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


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The "Institutional Theory of Art" and the "Artworld"

I'm reminded SO MUCH of what's been going on with the concept science in certain areas labeled (by some) by that name. I'm most immediately familiar, of course, with the climate-scare scene.

Kamhi says of the "institutional theory" of art:

"In all its variations, that theory boils down, in effect, to this: Art is whatever a reputed artist says it is." (pg. 4; Kamhi's emphasis)

Who Says That's Art?

pg. 5

Wait, you may protest, isn't defining art in terms of artists a circular definition? And doesn't basic logic tell us that such a circular definition has no value? Since an artist is someone who creates art, don't we need to know what "art" is to determine whether someone qualifies as an "artist"? You would be right, of course. But basic logic is not operative in today's artworld, which is ruled instead by a body of abstract theorizing largely divorced from everyday human experience.

The very term artworld (as one word instead of two), in fact, refers to a cultural and intellectual realm governed primarily by familiarity not with works of art as such but rather with the theories surrounding them. In the thought of philosopher-critic Arthur Danto (1924-2013), who coined the term [in 1964], the artworld comprises all persons who are knowledgeable about, and accept, such theories. This includes not only artists, critics, and philosophers like Danto himself but also members of the public who are "in the know" - the "artworld public," as Danto's fellow philosopher George Dickie (b. 1926) dubbed them.

The work that inspired the institutional theory was Warhol's Brillo Boxes. In an influential essay on the subject, Danto acknowledged that the Warhol piece was a mere "facsimile," visually indiscernible from actual Brillo boxes you might see in a supermarket. Nevertheless, he argued, there was a significant difference between them - that is, "a certain theory of art."

It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is [indistinguishable from]....[W]ithout the theory one is unlikely to see it as art, and in order to see it as part of the Artworld, one must have mastered a good deal of artistic theory as well as a considerable amount of the history of recent New York painting. It could not have been art fifty years ago. [Kamhi's brackets, ellipsis, and emphasis]

~~ Arthur Danto, "The Artworld," Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 61 (1964), 571-84.

Ellen

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I’m not knowledgeable or passionate about art but I have followed many of your conversations with interest. When you  point out the inconsistency that music doesn’t fit her criteria but she called it

LOL. Look at the amount of verbiage you produced when I didn't even cite a passage.  What would I be in for if I did? Ellen  btw, I haven't read any further than the sentence I quoted,

I could, abundant passages, like approximately the whole book. But I don't have the time, and if I did have the time, I wouldn't want to spend it on so frustrating a proceeding - way worse than t

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Tony, art is morally important to the art consumer and art consumers in the culture generally. The artist is morally important respecting his or her art but is not responsible for sticking it to the culture--the culture sucks it in or not. What is the market? The moral importance of art is as fuel--a la Rand--but if bad is fueled we can can it immoral art and if good is fueled we can call it moral. (That, however, is displacement. Good and bad is in people, not art per se.) If neither it's only a spacer and time waster.

Where have all the cowboy heroes of my childhood gone? What happened to Sky King? The Lone Ranger? Roy Rodgers? And the biggie, Shane? Instead, the ten year-old learns 40 ways to fornicate.

--Brant

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The "Emperor's New Clothes" Passage

See post #200 for the context.

Who Says That's Art?

pg. 51

As the curator of a major exhibition of abstract work at New York's Guggenheim Museum in 1996 acknowledged, such work still meets with "a certain amount of skepticism" on the public's part. When asked why that should be, he was unwilling even to speculate, however - much less to consider that the work itself, rather than the public, might be the problem. [....]

On the skeptical side are the legions of ordinary people for whom abstract art seems quite meaningless. Disdained by many in the artworld as "philistines" (the contemptuous epithet hurled by modernist critics), they often respond by invoking Hans Christian Andersen's tale of the emperor tricked into wearing an "extraordinary cloth" visible only to the wise and to those well fitted to their office. When the emperor displays himself naked before a fawning public, only a child innocent of social pretensions has the sense to declare that "he has nothing on." Indeed, the narrative of "The Emperor's New Clothes" is so relevant to the phenomenon of abstract art that it seems to have been aimed directly at it, although its publication in 1837 predated the first wholly abstract painting by more than seventy years.

As Andersen's tale reminds us, the height of human folly is to deny the evidence of one's senses - to pretend to see what cannot be seen, and to deny seeing what one really does see. In the history of abstract art, such folly has played itself out in very different ways in the movement's two major phases: first, during its early-twentieth-century invention and second, in the mid-twentieth-century ascendancy of Abstract Expressionism. How can it be eradicated? The first step is to take a critical look at its history.

"Such folly" can't be eradicated. There are always those who want to be an elite blessed with special insight, and always those who will pretend in order to consider themselves and be considered part of that elite.

I don't agree with Jonathan that Kamhi is claiming that anyone whoever who finds value in abstract art has to be pretending.

Here's how Kamhi ends the chapter.

Who Says That's Art?

pg. 68

In conclusion, what's wrong with "abstract art"? My answer is: Nothing - if one is willing to regard it as merely decorative; that is, as having some visual interest or appeal owing merely to its color or design. But if one insists that it is an intelligible vehicle of meaning or emotional expression, I think it must be viewed as an essentially failed enterprise.

