Ellen Stuttle

Concerning "Essences," Especially in Art

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Almost eight years ago - on July 22, 2008 - Jonathan posted a set of paired images which I'll feature as the "frontispiece" of this thread.  I'll explain why, and why I started the thread, in subsequent posts.

 

 

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The title imitates Kandinsky's Über das Geistige in der Kunst:  Besonders in der Malerei ("Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Especially in Painting").

---

I've been hoping for the last five weeks to start a new thread by replying in detail to a particular post of Jonathan's - here - from May 25,

However, I've been preoccupied with preparations for a symmetry conference which Larry and I will be attending soon in Vienna. And with other stuff, including the painful and icky aftermath of an emergency dental operation.

I'm now faced with the choice of starting the thread on the near-eve of my departure, when I won't have time to follow through for several weeks, or waiting until I've returned and re-settled in and caught up to neglected chores.

I decided to go ahead and start the thread now when I have a few hours to spare in which to get on with it.

====

Jonathan and I have many, many divergences regarding issues of art, so many that I doubt I could list them all. However, Jonathan's post which I've linked to above seems to me to provide a possible access point for developing from in a positive direction.

The post is like it's on a tangential trajectory to what I was saying - and to what Hillay Rebay was saying. It almost misses contact. But there is one point on which it comes close to touching: Jonathan believes - as do I - that Rebay experienced something which powerfully affected her in Kandinsky's art.

The problem I was originally trying to highlight pertains to artistic "sensitivity" - whether or not, in order to qualify as "sensitive" to "abstract" painting, one need believe that Rebay was - in fact - experiencing what she thought she was.

Maybe the word "experiencing" threw things off. Rebay didn't precisely claim that she experienced "the primary essence of creation" via Kandinsky's "abstract" art. She said that his art was "conceived from the primary essence of creation." But she'd have to have had an idea of how the activity of "the primary essence of creation" can be recognized, so in that respect experienced, in order to make an identification that certain paintings were conceived from it.

In any event, Jonathan brushed aside the factual issue of whether or not there IS a primary essence of creation from which art can be conceived.

At first, reading Jonathan's post, I felt mystified by the non-contact between his reply and what I was asking. Slowly, however, I began to think that maybe the disjunct provides an opening for probing an earlier mystification. We'll see how this goes.

Ellen

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Preliminaries


The discussion of Hilla Rebay's saying of Kandinsky's "abstract" art that it's "conceived from the primary essence of creation" begins here.

William (thanks) posted a lengthy excerpt from Rebay's article here.

Hilla Reba's Preface to Kandinsky's Point and Line to Plane was originally published as "Pioneer in Non-Objective Painting" in the May 1946 issue of the "Carnegie Magazine."

The complete Preface, in the 1979 Dover reprint, can be read via Google books - link.


I'll quote the full last paragraph of the article:

"To unfold the human soul and lead it into receptivity of cosmic power and joy is the tremendous benefit derived from the non-objective masterpiece, so intensely useful and conceived from the primary essence of creation.  In loving Kandinsky's paintings, we assimilate ourselves with expressions of beauty with which he links us to a higher world.  Kandinsky's message of non-objectivity is the message of Eternity."

(A note about the term "non-objective," and it's noun form "non-objectivity," as used by Rebay:  The term doesn't mean "subjective." It's a potentially confusing English rendering of the German gegenstandslos - literally translated, "object without" - which means, when used in an art context, what's called in English "abstract" or "non-representational" art.)

Ellen

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Section One - Essences

 

 

On May 25, 2016 at 4:01 PM, Jonathan said:
On May 25, 2016 at 4:16 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

In order to demonstrate that Hilla Rebay really was experiencing said "essence" upon contemplating Kandinsky's art, you'll first need to make a plausible case that there is said "essence."  Good luck.

Ellen

Thanks, but I don’t need the luck since I wouldn’t argue that there is an “essence” outside of Rebay’s describing her personal experience as such. I think that all statements of what any person believes is the “essence" of creation, or of any of the art forms, comes down to each individual’s subjective opinions based on their own personal experiences, sensitivities and limitations.

I'll start with the disjunct between your use of  "essence" and Rebay's.

The first time I read your reply, I had a WTF? feeling when I got to the phrase "or of any of the art forms."  What was that doing inserted into Rebay's context of thought?

The WTF? feeling intensified when I read the first sentence of your second section:

[quoting J]"An individual work of art that Rebay may have experienced as a primary essence of creation might do little or nothing for me or you."[/end quote]

This would only connect to Rebay's statement if you meant to write:

"An individual work of art that Rebay may have experienced as being conceived from the primary essence of creation [...]."

When I got to the third section, where you strung together "the 'essence' of creation," "the 'essence' of each of the art forms," and "the 'essence' of each individual work of art," I began to think that possibly you've never read Rebay's "Preface" to Point and Line to Plane.

I had assumed that you would have read it, since surely you must have read the Kandinsky text.

But maybe you skipped the "Preface" or you've forgotten its content.

You appear to have interpreted Rebay's "primary essence of creation" as meaning by "primary" a rank-ordering term, that is, an evaluation of relative significance, but what Rebay was talking about was causal primacy, "primary" in the sense of "first cause."

She was talking about a metaphysical property of the universe, a causative source, something existent in reality from which art can be conceived.

She was making a factual assertion, and a strong one, given that she preceded the final paragraph with an extensive build-up, also presented as fact.

Thus, in declaring that you consider any such statement as hers "subjective opinion," you're in effect declaring - although I doubt that this was your intent - that Rebay was immersed in a delusional system, that she was badly mistaking her personal response for an identification of cosmic truth.

I think that Rebay's system of thought was mistaken, and that she was misidentifying what she saw in Kandinsky's "abstract" art.  But I think that she was discerning something which is there in the artwork - and something which once upon a time I thought that you were discerning too.

I'll return at the end of this post to the "something" which I think is there.

First, I want to address a number of other issues, including your "sensitivities and limitations" theme.

Ellen

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Section Two - Pretentiousness /  Sensitivities and Limitations

 

 

On May 25, 2016 at 4:01 PM, Jonathan said:
On May 25, 2016 at 4:16 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

Note: I'm not accusing Rebay of pretentiousness.  I think that she really was sincerely, deeply, profoundly moved by Kandinsky's art.

Ellen

I agree, and that has been my entire point: There is no reason to take the frantic, insecure, Objectivish position of doubting or rejecting anyone’s statements that they were "sincerely, deeply, profoundly moved" by any work of art; the fact that O’vishes don’t themselves experience the same depth and profundity is not a logical or rational basis on which to doubt others’ experiences, or to call them lies, delusions, etc.

An individual work of art that Rebay may have experienced as a primary essence of creation might do little or nothing for me or you. In such a case, I’m not at all uncomfortable with the idea that I lack her sensitivities to the effects of the work in question. Likewise, if you say that a certain poem or ballet knocks the wind out of you, but it bores me, I wouldn’t find it upsetting in the least if anyone were to say that, in regard to the artwork in question, and perhaps even the entire genre, I appear to be aesthetically limited, unaware, unobservant, uninterested, etc. I would not be able to understand someone’s needing to tell you that you’re lying, delusional or pretentious when you claim that you experience depth, emotional impact, expressiveness and meaning that I and others might not.

Your first paragraph:

There you've used my specific comment about a particular person as a springboard for railing against your O'vish bugaboos and you've flown off into disconnect from what I was saying as well as from what Rebay said.

Rebay did not make the statement of herself that she was "sincerely, deeply, profoundly moved" by Kandinsky's art.  That's my assessment of her outpouring.

Nor has Hilla Rebay's lack of pretentiousness been your "entire point" (in cyber-reams of posts?).

As best I can ascertain (I've discovered that the search function is defective, but that's another story), prior to the current discussion, Hilla Rebay had only been referenced twice on OL, both times by me - here and here - in the thread titled "Kandinsky's Spiritual Quest."

Those two earlier references were informational.  I didn't say anything evaluating the genuineness of Rebay's praise.  The reason why I disclaimed accusing Rebay of pretentiousness now is because the style of her encomium is flowerful, effusive.  It's the sort of writing that can easily arouse suspicions of being at least partly put on.  I was attempting to indicate that I think that Rebay in particular wasn't putting it on.  I think that she meant it.  All of it.  This is by contrast to many effusions about "abstract" visual art which I've heard or read and which I've thought were put on to some extent ranging from mildly to entirely insincere.

---

Your second paragraph:

I've already commented on the oddity of your speaking of experiencing an artwork as, itself, "a primary essence of creation."

I'll add a personal touch.   I think that there's a good likelihood that an artwork which affected Rebay as being "conceived from the primary essence of creation" would also positively, and probably strongly, affect me.  I resonate to the "wavelength" of her reaction to Kandinsky, although my explanatory frame differs from hers.

Next, I'm curious:  Why a ballet?  I've never expressed any particular interest in the art of ballet, and I'd estimate that I've attended no more than a couple dozen live ballet performances.   I love the movie of "Romeo and Juliet" with Prokofiev's music (Nureyev and Fontayne as the leads), but I don't recall even mentioning that if I have mentioned it.

