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Art Schmart!

My last post prompted a view I had on art. What makes it good or bad? The variations for each type of art are endless. There’s the art of cooking, the art of dancing, the art of painting, the art of bullshitting etc. Almost anything can be described as an art. In this sense it just means the quality is dependent on the mastery of the activity. But we have to draw the line somewhere, or at least draw some specifications. Which brings the question: what is art? (The creative design kind) Anyone who claims to have a monopoly definition of what art is ultimately asks for a thorough philosophical drubbing. I think the meaning of the word “art” is a subjective evaluation, which is an opinion subject to those who care to think about it. Hell, it could be used as an arbitrary word filled with meaning that suits an individual’s fancy.

For me that doesn’t suffice. My simplest deduction is that it’s an objectified expression of a subjective proposition. It has to be objectified because whatever notion of art that exists privately in the mind wouldn’t count. An idea that is not communicated or materialized is not an artwork. Without the material, the work is, quite literally, nothing. If there’s no audience to call something an artwork, then you don’t have an artwork. If you have nothing to call an artwork, then you have no one to call an artist. Dead-end. The expression would reflect the human psyche through the generation of abstract concepts, meanings, and feelings that includes anything awe-inspiring, moving, memorable etc. The work doesn’t have to tell the viewers the message directly either. It could elicit a reaction that tells us something about ourselves. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but I think the majority reaction they get from the audience is lazy prejudice.

I used to think art was the product of the humanistic organizations of thought and behavior embodying abstract concepts. One cannot correlate meaning with anything objective without the neural processes, which humans have, that give rise to the feeling of meaning. It’s because of this cognitive ability that we can appreciate and create art but primitive animals can’t.

But I was wrong. There is an exception. I came across this fascinating article on the Piraha, a tribe of Amazon natives along the Maici River. Check out the article if you don’t have the attention span of a gold-fish.

“The Pirahã,” Everett wrote, “have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no words for “all,” “each,” “every,” “most,” or “few”—terms of quantification believed by some linguists to be among the common building blocks of human cognition… Committed to an existence in which only observable experience is real, the Pirahã do not think, or speak, in abstractions. Everett pointed to the word xibipío as a clue to how the Pirahã perceive reality solely according to what exists within the boundaries of their direct experience.”

I know what you’re thinking, but mass retardation isn’t the case. Who would’ve thought that culture is the only thing hindering the Piraha’s ability to define art? It’s not that they don’t have the cognitive ability, they most certainly do! It’s just absent from their syntax due to cultural constraints. I’ll have to revise my previous thought on art. Oh no, not more thinking! While art is still a product of human cognition, it doesn’t necessitate the production of art.

Categories: Philosophy Tags: ,
  1. Sumanyu
    March 14, 2011 at 12:43 am

    Each individual constructs his/her axiom set for many highly subjective words/ideas/topics such as art. Much of the time is spent or wasted debating these axioms. An axiom is simply accepted; you cannot prove it. “arbitrary word filled with meaning that suits an individual’s fancy” – exactly.

    Interesting post.

  2. March 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    True, many arguments arise through conflicting beliefs from topics like art. I think it’s both a good and bad thing though. It’s good if people can approach new ideas with an open mind, thus broaden their perspectives.. but bad if all they intend to do is impose their own personal beliefs on others.

    And thanks.

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