Visual Art

The visual arts are art forms that create works which are primarily visual in nature, such as ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, printmaking, modern visual arts (photography, video, and filmmaking), design and crafts. These definitions should not be taken too strictly as many artistic disciplines (performing arts, conceptual art, textile arts) involve aspects of the visual arts as well as arts of other types. Also included within the visual arts are the applied arts such as industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, interior design and decorative art.

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Creative Designer,Primeworks Studio, Media Prima Berhad / B.A Hons Fineart University Technology MARA,Malaysia

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What is art?

How best to define the term “art” is a subject of constant contention; many books and journal articles have been published arguing over even the basics of what we mean by the term “art”.Theodor Adorno claimed in 1969 “It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident.”Artists, philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists and programmers all use the notion of art in their respective fields, and give it operational definitions that are not very similar to each other. Further it is clear that even the basic meaning of the term "art" has changed several times over the centuries, and has changed within the 20th century as well.

The main recent sense of the word “art” is roughly as an abbreviation for creative art or “fine art.” Here we mean that skill is being used to express the artist’s creativity, or to engage the audience’s aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience towards consideration of the “finer” things. Often, if the skill is being used in a functional object, people will consider it a craft instead of art, a suggestion which is highly disputed by many Contemporary Craft thinkers. Likewise, if the skill is being used in a commercial or industrial way it may be considered design instead of art, or contrariwise these may be defended as art forms, perhaps called applied art. Some thinkers, for instance, have argued that the difference between fine art and applied art has more to do with the actual function of the object than any clear definitional difference.Art usually implies no function other than to convey or communicate an idea.

Even as late as 1912 it was normal in the West to assume that all art aims at beauty, and thus that anything that wasn't trying to be beautiful couldn't count as art. The cubists, dadaists, Stravinsky, and many later art movements struggled against this conception that beauty was central to the definition of art, with such success that, according to Danto, "Beauty had disappeared not only from the advanced art of the 1960’s but from the advanced philosophy of art of that decade as well."Perhaps some notion like "expression" (in Croce’s theories) or "counter-environment" (in McLuhan’s theory) can replace the previous role of beauty. Brian Massumi brought back "beauty" into consideration together with "expression".Another concept, as important to the philosophy of art as "beauty," is that of the "sublime," elaborated upon in the twentieth century by the postmodern philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard.

Perhaps (as in Kennick's theory) no definition of art is possible anymore. Perhaps art should be thought of as a cluster of related concepts in a Wittgensteinian fashion (as in Weitz or Beuys). Another approach is to say that “art” is basically a sociological category, that whatever art schools and museums and artists define as art is considered art regardless of formal definitions. This "institutional definition of art" (see also Institutional Critique) has been championed by George Dickie. Most people did not consider the depiction of a Brillo Box or a store-bought urinal to be art until Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp (respectively) placed them in the context of art (i.e., the art gallery), which then provided the association of these objects with the associations that define art.

Proceduralists often suggest that it is the process by which a work of art is created or viewed that makes it art, not any inherent feature of an object, or how well received it is by the institutions of the art world after its introduction to society at large. Whereas if exactly the same set of words was written by a journalist, intending them as shorthand notes to help him write a longer article later, these would not be a poem. Leo Tolstoy, on the other hand, claims that what makes something art or not is how it is experienced by its audience, not by the intention of its creator. Functionalists like Monroe Beardsley argue that whether or not a piece counts as art depends on what function it plays in a particular context; the same Greek vase may play a non-artistic function in one context (carrying wine), and an artistic function in another context (helping us to appreciate the beauty of the human figure). '

What should we judge when we judge art?

Art can be difficult at the metaphysical and ontological levels as well as at the value theory level. When we see a performance of Hamlet, how many works of art are we experiencing, and which should we judge? Perhaps there is only one relevant work of art, the whole performance, which many different people have contributed to, and which will exist briefly and then disappear. Perhaps the manuscript by Shakespeare is a distinct work of art from the play by the troupe, which is also distinct from the performance of the play by this troupe on this night, and all three can be judged, but are to be judged by different standards.

