Philosophy Question

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Important: Answer ONE of the following five questions.

  1. To what extent does the morality of an artwork influence the work’s aesthetic value? Use examples to support your answer.
  2. Towhatextentisdigitalartconstituteanewcategoryofart,whencontrastedwithmore traditional forms of art?
  3. Doestheaimofapornographicworktoproducesexualarousalintheaudiencenecessarily undermine its artistic merit?
  4. Is our modern understanding of the concept of ‘art’ purely a product of western culture?
  5. Does modern music represent a decline in culture? Use examples to support your answer.

Note: This is a research project and, where appropriate, your answers should be backed up with references. You should also include a reference list.

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13 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION: THE APPRECIATION OF ARCHITECTURE Architecture and art What of general aesthetic interest and significance can be said about the appreciation of architecture, an art marked by works, movements, traditions, and theories possibly more diverse than those of any other major art form? Perhaps preliminary progress is best made only by noting some obvious ways in which architecture as an art differs from many other forms. These differences mean that the aesthetic appreciation of architecture poses certain challenges not typically present in the appreciation of other arts. Such challenges not only shape the nature of appropriate appreciation of works of architecture, but also help to make such appreciation especially rewarding. Initially it is important to again stress what has been suggested in a number of previous chapters: that aesthetic appreciation involves more than simply either passive contemplation of pleasing form or spontaneous delight in sensuous surface. Essential to aesthetic appreciation is active engagement, involving cognitive and emotional interaction between the appreciator and the object of appreciation. An important aspect of this engagement is a kind of dialogue between appreciator and object in which the latter explicitly or implicitly poses certain questions or problems and the former finds the answers or solutions. Such finding of answers or solutions typically takes the form of coming to realizations about the nature of the object of appreciation. This process of realizing is at the heart of aesthetic appreciation; it employs the imagination so as to produce that unique combination of admiration and awe that is central to aesthetic experience.1 The questions that are posed by a work of art vary according to its kind, for different art forms present different problems to be solved. Consider a representational painting, for example, a small sketch by Group of Seven artist Tom Thomson such as Autumn Foliage (1916).2 Such a work constitutes a straightforward case, for with representational works the initial and obvious problems to be solved typically concern what is represented. In Autumn Foliage we confront a small but vibrant mass of fiery color, but even without reference to the title we easily experience the work as a landscape. We see it as the red and yellow autumn foliage of eastern hardwoods against a background of blackish blue water, distant stands of 198 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION Illustration 8 Autumn Foliage, by Tom Thomson (1916) (Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). dark conifers, and an almost turquoise fall sky. Such realizations come almost without effort to any appreciator familiar with early twentieth-century painting. However, even relatively simple representational works pose further problems that offer the imagination somewhat more exercise, typically questions concerning how and why the work is executed as it is and what the appreciative consequences are of the particular execution. For example, if we consider the question of the significance AESTHETICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 199 of Thomson’s dimensions, imaginative contemplation rewards us with the realization of the extent to which its small size contributes to its power. Its borders confine the fiery mass of color such that it struggles to escape from the surface, and we experience a work that glows and flares like embers enclosed in a pressurized chamber. To be or not to be: Hamlet and Tolstoy In contrast to art forms such as representational painting, works of architecture typically pose some larger if not deeper questions. Perhaps the most basic of these is captured by the opening line of Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy: “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”3 Hamlet’s question is whether it might not be better —“nobler in the mind”—not to exist, and this is a question that seldom arises when we view conventional works of art. It is difficult to imagine a work such as Autumn Foliage posing such a question concerning its existence. Of course, this is in part because Autumn Foliage is a small masterpiece and as such seems to fully justify its own existence. However, even were this not the case, the question does not easily arise for such works. Perhaps this is for reasons similar to those that apparently move Hamlet toward the conclusion that it is better to be. The alternative, to die, is to be no more, or worse, and “there’s the rub,” to suffer other ills “that we know not of”—the fact that the alternative