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In painting: what is art?

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Jackethan
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Art does exactly that - brings widest metaphysical abstractions into perceptual level. If it doesn't - it is not art.

That is a characteristic of a great piece of art. The more broad and universal the message, the more precise it's symbolic representation/expression in a visual form, the better it's execution technically - the greater the art. Not many art pieces achieve that!

-----

The first drawing you linked to does bring man's concepts/values to the perceptual level. The drawing (which seems to be a study) does say something about this artist's vision of man (healthy proportions, not distorted, not overweight, for example) and his attitude toward nudity (open comfortable pose). Not only it communicates something but the message is positive! Compare that with this.

Art is a concretization of metaphysics. Concretization requires selectivity. Then further, in order to serve it's epistemological role it has to be intelligible/representational. That is the only criteria. As long at it does say something intelligible about some part of metaphysics in a visual form (no matter how small in scope the message) it is art. If it is not communicable then it is not art.

Now there is a lot of bad art out there.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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That is just as wide an abstraction, as is some boring view of life as "it's just one ordinary day at a time..."

You gave the example of a Disney movie, but given that painting is an art, then presumably paintings too express a broad metaphysical abstraction, if they are art. (I'm chewing the idea that art expresses or concretizes (creates a concrete that is) a manifestation of a broad metaphysical abstraction, a particular instance of such an abstraction.)

With three phrases, we have a scale running from "life is a box of chocolates" to "it's just one ordinary day at a time..." to "life sucks; then you die." The scale or range is on of personal appraisal of life, life as a person in the world. Life is good or great; life is ho-hum; life is wretched.

As I said, I'm chewing on this.

Here I posted a quote of how Norman Rockwell approaches his paintings. For him, the idea was IT; without the idea, all the glorious painting was but a waste. So I think he was on the same page as this view of art as expressing an abstraction, metaphysical, a summary view of life.

I don't think that Mr. Rockwell was searching for "life is a box of chocolates" or "it's just one ordinary day at a time..." or "life sucks; then you die," but he was looking for a painting idea, an idea for a painting, an idea for a picture (which he would paint) that was THE idea. He would know it was THE idea when "bells ring and lights flash!"

What was ringing and flashing? The affinity of the idea for his own sense of life, his implicit, certainly emotionally experienced, view of life as somewhere in that range or scale of the estimate of life as a human being.

Here is a randomly found image of one of Mr. Rockwell's paintings, "Girl at Mirror."

What is the wide metaphysical abstraction(s) in that painting?

Edited by Trebor
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Here is a randomly found image of one of Mr. Rockwell's paintings, "Girl at Mirror."

What is the wide metaphysical abstraction(s) in that painting?

I'll bite.

Broadly, the painting is showing that part of being human is to long to be better or more than we are at present.

More narrowly, we see a lovely innocent girl who longs for the beauty and strength of womanhood. She has cast aside her doll, a symbol of youth, in favor of the cosmetics at her feet. When she looks in the mirror, she is not convinced that she will attain the qualities she admires in the glamour photo she holds.

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I agree with what you say.

Obviously there's thought behind the painting; it's not just some moment in a girls life, but a significant moment of thought and reflection. (Interesting word, given the mirror.)

I figured that this painting, especially given Rockwell's own expressed views about the importance of THE idea to him, would be a good one to discuss in relation to the ideas on this thread.

Notice that the scene is one that the girl herself has set up. The mirror, she has leaned against the back of a chair, and she's sitting on a stool in front of it, looking at herself, and yes, in the reflection we see a young, gangly-looking girl, hesitant, but hopeful for what her maturity will bring to her. [Looks to me like, given this temporary set-up for self-reflection which she's created, that it was done somewhere where she could be sure of her privacy. The mirror came from somewhere else; the whole set-up is just for this purposeful time for her alone.]

You're right about the doll cast aside. It's not been put away; it's obviously been left lying there in an awkward pose, the girl indifferent to it.

Certainly the magazine on her lap with the photo of the beautiful woman is significant. And of course, the items at her feet, the hairbrush, and lipstick (?), and...what is the white thing, and what is the string-like object?