Perhaps every person involved should be judged separately on his or her own merits, and each costume or line is its own work of art (with perhaps the director having the job of unifying them all). Similar problems arise for music, film and even painting. Is one to judge the painting itself, the work of the painter, or perhaps the painting in its context of presentation by the museum workers?

These problems have been made even more difficult by the rise of conceptual art since the 1960s. Warhol’s famous Brillo Boxes are nearly indistinguishable from actual Brillo boxes at the time. It would be a mistake to praise Warhol for the design of his boxes (which were designed by Steve Harvey), yet the conceptual move of exhibiting these boxes as art in a museum together with other kinds of paintings is Warhol's. Are we judging Warhol’s concept? His execution of the concept in the medium? The curator’s insight in letting Warhol display the boxes? The overall result? Our experience or interpretation of the result? Ontologically, how are we to think of the work of art? Is it a physical object? Several objects? A class of objects? A mental object? A fictional object? An abstract object? An event? Or simply an Act?

What should art be like?

Many goals have been argued for art, and aestheticians often argue that some goal or another is superior in some way. Clement Greenberg, for instance, argued in 1960 that each artistic medium should seek that which makes it unique among the possible mediums and then purify itself of anything other than expression of its own uniqueness as a form.[16] The Dadaist Tristan Tzara on the other hand saw the function of art in 1918 as the destruction of a mad social order. “We must sweep and clean. Affirm the cleanliness of the individual after the state of madness, aggressive complete madness of a world abandoned to the hands of bandits.”Formal goals, creative goals, self-expression, political goals, spiritual goals, philosophical goals, and even more perceptual or aesthetic goals have all been popular pictures of what art should be like.

The value of art

Tolstoy defined art, and not incidentally characterized its value, this way: "Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them."

The value of art, then, is one with the value of empathy.

Other possible views are these: Art can act as a means to some special kind of knowledge. Art may give insight into the human condition. Art relates to science and religion. Art serves as a tool of education, or indoctrination, or enculturation. Art makes us more moral. It uplifts us spiritually. Art is politics by other means. Art has the value of allowing catharsis. In any case, the value of art may determine the suitability of an art form. Do they different significantly in their values, or (if not) in their ability to achieve the unitary value of art?

But to approach the question of the value of art systematically, one ought to ask: for whom? For the artist? For the audience? For society at large, and/or for individuals beyond the audience? Is the "value" of art different in each of these different contexts?

Working on the intended value of art tends to help define the relations between art and other acts. Art clearly does have spiritual goals in many contexts, but what exactly is the difference between religious art and religion per se? The truth is complex - Art is both useless in a functional sense and the most important human activity.

It has been said, that a Vogon Starship arriving at the earth and ordering its destruction would ask what use is humanity? The only justification humanity could give would be a Shakespeare play, a Rembrandt or a Bach concerto. These are the things of value which define humanity itself.

Aesthetic universals
The philosopher Denis Dutton identified seven universal signatures in human aesthetics:

1.Expertise or virtuosity. Technical artistic skills are cultivated, recognized, and admired.
2.Nonutilitarian pleasure. People enjoy art for art's sake, and don't demand that it keep them warm or put food on the table.
3.Style. Artistic objects and performances satisfy rules of composition that place them in a recognizable style.
4.Criticism. People make a point of judging, appreciating, and interpreting works of art.
5.Imitation. With a few important exceptions like music and abstract painting, works of art simulate experiences of the world.
6.Special focus. Art is set aside from ordinary life and made a dramatic focus of experience.
7.Imagination. Artists and their audiences entertain hypothetical worlds in the theater of the imagination.