Next, the word "needing" loads your last sentence, as if you think that there could be no basis or context for someone's making any of those charges of anyone else besides someone's needing to make them.  Yet, ironically - although, again, I think that you didn't intend the implication - you yourself in effect accused Rebay of being deluded in mistaking her "subjective opinion" for cosmic fact.  As I've already indicated, I think that there are abundant displays of pretentiousness regarding "abstract" visual art.  I think that there's no shortage of pretentiousness regarding other areas of art as well.  I've also, sometimes, thought that a person was outright lying about an artistic response.

Next, I'm more than a bit skeptical of your statement that you "wouldn’t find it upsetting in the least if anyone were to say that, in regard to the artwork in question, and perhaps even the entire genre, [you] appear to be aesthetically limited, unaware, unobservant, uninterested, etc."  I think that whoever said something of the sort to you would have to phrase the assessment very tactfully or the person might never hear the end of it.

---

And next, and major:  the issue of your "sensitivities and limitations" theme:

Jonathan, what basis for judging sensitivities and limitations do you provide yourself or anyone else with?   Is the person who claims to experience the most of a positive kind thereby certified as the most sensitive?

For instance, consider the following alterations to Rebay's describing "the non-objective masterpiece" (in the context, meaning work by Kandinsky) as "conceived from the primary essence of creation."

Suppose that one person were to say that Kandinsky's art is conceived from the essence of "pixie dust" (using the term in the pejorative colloquial meaning of fanciful nonsense) and another were to say that it's conceived from the essence of derangement.  Based on numerous evaluations of "visual aesthetic sensitivity" I've read in your posts, my guess is that you'd evaluate the first person as badly lacking in visual aesthetic sensitivity and the second as a visual aesthetic moron. 

But by what standard could you make any evaluation?   If all such assessments of art works "[come] down to each individual’s subjective opinions based on their own personal experiences, sensitivities and limitations," then you have one person's "personal experiences, sensitivities and limitations" judging another person's who's judging the first person's in a chamber of subjectivist mirrors.

Yet you've wielded charges of visual arts insensitivity and limitations like O'vishes wield charges of "bad sense of life" and "malevolent-universe premises."

Sometimes you add accusations of character flaws.

For instance, when Tony described the Vermeer milkmaid as "homely" and "bored" and the scene as drab, and he said that he was brought to mind of centuries of female servitude, you accused him not only of visual arts insensitivity and limitations, but also of being an "Obedient Objectivist" and of likely having "hateful notions of women" to boot (link).

Likewise, when some people responded with disfavor to the painting of the nude guys in the truck, you accused those people not only of visual arts insensitivity and limitations but also of human empathy limitations as well.

When it comes to Kamhi, you become hopelessly anaphylactic and splutter charges, especially featuring your claim that she makes her aesthetic limitations the universal standard for mankind.  I don't think that she does any such thing, but on your own subjectivist premises, it's all simply a matter of opinion whether she's aesthetically limited or you're an aesthetic whore.

Ellen

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Section Three - Blind Men, Rand and Rebay

 

 

On May 25, 2016 at 4:01 PM, Jonathan said:
On May 25, 2016 at 4:16 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

But must one be lacking in artistic sensitivity to doubt that whatever she experienced was in fact "the primary essence of creation"?

Ellen

One must be lacking in not only artistic sensitivity, but also in general life experience and fundamental social interaction in order to not recognize the very simple reality that others often experience in art what one does not. Many people have differing views on what they think is the “essence” of creation, what is the “essence” of each of the art forms, and what is the “essence” of each individual work of art. There doesn’t have to be a single, universal, objectively definable/identifiable “essence” of any of those categories in order for one to accept the reality that another person is reporting that she experienced what she describes as an “essence.” She has an opinion on what is essential, then she experiences a work of art which meets her criteria of what she thinks is essential, and then states that the art work hit her essence button. We don’t have to agree with her on what is essential, nor do we have to even accept the idea that anything can boil down to a single “essence,” in order to recognize and accept that she experiences it as an essence, even though we do not.

It’s the old tale of the blind men touching different parts of an elephant. One touches the trunk and thinks it’s a serpent, another touches a leg and thinks it’s a tree, etc. Rand “touched” the subject of “art” and felt only the story-telling part, so the "essence" of all art forms became those aspects which were most similar to literature. Rebay touched only the visual compositional part. Both made the mistake of irrationally rejecting — sometimes quite angrily — others’ statements about the parts that they were touching.

Why not listen to and accept others’ descriptions of the parts that they are touching? What’s with the insecure little psychological need to assert that others can’t possibly be touching a part that is different from the part that one is touching?

I'll start with your analogy to the parable of the blind men and the elephant to get it out of the way.

Ever since I first heard that parable many years ago, I've thought that it was dumb and that it portrays blind people as idiots who wouldn't likely survive for long.

As if blind people wouldn't soon discern that they were touching a creature, and a large one (the parable's script implies that the elephant's an adult elephant).   And what is a blind person doing that close to an elephant without the assistance  of a sighted person?  Blind people get to be skilled at detecting potential danger using other senses besides sight and at avoiding blundering into harm's way.

"It's an analogy!," you might reply, like you're prone to replying, "It's a metaphor!"

Yes, but an analogy used to what purpose?  To suggest that any description that anyone offers should be "listen[ed] to and accept[ed]"?

Listening to is one thing, within limits.  There's only so much time in life.  But shouldn't accepting be done on the basis of trying to form a correct theory of the whole elephant?  And could it not be the case that some descriptions are fully wrong, not partially true?

Actually, all the descriptions are fully wrong in the parable, which was the biggest reason why I thought it was dumb.  Its moral, as I understand the moral, is acceptance of everyone's being in error, with the truth of a unified understanding not to be had.

---

Regarding your descriptions of the parts of art that Rand and Rebay, respectively, "touched":

I don't know enough about Rebay to have an opinion on the degree to which she "touched only the visual compositional part."  There are definite indications in her Preface that she thought that representational painting is inferior to what she called "non-objective" art (from the German gegenstandslos, literally "object without).  I don't know if she went so far as to consider representational painting not art.

I don't agree that Rand, upon “'touch[ing]' the subject of 'art,'" "felt only the story-telling part."

Granted, she overextended her category "Naturalism" in speaking of the "metaphysics" operative in the choice of subjects in visual art.  But she overextended her category "Naturalism" in literature too by making it the omnibus opposite to "Romanticism."  She liked having things slotted into pairs she could call "diametrically opposite" to each other.

I think that her bigger overextension, however, was from visual art to literature.  I brought that idea up a few years ago, thinking of writing about it, but I haven't gotten around to spelling it out.

What I'm referring to is her idea that art - all art - brings what she called "the conceptual level" to what she called "the perceptual level." ]>

There's nothing perceptual about a story, even one enacted on a stage or in a motion picture.  A story is something you have to follow with the imagination and intellect, not something you perceive.

Other arts aren't strictly "perceptual level" either, even visual arts where one does literally see the artwork.  Even there imagination and intellect are operative in the seeing it as art and in forming a weave of meaningfulness in what one sees.

Anyway, I agree that Rand was too narrow in what she accepted as art, but not that she made literature's characteristics "the 'essence' of all art forms."

Ellen

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Section Four - the Point

 

Now, returning at l-o-n-g last to the issue I was trying to get at, the issue of FACT.  

Rebay's statement implies the factual claim that there exists, "out there," like "existence exists and is what it is," irrespective of anyone's wishes, hopes, fears - or opinions, a "primary essence of creation."

Does it make a difference to the correctness of Rebay's views if the primary essence of creation which she thought was out there isn't there?

Yes.

Does it make a person artistically insensitive if the person doubts - including very, very strongly doubts - that the primary essence of creation which Rebay thought was out there indeed is out there?

No.

I'll use a couple analogies myself to illustrate how I view Rebay's account of Kandinsky's "abstract" work.

(1)  Suppose that a person understands the term "unicorn" as meaning a mythological creature (not a horse or pony tricked up with a horn plastered on its forehead or some other mistaken identification), and that the person claims literally to have experienced riding a unicorn (not to have imagined riding one). Then I would think that the person either hallucinated or is lying, since non-existent creatures can't be ridden.

(2)  Suppose that a person claims to have sighted the Loch Ness Monster.  I totally doubt that I could be persuaded that there really is a Loch Ness Monster.  However, I wouldn't conclude simply from a person's claiming to have sighted Nessie that the person either hallucinated or is lying.  The person might have sighted something and might genuinely believe that the something was Nessie.

I assess Rebay on Kandinsky's "abstract" work as similar to the second example.

I think that Rebay was "sighting" <i>something</i> which is a property of Kandinsky's "abstract" paintings, but that it's not only reasonable to doubt, it's unreasonable not to doubt that what she "sighted" was what she thought it was.

As to what I think Rebay was discerning but mislabeling in Kandinsky's "abstract" work, I think it's closely related to what she thought it was, but minus her mystical belief system (and minus Kandinsky's - he thought that true art comes from a cosmic Spirit of Art).

I'd call it essentialization of form, especially of the dynamism of form.

