Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Is Art a Modern Religion?

This is another one of those 'WTF does that have to do with games?' posts. It's about questioning the value of art. You can find more philosophising here.

I'm due to go back to school. Starting September I'm aiming to enrol on the Philosophy MA at King's College, London. Somewhere at the back of my mind a doctorate is calling. For now, though, I'm very happy writing games and this course will just be a part-time thing to keep my brain alive. With that in mind, I'm trying to get back into gear by turning out some essays. This is one. Some notes before we start:

- I have a BA in philosophy, but I've never studied any aesthetics. I may be saying things that are painfully obvious, or got debunked centuries ago.

- If you're already au fait with objective and subjective values, and with art being the latter, you can safely skip to 'What is art?'

- This essay assumes the reader accepts religion as false. Some of the arguments are based on this belief.

- There's a too long, didn't read at the end.

On with the show!


Is Art a Modern Religion?

Art bares remarkably many of the hallmarks of a religion. Is its value something we've been conditioned to accept unquestioningly?

Defining the word 'art'
Clearly the word itself, 'art', is one whose definition has never ceased to be turbulent. For the purposes of this discussion I'll use it to refer to any thing, manmade or otherwise, which can be considered valuable beyond any practical purpose. This would cover - as I see it - anything that's ever been considered 'art', including music, photography, video games; a car chassis, a woodland clearing, or a building.

There's usually a further conversation to be had over which of these emotive things carry artistic value (often the painting or the opera), and which are 'merely' aesthetically valuable (eg blue wallpaper or a shiny watch strap). This is not a distinction I'm concerned with right now. For now when I refer to art, I refer most specifically to that pursuit a great many great people have dedicated their lives to creating, promoting, and assessing: the creation of art for art's sake.

Already, I think, we've hit a number of telling notes. We know that art is something which people - often unquestioningly, fanatically and otherwise to their own detriment - consider to be of utmost importance in their lives. Art is something we are all intimately aware of, but struggle to pin down. It is something we fight over (albeit in a far more subdued way than religion). Art is something on which we attempt to proliferate our own perspective at the expense of opposing movements. It is something which pervades every element of our society, be it the Dali design on Chupa Chups lollies or the carefully choreographed cutlery on a fine dining table.

Art is perceived as a 'real' value
Obviously I'm not seeking to question the existence of the things which we call art, in just the same way I would not seek to claim it impossible that someone called Jesus said some persuasive things at some point. Clearly paintings and books exist. My concern is the perceived value behind those things - namely, is there any true value to them, or like god is that value an invention of the psychethat makes the world a bit more bearable?

Art is something the most of us would take for granted as being in some intrinsic and timeless way fundamental to human existence. Specific examples aside, its value as a whole is something whose reality tends not be open to question. Crucially, therefore, artistic value is something with the ability to propel us through life in directions entirely unsupported by any rational facts.

The background on debunking beliefs
I'd like to use morality as an analogy here. Over the millennia of human development, we have constantly broken down the dogma around our false beliefs. We began with god. Go back just 300 years and the question of whether belief in god was rational - ie was supported by fact rather than hyperbole, superstition and psychological need - wasn't just a question that people weren't supposed to ask; it was a question 99.9% of people didn't even think to ask. Religion wasn't seen as a belief in the same way it is today; it wasn't seen as something a person must go out of their way to find and uphold. It was just a part of the background. It was an assumption so implicitly accepted - by people, but also by the structure of every element of society - as to be invisible.

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century religious belief moved from invisible, to questionable, to questionable without fear of the noose, to answered, and finally to debunked (in most intelligent, educated circles).

Morality - which I define as the belief in an authoritative rule or system of rules governing how a person 'ought' behave - is moving through a similar cycle, albeit a compressed and ongoing one. With the elimination of god, the question of what underpins the authority of objective moral values became one that could legitimately be raised. Over the past 200 years it's one which - I would argue - has been answered, but one which remains unaccepted. Morality is no less a religion than Christianity, and its questioning in public remains an activity liable to ostracise whoever dares do so. It is, in short, on the difficult cusp between being an invisible assumption (often the subconscious premise that the greater good is of primary, a priori importance), and a more conscious belief that it's possible to discuss and even doubt.