Ellen

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The "Institutional Theory of Art" and the "Artworld"

I'm reminded SO MUCH of what's been going on with the concept science in certain areas labeled (by some) by that name. I'm most immediately familiar, of course, with the climate-scare scene.

Kamhi says of the "institutional theory" of art:

"In all its variations, that theory boils down, in effect, to this: Art is whatever a reputed artist says it is." (pg. 4; Kamhi's emphasis)

Who Says That's Art?

pg. 5

Wait, you may protest, isn't defining art in terms of artists a circular definition? And doesn't basic logic tell us that such a circular definition has no value? Since an artist is someone who creates art, don't we need to know what "art" is to determine whether someone qualifies as an "artist"? You would be right, of course. But basic logic is not operative in today's artworld, which is ruled instead by a body of abstract theorizing largely divorced from everyday human experience.

The very term artworld (as one word instead of two), in fact, refers to a cultural and intellectual realm governed primarily by familiarity not with works of art as such but rather with the theories surrounding them. In the thought of philosopher-critic Arthur Danto (1924-2013), who coined the term [in 1964], the artworld comprises all persons who are knowledgeable about, and accept, such theories. This includes not only artists, critics, and philosophers like Danto himself but also members of the public who are "in the know" - the "artworld public," as Danto's fellow philosopher George Dickie (b. 1926) dubbed them.

The work that inspired the institutional theory was Warhol's Brillo Boxes. In an influential essay on the subject, Danto acknowledged that the Warhol piece was a mere "facsimile," visually indiscernible from actual Brillo boxes you might see in a supermarket. Nevertheless, he argued, there was a significant difference between them - that is, "a certain theory of art."

It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is [indistinguishable from]....[W]ithout the theory one is unlikely to see it as art, and in order to see it as part of the Artworld, one must have mastered a good deal of artistic theory as well as a considerable amount of the history of recent New York painting. It could not have been art fifty years ago. [Kamhi's brackets, ellipsis, and emphasis]

~~ Arthur Danto, "The Artworld," Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 61 (1964), 571-84.

Ellen

The difference between climate-alarmists (and other polluters of the concept of science) and Danto is that Danto was correct about art. Warhol's Brillo boxes are art, regardless of whether most people would see them as such, and they are even art by Rand's and Kamhi's definitions and criteria. So, it's not just Warhol's of Danto's "theory of art" that makes them art, but Rand's and Kamhi's as well. They are selective re-creations of reality according to the artist's metaphysical value-judgments.

J

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I don't agree with Jonathan that Kamhi is claiming that anyone whoever who finds value in abstract art has to be pretending.

Are you talking about a straw man named "Jonathan"? Because you're certainly not talking about me. I have not taken the position that Kamhi is claiming that anyone who finds value in abstract art has to be pretending. Rather, I've taken the position that anyone who claims to experience enough depth and meaning in abstract art to classify it is art is said by Kamhi to be pretending, and anyone who claims to see or experience what Kamhi says is not there -- based on her own personal limitations and lack of response -- is pretending. Kamhi's position is not that anyone who finds any value whatsoever in abstract art is pretending, but that anyone who experiences the type of depth that she claims to experience in the abstract form of music must be pretending.

It's really a childish tack for her to just outright and arbitrarily deny that others experience what they say they do. In Kamhi's book, she whines that her work hasn't been taken seriously by scholars and scholarly publications. Um, maybe she should consider the fact that her attitude of arbitrarily denying others' aesthetic responses makes her work not worthy of scholarly attention?

Who Says That's Art?

pg. 68

In conclusion, what's wrong with "abstract art"? My answer is: Nothing - if one is willing to regard it as merely decorative; that is, as having some visual interest or appeal owing merely to its color or design. But if one insists that it is an intelligible vehicle of meaning or emotional expression, I think it must be viewed as an essentially failed enterprise.

By what standard should it be considered a failed enterprise? Answer: By the standard of Kamhi's not getting any meaning or emotion out of it.

When will Kamhi actually scientifically test all of the art forms for intelligibility according to a consistent, rational standard? I really would love to see the results of music, dance, poetry, and realistic still lifes being tested for intelligible meanings and emotional expressiveness in the "average" or "ordinary" viewers and listeners whom Kamhi thinks share her limitations, and who she thinks therefore represent the cognitive and aesthetic limits of all mankind. I'd be willing to bet that such viewers and listeners would reveal themselves to be just as incapable as the average Objectivist is at identifying "artists' meanings" and emotional content in all of those art forms.

J

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Have I an ongoing history of "kindergarten-level stuff" with you?

--Brant

No, you don't have a history of kindergarten-level stuff. But on the issue of desaturated blue being cool, that's kindergarten, and I'm not interested in teaching or arguing kindergarten-level stuff. If you're seriously interested, go read books on the subject. Maybe start with the knowledge that the notion of warmth and coolness of colors is not a modernist or postmodernist concoction, but rather has been around since the beginning of time. It's not something new and shocking and hard to observe and understand.

The problem seems simply to be your saying desaturated blue instead of blue. There are two logical implications--that saturated would be hotter and that it would be colder. In any case, I note your arrogant, condescending anger. I don't accept being talked down to by anyone so you are blocked, permanently.