Once upon a time - from July 2008 to Fall 2014 - that's what I thought that you, too, thought was the nature of "abstract" visual art.

It's what I thought you were attempting to illustrate in selecting the set of paired images that I've re-posted as the "frontispiece" of this thread.  But then you said, no, that you meant "having no identifiable likeness." But just the thing that strikes me, and that I thought you were trying to demonstrate in the respective pairs if the set is the likeness, with the image on the right being like the essentialized dynamism of the one on the left.

Now, I haven't a clue what you were trying to demonstrate.

If you remember your principle of selection, could you describe what it was?

I'll repeat the set:

 

 

2693303411_40dbc3f704_o.jpg

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48 minutes ago, Ellen Stuttle said:

 

Section Three - Blind Men, Rand and Rebay

 

 

I'll start with your analogy to the parable of the blind men and the elephant to get it out of the way.

Ever since I first heard that parable many years ago, I've thought that it was dumb and that it portrays blind people as idiots who wouldn't likely survive for long.

As if blind people wouldn't soon discern that they were touching a creature, and a large one (the parable's script implies that the elephant's an adult elephant).   And what is a blind person doing that close to an elephant without the assistance  of a sighted person?  Blind people get to be skilled at detecting potential danger using other senses besides sight and at avoiding blundering into harm's way.

"It's an analogy!," you might reply, like you're prone to replying, "It's a metaphor!"

Yes, but an analogy used to what purpose?  To suggest that any description that anyone offers should be "listen[ed] to and accept[ed]"?

Listening to is one thing, within limits.  There's only so much time in life.  But shouldn't accepting be done on the basis of trying to form a correct theory of the whole elephant?  And could it not be the case that some descriptions are fully wrong, not partially true?

Actually, all the descriptions are fully wrong in the parable, which was the biggest reason why I thought it was dumb.  Its moral, as I understand the moral, is acceptance of everyone's being in error, with the truth of a unified understanding not to be had.

---

Regarding your descriptions of the parts of art that Rand and Rebay, respectively, "touched":

I don't know enough about Rebay to have an opinion on the degree to which she "touched only the visual compositional part."  There are definite indications in her Preface that she thought that representational painting is inferior to what she called "non-objective" art (from the German gegenstandslos, literally "object without).  I don't know if she went so far as to consider representational painting not art.

I don't agree that Rand, upon “'touch[ing]' the subject of 'art,'" "felt only the story-telling part."

Granted, she overextended her category "Naturalism" in speaking of the "metaphysics" operative in the choice of subjects in visual art.  But she overextended her category "Naturalism" in literature too by making it the omnibus opposite to "Romanticism."  She liked having things slotted into pairs she could call "diametrically opposite" to each other.

I think that her bigger overextension, however, was from visual art to literature.  I brought that idea up a few years ago, thinking of writing about it, but I haven't gotten around to spelling it out.

What I'm referring to is her idea that art - all art - brings what she called "the conceptual level" to what she called "the perceptual level." ]>

There's nothing perceptual about a story, even one enacted on a stage or in a motion picture.  A story is something you have to follow with the imagination and intellect, not something you perceive.

Other arts aren't strictly "perceptual level" either, even visual arts where one does literally see the artwork.  Even there imagination and intellect are operative in the seeing it as art and in forming a weave of meaningfulness in what one sees.

Anyway, I agree that Rand was too narrow in what she accepted as art, but not that she made literature's characteristics "the 'essence' of all art forms."

Ellen

Perhaps worth mentioning, in regards to the objection over the parable of the elephant: Chris Matthew Sciabarra ends his AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL with a mention of the parable in relation his study of dialectics in  Objectivism and the dangers of reification:

"Some of you may know the story of the four travelers who on a moonless night chanced upon an elephant and came away separately convinced that it was very like a snake, a leaf, a wall, a rope. Not one could persuade any other to change his mind, for each had touched a different part. Not one could resolve their differences for none of them knew the entire elephant. The moral of the story is not the inevitability of subjectivism. Rather, it is a lesson in the fallacy of reification. Each traveler abstracted a part of the whole and reified that part into a separate entity, which was identified as the totality. Reification is possible because no one—and no human being—can achieve a synoptic vantage point on the whole. Our definition of what is­ essential depends on a specific context."

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2 hours ago, Ellen Stuttle said:

 

Listening to is one thing, within limits.  There's only so much time in life.  But shouldn't accepting be done on the basis of trying to form a correct theory of the whole elephant?  And could it not be the case that some descriptions are fully wrong, not partially true?

How can one form a theory of the -whole- elephant?  All we see at any one time is the side of the elephant facing us.

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2 hours ago, Ellen Stuttle said:

(1)  Suppose that a person understands the term "unicorn" as meaning a mythological creature (not a horse or pony tricked up with a horn plastered on its forehead or some other mistaken identification), and that the person claims literally to have experienced riding a unicorn (not to have imagined riding one). Then I would think that the person either hallucinated or is lying, since non-existent creatures can't be ridden.

(2)  Suppose that a person claims to have sighted the Loch Ness Monster.  I totally doubt that I could be persuaded that there really is a Loch Ness Monster.  However, I wouldn't conclude simply from a person's claiming to have sighted Nessie that the person either hallucinated or is lying.  The person might have sighted something and might genuinely believe that the something was Nessie.

Why is a unicorn identified as a mythological non-existent creature, but the Loch Ness Monster isn't?  Is Nessie less mythological or less non-existent than a unicorn?  Isn't it possible that the person in (1) was riding something and genuinely believed that something was a unicorn? In which case, why is the person in (2) granted more credibility?

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5 hours ago, Ellen Stuttle said:

Section One - Essences

On 5/25/2016 at 1:01 PM, Jonathan said:
On 5/25/2016 at 1:16 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

In order to demonstrate that Hilla Rebay really was experiencing said "essence" upon contemplating Kandinsky's art, you'll first need to make a plausible case that there is said "essence."  Good luck.

Ellen

Thanks, but I don’t need the luck since I wouldn’t argue that there is an “essence” outside of Rebay’s describing her personal experience as such. I think that all statements of what any person believes is the “essence" of creation, or of any of the art forms, comes down to each individual’s subjective opinions based on their own personal experiences, sensitivities and limitations.

I'll start with the disjunct between your use of  "essence" and Rebay's.

The first time I read your reply, I had a WTF? feeling when I got to the phrase "or of any of the art forms."  What was that doing inserted into Rebay's context of thought?

 

I go off on a naive Rebay tangent at the Microcosm thread. I paste it here since Ellen has narrowed the focus and opened doors to discussion. Thanks, Ellen, enjoy your European intensive, and we will meet you back here when your on-return chores are done.  I predict topic drift and a tendency to ride off in all directions. 

On 5/25/2016 at 1:16 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:
On 5/16/2016 at 9:51 AM, Jonathan said:

[....]  other people with normal aesthetic and visual/observational capacities see much more, such as the expressiveness of colors, surface textures, reflections, proportions, etc. And then there are people who have even more advanced knowledge, experience and sensitivities who see even more.

Let's try this one, from the final paragraph of Hilla Rebay's Introduction to the 1947 English translation of Point and Line to Plane. (The Introduction was originally written as a comendatory piece upon Kandinsky's death):

====  

//

// Quote - Hilla Rebay said - link:

// [...] conceived from the primary essence of creation.

====

In order to demonstrate that Hilla Rebay really was experiencing said "essence" upon contemplating Kandinsky's art, you'll first need to make a plausible case that there is said "essence."  

I can read Jonathan's argument more charitably.  He thinks there are people with "normal aesthetic and visual/observational capacities." There are other people with lesser capacities to the norm, and still others whose capacities rise above the norm.   His operational term was 'see,' a simple act.  

This argument is in service of various goals in discussion, some of which we can agree upon, and some not. I'd like to have more examples of the 'see much more' people.

An 'uncultured' person, a 'primitive,' a tribe not yet fully incorporated in the modern world -- in this person a lesser ability to 'see more' is arguable, if not plausible.  Can one be educated to 'see'? Perhaps. Perhaps the post-contact primitive wass a native genius in art, and in his  life since meeting modernity has 'come up to speed' in terms of sight -- seeking, probing sight. Over time, more insight. Over time, much more appreciation of the great human enterprise of art.

A charitable reading of the 3-tiered classes of the sighted can also supply an 'upper-class' example, a person whose educated eye out-sees the middle-class and the primitive and the conventionally educated. I have to supply this in imagination: a person who is always visually curious and analytical, who front-loads imagery from the manifest of creation, who appreciates the evolution of styles, cultures, nations, and traditions, who can discriminate between best of breed and imperfection. 

I'd say there are folks like this who might become curators, collectors, promoters, teachers, leaders of 'schools' and givers of rich grants. They are also maybe the reviewers and the weather-men of the world of arts, the scholars and encyclopedists of this trend or that, this epoch or that, this evolutionary sport or that. 

