If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What is Art? 3 - Historical Background

Historical Perspectives of Art
1. Who said, "Art is skill"?

self-portrait, Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) believed that art was a science, a set of skills to be learned and taught like a science.
Larry Shiner argued the opposite in his book, The Invention of Art: A Cultural History (2003). He said, up until 18th century, art equaled skill. But afterwards, the definition changed, so we shouldn't think of anything made before 1700 as Art with a capital A. He's not criticising older artworks, but he wants us to remember the context in which they were made.
2. Who said, "Art is Mimesis"?

Plato (428-347 BC) believed that art is the process of copying nature, and the result will never be as real or true as real life, whether it's a painting, sculpture, or theatrical play. Basically, even the best art is a lie.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) argued, that, while art isn't real, it can be a great way to teach the audience, because stories and plays are more emotional, and moving than a history textbook. As Picasso said thousands of years later, "Art is a lie that tells the truth."

John Ruskin, by John Everett Millais

John Ruskin (1819-1900), artist and critic, felt that the artist's job was to mirror nature. He told artists to "go to Nature in all singleness of heart... rejecting nothing, selecting nothing and scorning nothing." Unlike Plato and Aristotle, he felt a realistic picture did tell the truth, even if it's not real.
Clement Greenberg (1909-1994), critic, made the opposite argument to defend abstraction, saying that realist pictures make you forget that it's just a painting, whereas abstract paintings emphasize it - the flat surface, the shape of the canvas, and the marks of colour.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), said, "Art is not merely an imitation of the reality of nature, but in truth a metaphysical supplement to the reality of nature, placed alongside thereof for its conquest." So, art, no matter what style, is a strategy some people use to try to conquer reality, to remake the world into something more satisfying.

3. Who said, "Art is Beauty"?

Marc Chagall, by Yuri Pen

Marc Chagall (1887-1985), a modernist painter, said, "Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers––and never succeeding."

Roger Scruton (1944-the Present) is a philosopher who says art should be about beauty, that beauty is noble, and that life is meaningless without it. He says beauty is caring about things other than yourself, like the joy of holding a baby, when you put all your attention to contemplating the baby, and none on yourself. He considers modern art ugly, creating a "spiritual desert".

Nietzsche agreed, stating, "The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude."

Marcel Duchamp, by Kay Bell Reynal

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was the most famous Dadaist artist. He disliked the idea of beautiful art, which he called "retinal art". He wanted art to engage the mind, and not just be eye candy. His works were called anti-art. They were a form of social and political protest.
4. Who said, "Art is Expression"?

"Art is the physical result of your soul battling with your intellect to the death... with a sharp pencil." - Ilaekae

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) said that art could be defined as being separate from science. Science was the collection and study of knowledge, while art was about free expression.

Leo Tolstoy, by Ilya Repin
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) said that art is the transference of emotion from artist to audience. In this definition, the response of the audience is critical. If they don't feel the same emotion as the artist/writer, then the work is a failure.

Edgar Degas, by Giovanni Boldini
Edgar Degas agreed, saying, "Art is not what you see, but what you make others see."

And, Jeremy Blomley also agreed, saying, "Art is like throwing a small pebble into a placid ocean, and somewhere across the sea you hope it creates a large wave. I sit and wait for it to come back to me.”
Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) & RG Collingwood (1889-1943), two philosophers, argued that because art conveys emotion to the viewer, art exists not in the object, but in the mind of the beholder. It's like the question, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody can hear it, does it make a sound?
William Wimsatt (1941-Present) & Monroe Beardsley (1915-1985) disagreed. These philosophers co-authored an essay The Intentional Fallacy, stating a story must stand alone, without any description of the writer's intentions. Neither his intentions, nor the reader's emotional response matter in the success of a story. They were talking about literature, but it could be applied to art.
5. Who said, "Art is Original"?

John F. Carlson (1875-1947) was a Swedish-American painter who said, "Convention is craft. Invention is art. In art, knowledge assists invention."

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), a French filmmaker said, "An original artist is unable to copy. So, he has only to copy to be original."

6. Who said, "Everything is Art"?
Marcel Duchamp once said that everything is art, but that society only classifies certain things as art. So, from a social perspective, art is relative, but everything has the potential to be called art.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984), a philosopher, said, “What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn't everyone's life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?”
7. Who said, "Art is Useless"?

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) said, "The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless." This is actually a compliment. Art must be great if people treasure it, even though it serves no practical purpose. Another way to think of it is, “Art is the most elegant way of getting from point A to point B.” It's not the most practical, but the most pleasing. Roger Scruton agrees.
8. Who said, "Art is Relative"?
Richard Wollheim (1923-2003) a philosopher, argued that the culture we live in, and the particulars of our psychology influence how we look at art.
George Dickie (1926-Present) - claimed that art is defined by institutions, such as museums, galleries, and magazines, that choose whether something deserves the status. This is called the Institutional Theory of Art.
David Novitz, another philosopher says controversies surrounding post modern, conceptual art have more to do with the quality of the work than art theory. If people like something, it's art. If they don't, then it's not, and people rarely explain why with any logic.
9. Who said, "Art is a Visual Metaphor"?
Kev Ferrara & Chris Bennett - two practicing artists and illustrators use this definition to unify all picture making and sculpting that's done by hand, leaving the mark and the thought process of the artist. What makes it art isn't so much what you draw or paint, but the process.
"The primary metaphor in painting is between the surface and its physical paint marks and how they become apples on plates, windows, or people nailed to crosses. It’s not what it is a picture of, but how it is a picture of. That’s why two people can paint the same apple and one version is full of life and poetry while the other is just a listless indication of an apple." - Chris Bennett
"[a painter] working from life, often without realizing it, will be creating metaphoric effects for volume, presence, heat, air, humidity, sounds, smells, skin radiance, subtle movement, breath, changing light over time, the model's thoughts in her eyes, a change in mood, a momentary breeze, a blush, a leg that's falling asleep, gravity, one's own intensity under time pressure, mutual acknowledgment between artist and sitter, hair standing on end because of a brief chill, etc. All of which are almost never talked about because they are nearly impossible to quantify and teach. Human sensitivity is what is beyond the basics found in books. All a camera notices is a split instant of light and makes no emotional distinctions between the light from a face and the light from a vase." - Kev Ferrara
Billy Childish & Charles Thomson - are two British artists who founded an art movement called Stuckism, to promote figurative painting which they call "anti-anti-art", and harshly criticizing conceptual art. In their manifesto, they say, "Artists who don't paint aren't artists."
10. Who said, "Art is a Human Response to an Inhuman World"?
As much as I'd like to take credit for saying this, Aristotle said much the same thing, that it's human nature to create order and harmony from chaos. It's a basic human need.

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