Monday, November 24, 2014

When is art? Goodman vs. Danto, and the relation of this to everyday aesthetics

Goodman's famous "When is Art?" appeared in his 1978 book Ways of Worldmaking.  The chapter seems at first to be mainly directed against formalists such as Clive Bell and more importantly, probably, Clement Greenberg, although neither of these are mentioned (he simply refers to a group of theorists and artists which he calls "purists" and sometimes "formalists").  Goodman wants to show that the purists are wrong that the abstract art they favor does not symbolize.  He has a broader notion of "symbolize" such that something can fail to represent or express but could still symbolize if it exemplifies.  All of this main seem to be just a matter of semantics, Goodman having a much broader use of "symbol" than the purists.  A more important target for the essay however is the work of Arthur Danto.  Both Goodman and Danto are trying to account for found art and conceptual art as well as for highly abstract minimalist art.  A useful way to see their distinction and implicit disagreement can show in part how Goodman leads us on a path that is more world-connected than Danto's and perhaps more useful for the project of everyday aesthetics.  Take for example a rock picked up in a driveway (Goodman's example).  Goodman believes that when the rock is in the driveway it has no aesthetic properties (this of course cannot be accepted by everyday aesthetics) but that when it is put on a pedestal in an art gallery it comes to exemplify certain properties (and so, is symbolic even if it does not represent or express).  In doing this it comes to function as art.  Goodman does not define art in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, but he does talk about what he calls "symptoms of the aesthetic" by which he means symptoms of arthood:  these are syntactic density, semantic density, relative repleteness, exemplification and multiple and complex reference.  There is no need here to go into detail about these, except to mention that relative repleteness means that a line in a Hokusai painting is richer in meaning than a similar line on a Stock exchange chart.  I suspect that all of the symptoms of the aesthetic refer basically to one thing or phenomenon.  It is the same intuition expressed in different ways.  Goodman himself suggests this when he says that all the symptoms "focus attention on rather than, or at least along with, what [the work] refers to."  We cannot simply look through the symbol to its referent as we would in the case of a traffic light or a science text.  We must "attend constantly to the symbol itself."  Danto (I am speaking here just of his view in "The Artworld") would hold that for the art to be art it is not sufficient that it be exhibited in a gallery by an artist, although this can contribute to its arthood.  It must be seen as art by someone with suitable art historical and art theoretical knowledge, i.e. seen under the appropriate concept of art. It must also have some part that is seen with the is of artistic identification.  So whereas Goodman can be seen as expanding the formalist conception of art to include new material (for example texture and the type of material used), Danto can be seen as rejecting it.  Whereas Goodman thinks art calls on us to attend quite carefully to its many exhibited referential features, Danto thinks that we need to attend to things that are not exhibited (at least directly in the work) for example art history, art theory, the intended meaning of the artist, the title.  An interesting feature of Goodman is that art's function is cognitive and, as cognitive, it does relate very much to the world, through various forms of reference.  Danto's approach involves not reference to the world but reference to the artworld.  For Goodman even work that is entirely abstract can exemplify its properties, properties which are shared by objects outside the artwork.  Thus the entire distinction between properties that are intrinsic and ones that are extrinsic seems to dissolve (not entirely though).  Goodman's approach explains why, after seeing a show by a good artist, we tend to see things in the world in terms of the works.  Goodman in a sense captures the dynamic interaction of art and world in a way that Danto does not.  Of course artworld knowledge can enter into that which is expressed or even exemplified by a work of art.  So Goodman could possibly accomodate Danto's insight.   But artworld knowledge does not play such an important role in Goodman as it does in Danto.  Danto stresses the "is of artistic identification" which, as I have argued, seems more like an "is of imaginative identification" or that, plus, seeing the object as art.  Goodman allows for metaphorical exemplification, and hence also for imaginative identification.  However, he has no role for an is of artistic identification where it is required that we see the object as art according to a theory of art. Another important difference between the two concerns what happens when the artwork leaves the art gallery.  For Danto it is still art if it is purchased, taken home and perceived by someone with suitable art historical knowledge.  What is not clear is what happens if the Warhol Brillo Box is taken to a warehouse where it is indistinguishable from the Brillo boxes there:  is it still art?  (Danto at one point imagines the Brillo Box just is an appropriated Brillo box from the factory.  That version of Brillo Box would then be totally indistinguishable from the other Brillo boxes assuming that its history of origin is forgotten, or someone switches it with a Brillo box by accident.) Danto sometimes talks like Dickie:  once art, always art, and therefore it is still art, as though once it has been displayed as art in the art gallery it cannot stop being so...even if it is impossible to locate it amongst its indiscernible counterparts in the warehouse.  Goodman however says that once it ceases to function as art it is no longer art.  Well he hedges on that a bit: he says a Rembrandt may still be a Rembrandt after it has been taken out of the museum and used as a blanket, but the question of when it is art is really more important, for him, than "what is art."  It is art when it functions as art, which does not happen when it functions as a blanket.  So one of Warhol's Brillo Boxes taken to the warehouse no longer functions as art and hence is no longer art for Goodman, which seems right to me.  

So, what is the value of this debate to everyday aesthetics?  It it is not explicit but rather lies in the gradual evaporation of the distinction between that which is intrinsic and that which is extrinsic in formalist art combined with the way in which art is essentially cognitive.  Because art's significance goes beyond representation and expression to exemplification, including both literal and metaphorical exemplification, art draws our attention to aesthetic qualities of everyday life.  The expansion of "formalist" to include not only relations of lines and colors but also texture and material, and perhaps  much more (insofar as the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction does dissolve) encourages us to focus on art features in a much more multi-sensuous way than is allowed by traditional formalism.  Bear in mind that strictly speaking Goodman has to be against the aesthetics of everyday life:  he seems to make no distinction between art and aesthetic, and to reduce the aesthetic to the artistic, so that the aesthetic is only within the realm of art.  Oddly, however, the project allows for any object to become a work of art as long as it functions as such or in the way art functions, i.e. in becoming symbolic in the ways that focus our attention on the object's references including especially (although Goodman doesn't say so) exemplification.  So enhanced formalism of the Goodmanian sort might be an answer to Carlson's objections to a formalist approach to everyday aesthetics (see my last post). 

1 comment:

Zakir khan said...

Hello sir,
Its Zakir (installation artist) from India. It was a wonderful article. Sir i am having a problem understanding the "symptoms of the aesthetic" by Goodman. Sir can u please elaborate on that...? Or can u plz give my any link to the explanation.