Obviously, everything in the painting has a purpose. Mr. Rockwell was deliberate. THE picture idea was primary; everything else went towards creating a painting that expressed that idea.

I've often thought Mr. Rockwell to be one of the most intelligent of artists. He mostly painted humorous pictures, but some were otherwise.

"It has been charged that I can't paint a really sexy female so when I started to draw this sketch of the artist's model I thought to myself, "This time I'll show them." When I finished the picture I pointed with pride to it and asked my friends, "Isn't she just as sexy a dame as Al Parker or Jon Whitcomb could paint?" But they only laughed and remarked, "Well, she's cute — but she is not very sexy." So it appears I'll just have to struggle along as a frustrated, human-interest illustrator." How I Make A Picture by Norman Rockwell, p. 139. [Caption for a photo. Not a photo of this painting, "Girl at Mirror." Here's a photo of the painting referred to, the one with the artist and his model. They're on the left; the artist pointing, brush in hand, towards the dog; his model beside him. Not the best of pictures; rather small.]

Edited by Trebor
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Certainly the magazine on her lap with the photo of the beautiful woman is significant. And of course, the items at her feet, the hairbrush, and lipstick (?), and...what is the white thing, and what is the string-like object?

Obviously, everything in the painting has a purpose. Mr. Rockwell was deliberate. THE picture idea was primary; everything else went towards creating a painting that expressed that idea.

I've often thought Mr. Rockwell to be one of the most intelligent of artists. He mostly painted humorous pictures, but some were otherwise.

I think it's a lovely bittersweet painting.

The white thing is a comb that is stuck down into the bristols of the upturned hairbrush. My mom kept her brush and comb just like that on her vanity table. The string like thing, I think, if you look closely is a hand mirror, look into the standing mirror to see the round shape of it. The other string like things are loose hairs caught in the teeth of the comb.

Edited by MissLemon
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I think it's a lovely bittersweet painting.

The white thing is a comb that is stuck down into the bristols of the unturned hairbrush. My mom kept her brush and comb just like that on her vanity table. The string like thing, I think, if you look closely is a hand mirror, look into the standing mirror to see the round shape of it and the handle, barely seen above the white comb, runs pretty much parallel to her foot.

Ah, yes, a comb. Interesting that your mom kept her brush and comb like that.

I see it's a mirror, a hand mirror, what I thought to be a string. Thanks.

The woman in the photo in the magazine, who is that? Looks like perhaps a famous actress of the time, and perhaps the girl hopes to be as beautiful in time.

Why do you say, "bittersweet painting"?

Edited by Trebor
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Ah, yes, a comb. Interesting that your mom kept her brush and comb like that.

I see it's a mirror, a hand mirror, what I thought to be a string. Thanks.

The woman in the photo in the magazine, who is that? Looks like perhaps a famous actress of the time, and perhaps the girl hopes to be as beautiful in time.

Why do you say, "bittersweet painting"?

The woman could be Myrna Loy but I am not sure. I say bittersweet because the girl is so beautiful already but she doesn't see that, she longs for a future that she's not sure she can attain, that's why she looks sad as she gazes at herself.

Critic

Rather appropriate.

Ha, Ha, very funny....

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Some food for thought.

Dr. Peikoff, in his podcast, Episode 58 -- April 20, 2009, replies to the following:

7:20: "There seems to be a desire among Objectivists to pin the status of romanticism and heroics onto art which is not romantic and onto people who are not heroic. Now the questioner goes on to ask my opinion of several television and movie examples that he doesn't think are romantic, and what is my opinion, but because I am not familiar with them, I can't say. But he wants to know what my views are on the subject of Objectivists being too free to describe movies that they like as romantic."

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You gave the example of a Disney movie, but given that painting is an art, then presumably paintings too express a broad metaphysical abstraction, if they are art.

Trebor, you're conflating subject and theme. The *subject* of a painting does not have to have wide philosophical implications, as in a still life. It's just a bowl of fruit.

