Ellen Stuttle

Michelle Marder Kamhi's "Who Says That's Art?"

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Who Says That's Art?

Introduction, from the section "What This Book Argues"

pp. 8-9

[bold emphasis added]

[T]he concept of art dealt with in this book is that of "fine art" (as distinct from the "decorative arts"). Tracing that concept back to its roots reveals that the works it originally referred to consisted, essentially, of imagery in two or three dimensions. The decisive turning point in the breakdown of the concept of art, in my view, was the invention of "abstract" painting and sculpture in the early years of the twentieth century. On that key point, I differ from the vast majority of critics, including those of a conservative bent.

Since architecture has been considered a valid art form a lot longer than abstract painting, I'd think that, according to Kamhi's mindset, the turning point of "the breakdown of the concept of art" should be the day that someone first claimed that architecture was an art form. Kamhi thinks that architecture is not art. Therefore anyone's classifying it as art must be just as evil and destructive as their classifying any other non-art form as art, no?

J

Kamhi thinks that architecture shouldn't be included in the category "fine arts," not that it shouldn't be included in the "useful arts" category.

The description "evil and destructive" is your loaded caricature of the evaluative terminology she uses.

She does point to the inclusion of architecture in the fine arts as a harbinger and producer of conceptual confusions.

Who Says That's Art?

Chapter 1, from the section "Who Decided - Mistakenly - that Architecture Is a 'Fine Art'?"

pp. 17-19

Although Batteux [writing in 1746] quite logically excluded architecture from the fine arts, it has been included among them since the mid-eighteenth century. Yet the inconsistency of such inclusion has often been acknowledged. [....]

[....]

D'Alembert's arbitrary inclusion of architecture among the fine arts [ in 1751, in an introduction to Diderot's Encyclopédie ] was the first major step in the breakdown of that very logical and useful category [and, as one consequence] opened the door to the invention of "abstract" painting and sculpture a century and a half later.

Ellen

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Among other details, it gave me background for understanding the "vibes" I sensed among a group of Malevich followers I encountered in Budapest the summer of 2009.

What was the vibe? Was it something along the lines of their judging their favorite art (or the art that they personally responded to most deeply) to be the only true art?

J

A mystical discipline, and something underground with Hungarian anti-Communist sentiments during the years of Soviet rule. I wrote about it somewhere back around 2009. I'll look later to see if I can find what I said.

Nothing like your question's description.

I'm puzzled about the Communist/anti-Communist issue, though, how that got inverted.

Ellen

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-- as for the subject of It Ain't Art, I am sometimes baffled by the prices paid for what Kamhi (and likely Rand) categorize as NotArt. For example, this triptych by Francis Bacon hauled in $142 million.

Three_Studies_of_Lucian_Freud.jpg

There are only three references to Bacon listed in the Index.

One is a contrast between Frick's "sensibilities and predilections" and those of the collector, Steve Cohen, whose "avowedly favorite work is Screaming Pope, by Francis Bacon" (pg. 205).

One is a passing reference to Pollock's and Bacon's "work mirror[ing] their confused and tormented lives" (pg. 235).

The third is a footnote which says:

pg. 296

55. Of the works illustrated in Thompson's color plates, only two (by Francis Bacon) might qualify as art here, though certainly not art of high quality. The remainder are pieces by Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst, among others.

Ellen

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Kamhi: "Moreover, if art can be virtually anything, everyday logic suggests that it is then nothing in particular."

False. Logic, everyday or otherwise, makes no such suggestion.

Really?

Matter can be virtually anything. Does "everyday logic" therefore suggest that it is nothing in particular? No. Matter has a specific identity. The concept of matter has a specific meaning to us despite its capability of being virtually anything.

Sounds like you have an Aristotelian idea of "matter," not that of modern physics.