Hilla Rebay was not someone I had in mind as an example of the upper seeing classes, interesting though her life and desires were (eg, her drive in re the Guggenheim).  What sets her apart from that seeing much more  is the spiritism of her essay.  It is kind of funny to read in the modern context, where I bet we cannot find an equal.  I think her 'sight' was indeed above the norm, as was her capacity to focus, to serve as amanuensis, spark and tinder to creation.  And yet I set aside her claims to observe the divine.

So, I consider the 'essence' effusions in her prose not evidence of a greater sight,  but evidence she had a flea in her ear -- the Great Spirit and its tuning-fork conduit in Kandinsky.

In a perfect and perfectly reasonable world, Jonathan and Ellen would agree on the example of Rebay's divinity-observing capacity as a sight too far, a witchiness not relevant to rational appreciation of art.

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Note: I'm not accusing Rebay of pretentiousness.  I think that she really was sincerely, deeply, profoundly moved by Kandinsky's art.  But must one be lacking in artistic sensitivity to doubt that whatever she experienced was in fact "the primary essence of creation"?

Oh, Great Spirit, show yourself.   And teach us how to corroborate the process when someone finds You as the prime mover in the process of art. One of your people, Oh Spirit, has spied You infusing yourself into Kandinsky's production.  What say Ye?

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Ellen:

"There's nothing *perceptual* about a story..." Yes!

"Literature re-creates reality by means of words, i.e. *concepts*. But in order to re-create reality, it is the sensory-perceptual level of man's awareness that literature has to convey conceptually: the reality of concrete, individual men and events, specific sights, sounds, textures, etc.

"The so-called visual arts ... produce concrete, perceptually available entities and make them convey an abstract, conceptual meaning".

[...]

"All those arts are *conceptual* in essence, all are products of and addressed to the conceptual level of man's consciousness, and they differ only in their means". (Art and Cognition)

Although not distinctly opposite, the two methods make for a study in contrasts. The "means" of literature differs in that the reader has to 'supply' his own visuals, etc. - percepts - to the word-concepts of a writer (I'd put it simply) - "in order to re-create reality". Which you go on to explain well. (The "story telling" explanation of visual art is a commonly superficial one which miscasts Rand's actual thoughts).

Keep up the good investigation.

 

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On July 13, 2016 at 7:54 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

Rebay didn't precisely claim that she experienced "the primary essence of creation" via Kandinsky's "abstract" art. She said that his art was "conceived from the primary essence of creation." But she'd have to have had an idea of how the activity of "the primary essence of creation" can be recognized, so in that respect experienced, in order to make an identification that certain paintings were conceived from it.

In any event, Jonathan brushed aside the factual issue of whether or not there IS a primary essence of creation from which art can be conceived.

No, I didn't.

You have a tendency to refuse to recognize that your questions have been answered, especially, it seems, when you've made mistaken assumptions and irrationally concluded that I must be taking the position that you want me to take so that you can argue with me.

Reread the following in which I answered your question:

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On May 25, 2016 at 3:01 PM,  Jonathan said: 
>  On May 25, 2016 at 3:16 AM,  Ellen Stuttle said: 
>>In order to demonstrate that Hilla Rebay really was experiencing said "essence" upon contemplating Kandinsky's art, you'll first need to make a plausible case that there is said "essence."  Good luck.
>>Ellen
>Thanks, but I don’t need the luck since I wouldn’t argue that there is an “essence” outside of Rebay’s describing her personal experience as such. I think that all statements of what any person believes is the “essence" of creation, or of any of the art forms, comes down to each individual’s subjective opinions based on their own personal experiences, sensitivities and limitations.

 

Now, in response to the above, you wrote,
 

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I'll start with the disjunct between your use of  "essence" and Rebay's.

Heh. Then what about the "disjunct" between your use of "essence" and Rebay's? Hahahaha! Um, while electon-chasing, did you forget that you described her as "experiencing said 'essence'"? Re-read the quote above of yours to which I was responding.
 

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When I got to the third section, where you strung together "the 'essence' of creation," "the 'essence' of each of the art forms," and "the 'essence' of each individual work of art," I began to think that possibly you've never read Rebay's "Preface" to Point and Line to Plane.

I've gotten the impression that you've never read and grasped Rebay's writings as wholes, nor anyone else's. Instead, just isolated "electrons."
 

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Thus, in declaring that you consider any such statement as hers "subjective opinion," you're in effect declaring - although I doubt that this was your intent - that Rebay was immersed in a delusional system, that she was badly mistaking her personal response for an identification of cosmic truth.

I was stating that Rebay was mistaking her personal, subjective evaluation for an identification of universal truth, just as I have similarly identified Rand as mistaking her personal, subjective evaluations for universal truths.

 

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I think that Rebay's system of thought was mistaken, and that she was misidentifying what she saw in Kandinsky's "abstract" art.  But I think that she was discerning something which is there in the artwork - and something which once upon a time I thought that you were discerning too.

I agree. More precisely, my view is that Rebay was mistaken only insofar as she may have wanted to universalize her "system." The "essence" that she experienced was only an essence to her. Her experiencing it as such doesn't make it a universal essence for all.
 

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There you've used my specific comment about a particular person as a springboard for railing against your O'vish bugaboos and you've flown off into disconnect from what I was saying as well as from what Rebay said.

Something isn't disconnected just because Electron Ellen doesn't see the connection while refusing to see it while electron-chasing.

 

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Rebay did not make the statement of herself that she was "sincerely, deeply, profoundly moved" by Kandinsky's art.  That's my assessment of her outpouring.

Nor has Hilla Rebay's lack of pretentiousness been your "entire point" (in cyber-reams of posts?).

 

I wasn't talking only about Rebay. She is not the only person whom Objectivist aesthetic foamers have accused of being insincere when stating their aesthetic responses and evaluations of abstract art.
 

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As best I can ascertain (I've discovered that the search function is defective, but that's another story), prior to the current discussion, Hilla Rebay had only been referenced twice on OL, both times by me - here and here - in the thread titled "Kandinsky's Spiritual Quest."

We've discussed her on previous threads. The search function is indeed limited if not defective.
 

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Those two earlier references were informational.  I didn't say anything evaluating the genuineness of Rebay's praise.  The reason why I disclaimed accusing Rebay of pretentiousness now is because the style of her encomium is flowerful, effusive.  It's the sort of writing that can easily arouse suspicions of being at least partly put on.  I was attempting to indicate that I think that Rebay in particular wasn't putting it on.  I think that she meant it.  All of it.  This is by contrast to many effusions about "abstract" visual art which I've heard or read and which I've thought were put on to some extent ranging from mildly to entirely insincere.

I really don't care about how you feel about whether or not others are sincere or bullshitting in their statements about the effects of art and the depth that they feel. Your feelings and suspicions are not a reliable or valid means of measuring such things (nor are anyone else's, including mine).
 

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Next, I'm curious:  Why a ballet?  I've never expressed any particular interest in the art of ballet, and I'd estimate that I've attended no more than a couple dozen live ballet performances.

Why not a ballet? I chose a random art form to use as an example!
 

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I love the movie of "Romeo and Juliet" with Prokofiev's music (Nureyev and Fontayne as the leads), but I don't recall even mentioning that if I have mentioned it.

Um, reread what I wrote. Try to pay attention to the whole, and to the context. It's not about you. It's about the fact that some artworks or art forms do little or nothing for some people while affecting others very deeply.

Here's my statement again:

An individual work of art that Rebay may have experienced as a primary essence of creation might do little or nothing for me or you. In such a case, I’m not at all uncomfortable with the idea that I lack her sensitivities to the effects of the work in question. Likewise, if you say that a certain poem or ballet knocks the wind out of you, but it bores me, I wouldn’t find it upsetting in the least if anyone were to say that, in regard to the artwork in question, and perhaps even the entire genre, I appear to be aesthetically limited, unaware, unobservant, uninterested, etc. I would not be able to understand someone’s needing to tell you that you’re lying, delusional or pretentious when you claim that you experience depth, emotional impact, expressiveness and meaning that I and others might not.

 

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Next, the word "needing" loads your last sentence, as if you think that there could be no basis or context for someone's making any of those charges of anyone else besides someone's needing to make them.

Oh, it's definitely a need of theirs! There is no other basis for their charges! I've asked them, and challenged them, to identify the alleged "objective" means by which they claim to be able to know and measure the depth, or lack thereof, of others'  aesthetic responses, and then to provide the objective proof. They haven't answered the challenges, but have run away from them.

There are no valid grounds on which they reject the legitimacy of others' aesthetic responses. Their (the O'vishes') only grounds are that they (the O'vishes) don't experience what others claim to, and they assert that those others are therefore lying to impress the artworld elite. That's Kamhi's position. Read her book!

Btw, I'm not taking the position that there could never be any legitimate basis for rejecting others' claims of what they've experienced in art. I'm simply stating the fact that Kamhi and other O'vishes have not presented any. They haven't even tested their own or others' responses to the works of art which they accept as being valid!

 

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Yet, ironically - although, again, I think that you didn't intend the implication - you yourself in effect accused Rebay of being deluded in mistaking her "subjective opinion" for cosmic fact.