--Brant

Brant, I want to apologize to you. I'm sorry for having taken out my frustration on you. I'm just sick and tired of hearing the example of the blue flame. It's the exception to the rule that pops into people's heads, and, generally, since they're oblivious to the rule, they act as if their exception should therefore be the rule. And then they can't see or understand examples of the actual rule. Even with illustrations.

But I shouldn't have assumed that you were coming from that mindset. Sorry.

J

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It's really a childish tack for her to just outright and arbitrarily deny that others experience what they say they do. In Kamhi's book, she whines that her work hasn't been taken seriously by scholars and scholarly publications. Um, maybe she should consider the fact that her attitude of arbitrarily denying others' aesthetic responses makes her work not worthy of scholarly attention?

When writing the above, I was reminded of a discussion over on OO that I had years ago with a ridiculously self-important student artist named Ifat Glassman who had the same attitude as Kamhi of denying that others could see what she could not. She had posted an image of a painting of a lock and keys that someone else had created. She posted it for the purpose of giving it as an example of good art. Its perspective was so bad that it looked "melted" to me and to another poster who is also an artist. I posted an online tutorial on perspective, and when I explained to Ifat that the perspective was off and that she could use the tutorial to precisely measure how far off it was, she accused me of just making up an explanation to try to pretend that our "melted" comments were valid. Like Kamhi, she believed herself to be the standard and limit of human cognition. Since she could not see the perspective errors, they did not exist, and anyone who said that they did exist was just making things up!

I don't expect that Ifat will ever be taken seriously on the subject by any scholars or scholarly publications.

J

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Music IS an abstract art form: It does not present identifiable aural likenesses of things from reality.

I'm just now realizing that you aren't using "abstract" the way I am. I started suspecting in between my last post and this one - because of something in Kamhi's book - that you're getting your meaning from Kandinsky, as you say you are:

My moorings aren't Randian but Kandinskian.

I'd always thought that what you meant was stripping away the surface details and just leaving the outline, as it were - like an "abstract" of an essay.

When Rand speaks of art forming an "abstraction," she means a generalized form - the essence - without the details of the particulars. That's the way she means it when she talks of music as presenting "an abstraction of man's emotions."

And that's what I'm saying music doesn't do, not that it sometimes does and sometimes doesn't. Thus, when you say that you agree in this response, actually you aren't agreeing.

That musical forms can suggest and can arouse emotions doesn't mean that the forms come from a distillation of, an abstraction from emotions.

I agree. Music's means may include abstractions from emotions, but it may also include other means, including abstraction from attributes and behaviors.

I'm saying that the music's suggesting or arousing emotions isn't occurring because the music is abstracting from emotions - or from anything else.

I think that emotional abstraction is one means that both music and abstract visual art might employ, but I don't think that either form is limited to emotional abstraction. I've mentioned many times that not all people get the same emotions out of the same work of music, and that some works or sections of music evoke no emotions in certain people. Despite such absence of emotion, these people can nevertheless experience the music as being meaningful. If effect, they skip the emotion stage that Rand identified, and go directly to an envisioning stage. They visualize virtual things such as entities, events, attributes and personalities, without necessarily experiencing emotion.

I'm saying that whether people experience emotion or not, or envision or not, there isn't an "abstraction," in Rand's sense, in the music. There's musical form, that's all, the following of which might have physiological effects and might evoke suggestive effects. (If I'm concentrating on the music's form, I generally don't envision, and when I envision, I don't do it the way Rand said. Indeed, I wonder if anyone, her included, really does it, did it in her case, the way she said.)

But I think that Rand was wrong at base in thinking of music as "abstracting" from reality. To the contrary, music is an elaborating of forms derived from the overtone series.

Why would forms derived from the overtone series have to be "contrary" to abstracting from reality? There's no reason to see the two as mutually exclusive

The two are opposites if "abstracting" is understood the way I mean it (which apparently isn't, I'm discovering, the way you mean it). Elaborating is working out the potentials of. Abstracting (as I'm meaning it) is stripping away the details to get an "essence."

Music really is a unique art in that its material is the mathematical relationships of the overtones of pure tones.

The relationships of overtones don't make music non-abstract. Those relationships still have to be interpreted as meaning something, despite their not being identifiable aural likenesses of anything in reality. For example, what does a piece of music mean if it extends or delays the resolution of the overtone structure? If it lingers and does not immediately deliver an expected resolving chord, what is the experience in a listener? It is not one of conscious recognition of "mathematical relationships," but of the music seeming to behave as if it were a living thing. At least that's been my experience, as well as many people I've talked to. People experience deviations and nuances in the progression of the overtone relationships as what Roger Bissell calls "virtual entities," or "virtual attributes." Those attributes and behaviors are what is abstracted, and emotion, if there is any, is a reaction to the inferred behavior, personality or character of the virtual entities or attributes.

I don't think that music, as such, means anything. Nothing. Nada. Or that it "[has] to be interpreted as meaning something."

