What is the purpose of art? How does it contribute to knowledge? 3 theories for exploration:• Art as communication• Art as education• Art as imitation
Art as communicationBy words one transmits thoughts to another;by means of art, one transmits feelings. Leo TolstoyA conductor has to know how to translatemusic into a communicative force that makesthe listener want to hear what he has to say. Isaac SternIf an attunement or sensory response can be evoked from theviewer, a most exquisite form of communication has beenestablished, and the artists role has been truly fulfilled. Irving Shapiro• The ‘language of art’• Artist communicates a message in their own language• Spectator needs to ‘learn the language’ in order to interpret the message as it was intended
Art as communicationPicasso’s Guernica (1937): a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war,an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace
Art as communicationBut what message is being communicated?
Art as educationBy opening our eyes we do not necessarily see what confronts us. Weare anxiety-ridden animals. Our minds are continually active,fabricating an anxious, usually self-preoccupied, often falsifying veil,which partially conceals the world. Our states of consciousness differin quality, our fantasies and reveries are not trivial and unimportant,they are profoundly connected with our energies and our abilities tochoose and act. And if quality of consciousness matters, then anythingwhich alters consciousness in the direction of unselfishness, objectivityand realism is to be connected with virtue. Iris Murdoch (1919-1999), writerWe have never lived enough. Our experience is, without fiction, tooconfined and too parochial. Literature extends it, making us reflect andfeel about what might otherwise be too distant for feeling. Theimportance of this for both morals and politics cannot beunderestimated. Martha Nussbaum (1947-), philosopher
Art as education: taskWorker and Collective Farm Girl,Vera Mukhina, 1936 The Wide Expanse, Aleksandr Deineka, 1944Private Lessons, Svetlana Bondarenko, Socialist Realist books and films1972
Art as education• Art as moral guide/educator• Emotional response influence on behaviour• Art used as a force for good / bad? – to raise awareness, increases knowledge – to forge consciousness (e.g. ideological art)
Art as imitation: the mimetic theory of art• Renaissance: imitation of art of Classical antiquity• Art was driven by desire to achieve the perfect likeness (portraits, sculptures, novels), since doing so required considerable skill. Michelangelo (1475-1564)• 18th century Romanticism: reversal of this idea with focus on originality• 19th century invention of the camera revolution in the visual arts; why devote art to imitation? Visitor to Matisse’s studio: ‘Surely the arm of that woman is too long?’ Matisse: ‘Madame, you are mistaken. That is not a woman; that is a picture.’• 20th century: ‘art as imitation’ seen as limiting, unless it seeks to pursue other goals…
Art as imitation: the mimetic theory of art• 20th century: mimesis is reconfigured to serve other purposes / reveal different truths • Homage, where • an author shows respect to an event/topic by alluding to it in their own work (e.g. Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia) • an artist shows respect to a veteran of the field or to an admired practitioner by alluding to or imitating their work Purpose: to acknowledge the quality or superiority of the work of another artist; to act as a reminder to society of eternal values/ truths presented in the original work and which are still relevant in the present.
Art as imitation: the mimetic theory of artExecution by Yue Minjun, 1995 Execution of Maximilian by Manet, 1867 The Third of May, 1808, by Goya, 1814
Art as imitation: the mimetic theory of art• 20th century: mimesis is reconfigured to serve other purposes / reveal different truths • Parody, where an imitative work is created to mock, comment on or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of satiric or ironic imitation) • James Joyces Ulysses, which incorporates elements of Homers Odyssey in a 20th-century Irish context • T. S. Eliots The Wasteland, which incorporates and recontextualizes elements of a vast range of prior texts, including Dantes Inferno. • Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead – minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet transformed for comedic effect Purpose: to provide a new perspective on / defamiliarise the present by drawing, mimetically, on the past.
A 1943 poster promoting A parody of the original thatpatriotism and suggesting that works both as a playful critique ofcareless communication may be Western consumerism, andharmful to the war effort, perhaps as a more seriousshowing the American flag. comment on the meaning(lessness?) of patriotism in modern America
A 1960 Soviet state propagandaposter produced at the height ofthe Cold War space race. Itadheres to the official aestheticdoctrine of ‘Socialist Realism’ andreads: ‘Man’s path is open beforehim!’ (Yuri Gagarin was the firstman in space the following year).A 1989 reworking of the originalby Russian artist AlexanderKosolapov, member of the Sotsart(or ‘Soviet pop art’ movement,founded in the early 1970s as areaction against Socialist Realismand the unceasing heroism itdepicted).
Anish Kapoor’s re-appropriation of ‘Gangnam Style’ to drawattention to Ai Weiwei and other prisoners of conscience allover the world.
The arts and truth‘Art is a lie that gives us the truth, at least the truth we are given to understand.’ Picasso• Can truth be based on a ‘lie’, as Picasso suggests? If science gives us truth that is verifiable, what kind of truth do the arts give us?• Do we risk diminishing the value of art if we reduce it to a series of truth statements? ‘Hamlet and Socrates spoke of art as a mirror held up to nature. Socrates saw mirrors as but reflecting what we can already see…and [therefore] of no cognitive benefit whatever. Hamlet, more accurately, recognised a remarkable feature of reflecting surfaces, namely that they show us what we could not otherwise perceive – our own face and form…and so art, in so far as it is mirrorlike, reveals us to ourselves.’ Arthur Danto