Art Appreciation - The College Course

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Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby Rusty Claymore » Tue Aug 30, 2016 2:37 pm

So, I just finished my first class in Art Appreciation. I think my brain short circuited somewhere, because I can't really remember if anything was actually said about anything. Or maybe a lot was said about everything but everything that was said was said to not be what everything was about after all.
The teacher displayed her works, some of which were literally just messes that got their picture taken. I saw a lot of other pieces, heard their names, was told what they were made of, learned what mode was used to create them, but learned nothing of why they were there. Except politics. Somehow the answer to them being where I could see them was politics. Someone convinced someone else it was something worth looking at, even if it was literally (as my professor brought up) a blank screen.

What was I to take away from this? The only common thread amidst all the information was that someone did it. Because someone arranged some sort of medium and then presented it, that made it Art.
I suppose this makes sense, since we weren't talking about "good" art, or "true" art or such, but simply Art.
Regardless, we were reminded that there was "No wrong answer," so I must not have been right about this either.

Anyone else take an Art Appreciation class? What were your thoughts? Knowing how professors make half the class, was it much different?

What is Art?

(It seems Art as a discipline is having a massive Identity Crisis.)
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby ClosetOtaku » Tue Aug 30, 2016 3:43 pm

The best book I have ever read on Art is an older one called, appropriately, "The Story of Art", by E. H. Gombrich. He takes you through history demonstrating the evolution of art, and how it is tied in with technology, architecture, and other disciplines.

To understand the "state" of Art nowadays you must, for the most part, already be an Artist. An Artist is first and foremost a critic of past forms and works. Almost every piece of art is a commentary or variation on an existing piece or form. Talent is manifested in not so much a "pretty picture", but rather a clever and incisive reply to someone else's Art.

Are there wrong answers in Art? Absolutely. I used to date an artist, way back in college. For her first freshman jury, she drew a photorealistic picture of a teddy bear against a bed cover. The thing looked like someone had taken a black-and-white photograph, it was so good. But the art professors savaged her mercilessly because, of all things, it was a teddy bear. A year later, she dropped out of Art and majored in Design, went on to found a Design studio in NYC, sold it, and is now retired in her mid-40s. She had talent, lots of it. But what she did wasn't Art.

I don't think Art is having an identity crisis. I think it is desperately trying to stay relevant in an era where the "common" person has too much access to visually stunning pieces that aren't commentary or critique, but rather a return to what the earliest artists wanted to do: tell a story, relate a scene, capture the moment. Art wants to stay Art and have its own self-absorbed dialogue, and the masses aren't cooperating any more. It's not an identity crisis. It's a temper tantrum.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby shooraijin » Tue Aug 30, 2016 5:13 pm

I think art of any sort is incredibly subjective, and the problem with art as an academic pursuit is that too many art professors are in denial about how their own particular subjective bias affects their perception of various works, as if a trained eye is necessarily always a good one.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby Rusty Claymore » Tue Aug 30, 2016 6:02 pm

@ClosetOtaku: Interesting take. I like how you phrased Art as wanting a self-absorbed dialogue. All of your statements are very thought provoking.
ClosetOtaku wrote:An Artist is first and foremost a critic of past forms and works. Almost every piece of art is a commentary or variation on an existing piece or form. Talent is manifested in not so much a "pretty picture", but rather a clever and incisive reply to someone else's Art.
So then Art today is only when such a piece is created to comment, vary, or critique a predecessor. If then, that same piece was created instead with the sole intent of telling a story, it would not classify as Art today?
Art then is Intent, specifically the intent to be Art?
But what she did wasn't Art.

Can you elaborate on this? It sounds like it wasn't Art because her professors decided it was not, leading to Art by consensus.
I think it is desperately trying to stay relevant in an era where the "common" person has too much access to visually stunning pieces that aren't commentary or critique, but rather a return to what the earliest artists wanted to do: tell a story, relate a scene, capture the moment.

Again, am I right in assessing an exclusionary definition of art here? No matter what it looks like, it's not Art unless it's commentary?