It might be objected, however, that there are rather too many exceptions to Dutton's categories. For example, the installations of the contemporary artist Thomas Hirschhorn deliberately eschew technical virtuosity. People can appreciate a Renaissance Madonna for aesthetic reasons, but such objects often had (and sometimes still have) specific devotional functions. 'Rules of composition' that might be read into Duchamp's Fountain or John Cage's 4'33" do not locate the works in a recognizable style (or certainly not a style recognizable at the time of the works' realisation). Moreover, some of Dutton's categories seem too broad: a physicist might entertain hypothetical worlds in his/her imagination in the course of formulating a theory.

Increasingly, academics in both the sciences and the humanities are looking to evolutionary psychology and cognitive science in an effort to understand the connection between psychology and aesthetics. Aside from Dutton, others exploring this realm include Brian Boyd, Noel Carroll, Nancy Easterlin, David Evans, Jonathan Gottschall, Paul Hernadi, Bracha Ettinger, Patrick Hogan, Elaine Scarry, Christine Buci-Glucksmann, Wendy Steiner, Robert Storey, Frederick Turner, and Mark Turner.


Zangwill, Nick. "Aesthetic Judgment", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 02-28-2003/10-22-2007. Retrieved 07-24-2008

Clement Greenberg, “On Modernist Painting”

Lacan, Jacques, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XI), NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998. ISBN 0-393-31775-7.

Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment

Consider Clement Greenberg’s arguments in "On Modernist Painting" (1961), reprinted in Aesthetics: A Reader in Philosophy of Arts


Aesthetics or esthetics (also spelled æsthetics) is commonly known as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste.More broadly, scholars in the field define aesthetics as "critical reflection on art, culture and nature."Aesthetics is a subdiscipline of axiology, a branch of philosophy, and is closely associated with the philosophy of art.Aesthetics studies new ways of seeing and of perceiving the world.

Judgments of aesthetic value clearly rely on our ability to discriminate at a sensory level. Aesthetics examines our affective domain response to an object or phenomenon. Many see natural beauty folded within petals of a rose. Immanuel Kant, writing in 1790, observes of a man "If he says that canary wine is agreeable he is quite content if someone else corrects his terms and reminds him to say instead: It is agreeable to me," because "Everyone has his own (sense of) taste". The case of "beauty" is different from mere "agreeableness" because, "If he proclaims something to be beautiful, then he requires the same liking from others; he then judges not just for himself but for everyone, and speaks of beauty as if it were a property of things."

Aesthetic judgments usually go beyond sensory discrimination. For David Hume, delicacy of taste is not merely "the ability to detect all the ingredients in a composition", but also our sensitivity "to pains as well as pleasures, which escape the rest of mankind." (Essays Moral Political and Literary. Indianapolis, Literary Classics 5, 1987.) Thus, the sensory discrimination is linked to capacity for pleasure. For Kant "enjoyment" is the result when pleasure arises from sensation, but judging something to be "beautiful" has a third requirement: sensation must give rise to pleasure by engaging our capacities of reflective contemplation. Judgments of beauty are sensory, emotional and intellectual all at once.

Viewer interpretations of beauty possess two concepts of value: aesthetics and taste. Aesthetics is the philosophical notion of beauty. Taste is a result of education and awareness of elite cultural values; therefore taste can be learned. Taste varies according to class, cultural background, and education. According to Kant beauty is objective and universal; thus certain things are beautiful to everyone. The contemporary view of beauty is not based on innate qualities, but rather on cultural specifics and individual interpretations.

What factors are involved in an aesthetic judgment?

Judgments of aesthetic value seem often to involve many other kinds of issues as well. Responses such as disgust show that sensory detection is linked in instinctual ways to facial expressions, and even behaviors like the gag reflex. Yet disgust can often be a learned or cultural issue too; as Darwin pointed out, seeing a stripe of soup in a man's beard is disgusting even though neither soup nor beards are themselves disgusting. Aesthetic judgments may be linked to emotions or, like emotions, partially embodied in our physical reactions. Seeing a sublime view of a landscape may give us a reaction of awe, which might manifest physically as an increased heart rate or widened eyes. These unconscious reactions may even be partly constitutive of what makes our judgment a judgment that the landscape is sublime.

