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 mainly seems 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 is the work of Arthur Danto, although Goodman never mentions Danto.  (Surely they knew each other:  New York is not that far from Boston).  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 seems at first to be more world-connected than Danto's and hence more useful for the project of everyday aesthetics.  In fact, the two can be used to supplement each other since Goodman focuses on the sensuous and directly apparent aspect of experience, whereas Danto focuses on the cultural meaning aspect which is not immediately apparent.
For Goodman, something is art when it functions as art, and something functions as art when its exhibits an unspecified number of symptoms of the aesthetic (although the most important of these is exemplification.)  Thus objects can move several times in their lifetime in an out of arthood, and thus in and out of the everyday.  Unfortunately, when they are out of arthood they are also out of the realm of the aesthetic since Goodman doesn’t really take into account non-art 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.
The relevance of this for everyday aesthetics is that there can be a realm between non-art and art that is aesthetic but not enough so or in enough ways to be art.  I doubt that Goodman would have agreed with this (given his metaphysical strictures against possibility) but, as I see it, the rock can have potential aesthetic properties which are actualized in the experienced of someone who looks at it with an artist’s eye, and then those properties can be full actualized when the rock achieves art status in the context of a museum exhibit where it is displayed as art and thus fully functions 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:  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, and physical artworld placement (i.e. in a gallery or museum).  As I have suggested, I think both are right about this.   
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 also provides reference to the world but in his case it is through aboutness or meaning.   Two paintings can be visually indistinguishable but their titles, for example Newton’s First Law and Newton’s Second Law, provide external reference. In addition to the titles there is whatever else might go into the intended meaning of the creator.  Both Goodman and Danto might well admire an all-red painting, but for Goodman the key is in how the artist has drawn our attention to the particular quality of redness.  Goodman does allow, however, some external reference through his notion of metaphorical exemplification.  Danto focuses instead on the way in which we see the painting based on our knowledge of art history, the intentions of the painter, the title and so forth.   For Goodman it is what you see that gives you at least indirect reference, i.e. exemplification.  (Denotative reference plays only a small role in Goodman’s theory of art.)  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.  He in a sense captures the dynamic interaction of art and world in a way that Danto does not, but then Danto provides captures something about that in a way Goodman does not.  In short, for Danto artworld knowledge can enter into that which is expressed or even exemplified by a work of art. 
So Goodman could accommodate Danto's insight, and Danto Goodman’s.   But artworld knowledge does not play such an important role in Goodman as it does in Danto.  Actually it seems to play no role at all.   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 out of the gallery, 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.  (But at other times he takes the opposite position holding the Brillo Box is reduced to its real counterpart once it is taken out of the gallery.  Danto: you can't have it both ways.)   Goodman however says that once it ceases to function as art it is no longer art.  Well he hedges on that a bit (more than 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, until I think of the curator who has been desperately looking for his stolen art, and at last finds it.  She is not going to say, well it is no longer a work of art.  So that a problem for both Danto and Goodman. 
So, what is the value of this debate to everyday aesthetics?   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 (especially for Goodman), 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, and both of sensually evident and experientially somewhat hidden cultural properties, this draws our attention to aesthetic qualities of everyday life. 
Goodman’s 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 he seems to reduce the aesthetic to the artistic, so that the aesthetic is only within the realm of art.  But again, as anything can move in or out of the realm of art depends on how it functions one could imagine an in between realm, the realm of everyday aesthetics where some, but not the sufficient number or intensity of symptoms of “the aesthetic” (which is to say, of arthood) are present. 
A big difference between Goodman and Danto here is that Danto lays a lot of emphasis on imaginative seeing and Goodman seems to lay none at all.  The “is” of artistic representation, since it can also be applied to what the child does in pretending that a stick is a horse plays no role in Goodman, except perhaps in the domain of metaphorical exemplification.  Once the “is” is let in, and metaphorical exemplification emphasized we can see that the artist, in looking imaginatively at both her subject matter and her materials is, through the process of creative work, able ultimately to make something that, in Danto’s words, embodies meaning. 
My view of everyday aesthetics would incorporate both insights neither of which were actually applied beyond the world of art.  One of the reasons for this is that neither Danto nor Goodman seemed to pay much attention to the artist’s perspective in the creative process.  (Yuriko Saito has contributed a lot to this issue by pointing out how most philosophers, certainly in the analytic tradition, have neglected the creator’s perspective.  Exceptions are Nietzsche and Dewey, and, oddly given his idealism, Collingwood, who is one of those rare philosophers who thinks a lot about the relationship between the artist and her materials and subject matter in the studio.)  But this of course requires seeing the relationship between everyday aesthetics and art aesthetics as being dynamic and interactional.  It would reject those views of everyday aesthetics which sees the everyday as totally detached from art every bit as much as it would reject those who, like Danto in some moods, see art totally detached from the everyday.  For Danto, if Rauschenberg’s Bed is stripped of its paint it becomes a mere bed again, and if Warhol’s Brillo Box is taken out of the gallery and, even more generally, out of the artworld context, it too loses all of its art-relevant properties, which are the only aesthetic properties of much interest to Danto.  My view, perhaps closer to Goodman on this point, is that the materials taken up by artists contain aesthetic properties already and that these are taken up and transformed in the creative process.  Dewey says that art refines and intensifies everyday experience.  This is how that is done:  the artist in the creative process refines and intensifies art-like aesthetic properties already there in the non-art world, both the ones favored by Danto and the ones favored by Goodman.


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.
Thankyou