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Your Last Word on ART

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 56
This thread is really a bulletin board, not a discussion. If you wish to post your thoughts pertaining to any topic discussed at the meeting, it is welcome here. Please keep the length down to one, self-contained paragraph (or, if you must keep talking, please try to make it rhyme). If after further contemplation your views change, then edit your post: that is why it's called "the last word"!

Here are some of the many topics suggested by the discussion, but feel free to use another. You'll note that I've attempted to frame these questions much more precisely than we did in the meeting.

• What does the intention of the artist have to do with something being art? Can a work of art be created by accident?
• If art is "in the eye/experience of the perceiver" then is art a relativistic/useless concept?
• If art is just a way of talking about other, "real" things, then why do we not talk about everything as art? Or should we regard everything as art?
• Thinking of art as a product, how does its means of production affect its value? Could one thing be art because of how it is made, and another physically identical thing (perhaps mass-produced) not be art? What if you made one under a constraint–say, with one hand tied behind your back?
• Can a theory (e.g., relativity or evolution) be artistic?
• Is it possible to judge a work from another culture, or do hermeneutical problems of interpretation make that useless? If so, can we stop the slide toward complete relativism?
• Would it be more productive to ignore the broad category "art" in favor of examining separate media, or perhaps works in isolation? What do paintings and plays and industrial design have in common, anyway?
• Should there be any coherence to the set of reasons people give to spend money on art–affordability, souvenirs, political statement, decor, support artists, embody a value, edification?
• No one really "creates" anything–rather we assemble, arrange, or even merely "frame" what is already there. Why is this perspective relevant or not?
• What does it mean to say something is not art because "my kid sister could have done that"?
• Why are we so fixated on giving credit to the artist, when (a) so much art is collaborative and (b) sacred art never has an identified originator?
• If we could peek at the music of the future, and it turned out to be the bastard child of screamo and rap and twang, would that mean we are judging them too hard or that that the apocalypse is coming?
• What are the "purposes" of art?
• Why are endless fields of wheat art to some and just boring to others?
• Is using text in graphic art a "cheat" in some way?
• Can a machine create art? Other non-humans?
• Can art transcend its social context?
• How do trends in art get started, and how do they grow to be dominant in a culture?
• Explain the difference between beauty and art. What is the point of ugly art?
• Why do some fields of artistic endeavor carry the word "art" in their names: martial arts, culinary arts?
• Is art personal expression or revelation of something supra- or transpersonal?
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 59
Can a theory (e.g., relativity or evolution) be artistic?

I will sidestep the temptation to try to definitively answer this provocative question by recourse to a definition of art. Instead I want to explore my gut reaction to the question, what its promise or threat could be. My first impression is What an absurd question! Art isn't something that can be proven right or wrong. But then I ask myself, Is escape from right and wrong what I cherish about art? Well, maybe (it would be a detour to describe here, but there are biographical details that support this notion), and isn't it the case that the emphasis in art, at least in modern times, is on individual expression, on independence from societal norms? So accepting a theory as art has the potential to shrink the domain of the "private", which would be bad–therefore, a theory cannot be art. Done. ...Yet their equivalence is tantalizing, for it emphasizes that a theory is a product of mind (and really, one mind, or just a few, working closely together but widely separated from the crowd), and really wouldn't it just be poetic justice if a work of art in the guise of a "theory" knocked society on its tail? Does some of that rush I get from creating something new really come from the fantasy that my creation will exert influence over others? Ah, but power is bad–therefore, art cannot be any sort of tool, even a theory. Done. ...So both the promise and the threat of the question stem from art being a "minority report" with the potential to be suppressed, or stealthily victorious. Are we trading away the possibility of victory for the comfort of a separate-but-equal-sort-of existence for art? Arguably, it is a wise policy to reserve an incubator for art, a space insulated from the winner-take-all of "real life." But babies are not meant to reside in these bubbles. Darwin's theory spent decades in the incubator, until it became clear that the other baby (Wallace's) was leaving without it. Einstein's was a bookshelf curiosity until the need for nuclear weapons forced it into reality. Evolution and relativity are still called "theories" only because their origins are so recent that "we knew them when," in the same way you might call your grown-up nephew Mikey or Carlito. So how does art "grow up"? The same way: we begin to <i>use</i> it, to entwine it with other parts of our existence, like we depend on Mikey to do his job at work, or Carlito to raise his kids. There lies an interesting theory to be nurtured: perhaps the first pots were created for aesthetic admiration, but then it was discovered that they could hold water; perhaps the first utterances were spoken simply because they sounded interesting or were fun to mimic, but gradually meanings became attached to them. Not at all far-fetched, in which case we should rather ask, Can there be a theory that was not, once upon a time, artistic?
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