The Floating University

Art Now

I. What is Art?

A. Art transforms the everyday

1. Example: Andy Warhol took an everyday Campbell’s Soup can and made it art

2. Example: Edward Steichen’s photo portrait of Charlie

Chaplin is better than any cell phone photo because there is something different about it; it isn’t quite ordinary and yet it relates to the ordinary

3. Example: Roy Lichtenstein used a comic book-esque visual aesthetic

4. Art surprises by transforming ordinary experiences

5. Art makes the everyday unreal

B. Art is not real

1. Example: music

a. Music doesn’t exist in nature – music is referring

to systems of dividing tones and rhythmic organization, not bird songs or sounds found in nature

b. Example: Row, Row, Row Your Boat is not in nature, it is an artificial construction

2. Example: seeing a historical painting, it looks realistic but it’s actually someone’s imagination of what is


3. Example: television, video, and film

a. Believable stories occur in a matter of hours, but it is the artificial manipulation of our

sensibilities through the work of an artist

b. Realism is an artistic illusion

C. Art vs taste

1. Not all art is something we like

2. The title "art" can be applied to a lot of things that people don’t think are art

a. example: a jingle, fashion design, marketing of a product

3. It is unclear if art is what different people think is art

4. There does seem to be some similar values in what art is

5. There is a notion that really great art is misunderstood as

something elitist because people have different ideas of beauty and meaning

6. Art doesn’t necessarily have to be recognized by a lot of people

a. Sometimes as you study art more you gain a

better understanding of why things you didn’t think were art before are considered art

b. Example: Jackson Pollock’s work vs. the finger paintings of a child

(1) Pollock’s work is set apart by its structure, composition, intent, and design

(2) This doesn’t mean that people aren’t fooled into thinking the child’s work is high art

D. Art and utility

1. There are things in every day life that are beautifully done to the point we consider it is art

a. Example: movie scores

b. Example: architecture

(1) Architecture is always useful since people live and work in buildings

c. Example: industrial design

2. There was a period of time where people thought art had to be divorced from utility

3. Transformation of the every day is inherent in the designing of things we live with

a. Example: pottery, jugs, pajamas, furniture, plates

b. Decorative arts affect us everywhere, every day

c. Therefore utility doesn’t disqualify a work of art

E. Art-Making is human

1. In the transformation of the everyday through an artistic

impulse there is some aspiration or insight that is entirely human and subjective

2. It is beyond being thoughtless, it makes us stop and

think about something important in a different way

3. The Greeks believed art-making was crucial to humans

a. Only mortals can experience art

b. The gods don’t make art

c. Imagination is distinctly human, and while our

impression of the world is based on limited knowledge, we can escape that limitation through the creation of an imaginary world

II. Art and Language

A. Art: the attempt to create through time and in space a work or

statement or event that is connected to everyday experience, but yet is apart from it

B. Art can transcend language

1. Art is not restricted to language

2. There is language in art

3. Art expresses experience inaccessible by language

4. Philosophers have argued the visual and musical reach

people in a non-linguistic way and therefore our response is not totally rational, we cannot say it is right or wrong

5. Our response to art isn’t always rational or expressible

a. Example: music in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”

expresses the Countess’ sense of loss though she is saying words of forgiveness, the music is saying what she cannot

C. Art communicates with its audience

1. Art is universal in humans

2. Art does not exist without the user

a. Example: music doesn’t exist unless there is a listener

b. Art is a social activity in which individuals try to communicate

c. This makes art dangerous to political regimes that don’t like open expression

(1) Examples: censors against art and theater in the tyrannical regimes of Stalin and Hitler

(2) Art seeks a public and its impact can be

subversive because it’s hard to pinpoint, yet its influence can be enormous

(3) Art is as powerful as it is hard to define

3. Many of us understand our relationship with the world through art

D. Suppressing art to stifle communication

1. Arts often serve as an avenue of dissent, especially as a last resort

2. Non-representational forms of art are particularly popular avenues of dissent

a. Music is particularly appealing because it seems

entirely abstract and therefore resistant to censorship

b. It therefore can be associated with the resistance to conformity and oppression