Regarding systematic identifiability, I didn't mean such things as "proportional relationships, color coordination, contrast and balance," which can be identified in visual arts. I meant the tonal structures of which music is made ranging from particular tones of particular modes or scales, through chords, through compositional segment sequences (such as A-B-A) through movement forms (such as sonata form, minuet or other dance form, or scherzo, or rondo form, etc.) through large-scale compositional forms, all of these formal patterns that recur in an endless number of specific works.

The tonal structure of music IS an issue of proportional relationships, as are the rhythm and phrasing structures of the movement forms that you listed. A "mathematical relationship" of overtones means a "proportional relationship." You can actually see the proportions in high-speed photographs of a vibrating guitar or violin string.

Terminological problem, again. The tones used in musical composition come from specific, systematic sets of tones. There's nothing comparable in painting to the systematic relationships of the tones of a musical composition. Sure, you can describe proportions and color relationships, etc., and you can even speak of a painter goofing in regard to those. And you can categorize paintings by types - still life, portrait, landscape, etc. But these are not the same as the exact relationships of tones to one another in musical form.

Ellen

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I don't agree with Jonathan that Kamhi is claiming that anyone whoever who finds value in abstract art has to be pretending.

Are you talking about a straw man named "Jonathan"? Because you're certainly not talking about me. I have not taken the position that Kamhi is claiming that anyone who finds value in abstract art has to be pretending. Rather, I've taken the position that anyone who claims to experience enough depth and meaning in abstract art to classify it is art is said by Kamhi to be pretending, and anyone who claims to see or experience what Kamhi says is not there -- based on her own personal limitations and lack of response -- is pretending. Kamhi's position is not that anyone who finds any value whatsoever in abstract art is pretending, but that anyone who experiences the type of depth that she claims to experience in the abstract form of music must be pretending.

It's really a childish tack for her to just outright and arbitrarily deny that others experience what they say they do. In Kamhi's book, she whines that her work hasn't been taken seriously by scholars and scholarly publications. Um, maybe she should consider the fact that her attitude of arbitrarily denying others' aesthetic responses makes her work not worthy of scholarly attention?

I think you've changed what you're saying from your statements earlier in the thread.

And I don't think she's saying that anyone who experiences enough depth to call it "art" is pretending. Someone might be using a different definition of art from hers. Or that she's arbitrarily denying that others experience what they say they do.

The question is, is what they experience actually there?

See her examples.

Who Says That's Art?

pg. 68

In conclusion, what's wrong with "abstract art"? My answer is: Nothing - if one is willing to regard it as merely decorative; that is, as having some visual interest or appeal owing merely to its color or design. But if one insists that it is an intelligible vehicle of meaning or emotional expression, I think it must be viewed as an essentially failed enterprise.

By what standard should it be considered a failed enterprise? Answer: By the standard of Kamhi's not getting any meaning or emotion out of it.

Again, see the examples. The failure she means is non-communication.

Ellen

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Tony, art is morally important to the art consumer and art consumers in the culture generally. The artist is morally important respecting his or her art but is not responsible for sticking it to the culture--the culture sucks it in or not. What is the market? The moral importance of art is as fuel--a la Rand--but if bad is fueled we can can it immoral art and if good is fueled we can call it moral. (That, however, is displacement. Good and bad is in people, not art per se.) If neither it's only a spacer and time waster.

Where have all the cowboy heroes of my childhood gone? What happened to Sky King? The Lone Ranger? Roy Rodgers? And the biggie, Shane? Instead, the ten year-old learns 40 ways to fornicate.

--Brant

Roy Rogers...a blast from the past (the cinema in Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia).

Was that the same world it is now? Somehow, didn't you know it was safe and everything would turn out ok with Roy there...?

Brant, ask a child (or your "man-child") the importance of art, for a definitive answer.

"Is art morally important" confounds many adults.

One hears, sort of: "Hey, like, you mean Christian "morality"!?? Like, art doesn't have a PURPOSE, man!"

For adults, we've become ever so smart and sophisticated; we know the facts and more facts, about artworks. We know what other people have said and opined about and paid for Art. It floats somewhere above us all, in the common and collective domain. Never to be judged (except by 'the authorities' or 'the collective').

The child sees with her own eyes, identifies its contents with her own brain and judges it with her own mind, and selfishly takes the art for her own - and says "This is what life means to ME".

I'm anticipating Kamhi on this topic, it should be good.

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I'm just now realizing that you aren't using "abstract" the way I am. I started suspecting in between my last post and this one - because of something in Kamhi's book - that you're getting your meaning from Kandinsky, as you say you are:

I'd always thought that what you meant was stripping away the surface details and just leaving the outline, as it were - like an "abstract" of an essay.

When Rand speaks of art forming an "abstraction," she means a generalized form - the essence - without the details of the particulars. That's the way she means it when she talks of music as presenting "an abstraction of man's emotions."

I've been talking about the historically established category of art known as "abstract art," not Rand's epistemological concept of "abstraction." When I say that music is an abstract art form in the same way that abstract paintings and sculptures are, I mean that those forms are all abstract in the dictionary sense of "thought of apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances," and "expressing a quality or characteristic apart from any specific object or instance." They present attributes independent of identifiable forms. They do not present identifiable likeness of specific things in reality. They do not present what Rand called an "essence" of an object.