Yes, I'm accusing Rebay of being mistaken in believing that her personal, subjective experience was a universal fact of having identified the essence of creation, just as I accuse O'vishes of mistaking their personal, subjective responses to art as representing the one, true, universal, "objective" interpretation of any work of art in question.

 

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As I've already indicated, I think that there are abundant displays of pretentiousness regarding "abstract" visual art.

 Yes, and I think that there are also abundant displays of what I take to be pretentiousness regarding abstract aural art (music), not to mention representational visual art, and also novels and films.

 

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I think that there's no shortage of pretentiousness regarding other areas of art as well.  I've also, sometimes, thought that a person was outright lying about an artistic response.

Uh huh. I've felt the same way. But I recognize that my feelings about such things aren't a reliable means of knowing others' sincerity or lack thereof. Some people come across to me as insincere, when they actually may be just way too flamboyant or whatever for my tastes. My discomfort with their personalities isn't a valid means of measuring their sincerity or the depth of their aesthetic responses.

 

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Next, I'm more than a bit skeptical of your statement that you "wouldn’t find it upsetting in the least if anyone were to say that, in regard to the artwork in question, and perhaps even the entire genre, [you] appear to be aesthetically limited, unaware, unobservant, uninterested, etc."  I think that whoever said something of the sort to you would have to phrase the assessment very tactfully or the person might never hear the end of it.

Heh. I've been in that type of situation many times, and have never been upset in the slightest to discover that someone else experiences much more than I do in a work of art. Granted, I don't think that's happened in O-land. Usually, it seems that O'vishes experience so much less than I or most other people, and therefore aren't ever in a position to claim to experience more.

 

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And next, and major:  the issue of your "sensitivities and limitations" theme:

Jonathan, what basis for judging sensitivities and limitations do you provide yourself or anyone else with?

 

Have you not followed along on OL, and seen various people being unable to see certain things in examples of art that have been posted? Have you not witnessed their lack of awareness and observational skills?

 

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Is the person who claims to experience the most of a positive kind thereby certified as the most sensitive?

No, it's not about mere claims. See, in the examples in which people have revealed that they're unaware and unobservant, I've actually then gone on to point out to them what they missed the first time around (or Billy has). There's still one example out there (the image of the nun) which contains a lot more to be seen, but which people here haven't yet noticed, despite being told that there's much more to see. People who are more sensitive and aware can usually explain pretty easily what they see that others have missed, and explain why they therefore interpret the work differently and more deeply. I've done that quite often.

 

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For instance, consider the following alterations to Rebay's describing "the non-objective masterpiece" (in the context, meaning work by Kandinsky) as "conceived from the primary essence of creation."

Suppose that one person were to say that Kandinsky's art is conceived from the essence of "pixie dust" (using the term in the pejorative colloquial meaning of fanciful nonsense) and another were to say that it's conceived from the essence of derangement.

 

In such a case, the logical thing to do would be to ask for objective proof. It's the same position that I take when frantic Rand-followers assert that those who claim to experience meaning and depth in abstract art are psychologically and/or morally deficient.

Heh. Remember back when you use to take a similar position, back when you objected to the Objectivist approach due to its being a weapon of "aesthetic response as morals exam"? No? Forgot about that?

 

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Based on numerous evaluations of "visual aesthetic sensitivity" I've read in your posts, my guess is that you'd evaluate the first person as badly lacking in visual aesthetic sensitivity and the second as a visual aesthetic moron.

Yeah, you've apparently not paid attention to the lack of observational skills that others have displayed, which I'm using as my means of judging their visual abilities and sensitivities.

 

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Yet you've wielded charges of visual arts insensitivity and limitations like O'vishes wield charges of "bad sense of life" and "malevolent-universe premises."

 

And so have you! "Aesthetic response as morals exam."

I'm fine with people having their own subjective responses to art. The problem only comes when they insist on claiming that others do not experience what they say they do, or when people insist on asserting that their subjective responses are "objective," and the "right" interpretation, and, most important of all, when they claim to know the artist's psychology, philosophy, morality, etc., based on their unaware, unobservant interpretations of his work.

 

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For instance, when Tony described the Vermeer milkmaid as "homely" and "bored" and the scene as drab, and he said that he was brought to mind of centuries of female servitude, you accused him not only of visual arts insensitivity and limitations, but also of being an "Obedient Objectivist" and of likely having "hateful notions of women" to boot (link).

Indeed, and I gave my reasoning. Reread it. This time, try to hold the entirety in your mind. Try to notice that what I was objecting to was not Tony's personal interpretation of the image, but his implication that his is the only rational interpretation, and that "the only question" that remained was whether or not I or any other viewer would be able to state that "THIS is what life means to me," meaning that anyone who likes or identifies with the painting must feel that life is drudgery and servitude. In other words, Tony cannot fathom or will not accept that I or others might experience the image differently than he does: We MUST love drudgery and servitude. Aesthetics as morals exam! 

 

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Likewise, when some people responded with disfavor to the painting of the nude guys in the truck, you accused those people not only of visual arts insensitivity and limitations but also of human empathy limitations as well.

Again, try to focus on the bigger picture and the entire context rather than just isolated electrons. Go back and reread! When you do, pay attention, for example, to what His Royal Published Majesty said about people who find meaning and value in the painting! See if you can identify, when holding the whole of the conversation in mind, that I was responding to the mindset of "aesthetics as morals exam."

(Also notice the difficulty that His Majesty had in identifying a simple color! Heh!)

 

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When it comes to Kamhi, you become hopelessly anaphylactic and splutter charges, especially featuring your claim that she makes her aesthetic limitations the universal standard for mankind.  I don't think that she does any such thing, but on your own subjectivist premises, it's all simply a matter of opinion whether she's aesthetically limited or you're an aesthetic whore.

You've said several times that you disagree with my position that Kamhi tries to sneak in her personal aesthetic limitations (and those of a few others whom she has selected to quote due to their sharing her personal limitations) as the universal limit for all mankind. Unfortunately, you've offered nothing to back up your position. In her latest book, Kamhi begins by citing her own personal lack of response to some abstract sculptures, and then concludes that the sculptures are not art -- because they did not affect her. She also states that certain others feel the same way. That's all that she offers: her personal lack of response, and those of a few whom she has found who share her limitations. If you disagree, then cite what you think she uses as her "objective" method of measuring others' depth of aesthetic response! Please, back up your claims, and identify the means that Kamhi uses if not her personal lack of aesthetic response, and her congregating anecdotal collections of a few others' similar lack of response!


 

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I'll start with your analogy to the parable of the blind men and the elephant to get it out of the way.
Ever since I first heard that parable many years ago, I've thought that it was dumb and that it portrays blind people as idiots who wouldn't likely survive for long.
As if blind people wouldn't soon discern that they were touching a creature, and a large one (the parable's script implies that the elephant's an adult elephant).   And what is a blind person doing that close to an elephant without the assistance  of a sighted person?  Blind people get to be skilled at detecting potential danger using other senses besides sight and at avoiding blundering into harm's way.
"It's an analogy!," you might reply, like you're prone to replying, "It's a metaphor!"

Yes, but an analogy used to what purpose?  To suggest that any description that anyone offers should be "listen[ed] to and accept[ed]"?

 

Yeah, heh, you have great difficulty with analogies, comparisons, metaphors, etc. You seem to be incapable of grasping that the idea is to compare some aspects of one thing with some aspects of another. Instead, you focus on the ways in which the things are not alike, and then announce that the analogy therefore fails. Apparently your idea of a successful analogy would be to compare a thing only to itself. "A refrigerator is like a refrigerator." That's your type of "analogy."

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Listening to is one thing, within limits.  There's only so much time in life.  But shouldn't accepting be done on the basis of trying to form a correct theory of the whole elephant?  And could it not be the case that some descriptions are fully wrong, not partially true?

Actually, all the descriptions are fully wrong in the parable, which was the biggest reason why I thought it was dumb.  Its moral, as I understand the moral, is acceptance of everyone's being in error, with the truth of a unified understanding not to be had.

 

Yeah, you don't get it. The point is actually that a unified understanding IS to be had! See, the idea is for people not to be pigheaded, and egotistically fragile, but to recognize and accept that others might experience what one doesn't! The idea is to not limit yourself to your own personal perspective, but to move beyond your experiences and limitations and explore others' perspectives!

More later. I'm busy, as you are, so no rush. 

J

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On July 13, 2016 at 1:35 PM, william.scherk said:

Can one be educated to 'see'? Perhaps.
 

Haven't we all been educated to "see" more than what we thought might be in a painting, or a film, a dance, or a novel? And to "hear" what generations have heard in music? Don't we learn from hearing others' perspectives on various artworks and art forms? Well, I mean most of us. Those of us who aren't actively opposed to learning due to having been bitten by the Rand bug.

 

On July 13, 2016 at 1:35 PM, william.scherk said:

...A charitable reading of the 3-tiered classes of the sighted can also supply an 'upper-class' example, a person whose educated eye out-sees the middle-class and the primitive and the conventionally educated. I have to supply this in imagination: a person who is always visually curious and analytical, who front-loads imagery from the manifest of creation, who appreciates the evolution of styles, cultures, nations, and traditions, who can discriminate between best of breed and imperfection. 