Anyway, in what I've read of the book so far, I am entirely correct in having identified Kamhi as attempting to establish her own personal aesthetic limitations and lack of depth of response to art as the universal standard by which to judge what is or is not art for all of mankind. I'm looking forward to discovering if it ever crosses her mind to consider the possibility that different people have different sensitivities to the arts, and that she should perhaps contemplate how she might measure and gauge such sensitivities, including her own, rather than just arbitrarily and arrogantly assuming that hers are naturally the universal defining standard and limit.

What parts of the book, specifically, have you read? I don't see anything like what you describe in the parts I've read thus far.

Ellen

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The first denotes an artist's mind in the final stages of disintegration, I think. Looks like the aftermath of a paintball war.

""Meaning"? I don't do no stinkin' meaning. If you need to ask, you wouldn't get it anyway".

The caveman was the one, truly honest artist here. "This is what is important, what life is, to ME..."

(Used to be, Francisco, you posted your original insights, now you're doing sardonic drive-by's, a la jts).

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I don't like the Monroe's. They look cheap. I like the first one--the abstract--to the extent I would not burn it.. The last one--the cave art--was done without any known theory of esthetics and the originals are so priceless you can only see copies for they cannot stand up to the viewing public--humidity or some such degrading them.

In the summer of1968 Rand was asked in a Q n A at NBI what she would do with it if she owned a Picasso, as part of another question. She concluded her answer somewhat like this: "If I owned a Picasso?--I'd sell it" (to some laughter).

If love is exception making, her love of her husband's "Man Also Rises" put on the cover of the 25th Anniversary edition of The Fountainhead certainly qualifies, for one reason: crudity of technique, not composition nor seemingly poor rendering of perspective. The last is the only thing, maybe ironically, that really makes that painting work. If I owned it I'd hang it on my wall; crudity has a value all its own, especially when combined with provenance. That painting, therefore, belonged on the book's cover, for that provenance was over-whelmingly more valuable to Rand than anyone else, not even to mention that she considered Frank to be the man who saved the novel when she was writing it (she did mention that in the Introduction). A painting--any painting--has a best viewing distance, btw, and so does that one. I always liked it on that (hb) cover (not the pb--too small)--I bought the hb in 1968--but I would not like it near as much in the original if I had only seen it on a gallery wall not knowing the artist. That applies to any of his work I know of, though I could change my mind, except for "Diminishing Returns." I once had a high quality print signed by Frank, #6 of 100, I traded to Barbara Branden for some of her photographs a few years ago and another print, unsigned on somewhat lesser quality paper, otherwise from the same batch, I gave to Cathy, Frank's niece.

All of this palaver only illustrates one thing: the subjective nature of valuing. Any objective esthetics includes too any Objectivist esthetics, and cannot objectively tell us who is an artist or what is art, except maybe in the rear-view mirror ("I know [art] when I see it") and especially not what an artist should and should not do, and especially for moral reasons. That's cultural fascism. Objectivity in esthetics is all about what is and not about anything else. It's part of the psychological nature of freedom, so traduced by Rand here just as NBI--and Rand--so traduced individualism by traducing real critical thinking amongst students of Objectivism, not only by what was taught but by the way taught.

--Brant

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Brant: I don't know what could be more individualist (egoistic morality) than an artwork. One person's mind meets one person's vision and is either in accord with it - and sustained by it - or can't and won't accept it. (Or, may be quite neutral about it).

A selfish morality, how is it possible to escape it in art?

How can such value be "subjective"?

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Tony,

Objective value is objective value to man but subjective value--that is, valuing--is to a man. A man is flesh and blood. Man is what is common to all human beings qua humanity. The idea of man. Thus, all valuing is subjective. Water is an objective value to man. A man being rained on in a rain forest values it quite differently, however, than a man dying of thirst in the desert who stumbles on a fresh water spring.