The crucial analogy, here, is that clearly there are real, objective actions which we call moral; just as there are real, objective works which we call art. What is open to question is whether the value of these works - and of those actions - is as real and objective as they are; or whether the value is an invention of the human mind, and therefore in need of a stronger internal understanding in order to justify the belief.

Art as a subjective, rather than objective value
Except, it's not. Unlike morality or religion, there are few proponents of the belief that art is somehow underpinned by some unknowable and supernatural force. Despite the omnipresence of objectively presented review scores and critiques (which could at most be said to objectively represent the subjective values of their stakeholders), art is already accepted as having subjective value - that is value which can justifiably differ from person to person. Murder is supposed to be murder, regardless of who is doing it; a miracle doesn't stop being a miracle because it was observed by an atheist. The entire structure of the arguments against those beliefs revolves around demonstrating that this objective value is an assumption. Art, though, enjoys a far more dangerous assumption: that its value is not only subjective, but beneficially so.

"That's just your interpretation," or "This really meant the following for me personally," are certainly more accurate reactions to art than, "This is good art, this is bad," but they also grant art a uniquely powerful claim to the speaker: the claim that their view is indubitable; not beholden to logic. Now, far be it that 'sounding a bit like religion' be enough evidence to damn anything as such, but it has to be said: as soon as we start claiming something is valuable, yet reserve its value as a uniquely personal, non-objective and unquestionable entity, religion is certainly the field we begin to wander into.

What is art?
Sadly to ask, "What is art?" or "Why is art valuable?" is often to see the sort of backlash you can only imagine similar questions of morality and god were receiving so many years ago. To question the value of a great work out loud is so terribly gauche - you're being too analytical, or not analytical enough, or thinking about it in the wrong way, or plain not getting it. This is precisely what makes it dangerous.

We even produce dystopian works of art which present worlds where art is banned as if this were the ultimate moral sin; we view these worlds in much the same way the religious societies of the eighteenth century would have viewed our own.

But it's time to clear some things up. This essay is not seeking to claim there can be no value in art. By definition subjective value (value which exists entirely in the mind of the human subject) is something which defies an all-encompassing, subject-independent classification. If you simply like the look of a silver Porsche or a basket of fruit there's no reasonable way to disagree with you. Certainly the simple fact that the value two different perceive in a work can be outright contradictory is not proof that their values are false. If my preference for a particular character or art style results in a unique interpretation, or if my experience in life results in a work's familiar message feeling fresh and I therefore find it to be thoroughly captivating, there is no sense in which another person's predisposition can be considered in some way superior to mine. What is considered profound cannot be so for everyone.

The role of reason is artistic value
Crucially, though, we tend to demand that appreciation of art (works created specifically to be valued on a meaningful level) differ intellectually from appreciation of more passively emotive things (the wallpaper, the woodland clearing, the bowl of fruit). Unless we wish to relegate the value of art to that of unthinking emotion, that value will still have to be rationally justified. Unless we wish to propose that the value perceived in the most complex of impressionist art is equal to that of the banker admiring his nice silver Porsche, we must accept that reasoned thought is required, and that the reality of artistic value therefore remains open to reasoned doubt. That value might be some philosophical or even spiritual lesson, eg Kafka's emphasis on the alienation of the modern bureaucratic society. It might be the effective, immediate and emotive communication of a way of life we have no means of accessing for ourselves, eg Anne Frank's wartime tale of hope and persecution. It might simply be a work's ability to conjure a more complex emotion than is commonly experienced. But all of these things are reasoned values. They are open to interpretation, but they are not impervious to intelligent questioning.

Art's power over us
Perhaps it is only that art can have so many possible interpretations that has rendered it such a viable religion. Just as religions and moralities underpin their sets of rules with promise of rewards that are very difficult to refute - eg the afterlife - art grants its followers rewards equally intangible: 'impact', 'culture', 'vision'. And if you don't feel like you've received those rewards, if Picasso leaves you cold, then don't worry: it probably affected you in some other way; or its simple apprehension has improved you as a person; or it's just not for you; or maybe you plain didn't get it.