The way in which the subject is presented *implies* a bunch of metaphysical VALUE-JUDGMENTS, and not *abstractions*. If they were abstractions, they'd have to be explicit in the artist's mind at the time they were creating. However the selectivity in art is run via a subconscious process because there are too many factors to deal with otherwise. The value-judgments implied by a given piece of art then are not abstractions.

For example: suppose three artists decide to do still life paintings. One decides he wants to paint a bowl of ripe, juicy fruit. One digs out a skull, wilted flowers, and religious paraphernalia. And one just draws whatever's sitting on his desk.

Choosing to paint some fruit implies that one seeks out the things in life that are enjoyable, luscious, etc. To continue this *theme*, the artist might then emphasize the bright colors, voluptuous roundness, etc. which would continue to emphasize that theme. Or, they might choose to do a cubist portrayal of splintered perspective. This would destroy the earlier implication and imply that even so simple an object as a bowl of fruit is corrupt, crazed, impossible to understand. The theme would be completely changed, from one of pleasure to one of blind incomprehension, destruction, insanity.

You judge art by recreating this process of selectivity in reverse. The artist *chose* this particular method. What does that imply? They *chose* this subject, what does that imply? Truly great artists like Norman Rockwell can imply so many things with their choice of subject and the way they portray it that they practically "tell a story" with a painting. But even the selections of a quick sketch can be evaluated.

What makes something "not art" is when one or more aspects of the selectivity are abandoned, because it's no longer possible to identify any theme in those cases. In most "modern" art, it's selection of subject that's been abandoned. In fact, often there simply *is* no subject. You can also see artists that have abandoned selectivity as regards technique, hurling paint at a canvas or drawing blind and calling whatever random mishmash results "art".

Selectivity combined with purpose (contemplation as opposed to say, decoration or, in the case of video games, engaging activity) is what makes it art, the metaphysical value-judgments are automatically brought about by both of those factors. Most photography is not art because the photographer is not selective in the same sense that a painter is selective. Oh, sure, they went out and found the venue (or even arranged it using other objects they found), and maybe they applied a filter or an effect or two, but they didn't personally apply each and every bit of color precisely where they wanted it, etc. It is meaningful if an artist chooses intense realism because this is a difficult attainment. It is not meaningful if a photographer chooses this because it's automatic.

Now, I would say if a photographer goes to the extreme lengths of making a composition (like that flower someone posted) that is ENTIRELY selected, that's art. In the case of that flower, it's lousy art, barely better than a technical exercise, but the automatic recording aspect has been removed. I'm not sure why anyone would bother with this, however, as it's probably a lot more demanding than just about any other medium you could use. This is still open for debate, of course, because I don't know precisely how such effects are achieved through photography. It's possible an element of the automatic remains.

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Great post, Jenni. I think this sums it up really well.

Selectivity combined with purpose (contemplation as opposed to say, decoration or, in the case of video games, engaging activity) is what makes it art,...

In addition, I don't think Rand is radically different in this regard from commonly-accepted usage.

Finally, I'm not sure why the question "is this art" is so important as compared to (say) "is this good art?"

Edited by softwareNerd
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I agree, good post, JMeganSnow.

Yes, I was conflating, but mostly on purpose. I was taking off from what Ifat had said, wanting her, and softwareNerd, to expand on their statements.

I think that the distinction between "is this art" and "is this good art" is important. To say "this is good art" one needs to be able to say "this is art." The distinction between good and bad art is then possible. (Off the top of my head. I just can't see that it's not an important question, "is this art?")

Edited by Trebor
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Mary Ann Sures, in her discussion with Dr. Peikoff, mentions two sculptors, Wilhelm Lehmbruck and Michaelangelo:

1. Three views of Lehmbruck's sculpture, "Der Gestürzte": Angle, Right, Left

2. Michaelangelo's "David"

And this ominous landscape painting by Jacob Ruysdael:

"Portuguese Jewish Cemetery"

Likely there are better images available online, but these at least may help with following what she says.