Non-Art uses visual mediums to convey a meaning outside of itself, while Art strives to evoke reaction to itself?

@shooraijin: In that they only classify as "art" what they personally believe is "good art," and if they don't like it disqualify it?

Your comment of "art of any sort" is interesting. In general when we talk about art, we seem to be talking about two different things which socially we're coerced into treating as one: art, the assemblage and presentation of media, and Art, that really important thing that's a vital part of culture but nobody wants to describe in non-abstract terms.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby ClosetOtaku » Tue Aug 30, 2016 6:30 pm

Rusty Claymore wrote: So then Art today is only when such a piece is created to comment, vary, or critique a predecessor. If then, that same piece was created instead with the sole intent of telling a story, it would not classify as Art today? Art then is Intent, specifically the intent to be Art?


In my opinion, this is what the academic pursuit of "art" has become. That isn't to say an original work on DeviantArt isn't art. But for most "art purists", that sort of expression is beneath their dignity.

But what she did wasn't Art.

Can you elaborate on this? It sounds like it wasn't Art because her professors decided it was not, leading to Art by consensus.


I think it could be summed up by saying, "A real artist doesn't paint teddy bears". A real artist makes a statement about the Art world.

A second story, again with the girl I dated. She took a course in Photography, another area in which she excelled. While walking downtown, she met an old, grizzled lady. She asked if she could take her picture, and the lady agreed. She in fact took two pictures: one of the lady smiling, and another with a fairly threatening frown.

When she presented both pictures to her professor, he was quick to judge: the smiling lady wasn't a good photograph, but the frowning one -- that was Art! Art was about human suffering! I saw both pictures, and the composition (save for the smile or frown) was identical. If Art wasn't commenting on the 'human condition' -- and the human condition not being happy, but being angry at the world -- well, it just wasn't Art.

I think it is desperately trying to stay relevant in an era where the "common" person has too much access to visually stunning pieces that aren't commentary or critique, but rather a return to what the earliest artists wanted to do: tell a story, relate a scene, capture the moment.

Again, am I right in assessing an exclusionary definition of art here? No matter what it looks like, it's not Art unless it's commentary?

Non-Art uses visual mediums to convey a meaning outside of itself, while Art strives to evoke reaction to itself?


Perhaps. But, like Shooraijin said, this is highly subjective, and every Art professor is going to have a somewhat different idea about what qualifies. What does seem to be the common thread is the need for an "inside" and an "outside", and until an Artist acknowledges the wisdom of those on the "inside" and produces acceptable works to them, they will be "outside" among the unwashed masses.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby Rusty Claymore » Tue Aug 30, 2016 8:12 pm

Thanks, ClosetOtaku! I understand completely now.

Basically, the Art of today is ruled by a "No True Scotsman" fallacy.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby mechana2015 » Wed Aug 31, 2016 7:05 am

In a fashion, but someone who says something radically different or finds new ways to use old techniques either as a commentary themselves or to make a commentary on something spiritual, social or psychological can be and are accepted into the current melange of the 'art world'. A lot of the current collisions between academic art and what the layman accepts as art are really falling onto a long running discussion of 'is it art or is it design' where art is a commentary on society or an expression of psychological status or spiritual status, and design is creation of a product with aesthetic appeal. This is still of course, subjective, where one person may have a strong emotional reaction and feel that a piece is a commentary on a way society works while an art historian will blithely point out that the piece is concept art for a film, therefore, design, and not art. There is also an issue where generally, purposeful design is not art (and is usually created for mass production) but art can be design, where the object is both a product of some sort but primarily created to be commentary (and is usually not mass produced). These definitions have changed over time and it could be posed that most art in museums would be considered to be design in today's standards since it was created for a client and not as a commentary on the current society, such as alterpieces, portraits of the rich and powerful and most architecture.
Art is a wild and woolly academic subject overall though and is shaped as much by the society it attempts to comment on as it attempts to shapes that society with its commentary, so again it is a difficult subject to grasp lo to quickly as it is more or less constantly in motion particularly in the modern day.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby Rusty Claymore » Wed Aug 31, 2016 10:38 am

It's interesting how the idea of art being something produced by skill and effort is being marginalized. For fun, I looked up art in the American Heritage Dictionary, which says nothing of commentary or critique. But, this is this, and that is that.
Going along with the current ideas of art feels a little like being in the crowd which praised the emperor's new clothes. But hey, I need my general education requirements met, so those robes look great. Image
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby Davidizer13 » Fri Sep 02, 2016 6:16 am

Rusty Claymore wrote:It's interesting how the idea of art being something produced by skill and effort is being marginalized.