Regardless of whether there was or was not some measure of objective truth somewhere along the line, countless religions and social constructs have demonstrated just one thing over the centuries: that it's terrifyingly easy to convince people something is real and important provided they're convinced everyone else agrees and there's nothing immediately graspable and concrete showing themless of whether there was or was not some measure of objective truth somewhere along the line, countless religions and social constructs have demonstrated just one thing over the centuries: that it's terrifyingly easy to convince people something is real and important provided they're convinced everyone else agrees and there's nothing immediately graspable and concrete showing them otherwise.

My point (finally)
Ultimately, I suppose that this is as much a sociological warning light as it is philosophical essay; a niggling concern for no one as much as myself. I'm not for a second proposing that art cannot have profound effects on us, or that the world would be better off without it (though I am proposing we at least consider as much). I am not questioning on a rational level the theoretical reality of the value we place in art (since art presupposes that that value is subjective, and therefore not underpinned by anything in the 'real world' beyond our own minds). I cherish visiting an art gallery or reading literary fiction (though in the case of the former I wonder how much of it is about perceiving true value, and how much is about showing a pretty girl a cool place). I have been moved by art, and I have been intellectually affected by art, but by a significant margin I have more often than not simply been entertained.

So when I'm done with this essay will I do my usual thing? Will I take my ideas and convert them into fiction? Perhaps sacrifice the clarity of the message I want to convey in favour of convincing a few more people of its value through hyperbole and plot?

Perhaps not.

tl;dr
Clearly to sit here and say, "All this pretentious art is a load of bullshit designed to make clever people feel cleverer," is not new, nor clever. But then it's equally clear that if art gives smart (or would-be smart) people a purpose in life that they need not question or justify, then that's not a whole hell of a lot different to Nietzsche's observation that religion provides vulnerable people the very same.

My point is not that I believe art is necessarily screwed, in the same way that I don't believe living by Christian standards will necessarily ruin your life. My question, really, is this: "Has art replaced religion as the unquestionable value in our society, obscuring any true value we might seek; and is it possible that in assuming that value as absolute we sometimes make decisions based on that assumption that may ultimately prove to be to our detriment?"

I suspect that I quite frequently have.

20 comments:

  1. I've been pleasantly surprised by how much intelligent discussion past philosophical posts have prompted (even if it is, I assume, a vocal minority). I hope this one will be no different.

    In particular, I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has any kind of training in asthetics, or anyone who can make a reasoned counter to any of my propositions.

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  3. Sale raises a salient point there.

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  4. Chortle, I'm leaving the spam in for the sake of irony.

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  5. I think art and religion are almost inherently human. I can't really provide any evidence or citing, but it's just something I've come to assume in my life.

    I think a fundamental difference is that art is up for critique. I think art is unique to subjects such as philosophy and religion in that there are more applied situations and in my own experiences have witnessed change in people in many ways. In understanding, viewpoint and proficiency. As subjective as it is, art has objectivity in accountability and scrutiny.
    Art is also a medium for communication, expression and participation. I feel religion has so few avenues in which to engage while you can participate, spectate and enjoy art all at once. I feel religion has this going for in some ways, but art is more accepting.

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  6. Before I begin, I want to say it's great to challange unquestioned social values and no subject should be beyond scrutiny. It's great when someone presents a great, well thought out piece that challanges those beliefs. Alas, not today.

    Art is an act of self expression. Something that religion (in general,) is antithetical to. Religion makes factual claims and places demands upon it's practicioners. Religion claims to be objective and art, as you admit, is subjective (though some stubborn individuals might have some romantic disagreements on the matter). Religion is often considered beyond criticism, while art relies on it. At it's worst, it seeks total complience and stifles any self expression. Forget dystopian futures, religion already has a history of banning art, music, dancing and other forms expression. Why? Because you're not supposed to think, you're supposed to prostylize and follow. Conversely, art you want to be an individual, sharing his feelings with the world in an abstract manner.

    Outside being inherently intangible, they're pretty much complete opposites.

