Can we compare the Vermeer with what life was really like in mid C17 Amsterdam?
Hunter lived with squatters in East London. Is the photograph real or posed, though?
This is an actual photograph of an actual person actually doing something they liked doing, actually. Would you know this by looking?
Transcript of "Aesthetic Cognitivism - further definitions, some issues..."
Information about the aspects of this
account you are required to know
Critiques of these aspects
Art as information – the syllabus
• Knowledge and Understanding: Art informs us by
– illuminating our experience (allowing us to see what was not visible
– revealing ‘truths’ (in a fashion that other media cannot)
– articulating a ‘vision’ (an ideal or highly individual view of how
man/society could or should be)
– being epiphanic (showing us immediately the whole of an entity,
making possible a flash of ‘spiritual insight’)
– portraying authentically (being a genuine representation)
– imitating or representing its subject convincingly or faithfully (taking
the viewer in, standing in for something real)
Art informs us by ‘illuminating our
• light is shone on a mutual experience: we notice something
that we did not notice before about an experience we share
with the artist
• so our view of a shared experience is changed in a
‘transformation of the commonplace’;
• we re-examine our own experience ‘in a new light’;
• our eyes come to see our world more clearly.
• (But is art the only or the best way this might happen? Don’t
we best share insights through language of a transactional
kind? (Consider: being instructed…))
Art informs us ‘by revealing truths’
• in ways other media can’t
– Moral truths (e.g. Homer’s heroes in the Iliad and Odyssey reveal moral truths
about traits the virtuous character must cultivate (bravery and cunning);
– Universal/timeless truths (Michelangelo’s ‘David’ as portraying eternal youth,
the timeless and universal beauty and perfection of the human ‘form’,
revealing the universal in the particular);
– Psychological truths (Hamlets ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy as confronting the
question of whether existence is preferable to non-existence);
– Religious truths (Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ as revealing the truth of
genesis and creationism; Dante’s depiction of the inferno, purgatorio and
– Practical truths (cave-painting as a a means for communicating hunting skills)
• (But isn’t truth a quality of propositions, and so best expressed in propositions? i.e.
in statements, in language?)
• (Yet language is spoken and written – and in the past, many could not read…)
Art informs us because it reveals a ‘vision’
• It shows us a version of the world that is particular to
the artist, unique to them, but which we can
• We see the world anew through another’s eyes.
• What if, though, this vision is so unusual we cannot
• What if we can only see the world through our own
Art informs us because it is ‘epiphanic’
• Great art is revelatory. It shows, it manifests. It does
• Great art shows us all of a thing in its essence, and our
perception of that thing is immediate and total (Joyce).
• Hopkin‟s „instress‟ and „inscape‟ are relevant ideas here.
• But what exactly is being conveyed in an epiphany?
• A conceptual insight? (Why not put it in words,
• Some other kind of insight? (Does a non-conceptual
insight make sense?)
• So can we (always) communicate what an
Art informs by revealing an epiphany
(nicked from Wikipedia)
• from Greek „to manifest‟, „to show‟
• An epiphany is the sudden realization or comprehension of the (larger)
essence or meaning of something.
• In ancient Greek drama and poetry: art would ideally move the audience
into states of catharsis (a sensation of pity of fear) or kenosis (the 'self-
emptying' of one's own will in becoming entirely receptive to God and his
• James Joyce expounded on its meaning in the fragment Stephen Hero and
the novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) – see next slide.
• Mid-late C20: the writer William Burroughs (after a drug-induced epiphany)
described it as “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is at the end of
the fork.” (This gave him his title Naked Lunch.)
• In modern times, then, the meaning of „an artistic epiphany‟ may have come
closer to „a moment of shocking realisation‟.
• Some modern art tries to shock in this way.
Joyce on Epiphany
First we recognise that the object is one integral thing,
then we recognise that it is an organised composite
structure, a thing in fact: finally, when the relation of the
parts is exquisite, when the parts are adjusted to the
special point, we recognise that it is that thing which it is.
Its soul, its whatness, leaps to us from the vestment of
its appearance. The soul of the commonest object, the
structure of which is so adjusted, seems to us radiant.
