'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.

Go here to find out more.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Knowing how to use art works as aesthetic objects

The following extract is from "What does it mean to know art? An institutional account" by Ted Bracey. 2001. P. 59 in 'On Knowing. Art and Visual Culture.' Eds. Duncum P. and Bracey T. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch, New Zealand 2001.

Part 1.

Most 'ordinary consumers of art' would tend to share the aesthetic educationists' view that the point of art works is to provide us with meaningful aesthetic experiences, but when art works fail to provide them with such an experience they become distressed. In the view of the aesthetic educationist, this distress is caused by failure of the ordinary folk to acquire those 'skills of aesthetic appreciation' that would enable them to gain genuine aesthetic gratification from their attention to art works. Smith and Smith (1977), for example, distinguish what they call 'aesthetic gratification' from the 'pure sensual pleasure' that can be gained from art works, on the grounds that the former 'presupposes a skill', and the latter does not. While the latter may provide a greater degree of 'immediacy', the former provides 'more joy' (p.309).

Do you have a reaction to this? Arguments for? Or against?

Tomorrow: Part 2.


  1. I have thunk and thunk on Smith and Smith (1977)'s statement regarding aesthetic gratification, pure sensual pleasure, presupposes a skill vs. does not, and greater degree of intimacy vs. more joy.

    The only conclusion I can reach is I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't.

    That is the conclusion we mere mortals (i.e., the non-artsy-fartsy) are supposed to reach, isn't it? ;>{ or ;>), take your pick.

    I look forward to Part 2.

  2. Well, I don't know much about those Smith's 'hairy manhood' but I know what I like! Ooops, that came out sounding funny :o)

  3. Yes. It's that whole 'them (rabble) and 'us' (clever clogs) thing, isn't it! Or: 'it's for us to know and you to find out...' This is the thing I dislike most about the art world!

    And oh ... it's immediacy, not intimacy Robert... not that it really matters anyway.

  4. it's comments like this that make people fear art....don't dissect it...just enjoy it.....

  5. You don't think it is a useful discussion, Susan? You may be on to something!

  6. I do not agree that "the point of art works is to provide us with meaningful aesthetic experiences."

    I mean, it may be true that they do (or rather that they can), but that is not their point.

    I also think it is the aesthetic educationists who have no point.

    I am determinedly philistine.

  7. Ah. So Robert, do you believe art works are made with any intention?
    I certainly think that any point in discussions around art works and the engaging (or not) with them, is often lost in a purple haze of elitist comments...

  8. ...but hoping here to unravel some ideas and have a look at them.

  9. First of all, I am in way over my head in any discussion about art. But since that has never stopped me before, I plunge on.

    I have never thought about this before, so what I say will probably not make much sense, and for that I apologize in advance. If I see things through a certain lens, that cannot be helped.

    Human beings are "sub-creators" (as J.R.R. Tolkien famously wrote) because they themselves were created by a Creator-God and, more importantly, in His image. We cannot help creating because it is part of our nature. So the intention of all art (visual, aural, written) is, in my opinion, to reveal one's real, inner self to the physical world just as the universe and all that is in it, including us, is an expression of God's self. It is an attempt to express the inexpressible in a tangible way. Just as fish are born with an urge to swim in water, humans (some of them, anyway) are born with an urge to fashion something out of nothing, to create beauty where it did not exist before, to say to those who observe, "I did this; this is part of who I am." Like baptism, therefore, art is an outward sign of an inward cleansing, or at least of a longing and hope that one has intrinsic worth, which, if not redemption exactly, is a step in that direction.

    That this urge has been misused and subverted by some does not negate this; rather, it affirms it. People do not counterfeit play money after all; they counterfeit real money.

    I told you I wasn't going to make any sense. Perhaps the question I answered is not even the one that was asked.

    I never know what I think until I try to express it in words. This time I have confused even myself.

  10. Just come fresh to this discussion and I wonder whether there is another side to the issue: the view of the artist. Most of the artists I know (and with whom I have discussed the subject) are more concerned with expressing themselves and putting over their point of view and interpretation than they are with providing others with aesthetic gratification (or otherwise). Of course there are always the Tracey Emins of this world who are in art for reasons many of us might never understand (assuming she understands herself).

    Returning to the recipient of the artists skills and intentions I have been involved with art and artist all my life but have little or no academic understanding of art. However when I see something that 'does it' for me then that is important to me. When I see something that does not 'do it' for me then I have no interest.

    When I first saw The Bricks at the Tate in 1976 (?) (really Carl Andre's Equivalent VIII) I think it was the first time that I really just couldn't believe it was art. Interestingly, as an aside, the work consists of 120 firebricks placed on the floor in a rectangular formation. The Bricks isn't always on display. It can be dismantled for storage, but each time it's put on display again the bricks aren't assembled in any particular order, so even if it was a work of art, it isn't really the work originally purchased. The Tate Gallery never recorded the order and orientation in which Andre first arranged them.

    And I don't feel distress, I feel that I am simply being mentally conned!

  11. Robert. I like the flow of your thinking. I also believe that there is a strong natural urge for humankind to make art/ create something new/ beautiful/ expressive.

    I especially like your phrase to 'attempt to express the inexpressible in a tangible way'. Perhaps I might modify it slightly and say we (some more than others) have an urge to attempt to express something non-verbal in a meaningful and visual way.

    GB. Yes, indeed the artists view is very relevant to any discussion of art.
    Although, in order to bite off something a little more chewable in only three posts, I've concentrated on a more 'institutional' viewpoint.
    (Don't miss the next exciting episode!)

  12. I think of the famous little ubiquitous cartoon figure from World War II days, "Kilroy was here." To me, any drawing, painting, or sculpture says, basically, "I was here, I saw this and it had a particular effect on me, and I wanted to share what I saw with you." So, if I may expand that thought, art is proof that man is a social animal, that he interacts with others of his kind, that he wishes to communicate even after he is gone that he existed. It helps the individual to achieve a kind of immortality.

    (Of course I'm speaking of women as well. I was schooled in the days when one wrote with masculine pronouns but the feminine was understood to be included. Old habits die hard.)

  13. So, Robert, to extrapolate your argument: The artist's motivation for and/or purpose of the act of making (or more accurately, presenting to the public) an art work
    is to communicate something meaningful and enduring?

    Let's not get too caught up in gender political correctness here. Others might scream, 'though.