    Is the issue assigning any value to intangibles? Love, friendship, communication? Happiness, sorrow? How about ideas like "Justice" or "Freedom"? Do we need to live our lives as Vulcans -- fierce logic machines, striving to surpress our intangible selves? Is the issue with religion that it is intangible? I would think not. The issue with religion has always been it's claims to reality and the strife it creates. Not too many people get offended at, say, deists. We might find them to be a bit naive, but certainly not harmful. They don't sit around and say "oh don't worry, my Deist god will fix it!" or "You heathen! You will die for not believing in my vague, ill defined, non-intervening god!". They just have another superstition that we are prone to having. So do artistic values -really- make people do foolish things? I have a hard time thing of reasonable examples of this, but lets say someone reads a story with a perverse idea that sort of sticks with them. When we question his idea, can he hide under the guise of "well my art said so, so it's okay."

    No, and he will be justly ridiculed for making such a weak claim. Ideas are seductive, be they delivered through art, or through truth, or just sheer fabrication. They can be as simple as a cheeky sounding title for a blog post, that leads one to post on an ill supported premise, that undermines any actual point one might have. It's all good, though! It's all good because art does not sanctify ideas or put them beyond criticism. I can see a artfully saucy article title and realize that it's artful cleverness does not impart any truth to it. I can still come here and criticize the idea.

    ... And sorry for being a little sassy, my art/religion dictates it so. :)

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  7. Also apparently I don't know how to spell "Challenge" :( Ah well, they can't all be winners.

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  8. @Kicks
    Thanks for your input. As I'm sure you're aware, opening a philosophical conversation with "it's just something I've come to assume" isn't something that's going to hold water; but I do see where you're coming from.

    @Kayin
    Thanks for your reasoned critique. I certainly agree that there are substantial differences between art and religion, and you're right: it's as much a pithy header as legitimate claim.

    I think the core of what I'm interested in here is contained within the second half of the essay. I'm not truly proposing art is a religion in the strictest sense but I am proposing it's an intangible value which nonetheless demands greater objectivity to justify our faith in it. It's contained within this sentence:

    "Unless we wish to propose that the value perceived in the most complex of impressionist art is equal to that of the banker admiring his nice silver Porsche, we must accept that reasoned thought is required, and that the reality of artistic value therefore remains open to reasoned doubt."

    Kayin, do you have any thoughts on whether art is different to simple apprehension and emotional response (ie does conscious thought, and therefore reason, play any part?)? Because if it is, doesn't that imply some objective validity to what is otherwise considered a subjective intangible?

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  9. I'm glad you took my reply in good humor, but if I'm going to go deeper, I will need to address this idea of "Faith". Faith in art seem proposterious to me. Faith in this context, withotu examples, seems practically the same as 'enjoyment'. I'm having a hard time really thinking of real examples that fit in with what your implying. Some artists go a little overboard and a few people here and there might be moved to absurd levels by something, but for the most part society doesn't enjoy art because it is art, they enjoyment it or are moved by it. "Faith" in art in that sense is merely pattern recognition. "Art is good because I've enjoyed things that are art and want more of it". We might question the tastes of a person who does not appreciate art, but we also question them when they don't like the same sitcoms we do, or like some sort of food or whatever. While some might be more extreme than others, this doesn't seem to be 'faith', and certain not the dangerous kind -- unquestioning faith.

    I also have to question this belief that art is not already subjected to reasoned thought. Critiques are all over in almost all forms of media. Art and interpetation leads to many many debates. The very nature of art, and what it is or is not has been a sort of war for centuries. Even in the most basic sense, things that become "Art" with a capital "A" have overcame an intense process of scrutiny from the artistic community. You might think about bullshit exhibits that get thrown up in places like the MoMA, but most of that stuff is soon forgotten and replaced with the current flavor of the month. Time seperates the wheat from the chaff

    To answer your question on Art compared to a car though, I would say the that the aesthetic appreciaton is merely a part of the same emotional response. The car is pure aesthetic, while most Art is a blend of that and emotional context. They're in the same spectrum. Art isn't some magic feeling in the brain induced by faeries. Artists tend to instill good art with enough emotional grist for the viewer to hopefully latch on to.