is unknown “does make cowards of us all.”4 Similarly, as we contemplate Autumn Foliage, even were it not a masterpiece, it would yet be the case that were it not there, we would contemplate only the blank wall of the gallery or worse some other work that we know not of. Apparently, with such art forms, the question of existence arises only if the work is so bad that almost anything else, even a blank wall, would yield a better aesthetic experience. Concerning architecture, however, Hamlet’s question is very much alive. Consider Philip Johnson’s American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) Building, monumental, granite clad, standing boldly on the street edge, and capped with what has been called a “Chippendale highboy top.”5 As we contemplate it, even if we believe it a masterpiece, we cannot help but consider the question of its existence; it is forced upon us. We ask ourselves: Might it not have beeen better for this not to have existed? Might it not have been better for the place, for the skyline, for the city, for the world? Such questions are forcefully posed by the building itself, but not simply because of the work’s monumental size or its controversial postmodern style. With architecture such questions are posed in part because, unlike with either Autumn Foliage or Hamlet, the alternatives to a work’s existence are typically not either nothing or the unknown. Had the Johnson AT&T Building not been constructed, there would not have been nothing, there would not have been a blank space analogous to a blank wall. Rather there would have been another work, either the previous building or a different work of architecture, or if not that, then at least the lot or the city block with its own aesthetic features. Moreover, such alternatives are not unknown; in contemplating them we are not in a position analogous to contemplating what death might hold or what might go on the blank gallery wall. 200 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION Ilustration 9 The AT&T Building, by Philip Johnson/John Burgee (1980–83), New York City (Courtesy of American Telephone and Telegraph). We can know exactly what the previous building was like, know roughly what the city block would be like, and have a good idea of what kind of alternative architectural work might have existed had the one we confront not existed. AESTHETICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 201 Whether or not the question of its own existence is posed by a work of art has significant ramifications concerning its appreciation. Once the question is broached, attempting to answer it brings realizations that are central to our aesthetic experience of the work. However, if a work does not pose the question, then this is not the case. In appreciating Autumn Foliage it is appropriate to consider whether or not the work might have been improved by a somewhat less turquoise sky. Such consideration can bring us to the realization that the turquoise is just what is wanted. A stronger blue would have not only been less true to a northern autumn sky, but also contrasted too much with the fiery reds and yellows, and thus would have resulted in a less subtle work. Such realizations enhance our appreciation of the work and are a central part of it. In contrast, considering whether it might not be better for Autumn Foliage not to exist and therefore to contemplate the blank wall of the gallery or have its space on the wall filled with, say, Guernica (1937) is quite irrelevant to our appreciation of the work, if not just absurd or at least aesthetically perverse. Such consideration is not a proper part of our appreciation of that work; it is rather just one kind of lack of attention to it. As noted, a work such as Autumn Foliage would pose the question of its existence only if it were excruciatingly bad, and in that case perhaps lack of attention is the proper response; but this is yet lack of attention to the work, not a part of its appreciation. We can, of course, consider the AT&T Building’s Chippendale top in the same way we consider Autumn Foliage’s turquoise sky, asking, for example, if perhaps a domed top or a simple flat top might not have been better. Doing so brings realizations that enhance our appreciation of that work and are a proper part of that appreciation. However, unlike Autumn Foliage, the AT&T Building forces Hamlet’s question upon us and thus opens the door to another level of aesthetically relevant consideration. As we contemplate the work, we ask ourselves what if, for example, Johnson had not created it, but instead of it another modernist skyscraper, such as the classic Seagram Building, which he earlier collaborated on with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. We imaginatively consider the alternative aesthetic effect that such a clean and crisp, glass and steel structure might have had and the ways in which it might have blended rather than contrasted with a skyline dominated by similar structures. Since the AT&T Building itself poses the question of its existence, such consideration of alternatives to its existence are a proper and central part of its aesthetic appreciation. Moreover, the same is true of our consideration not only of alternatives to its existence, but also of its simple nonexistence. This is easier to see concerning works in natural landscapes. Consider Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous houses such as Falling Water and Taliesin West.6 The former grows out of a rocky Pennsylvania ravine scattered with poplar and birch while the latter sprawls across a stretch of Arizona desert dotted with sagebrush and cactus. In each case the work candidly asks us to consider the fact of its existence, and thus our experience of the work rightly involves imaginative contemplation of the landscape without the work. And this contemplation is a central and proper part of our appreciation of the work; such appreciation is typically deepened and enriched by the realizations it initiates. 