The concept of "abstract art" existed long before Rand began exploring epistemology and the idea of abstraction. So therefore the idea here would be to use that historical meaning of the term rather than introducing a different meaning from a different context.

Here's one of Kamhi's rules that you posted earlier:

"Second, that the emotionally meaningful forms of visual art consist of two- or three-dimensional representations of actual or imagined persons, places, objects, or events. They are not abstract."

See how she's using "abstract"? "Abstract" in the context of discussing art forms means that the image in question is not a representation of the form of actual or imagined persons, places, objects, or events. It means that the image is made up of abstracted attributes which are not an entity's visual essence.

Terminological problem, again. The tones used in musical composition come from specific, systematic sets of tones. There's nothing comparable in painting to the systematic relationships of the tones of a musical composition.

And? What relevance do you think there is in this difference between music and abstract painting? Music's systematic relationships of tones do not make it non-abstract. Music, like abstract paintings and sculptures, still expresses qualities and characteristics apart from any specific object. Music does not re-create reality or create representations of actual or imagined persons, places, objects, or events.

J

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I think you've changed what you're saying from your statements earlier in the thread.

No. In my first post on this thread I wrote that Kamhi "is attempting to establish her personal aesthetic limitations as universal -- her lack of response, or lack of depth of response. In other words, if Kamhi gets little or nothing out of a work of art, then she asserts that the work in question is not art for anyone and everyone, not just for her."

I wrote that she "is sensitive to the abstract compositions of sound (music) to the point of having deep feelings and believing that they are communicating deep meaning to her, so those compositions are labeled 'art,' but when someone else claims to experience the same depth of feeling and communicated meaning in the abstract compositions of visual forms and colors -- be they architectural compositions or abstract paintings or sculptures -- then those compositions are not labeled 'art' if Kamhi also didn't happen to experience the same depth."

Again, see the examples. The failure she means is non-communication.

Non-communication to whom? When, where and how has Kamhi tested and compared the various art forms for their ability to communicate? Where may I review her scientific tests and findings? Has she tested her own ability to idenfity "artists' meanings" in works of music while being denied access to "outside considerations"? Has she tested her ability, and those of her fellow Objectivishistics, to identify intended subjects and meanings in realistic still lifes? Has she proven that the meanings that she believes that she has found in various artworks have actually been communicated? Or is she just assuming that any meaning that she interprets a work of art to have must be its "actual meaning," and that there's no need verify if there was a successful communication? She just feels and believes that she's right in her interpretations and responses to art, so end of story, no need to test or prove anything?

J

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Kamhi's rules of art:

- First, that all works of art are made with special care and skill - they are not the product of casual whim, chance, or accident.

- Second, that the emotionally meaningful forms of visual art consist of two- or three-dimensional representations of actual or imagined persons, places, objects, or events. They are not abstract.

- Third, that such imagery, while not necessarily realistic in style, is intelligible within its cultural context. It embodies, in comprehensible forms, ideas and values that are important to the individuals who create them and have the potential to interest and move others.

- Fourth, that a true work of art is the product of more than just technical skill, or craft. It involves a personal sensitivity, talent, or vision, which enabled the painter or sculptor to bring a subject to life and imbue it with meaning in a compelling way. The most extraordinary instances of that elusive quality are referred to as artistic "genius."


Any work that does not possess all these attributes is either failed art or non-art in my view.


No one has identified the "ideas and values that are important to the individuals" who created the still life paintings that I posted in in #158. No one has identified which compelling meanings have been imbued in the images. The same has been true when I've posted the same images in the past in Objectivist fora, as well as other still life images and landscape paintings.

So, since the images don't meet two of Kamhi's criteria, are they "failed art," or are they "non-art"? What are Kamhi's "rational," "objective" criteria for distinguishing between failed art and non-art? Should we conclude, based on the inability of Objectivish-types to identify subjects and meanings in the examples that I've posted, that no still life paintings or landscape paintings should qualify as art? After all, that's the method that Kamhi has used to reject abstract paintings, isn't it?


J

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Terminological problem, again. The tones used in musical composition come from specific, systematic sets of tones. There's nothing comparable in painting to the systematic relationships of the tones of a musical composition.

And? What relevance do you think there is in this difference between music and abstract painting? Music's systematic relationships of tones do not make it non-abstract. Music, like abstract paintings and sculptures, still expresses qualities and characteristics apart from any specific object. Music does not re-create reality or create representations of actual or imagined persons, places, objects, or events.

J

Well, for instance this from a reply (post #171) to Tony:

Music's method can be transferred to other art forms, and I demonstrated how very objectively. In fact, the method of interpreting visual art that I described is much more objectively demonstrable than anyone's attempting to objectively explain the effects and meanings of music.

If I understand (and I don't feel confident I do understand) what you're trying to do, it's to use Rand's method (or what you think is Rand's method) with music as a template for "objectively demonstrating" meanings in abstract art, on the grounds that both music and abstract art are "abstract," in the sense of "abstract" you use.

I think that the attempt is barking up a tree which doesn't have a squirrel in it. For one reason, because Rand is off base anyway in a lot of what she says about music. So why make a parallel attempt? For another, because I think your analyses don't demonstrate that what you're seeing is actually there. (I don't think it is there.)

