Debate on Unsolved Problems #1 – What is Art?

This problem originally arose from the practice rather than theory of art. Marcel Duchamp, in the 20th century, challenged conventional notions of what “art” is, placing ordinary objects in galleries to prove that the context rather than content of an art piece determines what art is. In music, John Cage followed up on Duchamp’s ideas, asserting that the term “music” applied simply to the sounds heard within a fixed interval of time.

While it is easy to dismiss these assertions, further investigation[who?] shows that Duchamp and Cage are not so easily disproved. For example, if a pianist plays a Chopin etude, but his finger slips missing one note, is it still the Chopin etude or a new piece of music entirely? Most people would agree that it is still a Chopin etude (albeit with a missing note), which brings into play the Sorites Paradox, mentioned below. If one accepts that this is not a fundamentally changed work of music, however, is one implicitly agreeing with Cage that it is merely the duration and context of musical performance, rather than the precise content, which determines what music is? Hence, the question is what the criteria for art objects are and whether these criteria are entirely context-dependent. – from Wikipedia.

Chris: Well I think in order to attack the question appropriately, I believe we have to first establish the term “art”. Art can be defined traditionally to many of the following: as a “skill as a result of learning or practice”; arti – “just”; artios – “complete”; artizien – “to prepare”; artus – “joint”; arnam – “make”, art – “manner mode”; ar-* as a prefix – “fitting together” or lastly it can also be defined as “a sense of cunning and trickery” – first attested circa. 1600.

Judging from the derivatives of the term art, I think the underlying conclusion of the term “art” therefore is the – intention of making, through practice, a product that imbues a sense of sensual appeal in terms of aesthetics or sentimental value.

In that case, in respect with the instances mentioned above, I believe it is still considered a piece of artwork according to my criterion of art, for clearly the subject has gone through the process of erudition of Chopin’s etude in terms of practice, furthermore, the end product of the piece did in fact appealed to our senses, even if a note was occasionally misplaced at certain instances. Variations of the piece therefore can also attribute to the sentimental value derived from the subjectivity of the musician’s approach to the piece, be it rubato or occasion transferal of playing style(s) (legato to staccato), it has clearly done nothing fundamentally wrong, for Chopin himself did not indicate how the piece should be played note by note, and thus, does offer a sense of freedom for the musician to input their musical desires in order to incorporate their own sense of workmanship into play – excuse the pun.

*Another personal note to my friend Stephen, I do not wish to argue the truth of freewill in my given response, for it can wait for another future debate once we both consolidate our raw ideas further.

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4 comments
  1. zood3 said:

    Wow. What an awful first topic to pick…
    Art; not my strong point by any means, and – as a man of science – not something I greatly care for or particularly understand people’s fascination with. I am talking about physical art – paintings, sculptures and such. Personally I do enjoy making sculptures; but for the intricacy and difficulty rather than the aesthetics.
    I do however love music – both listening and creating – and this in particular is very subjective.
    Art, as a generally used term, has a very obvious, yet open-ended meaning. It is something created or captured by one for the purpose of personal or public enjoyment. So in that bracket I would include everything from photograpy of nature, to paintings, to street art, to rap (as I say – [i]subjective[/i]).
    However (the expression you love so much); I think that each person has a feeling of art that is ‘true to them’. And as a subjective term, I don’t see it in the ‘Theory of Forms’ kind of way.

    Art is a truly subjective, open-ended, umbrella term, and therefore cannot have a ‘perfect form’.

  2. Then without a Form, one is implying that it is not a concept/idea but rather something beyond metaphysics? I don’t think that would be the case, for the opposite of immaterial is material, therefore are you suggesting that Art is merely an arbitrary substance?

  3. zood3 said:

    Essentially, yes. I don’t see any real or absolute purpose for art. I enjoy listening to music, but does it serve a real, useful purpose? No.
    Art is, by its own nature, arbitrary. It has no real reason or use, and is seen and accepted differently by different people. People will not all agree on what IS art, and what ISN’T. And this is one of the rare occasions where I don’t think that any of them are completely wrong or completely right. There is no absolute guideline for art, and therefore nothing can be definitively excluded or even included as being art.
    However, as I said in my previous post, regardless of the lack of set ‘rules’ of what things are art, the actual meaning of art is an obvious one. It is people’s perception of art that is the difficult thing to pin down. What some view as true beauty, will disgust or bore others, and that will always change from person to person.
    If you do, however, believe in Plato’s Theory of Forms, you could therefore argue that ‘true art’ is what the Form of ‘person’ or ‘sentient being’ views as art, which I suppose would indirectly impose a Form onto the concept of art.
    I don’t believe in it, though, and so I see it as a much, much simpler idea, but with imperfection forced upon its definition solely by the force of human nature and perception.

  4. Subjectivity indeed, plays an important role in terms of the concept of Art for it is one of the most critical factor in differentiating different forms of Art, I do favor that point as it follows on to my criterion of Art – given that it is subjective on how one practices and expresses their perspective to the idea.

    However, I disagree, to some extent, that Art serves no ‘real’ purpose whatsoever, Art at some point served as a apparatus to record History, and much of our knowledge of the distant past are in fact derived from portraits and landscapes. In your view of Music, I believe it still does serve a purpose, similar to the sense mentioned above – possibly used as a marking point of musical development; used as a cultural relic at some point in time etc; moreover, different types of Art – in a sense – enriches human development in terms of culture and could possibly educate others of their differences too, ergo, I believe Arts offers a greater scale of possibilities other than sheer entertainment.

    One last point to make, if I further link back to my criterion of Arts, an addition function of Art therefore is/maybe, a process of self-discipline, as one has to learn and practice in order to master the beauty that they are trying to portray.

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