    As for the "objective" (I think we're being a little loose with the word) or subjective nature, well, I cede art's objective qualities, but I don't think it entails what you think. In fact I think your wrong in saying that ones admiration of a fine car is somehow subjective. It's perhaps the most objective part! Porshe spends good money on designers who follow many well established rules of visual design. The creation of art also follows many of the same, well understood rules. Whole classes are dedicated to things like compositions, forms, color and technique. The artist has a vast toolkit, based on learning and experience. Those who try to ignore them or never were taught them, know and follow them intuitively. Either that, or they ultimately fail. We constantly study and question this aspect of art and subversions of our assumptions lead to entirely new artistic movements.

    The emotional content can be very subjective. but even that doesn't stop inquiry. What was the artist trying to say? What tools did he use to try and evoke these emotions? What are the thematic elements? Anyone who has taken a literature class should be familiar with how willing critics are to grasp at straws to squeeze even a hint of possible objective truth out of a work.

    I can't help but to think you over-extended your self on this one. I think perhaps you based your premise a bit too much on a sort of stereotypical view of art. A lot of people will say stupid and dramatic things about it, but in practice it's really not the case. Even scientific study gets into the process, trying to figure out why we like various patterns or visual elements, or what good/bad effects art has on it. Some artists might get grumpy about it, but unlike say religion, scientists press on.

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  10. I meant can't as in it would be silly to go into such a broad statement within a comments section of an article that already set a precedent of operating on assumptions on topics of inexperience and providing only enough example and evidence to formulate an idea for discussion. Specifically, that intangible quality you mention, I also find interesting and a noteworthy observation.

    I think it's safe to say that art and religion are products of people and have been around since people have. On that same token, I think the desire to communicate and explain the inexplicable fuel them.
    My point and answer to your question is that I don't believe art could replace religion absolutely. I think they overlap in a significant way and provide similar functions but have stable roots in separate basic human elements.
    I also concede a broad definition of both art and religion. I think as people evolve mentally, physically and culturally, so does the art and religion.

    You have also expressed a particular view on moral objectivity. I think this makes it difficult to explain the faith I do have in art. My faith stems from the joy I get in creating, sharing and communicating. From making games and seeing myself improve. It is empirical as much as it is intellectual and emotional. Much the same as my faith in people. Having investigated many churches, I feel my faith in art is logical, practical and true compared to what was required in those churches which went on to solidify my current atheistic beliefs.
    To sound completely contradictory, I don't truly have faith in art. I believe and uphold the ideals of free self expression and find faith in the truths each piece of art evokes. To find those truths, they must live up to a standard that is difficult to define yet easy to understand. If it doesn't hold up, I lose faith as there is no truth there.

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  11. You aren't saying anything new and you have no actual analysis or historical understanding of art, so at the end you have simply said "art and religious discussion is simply based upon obscurity." This is essentially the opposite of philosophy and thought which relies upon uncovering the bottom of the discussion.

    I am not touching your actual arguments.

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  12. @Kayin
    Thanks for the response, I'm enjoying this :-) I agree my position needs some work, and I'm going to go away and have a think. Certainly there are complexities (eg just because everyone has similar subjective reactions to the Porsche doesn't mean they're RIGHT to do so; while having different reactions to a piece of art which requires rational interpretation may well mean you are WRONG).

    The one thing I do want to pick up on is this:

    "Faith in this context, without examples, seems practically the same as 'enjoyment'. "

    I understand we need to better define the terms, and that the unnecessary religion angle has skewed my argument somewhat, but what concerns me is what might be our inability to distinguish between enjoyment and faith. Certainly we could argue if it's impossible to distinguish then what does it matter; but at the same time I feel very uncomfortable appreciating something when we have no understanding of whether that 'enjoyment' is the result of social conditioning or the objective apprehension of some genuine subjective value.

    @Kicks
    Thanks, that's clearer!

    @Anon
    Woo! :-) I have at least tried to analyse art from a logical standpoint, though granted I haven't factored in any historical knowledge. If you do feel like entering the discussion I'd be interested to hear your justifications.

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  13. Clearly, you haven't given it too much thought. But lets run down some errors I see:

    "Art for art's sake" or "l'art pour l'art" - Great art is not for it's own sake, great art is art about life, it is life-affirmation. I understand what you mean but this first error is especially unforgivable. And yes, these art do have an enormous impact to the viewer, that is why they created them.