E. Art can also reinforce tyranny

1. Example: Sergei Prokofiev’s cantata “Zdravitsa” written

for Satlin’s birthday praises him for every good thing including the health of children

III. Art’s Role in Human Life

A. Art shapes public life

1. Much of art is public

a. Examples: it hangs in museums, there is public art inside and outside of buildings

2. The most important public art is architecture

a. Architecture can tell us about ourselves

(1) Example: the Helsinki Railway Station by Eliel Saarinen

(a) It could just be a plain building

for getting railcars in and out but instead it says something through the architecture

(b) It is lower so the person doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the station

(c) It chooses not to celebrate industrial power or wealth

(d) It has decorative elements that

remind one of traditional Finland, a mythic past, and its distinction from the rest of Europe

(e) therefore it communicates local pride, folklore, and national identity

(2) Example: the U.S. capital communicates

the ideals the builders thought the American Republic would be about

3. Art is the intersection of the public living and private experience

B. Art reminds us that we are unique

1. Art never has to exist, unlike science where something you discover is out there

2. Art has no reason to exist, it wasn’t there before a human created it

3. This reminds us that both the artist and the person that engages with the art is unique in the world

4. Art is the most unique expression of individuality

5. Art does not exist without an audience

C. Art exists only in the human mind

1. Art only exists if another human engages with it; it requires human intervention

2. Therefore art is a way of fighting the feeling of being superfluous

a. In our society we have created a lot of efficiency,

with robots and automated processes, so that eventually humans won’t have to do very much manually

b. For a long time it was thought the primary reason for human existence was work

c. However if we can automate most work, then it begs the question of why humans are here

d. Therefore we must be here for things that have no utility

D. Engaging with art reinvents the self

1. If you believe what Abraham said, that we are made in God’s image,

then that means that God was a creator

2. We have the capacity to create, we have imagination

3. Things we imagine are often art, things that don’t exist that we put together

4. What we create relies on our fantasy, humor, joy, the unpredictable

5. Art can be considered dangerous in this way because it doesn’t follow rules

6. People can transform their lives by looking at art, watching movies, or listening to music

E. Engaging with art gives us purpose

1. Engaging with art helps us identify with the imaginary in a unique way, thus giving us purpose

2. Art allows us to invent ourselves a divine purpose in a world where we can’t make an impact

3. The scariest things for humans is a loss of a sense of purpose, which is why we join communities

4. Art allows individuals to have a purpose if they make, consume, or engage with art

5. You don’t just have to make the art, just by engaging with it you are

following along with someone else’s imagination, and their art can’t exist without you engaging with it

F. Art and Social Utility: The Great Debate

1. One side holds that art distorts our sense of value because it is imaginary, isn’t real, and isn’t useful

2. Plato had doubts about poetry and other arts

3. Some think art is a conceit among a small group of people that try to

make themselves superior and exclude others from their value system

4. This is particularly prevalent in democracies, including the U.S., which do

not have much public subsidy of the arts, because we cannot agree on what is art

5. Some think that we should just leave art to the marketplace and if it's

important to people then it will be profitable and survive

6. If we could objectively evaluate what is and isn’t art is would be easier to decide what to subsidize

IV. Art There Objective Criteria for Judging Art?

A. Art is not a popularity contest

1. Noncommercial art is often considered a private conceit in a mass democracy

2. In mass democracies there is no real agreement about what is art and whether art is necessary in society

3. This is partially hypocritical because governments decide how their

buildings are designed and architecture is a public art, militaries have bands, and we have a national anthem, thus governments recognize in this way that art is part of the fabric of a community

4. Art cannot just be what makes money because many truths are unpopular

a. Example: evolution is not popular, but it is true

b. Example: the earth is not flat but we operate as if it is

c. Just because something is only understood by a minority it doesn’t make it untrue

d. Minority appreciation doesn’t invalidate art

B. Political criteria are not aesthetic criteria

1. Monarchies, aristocrats, emperors, and the Communist Party

have all been patrons of the arts over the years

2. These state leaders had a clear idea of what art was good for the State

3. However these were political criteria that made people feel like part of the

state, for example music that made you feel like part of a working class communist proletarian nation