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Mary Ann Sures, in her discussion with Dr. Peikoff, mentions two sculptors, Wilhelm Lehmbruck and Michaelangelo:

1. Three views of Lehmbruck's sculpture, "Der Gestürzte": Angle, Right, Left

2. Michaelangelo's "David"

And this ominous landscape painting by Jacob Ruysdael:

"Portuguese Jewish Cemetery"

Likely there are better images available online, but these at least may help with following what she says.

Actually, thank you for posting these links, Trebor.

I was interrupted three times while listening, so I never got the finish the broadcast! Tomorrow, I plan to try again, and your links will no doubt be of value. Michaelangelos's, David is an image I can recall at will...so beautiful. The others I had not seen at all.

MissLemon

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What would be some examples of these widest metaphysical abstractions?

"Life is great", "The world is good", "The world is hostile", "Man can succeed in this world", victory, loneliness, loss, self-reflection, pride, man's essence (as rational, or ugly, or humble), safety, Productivity as good, feeling of being lost (in the broad spiritual sense), sex as good (or demeaning), and the list goes on.

All of these things represent something general about human nature, about the nature of the world, or about the relation of man to existence, which makes them wide metaphysical abstractions.

This is why art involves emotions - intense emotions - because it deals with the deepest things in man's soul, with things central to his/her life. To give an example: if one conceives of oneself as alone in a hostile world, a painting that will reflect that, that would make it real and concretized, will generate a very deep and intense emotional reaction, because such an idea is the widest for that person, it reflects the most major issue in his life as a whole. (I think the graveyard painting is a good example of this idea. Its content is things that represent the end of life, the deserted and corroded human creation [the deserted building], the stormy sky as hostile physical environment, the broken tree branch and the tombstone which fell next to the river, about to be swept away with no one to notice or care. It doesn't show a world without humans - it shows a world where one is isolated from humans, where values don't exist, when things end and corrode. Is summary - loneliness in a bad world).

Sophia: I don't agree with you that only good art answers this criteria - every art must answer this criteria to be considered art rather than an exercise in technique, if art is to have an identity.

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Sophia, in the above post I was referring to:

That is a characteristic of a great piece of art. The more broad and universal the message, the more precise it's symbolic representation/expression in a visual form, the better it's execution technically - the greater the art. Not many art pieces achieve that!

The first drawing you linked to does bring man's concepts/values to the perceptual level. The drawing (which seems to be a study) does say something about this artist's vision of man (healthy proportions, not distorted, not overweight, for example) and his attitude toward nudity (open comfortable pose). Not only it communicates something but the message is positive! Compare that with this.

What you describe is a study of the artist's psychology, or view of man. You can say that he probably does not see nudity as a bad thing. That doesn't make it art, even though it is a positive thing to have. There is a big difference between knowing that about the artist, and having a piece reflect the message "man is good" by showing him nude (like the sculpture by Michaelangelo).

Otherwise, every drawing of some concrete is art.

It's not enough to draw something that looks like a man to make the statement "man is good". If it was, then this --> :dough: would be art as well.

I'll bite.

Broadly, the painting is showing that part of being human is to long to be better or more than we are at present.

More narrowly, we see a lovely innocent girl who longs for the beauty and strength of womanhood. She has cast aside her doll, a symbol of youth, in favor of the cosmetics at her feet. When she looks in the mirror, she is not convinced that she will attain the qualities she admires in the glamour photo she holds.

I agree with your interpretation. I think overall the painting is sending a more negative message rather than positive. It could be the exact reverse if the girl looked thrilled by the makeover, or excited about the adult world. Instead she looks at herself displeased and critically, as if saying "I'm not good enough".

It captures a certain fundamental state of mind that goes above transition to adulthood. It reflects an approach to oneself in regard to achievement of values.

A person could have two opposite approaches about pursuing values - either as a test of his worth or a quest to reaffirm and feed his self esteem.

I think the following picture sends essentially the same message: An athlete in the Olympics looking anxious before going on the stadium to perform, while the background shows some emotional attachment to the profession, like framed uniform that belonged to a past great athlete from the same field. The message: Self criticism as a method of actualizing a dream.