Please keep in mind that, unlike Kamhi and Rand, I do classify "abstract" painting and sculpture as art. I'm not arguing against your thus classifying them. But I think that your way of trying to make a case doesn't work. I think that you need to get more basic and direct attention to Rand's definition and its supposed grounding.

In post #149, you re-posted, from an earlier thread, a pair of images and your interpretations. I'll quote what you said and then give my reactions to the same images.

I've given examples many times in the past of my perceiving the content of abstract paintings, and objectively describing their attributes and the reasons for their effects on me and others, and the resulting concepts and meanings. Here's one set of comparison examples:

369315155_6fca71f322_o.jpg

369315152_66ac0e08b7_o.jpg

The first gives me the feeling of energy, determination and action. It's meaning is that mankind should be strong and bold, and pursue his passions. The specific angularity and proportions of the shapes is what conveys motion and rising to me, the dramatic contrasts and bold colors suggest passion, heat, pressure and struggle, and the bulk of the forms and the roughness of the textures give me the feeling of strength and rugged durability. I see it as a very physically masculine painting. It's extroverted, dominant, serious and aggressive. It's like Atlas pushing upward.

The second image gives me the feeling of serenity. It's meaning is that peace and gentleness are important human qualities. The colors are subdued and calming. There is practically no drama or contrast -- the forms are delicate and faint, and they convey a soothing gentleness, playfulness and weightlessness. The image is like a visual whisper. I see it as a very physically feminine painting. It's withdrawn and introverted, and anything but aggressive. It's like a mother caressing a child.[/indent

I get suggestions/associations from the respective images which to some extent overlap yours, but only slightly. I get a feeling of motion and upthrust from the first and something close to "weightlessness" from the second. I can relate to your seeing the first as "physically masculine," but on my own I wouldn't have thought of an association to masculinity, even though one thing the dark uppointing triangular form suggests to me is the prow of a ship, which might be seen as having some masculine assertiveness.

Even with your associations, I don't see the second as "physically feminine." What it comes closest to suggesting to me is the trail of a water insect moving across a still surface of water. But not quite, since the specifics of the curve don't seem to me a likely course for a water insect to take. Another association is to a sine curve, but again not quite. The curve doesn't entice me enough that I have a spontaneous desire to linger on it, to examine its shape. I did linger and examine because of the discussion context, but I don't feel "beckoned" by the image.

On the other hand, I'm intrigued by the first one, and am glad you re-posted it, since I recall seeing it before and wanting to see it again.

I like the textures, and the positioning of the angles. On examining it now, I notice that there's a switching of planes in the upper right area. The (possibly stone) "lintel" which seems in the front on the left merges to the back of the triangle shape on the left. Not quite Escheresque, but interesting to me.

What the image most reminds me of is a particular crayon drawing which few have seen. The drawing was done years ago by my husband's sister. It's on the wall above a chest of drawers in the upstairs bedroom.

The drawing is called "Trajectory of a Bird in Flight." There's an abstractish bird shape, wings outspread on vaguely the vertical plane, head to the left, tail to the right. Partly covered by the bird but mostly stretching above, below, and extending to the right, there's a large V-shaped, tapered wedge - the "trajectory." The colors of the "trajectory" are shadings of vibrant blue. The bird's wings, head, and tail are soft browns, with clearly delineated shapes of ochre and a dusty gold forming the torso.

Some overlap with the colors of the image you posted. But strong difference between the red emphasis of the one, and the blue of the other. However, something about the comparative shapes and motion-suggestion of the two works gives me a comparable feeling. The feeling has little in common with what you describe yourself as getting from the first image.

I do not see any basis for your statements about the respective "meanings" of the image-pair you posted.

You say of the first:

"Its meaning is that mankind should be strong and bold, and pursue his passions."

And of the second:

"Its meaning is that peace and gentleness are important human qualities."

Are you serious in the idea that an abstract painting can convey the cognitive content of a moral dictum, or a statement about the importance of certain human qualities?

I think that even highly representational and didactically intended art doesn't often convey so specific a message.

Ellen

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I think you've changed what you're saying from your statements earlier in the thread.

No. [....]

OK, you haven't changed what you're saying - but I think you're caricaturing, not accurately reporting, how Kamhi is approaching things.

Again, see the examples. The failure she means is non-communication.

Non-communication to whom?[....]

Non-communication between whom and whom - i.e., between what the artists say of their work and what people thinking they're getting the message say they're getting.

I haven't time for more now. Later this week.

Enjoy the Xmas festivities if you're festiving.

Ellen

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I do not see any basis for your statements about the respective "meanings" of the image-pair you posted.

You say of the first:

"Its meaning is that mankind should be strong and bold, and pursue his passions."

And of the second:

"Its meaning is that peace and gentleness are important human qualities."

Are you serious in the idea that an abstract painting can convey the cognitive content of a moral dictum, or a statement about the importance of certain human qualities?

Yes. I specifically chose the two paintings as examples because I have tested their ability to communicate meanings to a relatively large percentage of people. That's not to say, however, that I think that all abstract paintings are so direct, or that they must be so successful at communicating in order to quality as art.

I think that even highly representational and didactically intended art doesn't often convey so specific a message.

