Wait, what is Art again?

7 Jul

Schwartzy, I’m glad you brought up the subject of art and aesthetics, because it’s something that I pontificate on despite my having absolutely no formal training or book-learning besides some soft quotation hunting at times. But, I think it’s pretty common sense that I’m not very formal when it comes to quotation hunting. So, as I remember the conversation with the dude whom I can only call Ginger (because 1. I never caught his name and 2. as, Jon pointed out in his post, this dude was pale and redheaded and 3. I really like Ginger Ale) went like this: Jon and I were in a waning discussion of Lolita that had lasted for about a couple hours, when this guy (Ginger) who was sitting at the bar staring at the Pabst Blue Ribbon poster on the wall beside us, which could only mean that he was really just staring at us through his peripheral vision, this guy suddenly jumped into our then-sporadic commentary to ask us about what we were reading, which then turned into my asking what he does for a living (to which he replied nothing, to which I replied …). Then he told us he was into film. That launched us into a discussion of the film industry, which he seemed vehemently convinced that the film industry doesn’t know how to pick artful movies anymore, which, of course, provoked the question:

What do you call art?

And that’s when we heard it, that strange classification. Art is a selective representation of reality. Of course, this seems rather inane and well, un-thought-out. If that is the case, then so many things (including photography, which Ginger so enthusiastically called a science and not an art) could be considered “art”––newspaper reporting, CNN, Fox News (yes, that would mean Glenn Beck = artist), and even Science (that’s right I said it).

While it is easy to rag on such a definition, I think it is important to show why something along those lines could be right. It could seriously be a good definition of art (even though, it is in and of itself a selective definition, maybe making it an artistic definition). It does get at something that the mysterious “B” hammered home so succintly in his comment/advertisement for Professor Sandel (who is a pretty convincing used-Aristotle salesman). There is definitely a subjective quality to art. This I think is hard to ignore. It is created by individuals and judged by individuals. It is definitely selective (despite claims but some such as Milton in Paradise Lost which was billed as a story written about everything), and it is definitely representative (or, as Aristotle would say mimetic). So Ginger wasn’t too far off, really, in trying to make a stab at defining Art.

Now, if I were to make a stab at it, I would first probably start with trying to be as unsubstantial about it as possible (this is an approach that Wittgenstein often takes when entering a philosophical investigation). What normally happens when we discuss things like art, beauty, meaning, being “human”, we often turn the subject immediately into a substantive idea. “Art,” when whispered in such a sultry, deep tone as the way I envision it (or even in short, monotone), signifies nothing but a mess, a group of arbitrary creations (or recreations, though it seems to me that nothing in the selective creation of reality, is ever wholly creative or wholly honest) that can be seen as both accepting some nebulous normative, objective qualities that we cannot fully know while also taking those same notions and turning them on their heads.

Even that digressive definition I pretty much just winged right then doesn’t do art any justice. But what I am slowly starting to wonder is, why do we need to define what Art is before we see it? Or better yet, why do we need to define something we have already seen as Art? Is this something different from being beautiful? What do we gain from such a definition and delineation? I say nothing, insofar as it is fun to debate stuff with other people who see the same thing you do but only in a different way.

So, in the spirit of making a blanket statement about something that gets substantialized all so easily only to be debated before, here’s one for ya: Art, to me, is someone actively and conscientiously misleading people toward the correctness of some substantial (though not necessarily true) Truth. Pretty wrong, huh? Eh.


2 Responses to “Wait, what is Art again?”

  1. B July 8, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    I thought it was pretty obvious who I was/am. But your reference has made me realize that I need to be more formative in my identity.

  2. The Mysterious B July 8, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Therefore, this shall be my new name.

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