202 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION The central place of the question of existence in the appreciation of architecture raises concerns about how to address it. As noted, the realizations gained from attempting to answer it are as significant as are those gained from answering questions about features more internal to the work, such as questions about the rightness of Autumn Foliage’s turquoise sky or of AT&T’s Chippendale top. This in turn suggests that the appreciation of architecture is necessarily a more broadly based and less insular experience than is the appreciation of some other art forms. The borders between architecture and the world in general and the world’s aesthetic issues and its ethical, social, political, and even economic issues are not as hard and fast as are those between, say, landscape painting and such issues. Moreover, given the central place of the question of existence in the appreciation of architecture, it seems that there should be some core idea in terms of which to answer it. But finding this idea initially appears exceedingly difficult in light of the lack of hard and fast borders between architecture and the concerns of the world in general. In short, many more kinds of consideration seem relevant to the question of the rightness of the AT&T’s existence than to the question of the rightness of Autumn Foliage’s turquoise sky. But in addressing the former question not absolutely everything can be given attention and it is difficult to see what should be deemed essential. Concerning this issue, it is illuminating to consider a classic discussion in which Hamlet’s question is asked about art in general. In one of the most remarkable passages in the history of aesthetics, Tolstoy launches an aggressive attack on art, calling on it to justify its own existence.7 His prime example is a work somewhat comparable to a work of architecture such as the AT&T Building in that it has monumental size and involves extensive utilization of resources; it is an opera that Tolstoy describes as “one of the most gigantic absurdities that could possibly be devised.”8 He directly challenges the existence of such works, asking for what purpose and for whom are they created. Moreover, his concern is not simply with large and imposing works but with art in general; it focuses on the idea that for “the production of every ballet, circus, opera, operetta, exhibition, picture, concert, or printed book, the intense and unwilling labor of thousands of people is needed at what is often harmful and humiliating work.”9 Of course, work in the present-day designing and building disciplines and trades is probably not comparable to the labor of workers in Tolstoy’s Russia, but it is yet possible to motivate the question of existence posed by architecture in a way somewhat reminiscent of Tolstoy. And this is not surprising in light of the previously noted openness in the borders between architecture and the world at large. What is especially relevant to architecture, however, is Tolstoy’s approach to answering the question of existence. He recognizes that what is needed is, as noted above, some core idea that can determine, given Tolstoy’s interests, “what is good, useful art—art for the sake of which we might condone such sacrifices as are being offered at its shrine.”10 And significantly he finds his answer by casting the question in functional terms, asking “for what and for whom” does art exist and then providing a theory of art that gives art a functional role in human life. As is well known, in Tolstoy’s theory of art, real, noncounterfeit art—the only art that should AESTHETICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 203 exist—has the function of communicating feelings between people, and “good, useful art” is the art that unites humankind by communicating feelings of love. We need not, of course, accept Tolstoy’s whole theory of art to find relevance in his general line of thought concerning the question of existence. The relevance is in the realization that it is necessary to cast our question and its answer in functional terms. And although doing this would require a functional theory such as Tolstoy’s were we interested in art in general, since our concern is only with architecture, it does not. This is because, unlike many art forms, architecture is by its nature a functional art. Thus, when Hamlet’s question is posed by works of architecture, Tolstoy’s implicit answer is to emphasize, rather than ignore, their functionality. I return to this answer, but first it is useful to expand and deepen the question to which it is addressed. Here I stand: to fit or not to fit If Hamlet’s question is an apt way to indicate the first challenge offered by works of architecture, a second can perhaps be marked by Martin Luther’s famous affirmation of his faith. In 1521 at his second hearing at Worms, Luther, accused of heresy and threatened with excommunication and death, is reported