Basic Principles of the Fine Arts
I. What is Art?
A. Firstly, art is artificial, which means it is a product of human creation.
B. There are as many definitions of art as there are artists who create it and/or theorists who think about it. Here are a few of them:
1. Art is always visionary. Art always disturbs present realities, however satisfactory they may seem to the rest of the world. (Ben Shahn, painter)
2. An art object is an imitation of nature. (Plato, philosopher)
3. Art is not an imitation... of external reality nor the inner reality of the unconscious. It is always a vision, an attempt to express visibly what a particular age... society... person has viewed as the true nature and essence of reality... (Bruno Bettelheim, psychologist)
4. Art is the creation of forms symbolic of human feeling. The effect exists as a whole, not an assemblage of its elements, just as a living creature is more than the assemblage of constituent molecules. (Susanne Langer, philosopher)
5. Art does not reflect the visible but makes visible. (Paul Klee, painter)
6. Art is experience organized more vividly and coherently than real life permits. (John Dewey, philosopher)
7. Artistic experience and expression are not about absolute quantities but about the discernment of the absolute within relational qualities. (Timothy Hoare, the really tall guy who is teaching this course)
II. The enduring problem: many if not most people feel that art is divorced from human experience. Pervasive assumptions about art seem to support this perception:
A. Art is elitist and class-oriented.
B. Artists are elitist; they prefer to remain apart from mainstream society.
C. Art is "old" and/or otherworldly, always isolated in mausoleum-like galleries.
D. Art is non-rational, it never is what it appears to be.
E. Art is valuable only as a commodity or investment.
III. The enduring question: how do we rejoin art and experience?
A. The art work is not simply an object-- ancient or modern-- of analysis. While that analysis is important, it is moreover an event of relation-- in the here and now.
1. Text: the relationships of media and compositional elements (what is it?).
a. Medium: what it is made of?
b. Compositional elements: mass, space, line, texture, color, etc.
2. Context: the relationships of culture (when and/or where and/or who is it?).
a. Who created it? When? Where?
b. What was going on at the time? Socially? Politically? Other?
c. Where is the work located now? How does its current setting or environment (gallery, public space, etc.) affect one's perception of it?
3. Subtext: the relationships of experience (how and/or why is it?).
a. Why do you think the artist created it?
b. What do you bring to it? Does it express and/or evoke memory/past experience?
c. How does the work make you think and/or feel?
4. Each of these elements is constantly engaged in conversation with the other two. They shape and influence one another.
B. See also webpage link HUM 122 Analysis Paper for further information on this and its application to the writing assignment.
IV. Application to Some Visual Examples.
A. The Ecstasy of St. Teresa (Bernini, 17th c. CE, Italian).
B. Grassy Hills and Leafy Trees in Mist (Mi Fei, 11th c. CE, Sung Dynasty, Chinese).
C. Guernica (Picasso, 20th c. CE, Spanish).
V. The Nature of Symbol: all art is symbolic to some degree, because it is "experienced" or "felt."
A. Symbol" is best understood when placed in contrast to "sign."
1. A sign points to, or "means," a particular thing or condition. It is "discursive," in that it has a direct relationship with that to which it refers.
a. A stop sign at an intersection means "stop here and now." The nameplate next to the door of this room, "CC344," means this particular classroom at this particular location, etc. In short, for a sign to "work," its object, or referent, must be immediately present.
Sign - Object.
2. A symbol, on the other hand, is more complex. A symbol, too, may have a direct (discursive) relationship with a person, place or thing, but it differs from a sign in that its referent does not have to be present in order for the symbol to have meaning. The referent of the symbol exists in the mind as a concept.
a. Language is a prime example-- a person's name means that particular person even if he/she is not physically present because he/she exists in the mind as a concept or memory (assuming that you know him/her). So also with the names of objects and places-- through language we can conceive and imagine anything and everything without having it placed in front of us.
Symbol - Conceptualization - Object.
b. But the most profound form of symbol is called "non-discursive," because it doesn't refer to an object, place, person, etc. Rather, it expresses a subjective "feeling." Examples of this include art, music, religious objects, a particular place where one had a significant experience, etc, all of which may be intertwined with one another.
Symbol - Conceptualization - Feeling.
c. Using music as an example, ask yourself: why do we like to listen to old songs, i.e., from early in one's lifetime? What do they have the power to do? How are they symbolic?
VI. Being Hip.
A. Hip is a term that grew out of the jazz and drug culture of the 1940s and 50s.
B. What does it mean when someone says, I am hip to you.?
C. Hip does not mean fashionable.
D. Artists aren't what they do; rather, they do what they are.
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