Art Assignment

Your assignment is to create two arts objects. They will be presented to the class.

Your art can be anything you want: visual, music, dance, scultpure, writing... or a new blend.

Your only conditions are:

1. Esthetic Objects Express Eternal Forms

Plato and Aristotle held that artists create an imitation, or representation, of reality. They were not advocating the naive idea that artists strive to mirror natural objects as exactly as possible. Rather, the artist seeks to represent the essential nature (essence) of objects, the rational forms on which they are patterned (Plato) or which are inherent in them (Aristotle). For Plato, objects of art are twice removed from the Eternal Forms, since they are only images of copies of the Forms; that is, natural objects are imperfect copies of Eternal Forms, and works of art are only "imitations" of natural objects. The idea that esthetic objects represent or symbolize an ultimate Reality that is eternal, perfect, and complete (the True, the Good, the Beautiful) recurs frequently in the history of esthetic thought. Keats and Hegel refer to beauty as truth in sensuous form. Music, says Schopenhauer, gives us an intuitive grasp of ultimate reality (timeless forms of the Will to Live). Santayana refers to beauty as an eternal, divine essence suffusing a material object. Tolstoy conceives beauty as a quality of perfect goodness. The art object, says Goethe, is a sensuous embodiment of a spiritual meaning. Clive Bell defines an esthetic object as significant form that reveals ultimate reality as a divine, all-pervading rhythm. In the Hindu tradition, esthetic objects give intuitions of the ultimate as pure being, which, in contrast to the view of the Greek philosophers, is beyond all conceptions and distinctions accessible to reason. To summarize, the metaphysical idealist insists that art objects point beyond themselves to a realm where the True, the Good, and the Beauti- ful already exist in completed form. When representing a human body, for example, a painter or sculptor quite rightly creates an idealized figure whose proportions are perfectly symmetrical. The proposition that esthetic objects express eternal forms usually carries both an epistemological and a moral implication. We can "know" or grasp the ultimate nature of things intuitively. Since ultimate reality is morally perfect, artistic productions can be judged good when they accurately depict the moral and bad when they represent the immoral. On this ground Plato and Tolstoy argued for censorship of the arts.

2. Esthetic Objects Express Suchness

The most notable achievements of Western civilization are science (dealing with the cognitive, theoretical aspect of reality) and technology (a highly practical activity). The esthetic dimension of experience has been neglected in both achievements. Western religions, by and large, have also subordinated esthetic concerns to theoretical and practical ones; they have devoted themselves to the development of complex theologies and to moral improvement. The esthetic dimension is more prominent in Eastern philosophies and religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism – where the thrust is not to understand (conceptualize) experience or to perfect it morally, but to accept and celebrate it. This characterization applies emphatically to Zen Buddhism, the subject of the following discussion. If the esthetic experience means to appreciate something as complete in itself, then all Zen experience is esthetic. If the Zen person travels, it is to travel, not to arrive somewhere else; he is already there. He does not strive for anything; he is goal-less. This is the art of artlessness. "When hungry, eat; when tired, sleep." The priority of the esthetic element is revealed in the testament of one of Zen’s most ardent and scholarly proponents. D. T. Suzuki, in trying to explain an Eastern perspective to a Western audience, says, "Zen naturally finds its readiest expression in poetry rather than philosophy because it has more affinity with feeling than with intellect; its poetic predilection is inevitable."’ That uniquely Japanese literary form, the haiku, makes the case. A haiku poem, so brief with three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, simply points to the thusness of things; it seems to say, "Just so, just as it is." The poem offers no commentary, no interpretation; it expresses a simple childlike wonder.

Evening rain.
The banana leaf
Speaks of it first.

Zen painting in its spontaneity does not represent nature, but is itself natural – a work of nature., The Zen artist portrays asymmetry, disequilibrium, and imperfection because these, as well as harmony, characterize individual suchness. The famous dry garden of Ryoanji illustrates esthetic objects as the expression of suchness. Fifteen uncarved rocks are arranged in five groups in a large expanse of raked sand – just there. Zen art is an expression of a living moment in its pure "suchness"; it is an awakening to the present instant as the only reality – but the instant is itself timeless. The favorite subjects of the Zen artist are natural, concrete, everyday things. Zen masters are portrayed as aimless, going nowhere in a timeless moment; and art echoes the moment. Zen art is a yea-saying to life as it presents itself – "empty and marvelous."