It is not "A selfish morality, how is it possible to escape it in art"?--but what is morality doing in esthetics for morality is proscriptive and controlling? Esthetics describes what is (or was), not what should be. Morality does that. The art of creation is so fragile and tenuous wait until something's been created before esthetic if not moral judgment is rendered. We don't say "Piss Jesus" is not "art." We can say it's shit. The esthetician should not do qua esthetics what the potential or actual consumer can do--consume it. I once spun on my heels and left a gallery because I thought it was filled with crap. In that case it was not a moral judgment. With "Piss Jesus" my moral judgment would be so strong I'd not even think--have never thought--of the complementary esthetics or what the artist was about qua his message. Qua his "message" he could send me a telegram. I'll not have my face rubbed in it. Someone else might need that experience on the way to an enlightenment of sorts, maybe the enlightenment of atheism maybe the enlightenment of sociopathic degeneracy. Well, I'm already as degenerate as I want to be.

--Brant

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Therefore, man as individual man can only be subjective, while man qua man is objective? And so, objective value is only possible to the collective. (In some way). But value presupposes a valuer, a mind, and only one mind at a time is able to value.

I think morality in art is little different from perceiving morality in any 'thing' you can name - though more so, more distilled, concentrated and memorable. Is this 'thing' good for man's life (and your mind) or against life (and you)? I'd say, if a picture or any art is instantly offensive to one, trust your intuition and 'run' from it, like one would run from a loathsome person despite how wonderful or wealthy others insist he is.

Brant, proscriptive and controlling indicates another morality I'm not much concerned with (like altruism). If rational egoism isn't, rather ~volitional and liberating~ what use is it and who would bother with it?

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All morality is controlling whether from outside to a person or inside from. It's usually a combo with a fluctuating ratio.

Your first sentence completely obviates what I'm talking about. I do not claim objective knowledge is unknowable to a man. That's why we have reason. I am talking about the subjective theory of value beyond a mere Austrian economic context. One people, one country, one leader is what I am objecting to. Absent an initiation of force, morality is a private, not a public, matter. Government and its governing is completely out of the loop. The anarchist can argue for it to be out of the loop when it comes to fraud much better than it should be out of the loop in all respects, including criminal, as if somehow contractual relationships can also successfully deal with armed robbers, rapists and murderers. (I am digressing here as you digressed first and I wanted to keep the ball bouncing.)

--Brant

my apology to anarchists as I've probably misrepresented them as unable to deal with bomb throwers, but political anarchy must mean, to me at least, that all extant law is a hodgepodge of competing laws and anarchical in itself

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Brant, there is no separation between knowledge and value in Objectivism, I believe. The one is the other, after all, or over lap, which is why the three basic philosophies, intrinsicism, subjectivism and objectivism are also called "theories of value".

-----

"In order to live, man must act; in order to act, he must make choices; in order to make choices, he must define a code of values; in order to define a code of values, he must know what he is and where he is—i.e., he must know his own nature (including his means of knowledge) and the nature of the universe in which he acts—i.e., he needs metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, which means: philosophy. He cannot escape from this need; his only alternative is whether the philosophy guiding him is to be chosen by his mind or by chance".

“Philosophy and Sense of Life,”
The Romantic Manifesto, 30

"Values cannot exist (cannot be valued) outside the full context of a man's life, needs, goals, and *knowledge*".

[CUI - her emphasis]

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The first denotes an artist's mind in the final stages of disintegration, I think. Looks like the aftermath of a paintball war.

""Meaning"? I don't do no stinkin' meaning. If you need to ask, you wouldn't get it anyway".

The caveman was the one, truly honest artist here. "This is what is important, what life is, to ME..."

(Used to be, Francisco, you posted your original insights, now you're doing sardonic drive-by's, a la jts).

"I don't do no stinkin' meaning" equals "It has no meaning" equals "It isn't art."

This is much the same argument as:

"I dislike rap" equals "Rap does not meet my standards for music" equals "Rap isn't music."

Brant is correct. Using an "objective esthetic" (which is really nothing more than personal taste) to bar certain works from discussion and consideration is a form of "cultural fascism."

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Um, FF: I was 'speaking for' J. Pollock, here. ;-]

I see. The discussion of an artist's works involves making up statements on behalf of the artist. I'm getting a brand new insight into "Objectivist esthetics."

HAH. There's what I meant by "arbitrary assertion" in abstract art!