I'd say there are folks like this who might become curators, collectors, promoters, teachers, leaders of 'schools' and givers of rich grants. They are also maybe the reviewers and the weather-men of the world of arts, the scholars and encyclopedists of this trend or that, this epoch or that, this evolutionary sport or that...

I think a good way to look at it is this (which I've mentioned in the past): Might Frank Lloyd Wright have had the ability to see and experience more in architecture than, say, Thomas Miovas Jr., if for no other reason than that Wright was a seasoned professional who had a fierce passion for the art form, and who worked at it almost daily during his entire life, where those things are not true of Junior?

Would it be unreasonable to suspect that His Royal Published Highness, The Majestic Roger Bissell, although professionally not on the independently creative and productive level of a Mozart or Rachmaninoff, might have gained knowledge and sensitivities in regard to his favorite genres of music, via working as a professional trombonist, that, say, a Tony or a Gregster or a Dr. Comrade Sonia, Phd., lack due to their not having practiced and performed daily?

Would it be completely irrational of me to expect that Newberry would recognize color modulations and perspective shifts, and their potential effects and contributions to meaning, which bossypants non-artists like Kamhi&Torres™ would not recognize, and which might require quite a lot of classroom explanation and hands-on training in order for them to grasp those attributes?

Would it be the definition of insanity to consider as a remote possibility that OL's Jules "Steve" Troy might instantly see and understand a lighting or depth of field scenario and why it was chosen by the artist photographer, where someone who has little interest in or experience with photography would have no idea what Jules was talking about?

If the above mentioned people began discussing certain artworks, would it take us long to get a sense of who was aware and sensitive versus who was not?

J

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On July 13, 2016 at 8:09 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

Section Four - the Point

 

Now, returning at l-o-n-g last to the issue I was trying to get at, the issue of FACT.  

Rebay's statement implies the factual claim that there exists, "out there," like "existence exists and is what it is," irrespective of anyone's wishes, hopes, fears - or opinions, a "primary essence of creation."

Does it make a difference to the correctness of Rebay's views if the primary essence of creation which she thought was out there isn't there?

Yes.

Does it make a person artistically insensitive if the person doubts - including very, very strongly doubts - that the primary essence of creation which Rebay thought was out there indeed is out there?

No.

You’re mixing things up. Category mistake.

Someone’s having a view on what constitutes “the primary essence of creation” is not an issue of employing artistic sensitivity, but of normal cognitive abstraction and proper conceptualization. It is the act of logically identifying and defining the proposed concept of “essence of creation.” One does not use one’s “artistic sensitivity” to logically identify and define concepts.

Let’s say that I invent a replacement for carburetion which I call “botrification.” We bring Hilla Rebay back to life, and, after studying the “botrifice," she declares that it’s wonderful and exciting to see it in action, and that it's some sort of fulcrum and lever compression unit, which it is not.

Now, the fact that she has conceptually gotten its technical operation wrong does not mean that we have reason to doubt her report of her having experienced seeing the invention as wonderful and exciting. Her conceptual error is not an issue of artistic sensitivity.

Understand? You’re trying to impose “artistic sensitivity” on an issue to which is not applicable.

 

On July 13, 2016 at 8:09 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

I'll use a couple analogies myself to illustrate how I view Rebay's account of Kandinsky's "abstract" work.

(1)  Suppose that a person understands the term "unicorn" as meaning a mythological creature (not a horse or pony tricked up with a horn plastered on its forehead or some other mistaken identification), and that the person claims literally to have experienced riding a unicorn (not to have imagined riding one). Then I would think that the person either hallucinated or is lying, since non-existent creatures can't be ridden.

(2)  Suppose that a person claims to have sighted the Loch Ness Monster.  I totally doubt that I could be persuaded that there really is a Loch Ness Monster.  However, I wouldn't conclude simply from a person's claiming to have sighted Nessie that the person either hallucinated or is lying.  The person might have sighted something and might genuinely believe that the something was Nessie.

I assess Rebay on Kandinsky's "abstract" work as similar to the second example.

I agree. Rebay experienced something, and it deeply affected her. And then she misidentified what it was, and that's an issue of conceptual error, not of artistic sensitivity.

 

On July 13, 2016 at 8:09 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

As to what I think Rebay was discerning but mislabeling in Kandinsky's "abstract" work, I think it's closely related to what she thought it was, but minus her mystical belief system (and minus Kandinsky's - he thought that true art comes from a cosmic Spirit of Art).

I'd call it essentialization of form, especially of the dynamism of form.

Once upon a time - from July 2008 to Fall 2014 - that's what I thought that you, too, thought was the nature of "abstract" visual art.

I wouldn’t necessarily call it an “essentialization of form,” but rather a condensation of form to what the artist experiences as the relevant attributes in the given situation.

 

On July 13, 2016 at 8:09 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

It's what I thought you were attempting to illustrate in selecting the set of paired images that I've re-posted as the "frontispiece" of this thread.  But then you said, no, that you meant "having no identifiable likeness." But just the thing that strikes me, and that I thought you were trying to demonstrate in the respective pairs if the set is the likeness, with the image on the right being like the essentialized dynamism of the one on the left.

The purpose of my posting the two columns of images was to compare how the compositions on the left and right are similar (and to ask people, who were enraged about abstract art qualifying as art despite allegedly having no meaning, to identify the meanings in the realistic paintings). But would you, or "the average viewer" or whatever, see the images in the column on the right as being "identifiable likenesses to things in reality" if they were not shown in comparison to the images on the left? No. Get it now? See, you have to grasp the full context, and not strip electrons away individually. See, there was a specific meaning in the term “identifiable likeness to things in reality.” It means that people will identify, say, an image of an apple as being an image of an apple, and not as being a red thing that kind of has similarities to apples as well as to a lot of other red things, but none in particular. Understand?

 

On July 13, 2016 at 8:09 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

Now, I haven't a clue what you were trying to demonstrate.

Yeah. I know. I’m sorry about that. You’re having a tough time. Keep fighting, though. Try to stay sharp. Personally, I think that continuing to argue will be good for you. I, for one, am not going to coddle you as you drift into dementia.

J

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William asks "Can one be educated to 'see'?" Yes, certainly, one can be educated to see - better. That's a good thing a good artist accomplishes for we the viewers. An artist gives a subtle or bold emphasis to detail and lighting and composition, proportion and perspective, colour and line, which gives to viewer a whole different way of looking at the same subject matter back in real life(which he very likely has seen many times, and ignored as common or uninteresting). We learn to see afresh, by his view and treatment. The isolated, presented picture within its rectangular borders and frame, adds importance and significance in the viewer's mind, all making it 'special'.

The question here is can one be educated to see what only the artist knows, he 'meant' to show? Above that, what a few educated sensitives can also see--or claim to see there?

Here it begins to enter the realm of suggestion (association, etc.) When we look at those picture pairs, one can see the similarities - because we were supposed to, by whoever showed them. But if one saw only the right column, many might be confused as to the identity of some. With more exposure to art, viewers become a little more proficient at accurately spotting one or two: i.e. This 'looks like' a field of red flowers among green foliage. i.e. up to a point, art education and exposure helps with slightly abstracted art.

Lines, horizontal or diagonal depicting calm or dynamism, sensual curves; cool colours, like blues and whites reminiscent of clouds and skies - or reds, and 'violent'; and other techniques - suggest 'things' up to a point (and are tecniques used in realist painting by custom). But there has to come a point with contemporary art when nobody can know for sure, and past which when it becomes guesswork. (Ive likened this here before to slowly throwing a lens out of focus on a camera with a ground glass focus screen. As the image de-focuses through stages, it goes from still recognizable, to less, to eventually at maximum a complete misshapen blur, and (perhaps attractive, design/colour-wise) a non-image . I can claim this was a beautiful woman's face, or city skyline I photographed, but why should I be believed?)

 One can appreciate that artists, especially since the advent of photography, deliberately first set out to challenge established realism. As long as the works remained quite representational, on the border-line between clear and unclear, and still teasingly close to identifying the subject, and still evoking emotions, that's fine and fairly honest. Crossing the boundary altogether into fully abstract art is where deception may come in and surely does. For one to claim that a blurred hodgepodge image can be 'seen' by the educated and sensitive viewer, is doubtful. She may sincerely 'believe she knows'; she may be 'cheating' from what she's heard or read by the artist himself and his visual intentions in a specific painting; she may be dippy. Who knows? To know better, this intuitive insight should be empirically tested in several double-blind experiments, using unknown artworks by unknown artists. Claimants would state what they 'see', against the artist's testimony of what he 'meant', or at least what he was feeling at the time. (If he meant anything beyond a nice design).

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On ‎7‎/‎13‎/‎2016 at 11:35 AM, william.scherk said:

Can one be educated to 'see'?

