Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Dialogue with some my seminar students on the definition of art

Dialogue 1:  Dialogue with Christopher Ortuno on Morris Weitz, "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics"  Christopher is in black, I am in red.

He [Weitz] elaborates the first problem of aesthetics is, “to give a logical description of the actual functioning of the concept, including a description of the conditions under which we correctly use it or its correlates” (Weitz, 30). I wonder why he doesn't think it is an important project for aesthetics to come up with new honorific definitions of art, music, painting, photography and so forth?  That project would seem to be implied by the end of his article if what is valuable is the debates over these sorts of things.  Also, I wonder what he means by "conditions under which we correctly use it"?  Is it really that important to determine when we correctly use the phrase "work of art"?  Isn't there really a wide range of correct uses?  And isn't this just the source of debate:  i.e. some people believe "work of art" is correctly used in relation to Fountain by Duchamp and some do not.  So how do you determine whether the phrase is correctly applied in such cases?  Knowing that "work of art" is an open concept doesn't help resolve the issue.  Weitz suggests that we take our lead from decisions.   I think that the word "correct" is just not helpful here.   He paraphrases an important point made by Wittgestein, that art may be similar to games. “Games” as we call them do not all share a common property but share similar properties across a web of family style resemblances.
            In order to find a definition of art, or to find necessary and sufficient conditions, we would need a closed concept of art. However, art is not completely defined and is an ever expanding concept. In order to close the concept of art we would need to close the range of the uses of the word. This is what philosophers trying to define art have done, or tried to do and failed.
            I like the point that Weitz brings up about art as an open concept. I have often thought of the difficulty of defining art. As soon as a definition may come out, you will have not only philosopher but artists themselves trying to create art that is outside of the closed concept definition. In fact, creating a closed definition of art directly contradicts the essence of creativity that are is supposed to portray.  True, but if we provide an honorific definition this would seem not to close off creativity.  We may sometimes close a particular portion of art in history once the time has passed. For example, “Greek art” may be a definition of a kind of art at a particular time, in a particular place. More importantly, the time has passed and thus the definition of it can be closed.  Good point, and I appreciate your raising it in class.  This bracket closing of time and place makes it much easier to define “Greek art.” In fact, the definition will most likely include time and place. More importantly, since no one can add to this period of art, the concept can be closed logically.  I am not so sure of that.  To close a concept logically is to say that for any new member of a class it must meet the necessary and sufficient conditions.  But if the class is already extensionally closed then such a definition is not even needed.  All you can say about an extensionally closed class is that all the members share certain properties:  but that they share properties has nothing to do with what is essential to their membership in the class.  I think that extensionally closing a class actually forecloses on the possibility of definition. Perhaps we can define art, although, only in groups and only after the fact. In this way we can give a closed bracket definition of a particular kind. This way we will again have groups of types of art that again have family relations to one another, just like that of individual piece of art. 

1 comment:

Alfred Jan said...

Regarding the last point by the student, defining art by retrospect and grouping does not help the cause of defining art. Ancient art and art of "primitive" people are cultural artifacts not meant to be exhibited in gallery spaces or held up for candidacy for appreciation as in Dickie's institutional theory of art. As such, they do not fit the term "art"as used today (despite some being exhibited in museums). African fetish objects are examples. Dickie's theory, despite its flaws, is the only viable definition of art applicable to CONTEMPORARY art, because it does not close off creative possibilities regarding exhibited qualities.