Likewise, aesthetic judgments may be culturally conditioned to some extent. Victorians in Britain often saw African sculpture as ugly, but just a few decades later, Edwardian audiences saw the same sculptures as being beautiful. The Abuse of Beauty, Evaluations of beauty may well be linked to desirability, perhaps even to sexual desirability. Thus, judgments of aesthetic value can become linked to judgments of economic, political, or moral value.We might judge a Lamborghini to be beautiful partly because it is desirable as a status symbol, or we might judge it to be repulsive partly because it signifies for us over-consumption and offends our political or moral values.

"Part and Parcel in Animal and Human Societies". in Studies in animal and human behavior, vol. 2. pp. 115-195. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1971 (originally pub. 1950.) Aesthetic judgments can often be very fine-grained and internally contradictory. Likewise aesthetic judgments seem often to be at least partly intellectual and interpretative. It is what a thing means or symbolizes for us that is often what we are judging. Modern aestheticians have asserted that will and desire were almost dormant in aesthetic experience, yet preference and choice have seemed important aesthetics to some 20th century thinkers. The point is already made by Hume, but see Mary Mothersill, "Beauty and the Critic’s Judgment", in The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics, 2004. Thus aesthetic judgments might be seen to be based on the senses, emotions, intellectual opinions, will, desires, culture, preferences, values, subconscious behavior, conscious decision, training, instinct, sociological institutions, or some complex combination of these, depending on exactly which theory one employs.

Anthropology, especially the savanna hypothesis proposed by Gordon Orians and others, predicts that some of the positive aesthetics that people have are based on innate knowledge of productive human habitats. It had been shown that people prefer and feel happier looking at trees with spreading forms much more than looking at trees with other forms, or non-tree objects;[citation needed] also Bright green colors, linked with healthy plants with good nutrient qualities, were more calming than other tree colors, including less bright greens and oranges.

Are different art forms beautiful, disgusting, or boring in the same way?

A third major topic in the study of aesthetic judgments is how they are unified across art forms. We can call a person, a house, a symphony, a fragrance, and a mathematical proof beautiful. What characteristics do they share which give them that status? What possible feature could a proof and a fragrance both share in virtue of which they both count as beautiful? What makes a painting beautiful is quite different from what makes music beautiful, which suggests that each art form has its own language for the judgement of aesthetics.

At the same time, there is seemingly quite a lack of words to express oneself accurately when making an aesthetic judgement. An aesthetic judgement cannot be an empirical judgement. Therefore, due to impossibility for precision, there is confusion about what interpretations can be culturally negotiated. Due to imprecision in the standard English language, two completely different feelings experienced by two different people can be represented by an identical verbal expression. Wittgenstein stated this in his lectures on aesthetics and language games.

A collective identification of beauty, with willing participants in a given social spectrum, may be a socially negotiated phenomenon, discussed in a culture or context. Is there some underlying unity to aesthetic judgment and is there some way to articulate the similarities of a beautiful house, beautiful proof, and beautiful sunset?Defining it requires a description of the entire phenomenon, as Wittgenstein argued in his lectures on aesthetics. Likewise there has been long debate on how perception of beauty in the natural world, especially perception of the human form as beautiful, is supposed to relate to perceiving beauty in art or artefacts. This goes back at least to Kant, with some echoes even in St. Bonaventure.

Avant Garde

Avant-garde (pronounced [avɑ̃gaʁd] in French) means "advance guard" or "vanguard".The adjective form is used in English, to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics.