I agree. Many art forms, including realistically representational/mimetic ones, don't often convey so specific a message. Some abstract paintings communicate very specific meanings to certain viewers, where others don't. Some realistically representational paintings communicate very specific meanings to certain viewers, where others don't. Some music does, some doesn't. Some works of dance and poetry and architecture communicate meaning, some don't. Even some novels communicate intended meanings where others don't.

J

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[....] I specifically chose the two paintings as examples because I have tested their ability to communicate meanings to a relatively large percentage of people. That's not to say, however, that I think that all abstract paintings are so direct, or that they must be so successful at communicating in order to quality as art.

What's "a relatively large percentage of people"?

Which people? I.e., from what populace did you get your sample?

Specifically what question(s) did you ask those whom you asked about the "meanings" of the two works?

Have the artists who did the respective works made statements about "meanings" they were attempting to convey?

Ellen

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OK, you haven't changed what you're saying - but I think you're caricaturing, not accurately reporting, how Kamhi is approaching things.

I'm not caricaturing Kamhi at all. In fact, I'm probably being too kind and generous toward her. Her approach has been to arbitrarily establish her own personal limits of aesthetic response as the universal standard for all mankind. It hasn't even occurred to her to test anyone's responses to art, especially her own. She has no idea whether or not she or anyone else could identify "artists' meanings" in realistic/representational paintings while being denied access to "outside considerations." She simple assumes that any meaning that she personally interprets any painting to mean must be what it means, and that there is no need to verify whether her interpretation matches the artist's intentions. She has never shown that she has looked at a painting while being denied access to all "outside considerations" and successfully identified what the artist intended to communicate.

I would suspect that Kamhi likely practices the typical Objectivist pseudoscientific trick of asserting that her interpretation is the correct one even if the artist (and everyone else) disagrees. I would suspect that, like Roger Bissell, as well as many of the kids over at OO, Kamhi probably believes that an artist's statement about his intentions can be trumped by her interpretation. In other words, if you and I and everyone else on the planet were to look at a painting and say that it means X, and Kamhi were to say that it means Y, and if we then asked the artist what he intended to communicate in the painting and he said that it was supposed to mean X, I think that Kamhi would assert that we were all wrong, and that the painting actually "communicates" Y, whether the artist intended it or not (and she might even take the Objectivist tack of claiming to know the artist's mind better than he knows it himself, and that his art reveals him to believe the opposite of what he claimed to intend his art to mean).

That tactic is a part of the Objectivist aesthetics which is pure pseudoscience: it makes the Objectivist aesthetic hermeneutic unfalsifiable. It eliminates all means of scientifically testing the ability of art to communicate (by invalidating the artist's stated intentions as a legitimate means of determining what message was sent), and arbitrarily replaces the rational standard of artist's intentions with a bossy-pants Objectivish-type arbitrarily declaring that his or her interpretation is the "right" one, regardless of what the artist or anyone else thinks.

(Btw, if art were limited to "the public" and "ordinary citizens" being able to identify artists' intended meanings, the only works that would qualify as art would be those similar in overt narrative to Norman Rockwell, Terry Redlin, Thomas Kinkaid and the type of kitschy art that you see in tourist town galleries.)

Again, see the examples. The failure she means is non-communication.

Non-communication to whom?[....]

Non-communication between whom and whom - i.e., between what the artists say of their work and what people thinking they're getting the message say they're getting.

Exactly! Kamhi is talking about art communicating. And she requires abstract art and postmodernist art to communicate artists' intended meanings while not relying on gallery placards or any other "outside considerations" which would inform the viewer of intended meanings. But, she has not demonstrated that viewers of realistic/representational paintings are able to identify intended meanings under the same conditions (on this thread, no one has yet identified anything about the still life and landscape paintings that I posted). The same is true of music and dance. Kamhi simply assumes that any meaning that might pop into her head while looking at a realistic painting must be the "actual meaning" that was "communicated." Her mindset is that of being so self-important that it doesn't occur to her that people have differing interpretations all the time, and that she might be wrong in an interpretation, and that the only way to rationally and legitimately test if something has been communicated is to learn, by some means external to the art, if viewers' interpretations matched the artist's intentions.

J

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[....] I specifically chose the two paintings as examples because I have tested their ability to communicate meanings to a relatively large percentage of people. That's not to say, however, that I think that all abstract paintings are so direct, or that they must be so successful at communicating in order to quality as art.

What's "a relatively large percentage of people"?

An example of a "relatively large percentage of people" would be if 17 out of 28 people interviewed at a gallery were to identify an artist's specifically intended meaning in a work of art while not being given access to those intentions through any external means. The "relatively" part involves comparing their responses to Objectivish-types who can't identify artists' meanings in realistic/representational paintings. 17 of 28 is a "relatively large percentage of people" compared to 0 of 8, or 0 of 20, or 0 of 36.

Which people? I.e., from what populace did you get your sample?

People who have expressed an interest in visual art and its ability, or lack thereof, to communicate. Enthusiastic fans of visual art. People who regularly visit visual art galleries. People who talk about art and aesthetics in online fora. Etc.

Specifically what question(s) did you ask those whom you asked about the "meanings" of the two works?