The opposite message would be a proud athlete who got the second place, but is smiling while looking at the first place stand, as if knowing he'll get it some day. The message: confidence and enjoyment in actualizing one's dream.

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...

All of these things represent something general about human nature, about the nature of the world, or about the relation of man to existence, which makes them wide metaphysical abstractions.

I need to make one note here. Art is not a study of metaphysics, as in the study of the fundamental nature of the universe. "Pride" for example, is a concept belonging to ethics, not metaphysics. But art presents the nature of things in general (vs. the nature of a specific sack of potatoes, or a specific event in some specific person's life). "Pride" in art describes the nature of man in relation to the world, which is why, as I understand it, Ayn Rand refers to it as a metaphysical abstraction, not an ethical abstraction or whatever.

An equivalent from literature would be telling a story of the kind "today I went into the grocery store, the clerk said this and that to me and I had to stand in the line for 20 minutes" or telling a story that deals with fundamentals, such as The Fountainhead (dealing with individualism). The first kind of story is not art, even though it is literature.

I got to tell you though, I still find this use of the term "metaphysics" in this context a bit confusing, which is why I took long to reply.

Please let me know what you think of this, if you consider it an answer to your question and if you have more questions. I'm glad you asked what you did, I like these kind of questions.

Sophia: let me know what you think about my reply to you and if you still disagree with me. <I'm curious>.

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So if in the case when the subject and composition is not good enough to be considered art in the context of expressing metaphysical value-judgments, can style alone be sufficient when it is able to express something fundamental about perception?

I think so. I think the style alone can communicate a wide abstraction, like peace of mind (objects depicted in calm colors and smooth transitions, like this painting I found online), or style can express other things like "observing reality" (high degree of focus on objects) - the abstraction involved is nature of cognition in relation to the world (how it functions). I think the painting of the keys shows something very similar because of the high degree of focus on a single object.

It seems that it is possible for the subject to be dull, but the style brilliant and expressive.

If it is very bright, as if colors are shining through, for example:

post-3106-1248309599_thumb.png

Put aside the subject, the style alone communicates being alive rather than bored. It reflects a sense of life that conceives the world as beautiful and meaningful, something to be enjoyed. (This is so because the colors are very vivid and convey a sense of light). I am not sure what is the abstraction the style shows... but I think it is a wide one, because of the nature of the subject involved (feeling bored or feeling alive, feeling that the world is worth seeing or that there is nothing worth looking at, which is something fundamental in human life).

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  • 1 month later...

I would take the time to pin-point the part where you ask what art is but I simply don't feel like it. Instead I'll give you a good definition that I think has worked pretty well in the past.

Art, in the realm of painting, drawing, sculpture, etc., is anything that is non-living, painstakingly created by human effort to be aesthetically pleasing. Somebody's dislike of a piece of art does not mean that it is not artistic, but someone's enjoyment of a piece of art does add to the value or quality of the piece. If noone likes a piece of art, it's a shitty piece of art and its not worth anything. But it's still a piece of art. The opposite is true too - is everyone loves a piece of art the value of that piece goes up, but it doesn't make it any more artistic.

"Value" and "art" have nothing to do with each other, as terms. If it helps you think of it in other ways, lets look at it in terms of books. A book is a series of pages that have words on them expressing ideas that usually have a common theme. A book can be shitty, but its still a book. If a book is a really good book, you don't come up with a new name for it, it's still a book.

I hope some of that made sense... cause it made sense to me o.0

Maybe its the Mountain Dew talking :dough:

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Art, in the realm of painting, drawing, sculpture, etc., is anything that is non-living, painstakingly created by human effort to be aesthetically pleasing.

You have an etc. in your definition. Does that mean I'm allowed to put in making cars, or beer bottles? (it does meet all your other requirements, they are not alive and they are meant to look as good as possible)

Also, why is it relevant that it is done painstakingly? Are you saying that if I spend 20 days trying to compose a song, and then Bob Dylan comes up with something in five minutes, mine's gonna be art and his not, even though his will definitely be the better song?

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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