Avant-garde represents a pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm. The notion of the existence of the avant-garde is considered by some to be a hallmark of modernism, as distinct from postmodernism. However, this is not true in the case of music as many pieces are still being released which are generally considered avant-garde in popular culture.Many artists have aligned themselves with the avant-garde movement and still continue to do so, tracing a history from Dada to the Situationists to postmodern artists such as the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writers in the 1980s.

The term was originally used to describe the foremost part of an army advancing into battle (also called the vanguard) and now applied to any group, particularly of artists, that considers itself innovative and ahead of the majority.

The vanguard, a small troop of highly skilled soldiers, explores the terrain ahead of a large advancing army and plots a course for the army to follow. This concept is applied to the work done by small collectives of intellectuals and artists as they open pathways through new cultural or political terrain for society to follow.

The origin of the application of this French term to art is still debated. Some[who?] fix it on May 17, 1863, the opening of the Salon des Refusés in Paris, organized by painters whose work was rejected for the annual Paris Salon of officially sanctioned academic art. Salons des Refusés were held in 1863, 1874, 1875, and 1886.

The term also refers to the promotion of radical social reforms. It was this meaning that was evoked by the Saint Simonian Olinde Rodrigues in his essay, "L'artiste, le savant et l'industriel," (“The artist, the scientist and the industrialist”, 1825) which contains the first recorded use of "avant-garde" in its now-customary sense: there, Rodrigues calls on artists to "serve as [the people's] avant-garde," insisting that "the power of the arts is indeed the most immediate and fastest way" to social, political, and economic reform.Over time, avant-garde became associated with movements concerned with "art for art's sake", focusing primarily on expanding the frontiers of aesthetic experience, rather than with wider social reform.

Several writers have attempted to map the parameters of avant-garde activity with limited success. One of the most useful and respected analyses of vanguardism as a cultural phenomenon remains the Italian essayist Renato Poggioli's 1962 book Teoria dell'arte d'avanguardia (The Theory of the Avant-Garde). Surveying the historical, social, psychological and philosophical aspects of vanguardism, Poggioli reaches beyond individual instances of art, poetry and music to show that vanguardists may be seen as sharing certain ideals or values which are manifested in the non-conformist lifestyles they adopted, vanguard culture being shown to be a variety or subcategory of Bohemianism.

Reflecting on Charles Baudelaire's complaint that “the man of letters is the enemy of the world” and Stéphane Mallarmé's distress over the isolation of the creator in “this society that will not let him live”, Poggioli opines that beyond having habitually non-conformist postures, Avant-garde creators have historically existed in a state of mutual antagonism towards both the public and tradition.[cite this quote] As pioneers, avant-gardes have shunned popularity, seeing those who are popular as producing complacent or compromised work. This is also why avant-gardists have abhorred fashion, judging it to deal in stereotypes, falsehoods and insincere sentiments. Their iconoclasm has witnessed avant-gardes taking positions against current trends; but as pioneers they will also adopt a strong ‘down-with-the-past’ attitude. Vanguardists are committed to new ideals, seeing traditions, institutions and orthodoxies as outmoded prisons of convention.[citation needed]

Taken together, these traits mean that avant-gardes are often estranged from society. This has taken several forms, as some creators were socially alienated. It has been common for avant-gardes to declare their opposition to the bourgeoisie class in particular. Their antagonism towards accepted values and approaches has also meant that historically their audience has tended to be the intelligentsia. Poggioli further tries to classify avant-gardes according to four conceptual dispositions: Nihilism, Agonism, Futurism, and Decadence.[citation needed]

Other authors have attempted to both clarify and extend Poggioli's study. The German literary critic Peter Bürger's Theory of the Avant-Garde (1974) looks at the Establishment's embrace of socially critical works of art and suggests that in complicity with capitalism, "art as an institution neutralizes the political content of the individual work."While the title of Bürger's essay is an explicit reference to Poggioli's, he makes several useful additions to the latter's groundbreaking study, such as the distinction between "historical" (Futurism, Dada, Surrealism) and "neo" avant-garde (Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Nouveau Réalisme, Fluxus, etc.).[citation needed]

Bürger's essay also greatly influenced the work of contemporary American art historians such as Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, while older critics like Bürger continue to view the postwar neo-avant-garde as the empty recycling of forms and strategies from the first two decades of the twentieth century, others like Clement Greenberg view it, more positively, as a new articulation of the specific conditions of cultural production in the postwar period. Buchloh, in the collection of essays Neo-avantgarde and Culture Industry (2000) critically argues for a dialectical approach to these positions.