4. Just because this art met political criteria does not necessarily mean it met aesthetic criteria

5. Political art is about a regime’s belief in how art can function to help that

regime, it is not about truth value

C. Compare the good with the great

1. Example: by examining the notes Mozart made on his student Thomas

Attwood’s music homework we can clearly see how Attwood’s take on it was good but Mozart’s was great

D. The role of the sophisticated audience

1. Sometimes in order to understand a work you have to study it, compare it to others, and come back to it

2. Prolonged exposure to art creates an understanding of nuance and craft

a. Example: at first a Mahler symphony might not sound

comprehensible, but as you develop your  understanding of great music it might make more sense

b. Example: after you see a lot of movies you are better able to discriminate between them

c. Example: compare your photos of friends to a portrait by Irving

Penn or Diane Arbus and seeing what they did with the same medium can show you that there are things you can learn, think about, and maybe do yourself

F. The verdict of history can be overturned

1. “Failed” artists often have comebacks

a. Example: Austrian painter Gustov Klimt died in 1918, wasn’t very

important in the 1950s, but became very popular around 2000

b. Example: Hungarian painter Munkácsy was highly touted in his lifetime but is almost forgotten now

c. Example: before 1900 Swiss-German painter Arnold Böcklin

commanded the highest prices for his works, then almost disappeared, and is now experiencing a revival

2. Political and social factors play a role in success and failure

V. Art and the Good

A. Art as social criticism

1. Question: is art a useful instrument of constructive criticism of the conceits of our society?

2. People sometimes feel ennobled by engaging in art that depicts suffering

or social injustice, and they think that by engaging with it they are advancing the cause

3. There is little evidence that using a social issue for artistic gain advances the cause of the social issue

4. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau: all art does is allow us to be more complacent with injustice

B. Question: since it isn’t definite that art is constructive, always about freedom or

individuality, in the right, always supports defensible values, etc, is it still worthwhile and worth supporting as a repository of human achievement/is it intrinsically related to the good?

C. Tolstoy: art as an instrument of Christianity

1. Tolstoy: what art should be

a. it should not be about beauty

b. it should be about community

c. it should be about goodness

d. it should use imagination to remind us we are all the same under a Christian God

2. He was suspicious of art because it separated some humans from others

D. Reinforcing the commonality of human experience

1. Art isn’t totally arbitrary because it is created by the human imagination

and has to be responded to by humans

2. Art creates a conversation about the good and the true

3. Example: performing arts live only in experience and memory

a. No two viewers’ reading of the performance is the same

b. This helps reinforce the sanctity of every individual

c. Performance art becomes part of your memory and part of you

d. This gives you a sense of commonality with the others you experienced the performance art with

e. So performance art helps us recognize both our independence and our equality

VI. Art and You

A. The artistic imagination: humanity’s greatest asset

1. Humans’ ability to create something that is not useful, is only

understood by mortals, that is only within the human experience, is beyond proving and the everyday, and is unpredictable is the highest praise we can give for being human

2. Art is worth studying because it is the result throughout history of that impetus

3. Art lets us study the human imagination in all forms

B. Art: just do it

1. Botstein: don’t just study art, but make it

2. The most important thing about art is the human’s capacity to make it

3. Producing art is as important as consuming it

4. Art skills pay off in the practical world

a. Example: learning to draw an abstract image in drawing class

helps you learn how to think abstractly in other situations

C. The secret utility of practicing the arts

1. Einstein was very influenced by his musical sensibilities

a. He wasn’t a very talented musician

b. Yet his elegance in scientific explanation had to do with a sense

of proportion and logic that could have been enhanced by his relationship with music

2. Just becoming a sophisticated consumer is not enough; making art

will help you appreciate the experience of art

3. Appreciating art to its utmost helps you to find moments in the every day

that remind you that you are an individual and independent of the many uniformities that govern our lives

D. The university as art school

1. Art is everywhere, but especially prevalent in universities

2. Botstein: take advantage of your access to art in college and make it part of your college experience