This here is why you're having so much trouble understanding what artists are presenting - your philosophy is different from the philosophy that currently dominates in art. What you are presenting is a driving thought of Modernism or Romanticism, and it is very common outside the art world, and is what most people believe on one level or another. Truth is found through effort - that is, make special effort to find Truth and you will eventually find it. This does not necessarily imply an absolute truth, but it means that if you work for the truth, you will end up with more knowledge about the truth.

However, the driving philosophy in the arts is Postmodernism. Due to various influences, Modernism evolved into this idea that effort is not always the most valuable way to find Truth. Everything - a work of art, a building, a tool, this post - has truths contained in them, and these are discovered by a process called deconstruction, tearing apart the ideas and philosophies that went into how they were made. A common misconception is that this means that all truth is equally valid, but it only states that everything brings with it a piece of a whole truth, inherently. The truths you find in something are dependent upon your own experience and the thoughts you bring in when you deconstruct it an determine what it means to you. The fun part is that these truths can be completely different, or even the exact opposite of what the artist intended, which is known as "death of the author," where the author's intent is not what embodies the work with its truths.

Take a car, for instance. Someone designed a car to look a certain way. Why? Was it to make it go faster, favoring function? Is it because it was the least expensive way to build that car? Was it to differentiate it from the other car brands? Was it because the car sells best when it looks that way? For that matter, why is being fast or cheap, or selling well or looking different important? Where do the beliefs that these were important enough to factor into building the car come from? What about the idea that we build cars, or that it is important to own a car? All these answers bring their own truths to the intent of the people who built that car, and it could be that all the answers you come up with are correct. Keep these in mind when you look at art you don't consider to be good at first, and think, what truths is the artist trying to present through this art? Ask the artist about them. When it comes to critiquing art, think about those truths and whether you believe they are presented well in the artwork, along with the truths you think it presents in your own mind.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby mechana2015 » Fri Sep 02, 2016 10:49 am

Discussions like this are why I did not particularly enjoy my class on modern art history as much as my history of design class. I enjoy the 'does it work aesthetically, and how' side of the discussion more than the 'what is the author saying' usually, mostly because design has more rules and guides that are long established and recognizable when broken, so more objective. I do enjoy discussions of the commentary side of art as well but I usually like that more in a group of peers who I know will all express their opinions on the piece respectfully, not a classroom of strangers who will insist on their interpretation being correct.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby Rusty Claymore » Fri Sep 02, 2016 5:45 pm

So artist Bob paints a picture of a twisted, screaming soul.

The Postmodernist looks at it and contemplates the suffering of humanity. He considers that perhaps the immortality of the soul means hope, since the suffering might end. He sees that human anguish can literally wring someone in their innermost being. And he walks away wondering what it could mean to him, and if he's suffering like that too somewhere.

The Modernist examines the painting, then turns and asks Bob if he's ok.

Is that sort of the philosophical divide?
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby mechana2015 » Sat Sep 03, 2016 1:44 pm

Possibly, it would depend on what Bobs artist statement says about the piece or what sort of show/display context the piece is in. Alternately on close examination you could find that Bob works for a film studio and the piece is concept design for the next Poultergeist movie, and has been considered as a purely aesthetic exercise.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby Rusty Claymore » Sat Sep 03, 2016 4:32 pm

Exactly, then. I was strictly speaking of the philosophical response of the observer to the work itself, very simplified.