The concept of avant-garde refers exclusively to marginalised artists, writers, composers and thinkers whose work is not only opposed to mainstream commercial values, but often has an abrasive social or political edge. Many writers, critics and theorists made assertions about vanguard culture during the formative years of modernism, although the initial definitive statement on the avant-garde was the essay Avant-Garde and Kitsch.As the essay’s title suggests, Clement Greenberg conclusively showed not only that vanguard culture has historically been opposed to ‘high’ or ‘mainstream culture’, but that it also has rejected the artificially synthesized mass culture that has been produced by industrialization. Each of these media is a direct product of Capitalism – they are all now substantial industries – and as such they are driven by the same profit-fixated motives of other sectors of manufacturing, not the ideals of true art. For Greenberg, these forms were therefore kitsch: they were phony, faked or mechanical culture, which often pretended to be more than they were by using formal devices stolen from advanced or vanguard culture. For instance, during the 1930s the advertising industry was quick to take visual mannerisms from surrealism, but this does not mean that 1930s advertising photographs are truly surreal. It was a matter of style without substance. In this sense Greenberg was at pains to distance true avant-garde creativity from the market-driven fashion change and superficial stylistic innovation that are sometimes used to claim privileged status for these manufactured forms of the new consumer culture.

A similar view was likewise argued by assorted members of the Frankfurt School, including Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in their essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass-Deception (1944), and also Walter Benjamin in his highly influential The Work of Art in the Age of Technical Reproduction (1936).Where Greenberg used the German word kitsch to describe the antithesis of avant-garde culture, members of the Frankfurt School coined the term mass culture to indicate that this bogus culture is constantly being manufactured by a newly emerged Culture industry (comprising commercial publishing houses, the movie industry, the record industry, the electronic media). They also pointed out that the rise of this industry meant that artistic excellence was displaced by sales figures as a measure of worth: a novel, for example, was judged meritorious solely on whether it was a best-seller, music succumbed to ratings charts and the blunt commercial logic of the Gold disc. In this way the autonomous artistic merit so dear to the vanguardist was abandoned and sales increasingly became the measure, and justification, of everything. Consumer culture now ruled.

Despite the central arguments of Greenberg, Adorno and others, "avant-garde" has been appropriated and misapplied by various sectors of the culture industry since the 1960s, chiefly as a marketing tool to publicise popular music and commercial cinema. It is now common to describe successful rock musicians and celebrated film-makers as avant-garde, the very word having been stripped of its proper meaning. Noting this important conceptual shift, major contemporary theorists such as Matei Calinescu in Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism (1987), and Hans Bertens in The Idea of the Postmodern: A History (1995), have suggested that this is a sign our culture has entered a new post-modern age, when the former modernist ways of thinking and behaving have been rendered redundant.

Nevertheless the most incisive critique of the vanguardism against the views of mainstream society was offered by the New York critic Harold Rosenberg in the late 1960s.[11] Trying to strike a balance between the insights of Renato Poggioli and the claims of Clement Greenberg, Rosenberg suggested that from the mid-1960s onward progressive culture ceased to fulfill its former adversarial role. Since then it has been flanked by what he called 'avant-garde ghosts' to the one side, and a changing mass culture on the other, both of which it interacts with to varying degrees. This has seen culture become, in his words, ‘a profession one of whose aspects is the pretense of overthrowing it.’