The object achieves its epiphany…my glimpses [at a
beautiful object] are as the gropings of a spiritual eye
which seeks to adjust its vision to an exact focus. The
moment the focus is reached the object is epiphanised. It
is just in this epiphany that I find…the supreme quality of
beauty. (Extract from ‘Stephen Hero’)
Art informs us by representing
• The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in
the fabric of tradition...We know that the earliest art works originated in the
service of a [cult] ritual – first the magical, then the religious kind... [the] aura
is never entirely separated from...ritual function. In other words, the unique
value of the “authentic” work of art has its basis in ritual
• ...The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of
authenticity… The whole sphere of authenticity is outside...reproducibility.
Confronted with its manual reproduction…the quality of its presence is
• One might subsume the eliminated element in the term “aura” and go on to
say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of
the work of art.
From Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of art in the age of mechanical
Art informs us by representing
• Great art portrays authentically
…convincingly or faithfully.
• But what is „authenticity‟,
• = a certain realism?
• But what is realism…?
• Truth to experience? (Whose
experience? Isn‟t most
• Isn‟t art better than life
• Is only realistic art
• Are the images that follow
„authentic‟? How do you know? Woman in blue reading a letter, Johannes
Tom Hunter, Woman reading a
respossession order, 1998
Art informs us by imitating or
• „Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them
lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man
from childhood [who] through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no
less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated. We have evidence of
this in the facts of experience.
• Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate
when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble
animals and of dead bodies. [This is because] to learn gives the liveliest
pleasure…the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in
contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring…and if you
happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the
imitation as such, but to the execution, the coloring, or [other formal
• Imitation, then, is one instinct of our nature. Next, there is the instinct for
„harmony‟ and rhythm…[here] improvisations gave birth to Poetry [which
then] diverged in two directions…The graver spirits imitated noble actions,
and the actions of good men (=tragedy). The more trivial sort imitated the
actions of meaner persons (=comedy).
• Aristotle, ‘Poetics’, book IV [Imitation is natural and pleasurable]
Art = ‘a convincing or faithful imitation’…some
Pere Borrell del Caso, Escaping Criticism (1874)
• Plato‟s metaphysical
arguments aside, is all art an
• (An imitation = an attempt to
• In most paintings, excepting
„trompe l‟oeil‟ works, the artist is
not trying to fool us or take us in.
• (And „fool-the-eye‟ paintings
are not art until we realise the
• Actors do not imitate the
characters they play, they
„become‟ them temporarily
• e.g. Ion is „possessed‟
Art = a convincing or faithful copy…some
• Is all art a copy?
• Copying presupposes an original.
• Is there an original, for all art?
• Or for any art? Conceptual
schema = there is no world
without conditioning or
interpretation…no original to be
• A successful copy accurately
resembles the original.
• Can this always be
• No original, lost original?
Issues with both imitation and copy
Matisse’s "Pastorale, Nymphe et Faune" 1906
Constable’s ‘Hay Wain’, 1821
• Should we talk, instead, of ‘better’
and ‘worse’ resemblances?
• Which of the two paintings
opposite is a better
• A ‘good resemblance’ could be
entirely invented/made up of
individual perceptual elements.
• Can we always tell if a
resemblance is authentic or
genuine, or not?
Issues with both imitation and copy
Claude’s ‘Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (1648)
and Turner’s ‘The Scarlet Sunset’ (1830-40).
• Is a good copy or resemblance the
same as good art?
• Compare the two sunsets.
Which is best?
• In judging artistic quality, is
accuracy or the degree of
resemblance to a sunset the point?
• Both are stylised depictions...
• So arguably a picture‟s lack of
resemblance or verisimilitude has no
bearing on its power.
Issues with both imitation and copy
• If resemblance is the main reason we value
art, then wouldn't photography always be
• Does copying actually involve the creative
• A good forgery is a perfect copy…but -
a good work of art? art at all?
• Is all art imitative?
• In the visual arts there is at least the
possibility that the artist is copying from
• But what about music or poetry or
literature? Here, is the artist copying
anything at all?
Guido Reni, Saint Sebastian, 1615-16 and Tim Hetherington, Injured
marine at Restrepo Base, Afghanistan, 2008
• Art informs us by
– illuminating our experience
– revealing „truths‟
– Articulating a „vision‟
– beng epiphanic
– portraying authentically
– Imitating or representing its subject convincingly or faithfully.
• In a sense these versions of art-as-information could be
understood as synonymous
• That is, if presented with a question that asks for „two
ways in which art illustrates‟ etc – all the versions above
might be relevant…
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