to have concluded his defense with these words: “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.”11 Luther, of course, was defending a theological position, but it is the way in which he did so that is evocative. This affirmation of his position has a firmness and finality that suggests the firmness and finality with which works of architecture, especially large and massive works such as the AT&T, occupy their physical positions. The AT&T Building, as noted, is monumental in size, encased in granite, and stands boldly at the street edge. It is not set back and it is not light; it is imposing and solid. With only a little imagination it is difficult not to perceive it as strongly affirming its physical position, as an exemplification of “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” But, of course, a powerful affirmation always offers the challenge of whether or not this is how it should be, or, in this kind of case, where it should be. Thus, the second question posed by works of architecture elaborates the first. They pose not only the question of to be or not to be, but also that of to be or not to be here? The “here I stand” question is most obviously raised by works such as the AT&T, works of size and of imposing nature, especially skyscrapers, office towers, and large luxury hotels. For example, modernist towers such as the Seagram Building, the Union Carbide Building, and the Chase Manhattan Bank each pose the question on the skyline of New York City.12 In a similar way, the affirmation is made by cathedrals and temples, castles and capital buildings. Notre Dame de Paris, the Parthenon, the monastery of Mont St. Michel, and any decent US state capital building each in its own way proclaims “Here I stand.” However, it would be a mistake to think that this issue is raised only by substantial structures directly proclaiming their own “hereness.” Wright’s Falling Water raises the question in virtue of how it is built into its site, embodying a design absolutely dependent on 204 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION that site. Likewise, at Taliesin West, features that are cited as evidence of Wright’s so-called “organic” style—such as the use of natural materials, the rough finish of the timbers, and the way the structure sits on its stepped site—each give the work a special relationship to that particular site, a relationship underscoring the importance of where it is. Other kinds of works pose the question of their location in yet other ways. Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye perches on the landscape, poised and alert, like an alien object, the tenuousness of its relationship to its site not so much making a proclamation as directly asking the question. It seems to say not “Here I stand” but something like: “Why am I here?”13 Concerning a work’s location, the comparison with other art forms is again illuminating. A painting such as Autumn Foliage has, of course, a location. As a physical object, it must be in some place or other. But as a work of art, it does not raise the issue of its location, it does not proclaim, or pose the question of, where it is. Calling its location a site would be at best misleading and considering the work in its location, whatever that is, is not a part of its appropriate appreciation. Of course, in attempting to appreciate such a work we may be forced to consider its location, if, for instance, it detracts from the work, say, with noise or poor lighting or conflicting color. But such consideration, and the realizations arising from it, are not proper parts of our appreciation of that work, but rather only distractions from it. The only relevance such consideration might have to the appreciation of the work would be in ways such as initiating moving the work to a “neutral” location and thereby making its full appreciation possible. However, there is one sense in which works such as Autumn Foliage have a proper place or “site.” This particular work is located on a wall in the National Gallery of Canada, in one of the rooms of early Group of Seven and related paintings, alongside a number of other small Tom Thomson landscapes; and this is a, if not the, proper place for it to be. But, although this placement of Autumn Foliage may be proper and may even contribute to its appreciation, this does not make its actual physical location directly relevant to that appreciation. Its physical location indicates its proper conceptual and art-historical placement and it is the realization of the latter, not the former, that is a proper part of its appropriate appreciation. Not all works of art, however, are location independent in the sense exemplified by paintings such as Autumn Foliage, and it is revealing concerning architecture to consider some art forms said to be “site specific.” Site specificness is claimed to be a feature of some large sculptural works, of most earthworks, and of what are called placement pieces. Consider Richard Serra’s controversial Tilted Arc (1983), a 12 by 120 foot curved sheet of oxidized steel cutting across a public plaza.14 Reaction to the piece resulted in a hearing concerning whether or not to relocate it. In defense of his piece, Serra claimed: “I don’t make works that can be relocated or site adjusted. I make works that deal with the environmental components of given places. The scale, size, and location of my site-specific works are determined by the topography of the site.” He concluded: “My works become part