    " Art is something on which we attempt to proliferate our own perspective at the expense of opposing movements." - What is this supposed to mean? What is art supposed to be opposing? I understand that religion opposes science in multiple points, but what specifically are you arguing about art? Secondly, if you mean in terms of critics, yeah, this is obviously true, as with all fields.

    " My concern is the perceived value behind those things - namely, is there any true value to them, or like god is that value an invention of the psychethat makes the world a bit more bearable?" - What specifically are you saying here? That the value of art is subjective? Are you implying that you need the masses to brainwash you to like art? I really don't get it, of course art is subjective. Just like you can't teach a worm quantum mechanics, some can't people just can't get art or great art.

    "Crucially, therefore, artistic value is something with the ability to propel us through life in directions entirely unsupported by any rational facts." - A pathetic premise using much bigger words than it needs supports a pathetic conclusion. A pathetic historical analysis supports a delusional viewpoint.

    "'That's just your interpretation,' or 'This really meant the following for me personally,' are certainly more accurate reactions to art than, 'This is good art, this is bad,' but they also grant art a uniquely powerful claim to the speaker: the claim that their view is indubitable; not beholden to logic."
    True up to the last point. So basically, they are arrogating themselves more power, but the implicit "this is my viewpoint" is obviously there.

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  14. "as soon as we start claiming something is valuable, yet reserve its value as a uniquely personal, non-objective and unquestionable entity, religion is certainly the field we begin to wander into." - I think you have religion mixed up with subjectivity. A horrible mistake.

    "Sadly to ask, "What is art?" or "Why is art valuable?" is often to see the sort of backlash "- ... So? This happens with all herds? Just like religion, they blindly follow, they do not try to get to the bottom of things. But lets not stop at art, it is virtually EVERYWHERE, even at the proponents of science.

    "We even produce dystopian works of art which present worlds where art is banned as if this were the ultimate moral sin; we view these worlds in much the same way the religious societies of the eighteenth century would have viewed our own."
    Artists arrogate their creations more power than they are worth, as with most creators. Artists also tend not to be intellectually savvy. So what?

    "Unless we wish to propose that the value perceived in the most complex of impressionist art is equal to that of the banker admiring his nice silver Porsche,"
    They are similar, but what is a VERY LOGICAL and OBVIOUS reason they are different? Think, think hard. Here is another reason, how is a PAINTING OF A GREAT CAR different than OWNING THE CAR? And does the best works of Bernini EVER RELY ON SCULPTING CARS? At the end, they might be both aesthetically pleasing, but that is it. This is a bad comparison, and you have not analyzed it to a sufficient degree.

    "Just as religions and moralities underpin their sets of rules with promise of rewards that are very difficult to refute - eg the afterlife - art grants its followers rewards equally intangible: 'impact', 'culture', 'vision'." - So people use art to be "in" with the masses, to be "cultured." Is that the level of art you know?

    "Picasso" - Ok, you subjectively evaluated his work is bad. Until you subjectively evaluate a work is great, I am ignoring this. Next subject.

    At the end, almost everything is birthed from the irrational as Nietzsche proposed. Rationality is just a focused irrationality, it evaluates everything based on a GOAL (which is again irrational). That people desire to create GREAT ART, just as people desire to create GREAT SCIENCE, or become GREATLY POWERFUL, doesn't make them religions. It makes them human.

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  15. No doubt, the proponents of art do have a religious tendency and modern art (in painting) relies specifically in the appeal to obscurity. Art has value even outside of that. If you haven't read this already, this essay not only takes care of where you are coming from, it also puts it in accurate and specific cases instead of exaggerating about the whole field.

    http://insomnia.ac/commentary/on_the_genealogy_of_art_games/

    And if you find his style too insulting, here is another one.

    http://www.artrenewal.org/articles/Philosophy/ArtScam/artscam.php ( I would recommend reading everything in the table of contents)

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  16. "Picasso" - Ok, you subjectively evaluated his work is bad. Until you subjectively evaluate a work is great, I am ignoring this. Next subject.

    This was badly stated. Basically, yes, I find Picasso boring too. I don't think he is great, he fails against the past masters.

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  17. As far as I can feel, we're being pretty fast and loose with subjective and objective. I don't mind this, as long as we both understand each other, but I think we need a little more clarity here.