I generally ask a viewer what a given painting means to him or her, if anything, and why.

Have the artists who did the respective works made statements about "meanings" they were attempting to convey?

Yes. And they're not the only artists whose work I've used for testing.

J

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Here's a jpeg of Capuletti's Le Dernier Voeu:

cappx6l.jpg

Rand claimed that "one does see, in her face, the solemn calm of an indomitable will winning over a faint, last echo of pain."

Um, would the average "ordinary citizen" of "the public" see the same thing? Heh. Is that an objective identification of what the image communicates?

How would we find out if Rand's description matches Capuletti's intention? How would we find out if what Rand believed that she saw was "communicated" versus that she just made up some shit that wasn't actually there in the same way that Kamhi asserts that fans of abstract art just make up shit that isn't there?

Rand knew Capuletti. How would we determine whether or not her peculiar interpretation of the image was influence by his having said something to her about his intentions?

J

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Is this (from here: http://www.aristos.org/capulett.htm ) an objective assessment of Capuletti's talent and work:

"Though I rely on first-hand knowledge of only a small fraction of his total output, my impression is that Capuletti was not only one of the most daringly imaginative painters of the past century but also, at his best, one of its finest. Any reassessment of the history of art ought to give serious consideration to his work."

Heh.

My view of Capuletti is that, technically speaking, he was a student-level artist. I don't see him as imaginative, but as rather dull and lazy. His works are bare and compositionaly awkward. It's as if he wanted to do as little work as possible. His understanding of anatomy is bad, as is his understanding of perspective and color modulation.

Why do Objectivish-types adore him despite his lack of talent (which should be evident to anyone with hands-on art experience)? Is it because Rand liked his work, and falsely told her followers that he was technically masterful? She lacked the visual competence to see that he was a student-level artist, and her followers, like Torres, and presumably Kamhi, follow her in pretending to see a level of quality and artistic imagination which isn't there. It's like The Emperor's New Clothes. Why do they not think for themselves, but instead allow the elitist opinions of a novelist theorist to distort their judgments? Why do they trust Rand to tell them what to think rather than going out and learning how to actually judge things like anatomy, perspective and color modulation?

J

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Endnotes for the Post Above

[***] Rand's pithy statement of the relationship between percepts and concepts in art is in her essay "The Psycho-Epistemology of Art," in The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Signet, 1975), 20. Ironically, no one would have been more surprised than Rand herself at the similarity between her view and Kant's, for she censured him as "the father of modern art," cryptically adding parenthetically ("see his Critique of Judgement)." Since that censure followed allusions by Rand to abstract painting and sculpture in "Art and Cognition" (Romantic Manifesto, 77), she appears to have shared the widespread misconception that Kant's theory divorced art from ideas.

It's hard to know for sure if Rand shared what Kamhi sees as a widespread misconception of Kant's theory. If the specific mistakes that Rand's followers have made in reading Kant are any indication of how Objectivists think, and therefore how Rand may have thought while reading (or being told by someone in her circle about) Kant, then the silly notion that Kant was the "father of modern art" might not be based on Rand's misinterpreting Kant's thoughts on "aesthetical Ideas," but on her misinterpreting Kant's thoughts on the "formlessness" of the Sublime.

J

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Why do Objectivish-types adore [Capuletti] despite his lack of talent (which should be evident to anyone with hands-on art experience)? Is it because Rand liked his work, and falsely told her followers that he was technically masterful? She lacked the visual competence to see that he was a student-level artist, and her followers, like Torres, and presumably Kamhi, follow her in pretending to see a level of quality and artistic imagination which isn't there.

How many current Objectivish types adore Capuletti? His work tended to receive praise from NYC area Objectivists when Rand was alive, but is it much mentioned these days in Objectivism-related venues?

There's no listing for Capuletti in the Index of Who Says That's Art?.

I'm aware of Capuletti's technical deficits, but I do find some of his work imaginative, with a sense of juxtaposition which reminds me of Rand's (e.g., such twists of hers as "The Bottom at the Top" and "The Chickens' Homecoming").

Ellen

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[snippet from Kamhi endnote re Kant]

[note 19 to Chapter 1; pg. 258]

[Rand] censured [Kant] as "the father of modern art," cryptically adding parenthetically ("see his Critique of Judgement)." Since that censure followed allusions by Rand to abstract painting and sculpture in "Art and Cognition" (Romantic Manifesto, 77), she appears to have shared the widespread misconception that Kant's theory divorced art from ideas.

It's hard to know for sure if Rand shared what Kamhi sees as a widespread misconception of Kant's theory. [....]

It's also hard to know if the "allusions by Rand to abstract painting and sculpture" are meant narrowly or more broadly. As I think you've pointed out elsewhere, Rand's designation "modern art" in that last segment of "Art and Cognition" appears to include both the categories "modern" and "postmodern."

Ellen

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Reprising (from post #214) the two paintings Jonathan and I are talking about, with a statement by Jonathan about the "meaning" of each directly under it.

369315155_6fca71f322_o.jpg

[J] "Its meaning is that mankind should be strong and bold, and pursue his passions."

369315152_66ac0e08b7_o.jpg

[J] "Its meaning is that peace and gentleness are important human qualities."

Ellen

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