of and are built into the structure of the site… To remove Tilted Arc, therefore, would be to destroy it.”15 Indeed, in the hearing the relationship of the Arc to the plaza was compared to AESTHETICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 205 that of a painting to, not “its” wall, but its canvas. As noted in Chapter 10, similar claims are made for earthworks and other placement pieces. For example, in reviewing classic works such as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) and Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (1969–71) and Complex One (1972–76), Elizabeth Baker, editor of Art in America, points out that the sites of such works “become places as vivid as the works themselves—they become concertized, identifiable, specific locales” and that therefore the “appearance of that place becomes a part of the content of the work” to such an extent that the works “are not only inseparable from their sites—they are not really definable at all apart from them.”16 If such works are “part of the structure of the site” and the site is “part of the content of the work,” there are important consequences concerning aesthetic appreciation. It means that to appreciate the work itself is to appreciate its location, that is, to come to realizations about the relationship, the fit, as it were, between the part of the work the artist has added and the part of the work that is the site of that addition. In short, to appreciate such a work is to appreciate its fit, coming to realizations about whether or not it fits and, if it fits, how it fits. For example, concerning Heizer’s monumental desert work, Complex One, Baker records the following realizations: The frontality of Complex One can be seen as projecting a curiously pictorializing effect on a portion of the landscape: it is not just that the presence of the piece re-presents or differentiates this particular place; it is also that as a distant, planar picturelike entity the work tends to crystallize and make a panorama of a certain lateral sweep of land that frames the frame of the piece.17 In a somewhat similar manner, essentially involved in the dispute over Tilted Arc was the realization that the additions involved in Serra’s works “often restructure, both conceptually and perceptually, the organization of the site.”18 In appreciating Tilted Arc, viewers came to the realization that part of what the work does is “to alter and dislocate the decorative function of the plaza, to redefine the space, to change the viewer’s experience of that plaza.”19 In fact much of the objection to the work was based on this realization and the opinion that this was essentially “to destroy the plaza’s original artistic concept.”20 In short, some viewers appreciated the work, including the fit of the arc with its location, and they did not like that fit. It is not clear that works of architecture relate to their locations in the very strong way in which works such as Tilted Arc and Complex One do. It seems that the location of a work of architecture is not always, in any case, “part of the content of the work.” Nonetheless, works of architecture are certainly closer to these kinds of works than they are to works such as Autumn Foliage, and thus the way in which the former kinds of works are appropriately appreciated is illuminating concerning architecture. Thus, in appreciating architectural works we must appreciate the relationship of the structure to its site as a part of the total experience. The fact that works of architecture pose the “Here I stand” issue is in itself sufficient to make the 206 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION fit of a work to its site a central feature of its proper appreciation. Nowhere is this clearer than with works such as Wright’s “organic” style houses. Taliesin West “differentiates,” “represents,” and “crystallizes” its desert landscape site in a way remarkably similar to that which Baker attributes to Heizer’s Complex One. And the relationship between Falling Water and its ravine is as intimate as that between any earthwork and its site. Architect and historian Kenneth Frampton says of Falling Water: “Its fusion with the landscape is total, for…nature permeates the structure at every turn.”21 Here one is tempted by the claim that the ravine is indeed part of the work, but even if that does not withstand scrutiny, it is yet obvious that we do not fully appreciate, if appreciate at all, the work of art called Falling Water unless we appreciate the rocky treed ravine and the way in which the structure is designed for and built into it. Here the fit of building and site is an essential, if not the essential, dimension of the work. It is a long way, however, from Falling Water to modernist towers such as the Seagram Building, the Union Carbide Building, and the Chase Manhattan Bank. Although such structures clearly raise the question of their location, it is initially less clear that their proper appreciation involves the appreciation of their fit with their sites. Perhaps they are after all more like Autumn Foliage than like Falling Water. However, the flaw in this view is made clear by further comparison with examples such as Complex One and Tilted Arc. Each in its own way demonstrates a different facet of the proper appreciation of such structures. On the one hand, much as does Complex One, and, for that matter, Taliesin West, a tower such as the Seagram Building “differentiates,” “represents,” and “crystallizes” its