'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Knowing Art

Part 2.

This notion, in asserting a hierarchy in our aesthetic transactions with art works, clearly smacks of elitism. The view taken here is that the distinction the Smiths make between the pure and immediate sensual pleasure we can often gain during our untutored attention to art works from what is claimed to be the deeper and more profound joy we can gain from a more knowledgable attention, is illusionary. It is no more than the difference between the immediate pleasure we get from 'the shock of the new' on the one hand, and the more attenuated pleasure to be gained from long familiarity on the other. In short, there are no grounds for claiming that the more we know about art works, the more significant will be our enjoyment of them.

What do you think of this argument?

Tomorrow: The final Part 3


  1. This is a difficult one. One the one hand I have been learning from your blog and I know a little bit more about the 'how' so I suppose that I am able to appreciate some art a little better. However I don't think that makes the slightest difference to my emotional experience/enjoyment of them.

    I'm looking forward to Part 3.

  2. That's an interesting statement GB. I suppose the important word in Ted's argument is 'significant'. He seems to object to the institutional belittling of a naive encounter with an art work over a more informed encounter.

  3. I can't help coming late to your party; I am, after all, sixteen hours behind NZ. It is already tomorrow there.

    The terms "more joy" in Part 1 and "more profound joy" in Part 2 are completely subjective concepts that cannot be judged externally. We can only observe another's joy and project our own apprehension of it on to the other person.

    One person jumps up and down screaming at an athletic event. Another person sits quietly, analyzing the game, the crowd, the smells, the sights, the sounds. Who is to say which one is enjoying it more? (I saw the latter example in my older son at his college's basketball games.)

    I am a trained musician. If two people "enjoy" hearing a musical performance, one may know more than the other does about how a musical manuscript was created, and when and by whom, but that does not mean his enjoyment is "more significant," to use Bracey's words. True, he may be enjoying the performance in a different way and for different reasons, but that does not make his enjoyment "more significant" than the one who is untutored.

    Does it?

    My appreciation of visual art, ironically, stems from the knowledge that I am unable to create such a thing myself; it is an appreciation of the artist as well as the art object.

    I fear I am only revealing my ignorance.

  4. So, Robert, you are challenging not only the collection of data by art educationalists, ie the 'extent of joy', but also that the aesthetic appreciation (joy) of an art work cannot be compared between people, and even, perhaps (and I'm jumping to a conclusion here) for the same person for different art works, or even for the same person for the same art work at different times?

    I don't think ability to create comes into this.

  5. Well, I guess the viewer's believed level of ability to create will influence his or her respect and appreciation of the artist's level of ability to create... But is this about the work itself? If I am patient and create x work, and you are impatient and could not have done it, is it a better art work? Or is it just that you get more enjoyment out of it...? Hmmm. Interesting line of thought.

  6. My lack of ability to create an art work like one of yours is not due to my impatience, silly! Not at all! It's due to my decided lack of talent in that area. Impatience implies that artistry is merely a skill that can be learned, when I think it is much more than that. Yes, I learned skills that made me a better musician, but the music that drew me to itself was there before I had any of the skills.

    As usual, I make no sense.

  7. Oh, Robert, I was just using impatience as an example. I would indeed be silly to suggest you are impatient.

    However, and we are getting into another area now, I do believe that role of talent (in my case at least), is exaggerated. For me it's mostly been a lot of practise and hard work. And patience.