3. Esthetic Objects Express a Unified Experience

John Dewey developed a theory of art as the enhancement of common experience. Experience involves a constant interaction between live creatures and their environments in a series of doings and undergoings. When we are conscious of an ordered movement of experience from a beginning to a culmination, the experience is unified, and we say that it was an experience. When we pay attention to the pervasive, integrated quality of an experience, our experience is esthetic. It may be noted that some educators, focusing exclusively on this aspect of Dewey’s esthetic theory, have concluded that exposure of students to objects of fine art is unimportant, since esthetic appreciation can be sufficiently developed as students experience the ordered movement from the beginning to the conclusion of any problem-solving activity. Esthetic objects and events elicit a quality of experienced wholeness, of an experience complete and unified in itself. Thus objects of art focus and enrich qualities found in our everyday experience. Consider the earliest known examples of art: paintings of animals on the walls of caves to commemorate the success of a hunting expedition. Objects take on meaning when we discover their interrelationships and interact with them in new ways. The moon is still a shining disk in the sky, but now it has the added meanings of men having walked on it and returned with fragments to decipher. Science takes objects out of isolation by showing us their causes and effects, thus providing us with instrumental meanings. Art is a direct expression of meanings that are not translatable into ordinary language. Poor landlubbers, we yet participate in Ahab’s relentless search for the white whale. The artist has the imaginative capacity to see things whole, thus enlarging and unifying the quality of the perceiver’s experience. The artist does not reveal some ghostly "essence" of things, but rather their essential meanings in and for experience. The religious feelings that may accompany an intense esthetic perception stem from arousal by the work of art of a sense of unity and a sense of belonging to the all- inclusive whole that is the universe. The more an esthetic object embodies experiences common to many individuals, the more expressive it is. A work of art means not the artist’s intention, but the unified quality of experience that, through time, it can evoke in perception. Ideally, the art object is the vehicle of complete, unhindered communication, enabling us to share vividly and deeply in meanings to which we had been blind or insensitive. Who, for example, can live through a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? without acquiring a new and poignant sense of what it means to hurt others and in turn be hurt? People in all walks of life – the assembly-line worker, the agricultural laborer, the computer programmer – can become creatively involved in the products of the artist’s imagination and emerge with a sharpened and heightened awareness.

4. Esthetic Objects Express Feelings

The theory that esthetic objects express feelings is known as expressionism. Expressionism can be interpreted in three quite different ways. The feelings expressed may be those of the artist, or those inherent in the art object, or the feelings aroused in the perceiver. Thus we may say: (1) the composer is sad and communicates his personal feeling; or (2) the music is sad; or (3) the music makes me feel sad. Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive alternatives – either or both of the second and third conditions may result from the first one. Croce, an Italian philosopher of history and esthetics, interpreted art as an expression (manifestation) of the artist’s state of mind, giving us "intuitive knowledge" of mental states (see discussions of subjective idealism). Note the striking art sometimes produced by the uninhibited expression of so-called mentally ill persons. Plato and James Joyce suggested that the artist’s feelings are a divinely inspired ecstasy. The idea that art expresses the artist’s personal emotions is exemplified most fully in the movement known as romanticism. The romanticists valued sincerity, spontaneity, passion. The role of the artist is to feel deeply, and then communicate those emotions in order to stimulate imagination and enthusiasm in the audience. The romanticists were intensely interested in Nature, which they interpreted as a manifestation of Spirit. Artists should immerse themselves in Nature, approaching it with longing and a sense of identification; in this way artists would relive the experiences of the creative Spirit and be able to re-express them symbolically through their works of art. In this vein, Teilhard de Chardin interprets art as an expression of a universal life force, reminiscent of Henri Bergson’s notion of an elan vital, the dynamic source of causation and evolution in nature. Art may express the artist’s feelings in a very different sense if it symbolizes a sublimated sexual impulse (Freud), or primordial images (archetypes) from the unconscious (Jung, Herbert Read), or a playful, make- believe escape from reality. Does it make sense to say that music is sad? It can be argued that the music (or some other variety of art object) has a gestalt quality (perhaps a mood) so that the perceiver recognizes (does not read into) the emotion as a felt quality of the object itself. Music is sad when it has the properties and features of people’s sad feelings. Some music is iconic, that is, has a structural similarity to what it symbolizes – such as the clattering of horses’ hooves.

Susan Langer and Ernst Cassirer describe art as the creation of forms that symbolize (articulate) the structure of human feelings. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? again provides an illustration. An art object does not assert any propositions about human feelings; it is a symbolic pointing toward them. A major function of art, in this view, is to clarify the inner life. Aristotle held that the portrayal of fearful and pitiable events in tragic drama provides a catharsis, a purification of the emotions. The third view is that art expresses feeiings in the sense of evoking them. It is undeniable that we experience sadness, joy, and other emotions while in the presence of esthetic objects. The question is whether our feelings tell us something about the artist’s intentions, about the art object itself, about our emotional state at the time, or about the meanings and expectations we project onto the esthetic object. We may approach the question by posing another question: When two persons attend to a work of art, without paying attention to their own inner responses to it, will one of them experience joy and the other sadness? The hedonistic interpretation of feelings aroused by esthetic objects is that, joyful or sad, they are pleasing. Beauty is objectified pleasure (according to Santayana).

5. Esthetic Objects Express Existential Possibilities

We have reached the opposite end of the continuum from Eternal Forms. The existential view is that an art object is a sheer (pure) possibility. The art object is a presentation of a possibility felt and imagined by its author; it is not a representation of a form or essence – given, complete, timeless. The art object is more than an imagined possibility; it is itself the presence of the possibility. The work of art, like the existing individual is not an expression of fullness; it is a thrust of spontaneity from lack of being. The art object is a spontaneous utterance, an enactment, of what an individual feels and imagines existence to be. The utterance, if authentic, is novel and orig- inal. It is "truthful" in the sense of being sincere and of revealing the vision to which the person is committed. This is not an abstract kind of truth and is not subject to any empirical test. The artist creates by willing into existence some value in an inherently valueless existence. The only test of a work of art is the originality and sincerity that mark its creation. Genuine art merges authentic feeling and imagination into an object whose meaning is completely clear. This authenticity and clarity sensitize us to cowardice and fakery of every kind. On the positive side, art helps us to taste the infinite variety of ways in which it is possible to be human. Such tasting is an incipient time bomb to explode the status quo. There is no single style of "existential" art. For Nietzsche, art is Dionysian, celebrating human passions that overflow all civilized restraints. On the other hand, a painting in which human figures are conspicuously absent may symbolize the impersonality and dehumanization of modern existence.

[Art and ToK]