Tag Archives: definitions

Logic and Art

Given: the waterfall and the illuminating gas

We assume that there is a logic to beauty and art. If x is art and y is equal to x then y must also be art. If you think that x#1 is beautiful then it would be reasonable to assume that you would agree that x#2 is beautiful. If not; then why not?

Artist painting at Flinders Street

Artists propose these questions all the time. If one Elvis is desirable then why not have more than one concluded Andy Warhol. If puppy dogs and flowers are beautiful therefore a giant puppy made of flowers must be beautiful concluded Jeff Koons.

The word art is used as both a category and a quality and this duality confuses many discourses about the nature of art.

If art is a quality with a certain cut off point, a bench mark of quality, then there is no such thing as bad or poor art. Are we talking about what qualifies to be entered into the category or about the quality? The idea that art is a category or a quality has led some people think that there is a rule book for art (sent down by God at the same time as the 10 Commandments) and become disillusioned when they discover that artists aren’t playing by this imaginary rule book. That the image wasn’t drawn freehand, that other people worked on it, that it was done to make money…

The distinction between the category and the quality of art is often raised in discussions about the defence of work accused of obscenity or pornography people will bemoan that they wish that it was a great work of art, as if, only great works of art are worth defending.

If art is a category then there should therefore be parameters that define the category. However, any attempts to find such parameters will be proved incorrect with counter-examples and excluding all counter-examples to the category of things that are called ‘art’ but aren’t becomes a curmudgeonly position because art is part of a continuing culture and not part of a narrowing category.

The idea of a category of art has emerged after many of its contents were created; as ‘art’, whatever it is, is an idea that has been made up by people as they went along and there are several different versions of ‘art’ in the last five hundred years.

However, art is not a category that can be empirically defined, such as a particular wave length of light. It is not a football code, there is no rule book that defines art. The more stringent the code that is thought to define it, ersatz art and the ossification of the art. The more that the logic of a rule book is applied to art the more that it becomes a tired, stale version of its former incarnations.

Art is sequential and each work is part of a very long series, a series that we keep on adding prequels as well as sequels too. The items in the series have a family resemblance because they are members of the series rather than that they can be a defined category because of particular qualities. Examining the items out of sequence makes no sense and nor is it possible to predict through logic too far ahead in the sequence.

Since Duchamp other artists have humourlessly followed the same logic that he successfully employed but as they have a different position in the sequence their desire is different; not to collapse the boarders of art but to extend them.


Against Naive Idealism

Or, why contemporary artists need to study philosophers, such as Foucault. (Yes, this is blog post is written specifically for my most recent subscriber – yes, I do look at your blog when you subscribe – but I know that there are other readers who should think about this.)

There are people who naively think that things are predefined and that a knowledge of English (or whatever language) is sufficient to know what the word means. That the meaning of words is inductively learnt as a child. For example, that they know what ‘art’ is because they speak English. This creates a world where the idea of words exist outside of people’s minds, in which there are true and false things according to how they fit with a predefined definition.

These people have been encouraged to think this way from an early age by conservatives because it helps them to hold onto power. They are told that things are the way that they are and that any attempt to understand why is futile sophistry. They are encouraged to be idealists and Socrates’s story of the cave is endlessly repeated as if Parmenides had never rebutted Socratic idealism. This is for the benefit of conservatives because it discourages any examination that might reduce their power.

The definition of the word ‘art’, like other words (‘men’, ‘women’, ‘marriage’ etc.), is not fixed. Definitions are mutable; the word ‘art’ has changed meaning several times in the last few centuries and will continue to change as society changes. By examining how the words are used and defined the political structure of society can be understood. This is why reading Foucault (or Chomsky or other philosophers) is important; or if you are conservative, why you should dismiss them without examination.

If it is impossible to change the meaning of the word ‘art’ then if you want to be a popular artist then you should make images of girls with big tits (see my post Sexy Girls, Girls, Girls) and refuse to believe that these images have anything to do with the position of women in society. If you want to be a wealthy artist then make images that supports and flatters those in power and refuse to believe that they could do anything wrong. If the meaning of the word ‘art’ cannot change then why do you think that your art can change anything?


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