don't follow their "new" way are considered dinosaurs and old hat. This is changing a little bit with the authentic music scene, and painting coming back in large cities, but the rest of country needs change. If people want to do John Cage and Marcel Duchamp type stuff, they have all the right in the world to do so. I just don't want them calling it art, telling me I need to change, and telling me that their chance compositions are as musically valid as the Goldberg Variations.

I'm giving Ted the last word this time, mostly because I don't feel like typing anymore.
Ted:
There is something we disagree on completely and I don't think we're going to resolve it with discussion or a thousand more. But it's good because at least it'll make us think about what art *is*, which isn't something I've done much of.

First of all, certainly math and art can be *compared*--anything can be compared to anything else. What I meant was that art and math are not analogous in the way that you tried to make a comparison two emails ago. Art has mathematical elements, of course, even if these elements are subconscious. This is the basis of aesthetics which says that certain proportions are more beautiful or pleasing to the mind than others. But this fact alone does not mean they can be compared in the sence of rules, right and wrong, etc.

The rules of art are not just in place to improve aesthetics. As you said, some rules exist to define a style. This is true even when the rules serve to hamper the aesthetics of the finshed work. The "rules" of aesthetics--what makes something look pretty or not pretty--have not changed in thousands of years and, arguably, are hard wired into our brains. The rules of art have changed, often leading to new things which may or may not be aesthetically pleasing. No one can argue that a painting with correct perspective is more beautiful than, say, a medieval manuscript with no perspective, even though the latter breaks the rules of perspective. Likewise, you also cannot argue that a picture done today which breaks the rules of perspective is less beautiful or valid artistically than one with correct perspective, even though the rules of perspective are now clearly understood, whereas in the medieval times they hadn't been discovered yet.

But here is what I think is the real crux of the whole debate. We have two different definitions of what constitutes art. From our writings so far, I've gathered:

You believe that it is the craftsmanship and aesthetics that define a piece of work as art. You believe that great art is independent of context and is universally recognized as being art.

I believe that it is the ideas and context which defines a piece of art. I also believe that pleasing aesthetics, while enhancing a piece, are not necessary as to whether or not something is art.

>From both of us, I can come up with examples which support this. Let's take our favorite piece that we love to debate (and love to hate), Cage's 4'33".

Taken out of context, it is, literally, nothing. There aren't any notes. You can't play it for someone. Because of this, you argue, it's not music. It's not aesthetically pleasing because it doesn't have any aesthetics at all. There is no craftsmanship involved. As soon as Cage thought of the idea, the piece was done. No skill to play; no skill to write. Nothing. Not music.

On the other hand, I'm looking at the idea behind it. Taken out of context, no, it's not music. But the context of 4'33" is that you're sitting in a concert hall, there's a piano on stage, and a pianist comes out and sits in front of it. Any person would expect tones to be generated by the pianist via the piano, shortly. But it never comes, because the point is to hear the silence of the music hall: scuffles, polite coughs reverberating through the venue, the uncomfortable squeak of
a chair. I consider it music because it is the logical conclusion of writing a piece with nothing but rests, with the intent to highlight something other than the music iteslf.

Is it aesthetically evocative? No, not really. It's not really anything.

But the *concept* behind it and the *context* in which it's presented make
it music to me.

Let's do another. Duchamp's fountain.

This one you haven't come out yet and actually said "this is not art". Maybe you're thinking it, but that's moot, anyway. You've compared it to other pieces that are undeniably art, asking "what has happened to our art?"

Boiling this down to its very basics (at the risk of gross oversimplification) we get the following:

Paul's standpoint:
Craftsmanship: None. Duchamp didn't make it.
Aesthetics: Very Little. It's a toilet, for cryin' out loud. I don't
want to look at that.
Conclusion: Not art, or only art because it's so well known now, not
because it's any good.

Ted's standpoint:
Concept: High. A reaction against established art "stuffiness". Funny.
Context: Art Gallery.
Conclusion: Art, whether you like it or not.

This is an intellectual view, of course. Intellect vs. emotion.
Emotionally, the previous two examples aren't really art. They shock and annoy. Intellectually, many things not typically considered art must be considered as art, not to mention the idea that comes into play that one cannot truly appreciate the art unless you know its background, history, and context.

Neither of these views is right or wrong, but I think mine is more defensible. It certainly makes it easier to dismiss "art" which appears, for all practical purposes, to be actual art.

For example, I read an article a while ago about an elephant painting. The paintings weren't *bad*. Abstract, but nothing that you couldn't find something similar to in the MoMA. The article went on about how "art isn't just a human thing, we have to revise our definitions of what makes us human, blah blah blah." Gut reaction: not art.

If you're looking at it in a gallery, it does look like art. You'd have no idea. Bad, rather stupid art. "My 5 year old could do this" kind of art. But art nonetheless.

But if you know the history, it's easy to say from an intellectual point of view, "this is not art". Context: art gallery. Okay, that's a start. But the idea behind the art? The reason, the motivation? There isn't one because it was done by an elephant. Or perhaps there is one, but since we can't know the mind of the elephant, we can't really know. On this point, I can say definitively, not art. At least not until we know more about pachyderms.

The problem with trying to define art as stying within certain rules or by having certain physical qualities, is that you'll always have pieces that just straddle the edge.

I know you're not saying this, but just as an example: if someone said "John Cage's 4'33" isn't music because it doesn't have notes." Someone else can say, "okay, if he wrote another peice called "A flat" which consisted of the pianist playing a single A flat for two seconds, then it is music because it has a note." (I don't know if he did something like this or not; I'm just making it up.) Anyway, I think you would think that it is also not music, or at least very much stretching the definition.



So, there it is, folks, a debate about what constitutes art! Form you're own opinions! As long as they're good!

1 Comments:

Blogger srvdove said...

I hear Hulk Hogan is coming out of retirement. No seriously...I have one question....is that sippin' brandy or the chuggin' kind?

12:40 AM  

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