site. This was especially evident when this particular work was constructed in 1958: it was Mies van der Rohe’s first New York building and, with 38 stories of glistening bronze and brown glass, the largest of its type in the world. And it was set back 90 feet from the line of the street, both as a way of creating a plaza on the site and, it is said, “as a complement to the 1817 Racquets Club by McKim, Mead and White on the other side of Park Avenue.”22 On the other hand, although some of Seagram’s “crystallization” of and “differentiating” fit with its site may be in this way positive, this is not essential for fit to yet be a proper part of a work’s appreciation. As Tilted Arc demonstrates, some of a work’s fit with its site may be, or at least may be regarded by many appreciators to be, dislocating and even destructive. Some would contend that this is the kind of relationship that many modernist towers have to their sites. To pursue the issue of a less positive or at least more controversial fit between work and site, however, it is more illuminating to consider postmodern architecture. Although the so-called postmodern movement seemingly embraces any departure from the modernist tradition, it is said by RobertA. M. Stern to involve three main features: historical allusion, ornamentation, and contextualism.23 Of these three, exclusive attention to the first two is sometimes termed postmodernism of reaction and a focus on the last, postmodernism of resistance.24 Frampton calls the latter “critical regionalism,” for it stresses not only the immediate context, the site, but also local architectural forms, building techniques, and topography and AESTHETICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 207 even relevant cultural, social, and political factors.25 By contrast, postmodernism of reaction seemingly emphasizes historical illusion and ornamentation almost at the expense of all else. A case illustrating both sides of postmodernism is that of the Johnson and John Burgee New England Life Building on Boston’s Boylston Street. This structure, an example of postmodernism of reaction, has been described as “the party crasher on this block,” an “arrogant intruder in the cityscape,” and a “Jukeboxlike” tower with “arched windows, urns, columns, a formal forecourt and all manner of elements that show that its designers flipped through the history books.”26 The design caused such a public outcry that a second matching tower was canceled and its site given to Stern. In contrast to the Johnson and Burgee building, Stern’s tower, it is said, “is designed for this site and for this site alone, its details recall the elements that make the older buildings of this neighborhood special, and its overall form takes into account the larger urban design needs of the entire neighborhood.”27 The Stern building, a case of postmodernism of resistance, is “molded so specifically to the demands of this particular site” and “weaves so comfortably into the Boston streetscape” that it is claimed to “save” the overall site.28 In light of the distinction between postmodernism of resistance and postmodernism of reaction, it seems clear that the former, in addition to being perhaps the more promising direction for postmodern architecture to take, presents no new difficulties concerning the importance of appreciating the fit between work and site in the appreciation of architecture. The careful attention to site given by the works such as the Boston Stern building makes them comparable in mode of appreciation to works such as Taliesin West and Falling Water. In contrast, however, postmodernism of reaction, as noted, seemingly emphasizes historical illusion and ornamentation to the exclusion of everything else and thus presents a serious challenge to the importance of fit in the appreciation of architecture. Less extreme examples of this side of the movement, such as the AT&T, can perhaps be treated on the model of Tilted Arc. For example, in creating the AT&T, Johnson is said to have been attempting to “counter” some of “the anonymity and muteness” of the site, which he attributed to the surrounding modernist towers, including his own Seagram tower. And thus the relationship of the work to the site can be seen as involving “irony, frivolity, or calculated shock value.”29 It certainly is an attempt, as is Tilted Arc, to “restructure, both conceptually and perceptually, the organization of the site,” although perhaps more a humorous than a destructive attempt. One author refers to the AT&T as “a standup joke.”30 Other more eclectic and more solemn works of postmodernism of reaction, such as certain classic creations by Robert Venturi and Michael Graves, pose more of a problem. Extreme examples, such as the Johnson and Burgee, have been criticized as “historical gamesmanship,” “do-it-yourself history,” and “Disneyland Classicism” that leaves one “floundering between kitsch…and a nostalgia for past grandeur.”31 In such cases what sense can be made of the aesthetic appreciation of the fit of the work with its site? It seems there are two alternatives. On the one hand, as suggested above with the AT&T, we can push the analogy with Tilted Arc as far as possible, 208 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION experiencing exactly how such structures “restructure,” “dislocate,” “deconstruct,” and even “destroy” their sites as a part of our appreciation of the work. After all, “party crashers” or “arrogant intruders” nonetheless have