    So strictly speaking, when saying something objective. we mean 'there is a chair here'. You make claims for objective moral values which I think isn't true by a strict definition of objective, but I think we have a class of things that are such known goods that we call them "objective". Like saying (Insert Classic Movie Here) is objectively a good movie. It really can't be object, but if something were objective, it would be said generic classic. So perhaps I was mistaken, but I had assumed we were sort of speaking along these terms. Also someone really needs to invent a good term for this. I guess axiom works? Whatever, I'm not going to be nit picky here.

    So with the Porsche, theres a degree of 'objectivity' to it's design. More than with a piece of art, I do believe. These are made with the axioms of good design -- well established things that could, I suppose, be as true as any moral objective statement. Now that doesn't mean appreciation for the car is entirely objective. I think it would be wrong to say that said theoretical car was poorly designed, visually, but it wouldn't be wrong to say you didn't like it.

    So this is all super semantic but if you find this agreeable, than what I want to know is what statement do you think could be objectively made about art in the way you're thinking about it? Having you say what I said was not objective, I really wanna know what qualifies in your opinion. It doesn't have to be an actual true statement, but what would be the nature of an objective art statement in regards to how you're thinking about it? I really wanna get a grip on what you're trying to get out.

    As for the faith angle, I think I see what you're getting at, but don't see this as different from any other kind of social pressure. A lot of appreciation and value gets pressed on us by society and those around us. What I think is important is that we are free to question them if we stop for a moment and go "Hey wait why do I actually like this painting?", especially when liking it to begin with was likely a pretty innocent thing to begin with.

    So this seems relatively harmless to me?

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  18. It's taken me a long time to get back here, but for what it's worth... :-)

    @Anon
    This is coming accross a bit rant-y now. I agree there's too much hyperbole in my essay, and I think the religion comparison is drawing attention away from what was really my point. Though if it's put you on the defensive enough to start preaching Nietzsche then perhaps there's something to it ;-) I will check out that essay though.

    @Kayin
    Re: objective / subjective definitions. Yup, that's what I was working to. Going a bit on the old definition of primary and secondary qualities, an objective quality of value is something like extension, or mass, or the frequency of a light beam. Subjective qualities only exist within the mind of the perceiving suject: things like colour and sound. Objectively speaking a knife is sharp; subjectively speaking a knife is useful.

    We agree on the Porsche, and on your penultimate paragraph. In fact I think we agree.

    What I'm getting at is that it seems logical to me that one ought be able to justify one's internal reactions to a work in rational, objective terms. Or at least, I'd like someone to explain why it shouldn't.
    1. Appreciation of complex art is different to appreciation of something asthetically pleasing (eg the Porsche).
    2. Complex art involves more than simple emotional response.
    3. Complex art requires conscious consideration.
    4. Concious consideration requires rational thought.

    Therefore appreciation of complex art ought to be rationally (objectively) justifiable.

    Like I say, I wrote this in order to have a discussion, rather than lay out a thesis, so take all this with a pinch of salt.

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  19. And it turns out our rant-y ananymous poster above is inappropriately named 'Alex Kierkegaard', the operator of the blog he linked to.

    He's a somewhat infamous nutcase who rants about, funnily enough, games and philosophy.

    http://forum.beyond3d.com/showthread.php?t=47885

    He's basically what I sometimes worry I am, but luckily I have people like him remind me I'm not. His essay opens with:

    "Listen to me carefully now, you little abortions of fagots: "art games" has never been and never will be a valid category!"

    Incidentally, this is quite a cool site that also fell foul of Insomnia.ac
    http://philosophywithpair.blogspot.com/2009/05/games-art-and-wittgenstein.html

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  20. TJ, thanks for wasting my fucking time when I had the decency to point out many points where you hadn't thought enough.

    Also, you didn't even make me go through a rant about Nietzsche, and I think I only mentioned him like once through this whole topic. Unless you imagine I am Alex Kierkegaard in which case you are just a moron as apparently paying homage to another author is too tough for your mind to imagine.

    I mean for fuck's sake, I put another link in this article if you found the first one too angry, but too fucking bad right? Gotta bitch about another person using too many swear words before you get to thinking I guess (or more likely, to hold it off forever).

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