You can make up what ever statement you like since you CAN'T know "the meaning", and if the artist knows, he's not telling.

You got it.

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Brant, there is no separation between knowledge and value in Objectivism, I believe. The one is the other, after all, or over lap, which is why the three basic philosophies, intrinsicism, subjectivism and objectivism are also called "theories of value".

-----

"In order to live, man must act; in order to act, he must make choices; in order to make choices, he must define a code of values; in order to define a code of values, he must know what he is and where he is—i.e., he must know his own nature (including his means of knowledge) and the nature of the universe in which he acts—i.e., he needs metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, which means: philosophy. He cannot escape from this need; his only alternative is whether the philosophy guiding him is to be chosen by his mind or by chance".

“Philosophy and Sense of Life,”

The Romantic Manifesto, 30

"Values cannot exist (cannot be valued) outside the full context of a man's life, needs, goals, and *knowledge*".

[CUI - her emphasis]

You can have an objective theory of value, you simply subjectively value when you value regardless. This is an objectification of valuing--that is, subjective valuing of an objective value. Objective valuing is thinking your way into it which is really thinking your way out of an ongoing valuing experience, which might be a value. For instance, you may value a criminal life but think your way out of that kind of valuing.

--Brant

it's always nice to see a great Rand quote--it's about the objective value of rationality

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Rand: "Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments."

This, then, is art:

Jackson_Pollock.jpg

It certainly communicates poor metaphysical value-judgments.

Man, it must take a lot of dope to see reality like that. :laugh:

You can be certain the artist who made it and the people who value it share the same moral standards.

Greg

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I value it. So do you. In your case for the criticism you can lay on with so much pleasure.

--Brant

By value I implied in a positive sense.

Of course it has value

as a bad example...

...to those who do not value it

as a good example. :wink:

Greg

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Um, FF: I was 'speaking for' J. Pollock, here. ;-]

I see. The discussion of an artist's works involves making up statements on behalf of the artist. I'm getting a brand new insight into "Objectivist esthetics."

HAH. There's what I meant by "arbitrary assertion" in abstract art!

You can make up what ever statement you like since you CAN'T know "the meaning", and if the artist knows, he's not telling.

You got it.

So "Objectivist" esthetics is about making arbitrary assertions on behalf of the creator of the art? Since I can't know what Beethoven "meant" by his Symphony No. 5 in C minor, I am entitled to assert that it is about the "malevolence of the universe." More than that, I am entitled to assert that Beethoven said that it is about the "malevolence of the universe."

In this view, uncertainty is the logical basis for drawing conclusions and for putting words into other people's mouths.

Rand's methodology in the arts is becoming clearer by the moment. Keep talking.

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Pretending to know what the artist intended can be part of both the purpose and consequence of a work of art, but it must be labelled as a speculation or it's pretentious; it may be anyway. All that's really coming down is what's in the head of the art consumer. I think--speculate--most artists would welcome that compared to being ignored. Now, if ye be an esthetician or pretend to be one even if ye be Rand, qua esthetics it's crap if not properly identified as speculation, but that begs the question of why bother? (This doesn't mean there isn't a good reason for bothering, especially when considering an artist's corpus.)

Anyway, there is no "Objectivist Esthetics." That would be cultural Lysenkoism. You can say esthetics is part of Ayn Rand's personal philosophy insofar as she explicated on the subject, but unlike the metaphysics-epistemology-ethics-politics, there be no logical tie-in one to the next. There is a point where the philosophy stops but reason continues and that is in a profession. This includes the profession of philosophy itself.

What is the profession of an artist? Artistic creation. Of an esthetician? Artistic description. All rests on the premise of what art is. That's only a problem for the esthetician. Rand gave it a good go. It's not necessary to know that she is right or wrong, only that it be considered. Everything that Rand did that she put out there for the interested public is something to think about.