relationships, and often very interesting ones, with those on whom they crash or intrude. On the other hand, if a work of postmodernism of reaction really has no fit with its site, positive or negative, if its “fit” with where it stands really is comparable to Autumn Foliage’s “fit” with its wall, then a more extreme alternative suggests itself. This is to deny such a work the status of the art form of architecture, to demote it, as it were, to simply a decorated building. This is suggested by some. For example, architect Romaldo Giurgola speaks against “impositions on the site” contending that the “making of clear connections with a cultural past and present is very different from the sophisticated playing” that “passes for architecture today” and is that in terms of which “a building becomes true architecture.”32 Others echo such sentiments, concluding that it “takes a creative act, not clever cannibalism, to turn a building into art.”33 However, I suggest that rather than endorsing this radical alternative, it is more fruitful to pursue the fit of works of architecture in another way. Form follows function and fit follows function Concerning the two previously discussed challenges posed by works of architecture, the issue of existence and the issue of location, together with the auxiliary question of fit, we considered as examples either modernist or postmodern office towers and certain works by Frank Lloyd Wright. Thus, it is fitting that a third challenge be introduced by reference to Louis Sullivan, for Sullivan is sometimes credited with the first significant instantiations of, if not the invention of, the high-rise office building, and Wright was his most famous apprentice. In “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered,” Sullivan wrote that “the shape, form, outward expression, design or whatever we may choose, of the tall office building should in the very nature of things follow the functions of the building.” This is because: It is the pervading law of all things…,of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law… And thus, when native instinct and sensibility shall govern the exercise of our beloved art; when the known law, the respected law, shall be that form ever follows function; then it may be proclaimed that we are on the highroad to a natural and satisfying art, an architecture that will soon become a fine art in the true, best sense of the word, an art that will live because it will be of the people, for the people, and by the people.34 Sullivan’s remarks dramatically proclaim that architecture is by its nature a functional art, and thus they remind us of the most obvious question posed by any work of architecture: the question of what its function is, what does it do? Moreover, the slogan “form follows function” sums up the significance of this AESTHETICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 209 question, which is that, as Sullivan put it, “the shape, form, outward expression, design or whatever we may choose,” of a work of architecture should follow the functions of the work. Thus, although Sullivan himself was apparently of minor influence in the architectural developments that followed him, his words yet capture both the nature of architecture as an art form and the ideas that have dominated the art in the twentieth century. Not only are these ideas evident in works such as those of Wright and others directly influenced by Sullivan, but they illuminate the whole of the modernist movement, noted for its so-called “functionalist” buildings. For example, Sullivan’s ideas are given concert expression by Mies van der Rohe: The office building is a house of work…of organization, of clarity, of economy. Bright, wide, workrooms, easy to oversee, undivided except as the undertaking is divided. The maximum effect with the minimum expenditure of means. The materials are concrete, iron, glass.”35 And although Le Corbusier claimed that architecture goes beyond mere needs, he is more closely associated with the idea that the house is “a machine for living in.”36 Even postmodernism does not escape the themes to which Sullivan gave voice. In the design of the AT&T, Johnson returns to the tripartite division of base, shaft, and capital that Sullivan first justified on the grounds that outer form must reflect inner function.37 As with the other questions raised by works of architecture, the question of function is illuminated by comparison with different art forms. When we confront Autumn Foliage we do not ask what its function is, nor does it pose the question, for in an important sense such a work has no function. Of course, if we hold a theory of art such as Tolstoy’s, then we might ask a question about a particular work’s function as a way of asking about the function, if any, of art in general. Alternatively, if we are unclear about the exact nature of the kind of art we confront, then we might ask about the work’s function as a way of asking what it does as a work of art—for example, whether or not it is representational and if so, what it represents. But aside from these kinds of questions, the question of the particular function of Autumn Foliage has no place in our appreciation of that work. By contrast, the question of the particular function of a work such as Falling Water or the AT&T is both posed by the work and relevant to our appreciation of it. It is essential in our appreciation of a work of architecture to come to the correct realizations about what it does—to know whether it is an office building or a temple, a fortress or a cathedral, a house or a mausoleum, all of which, it is worth noting, are functional categories. Moreover, here architecture differs not only from works such as Autumn Foliage but also from the earthworks and placement pieces with which it seemingly has much in common. Although works such as Complex One and Tilted Arc may raise the question of existence and certainly pose questions about their location and fit, they do not have a particular function any more than does Autumn Foliage. 