Many decades ago, I learned that one of the people who would be teaching an introductory course in photography at the University had been one of the senior photographers for National Geographic.  I decided that I'd fill in some fine arts requirements towards my degree.  This was before the age of digital photography.  We learned to develop the black and white on our own in the dark room, were taught basic principles of composition, and of course the applicable physics, like depth of field, and so forth.  And then we spent all semester shooting roll after roll after roll.  What I learned was that my eye for composition improved a great deal.  I learned to see things like when I needed to move from where I was standing least the picture look like a telephone pole in the background was coming out of a subjects head.  I'd say that I still only got one or two nice shots out of a hundred with the rest being snapshots that turned out to be a waste to develop. 

At least in this limited sense one can learn to 'see.'

The other thing that I learned, later, was that my 'eye' faded.  Without practice, I settled back into shooting snapshots.

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Yep. As always it's practice -focus- and dedication to recover one's "eye". Aftera detached retina some years back and nearly losing vision in an eye, it took some while to come back.

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1 hour ago, SteveWolfer said:

Many decades ago, I learned that one of the people who would be teaching an introductory course in photography at the University had been one of the senior photographers for National Geographic.  I decided that I'd fill in some fine arts requirements towards my degree.  This was before the age of digital photography.  We learned to develop the black and white on our own in the dark room, were taught basic principles of composition, and of course the applicable physics, like depth of field, and so forth.  And then we spent all semester shooting roll after roll after roll.  What I learned was that my eye for composition improved a great deal.  I learned to see things like when I needed to move from where I was standing least the picture look like a telephone pole in the background was coming out of a subjects head.  I'd say that I still only got one or two nice shots out of a hundred with the rest being snapshots that turned out to be a waste to develop. 

At least in this limited sense one can learn to 'see.'

The other thing that I learned, later, was that my 'eye' faded.  Without practice, I settled back into shooting snapshots.

My brother Marc also learned photography in the pre-digital age, first by becoming a Marine Corps photographer. He worked with Ansel Adams for a while in the 1970s and developed about 8000 prints off Ansel's negatives.

Ansel Adams had the patience to wait all day until the light was right. (Not my brother, btw.) One of his most famous photos was "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico." He saw the shot in the rear or side view mirror of his station wagon, braked to a stop and took the photograph all in about five minutes. To take great photos, except by a sometimes accident I suppose, you have to effectively compose it or see it first. At least that's my layman's take.

--Brant

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19 hours ago, anthony said:

For one to claim that a blurred hodgepodge image can be 'seen' by the educated and sensitive viewer, is doubtful. She may sincerely 'believe she knows'; she may be 'cheating' from what she's heard or read by the artist himself and his visual intentions in a specific painting; she may be dippy. Who knows? To know better, this intuitive insight should be empirically tested in several double-blind experiments, using unknown artworks by unknown artists. Claimants would state what they 'see', against the artist's testimony of what he 'meant', or at least what he was feeling at the time. (If he meant anything beyond a nice design).

Where is such empirical testing of people's ability to identify artist's meanings in the images in the left hand column???

Why is it that none of you Objectivish aesthetic geniuses, and none elsewhere, has been able to identify any artists' meanings in any realistic, representational paintings?

One of the points of my posting the two columns of images, long ago, was to apply Objectivist criteria to various works and begin to test them in reality. I did so because O'vishes had demanded proof from others that abstract visual art could actually meet their criteria. In other words, they weren't content to take people at their word when describing the depth and meaning that they claimed to experience in abstract art. Well, I decided to call the O'vishes' bluff by applying their own standards to them: I'm not content to take you at your word -- I don't accept your empty assertions that the works which you declare are valid art have actually been shown to meet your criteria. I require proof, the same proof that you demand of fans of abstract art! So, as part of my investigation and testing, I have challenged, and continue to challenge, you and all other O'vishes to identify the artists' meanings in the representational images in the left column (as well as other tests involving other representational images beyond still lifes). So far, only a few people have even attempted to identify only a couple of the artists' meanings, and none have succeeded. Actually, they failed miserably.

Nothing, ever, has yet been demonstrated to qualify as art by Objectivism's criteria!

NOTHING!!! NIHIL!!! Aesthetically, that is what you stand for! You're destroyers and haters, and nothing excites and satisfies you more than screaming in everyone's face, "It's NOT ART!!!!"

J

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Preliminary Comments on Kant's Third Critique


This is a post to indicate what's been keeping me absent from OL.  In a word: Kant.

Since returning home from Vienna at the end of July, I've been snatching all the time I could get for studying Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgment and some related material.

(The translation I've been studying is the one by Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews, published in 2000, so I'll use their title for the work instead of the traditional English translation Critique of Judgment.  I'll abbreviate hereafter as CPJ.)

I'm aware that with Election Day looming, Kant isn't exactly a hot topic.  However, I've reached a point of pause in my investigations, and I wanted to make note of the story so far before I go on to the next chapter.

I haven't yet read the replies on this thread.  I'll probably manage to read those next week, but I might not have time for posting again until after Thanksgiving.

---


I started looking into CPJ about six months ago, beginning with the "Analytic of the Sublime."  I soon realized that in order to follow what Kant was saying, I needed to brush up on his specific use of terms - such as "reason," "pure reason," "pure practical reason," "understanding," "intuition," "ideas," "transcendental," "subjective" and "objective," and other terms which he used in his own particular way.

So I studied the "Glossary" in Paul Guyer's Routledge Series Kant (2nd Edition, 2014).  Then I read some of Guyer's analysis of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

Then I skipped to Guyer's Chapter Nine, "The beautiful, the sublime, and the morally good."  Reading the first few pages of that chapter, I experienced what for me was a revelation regarding CPJ.

I've known for more than fifty years that CPJ includes two lengthy main parts (plus a Preface, an Introduction, and an Appendix).  The main parts are a "Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgment" and a "Critique of the Teleological Power of Judgment."

I learned that much from undergraduate philosophy courses in the early 1960s.  However, as best I recall - and I've tried hard to recall - very little was said in my philosophy courses about the "Critique of the Teleological Power of Judgment," and what little was said was of an "also included" sort.  The aesthetics part didn't receive much attention either, since the courses I took focused primarily on metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, but acknowledgement was made that the aesthetics part was of major significance to the development of the philosophic sub-discipline of aesthetics. The teleology part, on the other hand, as I recall, was basically brushed aside as old-hat and as rendered passé by evolutionary theory.

I don't remember what, if anything, was said in answer to the question:  Why did Kant combine aesthetics and teleology in the same book?

Neither do I remember ever wondering specifically about that question in subsequent years.  I suppose that I supposed that Kant linked the two subjects because they both involved a form of judgment which he considered to be fundamentally non-cognitive - i.e., that he put the two subjects together as being "of a type."

Guyer asks the "Why?" question directly.

---

I'll pause to provide a tabular chronology of the three Critiques' publication dates.  The first edition of Critique of Pure Reason was published not long after Kant's fifty-seventh birthday.  Kant was born April 22, 1724, and died February 12, 1804.

1781 - Critique of Pure Reason, First Edition

1787 - Critique of Pure Reason, Second Edition (extensively revised)

1788 - Critique of Practical Reason

1790 - Critique of the Power of Judgment, First Edition

1793 - Critique of the Power of Judgment, Second Edition (minor revisions for clarity)

Kant published two other especially significant works between the first and second editions of the Critique of Pure Reason:

1783 - Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics that will be able to come forth as a Science

1785 - Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

The Prolegomena, which is considerably shorter than the first Critique, was written as an attempt to present the first Critique's arguments in a more accessible form.

Groundwork foreshadows the second Critique.

---


Guyer starts his discussion of Kant's third Critique by noting the abruptness of the work's appearance.

Although Kant published CPJ "just three years after publishing the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason and two years after the Critique of Practical Reason which had grown out of his work on that revision," Kant didn't indicate in either work that a third Critique would be forthcoming.

Nor, as Guyer proceeds to detail, did Kant previously connect the subjects of aesthetics and teleology:

"Kant had discussed both the nature of aesthetic judgment and the system of the arts in his lectures on anthropology, logic, and metaphysics, and had published an early book entitled Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime (1764), although that had not contained much analysis of these two central subjects of aesthetics themselves, offering instead what we would now consider sociological observations on differences in taste between men and women, different nations and races, and the like.  He had touched upon the teleological conception of nature as a goal-directed system in both an early work like the Only Possible Basis for a Demonstration of the Existence of God (1763) as well as in the Appendix to the "Transcendental Dialectic" of the Critique of Pure Reason.  But he had never connected the two subjects of aesthetics and teleology."

Guyer then asks:

"Why did [Kant] suddenly bring them together in a third critique?" (pg. 356, my emphasis)

Guyer gives three reasons.  The first coincides with what I suppose that I supposed.  The second easily dovetails with it.

Kant connected aesthetics and teleology, Guyer says, because Kant thought that both aesthetic and teleological judgment are examples of a type of judgment which he called "reflecting judgment." (I'll leave aside for a later time the differences between what Kant called "reflecting judgment" and what he called "determining judgment.")