--Brant

Mt. Everest is "only" a mountain--climbing it is a whole another of an "only"

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Um, FF: I was 'speaking for' J. Pollock, here. ;-]

I see. The discussion of an artist's works involves making up statements on behalf of the artist. I'm getting a brand new insight into "Objectivist esthetics."

HAH. There's what I meant by "arbitrary assertion" in abstract art!

You can make up what ever statement you like since you CAN'T know "the meaning", and if the artist knows, he's not telling.

You got it.

So "Objectivist" esthetics is about making arbitrary assertions on behalf of the creator of the art? Since I can't know what Beethoven "meant" by his Symphony No. 5 in C minor, I am entitled to assert that it is about the "malevolence of the universe." More than that, I am entitled to assert that Beethoven said that it is about the "malevolence of the universe."

In this view, uncertainty is the logical basis for drawing conclusions and for putting words into other people's mouths.

Rand's methodology in the arts is becoming clearer by the moment. Keep talking.

Ah, no. You didn't get it.

It is the artist, not me, who is making (what I likened to) an 'arbitrary assertion' - when there are no referents to reality in his picture.

It is normally a verbal statement, but could as well be pictoral, I think.

In response, I - the viewer - can come up with any "arbitrary" notion I feel like, as to its 'meaning'.

"Hey cool, man! This painting is about the cosmos and humans' suffering and confusion...!" (For example)

Rand on the arbitrary:

""Arbitrary" means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort, perceptual or conceptual..."

"An arbitrary idea is sheer assertion with no attempt to validate it or connect it to reality..."

"Since an arbitrary statement has no connection to man's means of knowledge or his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a claim must be treated as though nothing had been said".

FF, if you want AR's "methodology in the arts" go to the source, not my extrapolations of it.

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Um, FF: I was 'speaking for' J. Pollock, here. ;-]

I see. The discussion of an artist's works involves making up statements on behalf of the artist. I'm getting a brand new insight into "Objectivist esthetics."

HAH. There's what I meant by "arbitrary assertion" in abstract art!

You can make up what ever statement you like since you CAN'T know "the meaning", and if the artist knows, he's not telling.

You got it.

So "Objectivist" esthetics is about making arbitrary assertions on behalf of the creator of the art? Since I can't know what Beethoven "meant" by his Symphony No. 5 in C minor, I am entitled to assert that it is about the "malevolence of the universe." More than that, I am entitled to assert that Beethoven said that it is about the "malevolence of the universe."

In this view, uncertainty is the logical basis for drawing conclusions and for putting words into other people's mouths.

Rand's methodology in the arts is becoming clearer by the moment. Keep talking.

Ah, no. You didn't get it.

It is the artist, not me, who is making (what I likened to) an 'arbitrary assertion' - when there are no referents to reality in his picture.

It is normally a verbal statement, but could as well be pictoral, I think.

In response, I - the viewer - can come up with any "arbitrary" notion I feel like, as to its 'meaning'.

"Hey cool, man! This painting is about the cosmos and humans' suffering and confusion...!" (For example)

Rand on the arbitrary:

""Arbitrary" means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort, perceptual or conceptual..."

"An arbitrary idea is sheer assertion with no attempt to validate it or connect it to reality..."

"Since an arbitrary statement has no connection to man's means of knowledge or his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a claim must be treated as though nothing had been said".

FF, if you want AR's "methodology in the arts" go to the source, not my extrapolations of it.

Where you stepped in it, Tony, was in speaking for the artist. You represented what appeared to be a direct quote from the artist. And then you admitted that you were speaking for the artist, and not for yourself. But now you say you can't do that, you can only express your own abritrary notion as the viewer. So which is it? Were you sharing with us Pollock's abritrary assertion as the painter, or Tony's abritrary notion as the viewer?

I'm not being snarky. I really want to know if Pollock ever actually said that. I'm not finding any hits googling it, and I would have thought if he said something like that, it would be easy to find.

Edited to add:

The thing I dislike about these art discussions hinges on what Tony is describing as an abritrary notion of a work's meaning made by the viewer. It always comes down to someone insisting that their arbitrary notion is morally superior to someone else's.

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