In your example of the poltergeist movie, both observers were very wrong about the piece. They could argue their interpretations were true to them and based off of truths they were able to find, but their take away was false. The Postie could claim their was value in the truths he took away, but those could be dredged up in many other pieces, making Bob's soul of no consequence, just convenience as being the nearset piece to do so. And if that is the case, art is nothing to do with material but in your own ability to evoke your own thoughts and emmotions?
After an awkward moment, the Moddie could complement Bob's skill in evoking emotion and technical application, indicating Bob's soul has a claim on being referred to as "art" in and of itself.

Although I find myself more answering the question of "what is art's purpose" now more than "what is art"... So today's art has changed because what people want from art has changed. And so that which gives us what we want is what we call "Art". I think that speaks towards what Shooraijin said about bias denial.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby Kaori » Sat Sep 03, 2016 5:53 pm

I'm grateful now that my art appreciation class that I took in college was more of a straightforward, "Here are some famous pieces of artwork from throughout history, please remember them" sort of experience.

In regard to the discussion of what art is, I'd like to toss out a couple of quotes.

"Art consists of ideas, embodied in autonomous objects, created with aesthetic intent."


"If you want to make a Christian work, then be a Christian and simply try to make a beautiful piece, into which your heart will pass." (Jacques Maritain)


The first is a very simple and straightforward definition, so I really like it as a general guideline. The second isn't particularly a definition as such, but it gets at that it is not a bad pursuit to simply create something beautiful for the sake of creating something beautiful. I wouldn't recommend sharing either of them with your professor. :p

C.S. Lewis said somewhere (maybe "First Things and Second Things"?) that when artwork is no longer created for some purpose outside itself (e.g. for use in churches, to glorify God) then it becomes self-absorbed and increasingly turns into something that no one wants to see, hear, or read, i.e. something that common people can't enjoy and that isn't accessible to the average person.

While I'm a little bit skeptical about the idea that artwork being subordinated to some other purpose will always produce the best artwork (there are things like, e.g., war propaganda and art created for the sake of making money which are not exactly the pinnacles of their mediums), he's right that in the 20th century in particular a lot of art and music (e.g. twelve-tone music) became narcissistically self-absorbed and the sort of thing that no one wants to see or hear.

Setting aside your unfortunate art appreciation class and your need to make a good grade in it, my feeling as an individual is that it's okay to not get all worked up about what is or is not art and just to enjoy what you enjoy. If artwork is beautiful, then that's good (though I wouldn't want to say that a painting or sculpture or something "created with aesthetic intent" that is ugly but is using that ugliness to express something is not art); and if it is expressing some sort of idea or communicating something to the viewer, then that's good (though I wouldn't want to say that something purely created to be beautiful and that doesn't have some sort of message is not art). It's also good if you can have some understanding of the history behind certain art movements so that you know why certain artists created the things they did in the way they did, e.g. Kathe Kollwitz's experience of WWI and WWII shaping the pieces she made and leading her to make pieces like "Never Again War!" and pictures that portrayed the suffering of war widows.

But if you go to an art museum--setting aside ones ones that are dedicated specifically to modern art--you're going to see a whole lot of things that are simply still-lifes, or portraits of some rich person, or decorative objects like vases and screens, and they're there because they were created with beauty, not because of some political agenda or because they were a critique on some previous piece of artwork.

By the way, have you ever been to an art museum as an adult?

I find that when I go to a museum, there is really something special about seeing those works of art in person. Not every piece leaps out as being special to me, and there are of course a lot of them to which I don't have any particular reaction (e.g. the Mona Lisa), but usually if I go to a museum I will see something there that moves me inside, and it is really difficult to explain, and if I see that same piece of artwork not in person but am just looking at it in a book or on the internet or something it is NOT the same. It is a profoundly mysterious experience that I really cannot express in words.

So for your art appreciation class, you have to do what you have to do, but I hope it doesn't ruin your ability to enjoy artwork without getting all worked up about the definition of what is and is not Art.
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Re: Art Appreciation - The College Course

Postby Rusty Claymore » Tue Sep 13, 2016 11:35 am

So it seems the best response to the question, "What is Art?" is, "I don't care." and to go on drawing, painting, and enjoying what you are looking at. (笑)
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