Guyer continues:

"A second connection [Kant made] between aesthetic and teleological judgment is that both involve perceptions of what Kant calls 'purposiveness' (Zweckmäßigkeit; since Zweck can mean "goal" as well as "purpose," we might also translate this term as "goal-directedness"): in finding an object beautiful or sublime, our experience of the object is purposive or satisfies a goal of our own even though we do not think of the object itself as having been designed for a purpose (Kant calls this "purposiveness without a purpose"); in teleological judgment, we think of an organism or even the whole of nature as if it were designed for a purpose, a conception of nature which is supposed to have heuristic value for us even though we do not and cannot know that anything in nature has been designed for a purpose."

What Guyer says next sent my mind into full alert with an incipient "Oh! Wow!" feeling:

"Kant's deepest reason for connecting aesthetics and teleology in a single book, however, is that both aesthetic and teleological judgment lead us to look at products of nature and indeed at all of nature itself - and in his theory of genius Kant will imply that even works of fine art must be considered to be gifts of nature - as if they also have moral significance, and thus both aesthetic and teleological experience give us crucial encouragement in our fundamental task of literally transforming the natural world into a moral world[.]"

Guyer then quotes a lengthy passage from the concluding section - section IX - of Kant's Introduction to CPJ.

Kant titled the section (5: 195, pg. 80 Guyer/Matthews translation; my emphasis):

"On the connection of the legislations of understanding and reason through the power of judgment."

A bit of background is needed to follow what Kant says:

By "understanding," Kant meant the "faculty" which cognizes what he called "the phenomenal world" - the world of "phenomena," of "appearances."

Kant thought that we can acquire scientific knowledge of the phenomenal world, proceeding from the "categories of the understanding" - certain basic ways of experiencing which he thought were "a prioris,"; i.e., pre-existent to and in his view necessary to any possible cognition of objects.

However, he thought that we cannot know the nature of what he called "the noumenal world" - the "supersensible" world of "things in themselves."

Kant placed what he called "Freedom" (freedom of the will) and "Moral Law" in the unknowable noumenal world, as the province of what he called "pure practical reason."  By "practical reason" he meant instrumental reason, that is, reasoning pertaining to a goal.  By "pure" he meant independent of experience.

So here's Kant himself speaking (I've somewhat shortened, and added a paragraph break to the passage which Guyer quoted):

"The understanding legislates a priori for nature, as object of the senses, for a theoretical cognition of it in a possible experience.  Reason legislates a priori for freedom and its own causality, as the supersensible in the subject, for an unconditioned practical cognition. The domain of the concept of nature under the one legislation and that of the concept of freedom under the other are entirely barred from any mutual influence they could have on each other by themselves (each in accordance with its fundamental laws) by the great chasm that separates the supersensible from the appearances [my emphasis].  The concept of freedom determines nothing in regard to the theoretical cognition of nature; the concept of nature likewise determines nothing in regard to practical laws of freedom; and it is to this extent not possible to throw a bridge from one domain to the other. [....]

"That which presupposes [a final end and thus an effect of freedom in the natural world] a priori and without regard to the practical, namely, the power of judgment, provides the mediating concept between the concepts of nature and the concept of freedom, which makes possible the transition from the purely theoretical to the purely practical, from lawfulness in accordance with the former to the final end in accordance with the latter, in the concept of a purposiveness of nature [Kant's emphasis]."

OH! WOW!, I thought.  So the work presents Kant's own attempt to provide some help with the impossible situation he'd produced!

Not that Kant thought that he'd produced the impossible situation.  He thought that he'd identified "the great chasm that separates the supersensible from the appearances," not that he'd excavated the chasm with incorrect reasoning.

CPJ demonstrates, however, that he was well aware that "the great chasm" presented a big, bad problem for the realization of his Final End goal.

I've been fascinated by the intricacies and subtleties - and inconsistencies - of Kant's attempt to stretch a bandaid of hope across his supersensible/appearances divide.

I'm eagerly curious to explore the reaction to Kant's teleological arguments during the sixty-nine years between 1790, the publication of the first edition of CPJ, and 1859, when the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species changed the terms of the debate.

---

A brief comment on Jonathan's thesis that the Kantian sublime is Rand's "signature aesthetic style":

I soon learned in reading Kant's "Analytic of the Sublime" that his take on "the sublime" depends on his metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  Thus an attempt to import the Kantian sublime into Rand's radically different philosophic framework is out of whack.  Plus Jonathan futzes up what Kant, as well as Rand, was saying (extensive details another time).

Considering that Kant thought that experiencing "the (dynamical) sublime" gives us grounds for believing that we're capable of adhering to a type of moral code that Rand opposed, Rand's aesthetic might be called "the ANTI-Kantian sublime."  I don't like the emphasis on the negative, however.

Awhile back - a year ago, actually (see) - I raised the suggestion that "unsettling" would be a good category for Rand's aesthetic.  At the time, I was looking into a book by Herbert Grabes which was originally published in German in 2004 and was translated into English in 2008 as Making Strange: Beauty, Sublimity, and the (Post)Modern 'Third Aesthetic.'

The descriptor "unsettling" appeals to me intuitively.  But I haven't gotten around to reading more than snatches of that book, so the suggestion is provisional.

Ellen

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On July 18, 2016 at 11:24 PM, Jonathan said:

 

On July 19, 2016 at 6:37 PM, Jonathan said:

 

 

Jonathan,

I read your replies.

How you do go on.  I wonder if you noticed that you twisted words round into giving a negative answer to my initial question.  No, one needn't be lacking in aesthetic sensitivity to doubt that Hilla Rebay experienced - or make it "discerned" - "the primary essence of creation" in Kandinsky's paintings.

You doubt it, too.

The issue has never been whether different people might experience different things in art works, but whether some experience claims are claims of experiencing what isn't there.  You've made such a claim in at least one case - and I think you stick to it still, while confusing "argument from incredulity" with a statement of impossibility.

I agree that there is a proneness among O'vishes to making snap judgments of an impossibility sort, but I don't think that just because someone doubts that others experience in an art work what he or she doesn't, the person is taking his or her response as a universal standard.

I'm not going to try to prove the negative about Kamhi.  I think you'd remain allergic to her no matter what I said.

Btw, about that "visual competence" test which you mentioned, I saw what you'd done as soon as I saw the enhanced-contrast image William posted (a month or so after he posted it).  Ha, ha.

On a thread you started in September - and which I just saw yesterday - you claim the demise of "the Objectivist aesthetics" because Kamhi deleted some of your "challenge" questions.

Since the passage you chronically refer to isn't "the Objectivist aesthetics," people's ignoring your misconceived "challenges" isn't diagnostic of the Objectivist aesthetics' state of well-being.

Plus (along with misidentifying what "the Objectivist aesthetics" is), you continue with other errors which you've been making for years:  lumping music, architecture, "abstract" painting and sculpture (and dance, which doesn't get mentioned much) into a unitary package called "abstract" - by your definition of the term - and claiming that art which isn't "representational" is necessarily "abstract" by that definition.

About your paired-painting set, I would see likenesses in the right-hand ones without the pairings. Not uniquely identifiable likenesses, but I know of nothing visual which doesn't have likenesses to other somethings visual.

My statement re "the aesthetic response as a morals exam" isn't a characterological accusation and isn't the same thing you do.

Your trained-observer question doesn't provide a test of what I've taken you to mean by "sensitivity."  Sure, people who are trained in an area notice things other people don't, but this doesn't necessarily correlate with response depth, which is what I've thought you meant.

About electrons, on October 28, I attended a lecture by a physicist - Leon Cooper - who won an especially noteworthy Nobel Prize for work on the mysteries of electrons.  I think he'd be amused by the idea that chasing electrons is a trivial pursuit.

(And, no, I'm not expecting a prize for noticing that your "big picture" is a smudge.  Just eye strain.)

Ellen

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On July 13, 2016 at 0:01 PM, dldelancey said:
On July 13, 2016 at 9:09 AM, Ellen Stuttle said:

(1)  Suppose that a person understands the term "unicorn" as meaning a mythological creature (not a horse or pony tricked up with a horn plastered on its forehead or some other mistaken identification), and that the person claims literally to have experienced riding a unicorn (not to have imagined riding one). Then I would think that the person either hallucinated or is lying, since non-existent creatures can't be ridden.

(2)  Suppose that a person claims to have sighted the Loch Ness Monster.  I totally doubt that I could be persuaded that there really is a Loch Ness Monster.  However, I wouldn't conclude simply from a person's claiming to have sighted Nessie that the person either hallucinated or is lying.  The person might have sighted something and might genuinely believe that the something was Nessie.

Why is a unicorn identified as a mythological non-existent creature, but the Loch Ness Monster isn't?  Is Nessie less mythological or less non-existent than a unicorn?  Isn't it possible that the person in (1) was riding something and genuinely believed that something was a unicorn? In which case, why is the person in (2) granted more credibility?

Note that I said (adding emphasis), "Suppose that a person understands the term "unicorn" as meaning a mythological creature (not a horse or pony tricked up with a horn plastered on its forehead or some other mistaken identification)."

A person riding something which the person mistakenly thought was a unicorn would just be mistaken.

The difference with Nessie is that there's been factual debate as to whether there really is some sort of monsterish creature living in Loch Ness.  If there have been any disputes as to the actual existence of unicorns, I haven't heard of them.

Ellen

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