210 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION There are, however, other art forms that are more functional in nature. Especially relevant to architecture is what might be thought of as its poor cousin: the public monument. Consider the statues of generals or the World War I (WWI) and II memorials that adorn many city parks; or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.38 We may wish to withhold the term “work of art” from some of such pieces, but in many cases that would be a mistake and certainly so with the latter work. Of many of such works, especially some of the rather abstract WWI pieces, we appropriately ask questions concerning function as we might ask of Autumn Foliage, for example, questions about whether or not it is representational and if so, what it represents. However, unlike Autumn Foliage or even earthworks and placement pieces, a monument poses another question of function, one that is not about what it is or does as a work of art, but rather about what it does in addition to being and acting as art. In addressing this question we typically consider what war, battle, action, or individuals the piece commemorates, why it does so, and so on; in short, we are concerned with what cultural, social, or political functions the monument has. And the realization of these kinds of functions is a vital part of our appreciation of the piece. Without such realizations when appreciating, for example, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial we experience only a dark wall with a lot of names on it, and our appreciation is accordingly both impoverished and inappropriate. Here both comparison and contrast with architecture is useful. In comparison, these works bring out clearly the way in which our complete experience of works of architecture is dependent upon our appreciation of the functions they have independent of being and acting as art, what might be termed their nonartistic functions. This is not surprising in light of the above-noted openness in the borders between architecture and rest of the world. More illuminating, however, is the contrast between monuments and memorial pieces and works of architecture. The key difference concerns the nature of the nonartistic functions and the means by which they are carried out. Monuments and memorials serve functions such as commemorating, honoring, venerating, and glorifying; their purposes are to inform, remind, induce, and inspire. Consequently, such pieces carry out their functions straightforwardly and on their surfaces, and typically in a direct representational or symbolic manner. The general with horse and sword or the black granite face of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with its 58, 132 inscribed names each directly denotes a particular war and those who served and sacrificed in it. There is nothing hidden, no other way in which or other place where the function is actually carried out, no alternative mechanism by which or inner place in which the real work is done. Thus, with such works there is no need to insist that form should follow function; typically the form itself is what carries out the function—function is embodied in form. However, works of architecture serve other kinds of nonartistic functions; they protect, shelter, and comfort, providing places in which to live, work, and worship. Given the nature of such functions, they must typically be carried out literally rather than simply symbolically. Even if a cathedral symbolizes the glory and the power of God, it must still be a house of, and thereby provide a place in which to, worship. This fact about AESTHETICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 211 the nature of the functions of architecture in turn explains the importance of the insistence that concerning architecture form should follow function. This is because when form does not directly embody function, as it does in the symbolic case, then it is seemingly possible for form to not follow function, but to, as it were, go its own way. And this possibility is accentuated by a second significant feature of architecture’s functional nature, which is related to the way in which works of architecture, in contrast to monuments, typically carry out their functions: works of architecture have insides. The fact that works of architecture, unlike almost any other works of art, have, by their natures, insides, inner space as well as outer place, seemingly follows directly from their functionality and the particular kinds of functions they perform, for such functions are typically performed inside the works. In fact, if a structure has no inside either because it has no function of the relevant kind, such as with most artistic earthworks or because its function is carried out exclusively on its outside, as with some Central American temple mounds, it is somewhat difficult to see the structure as a work of architecture at all. This “insidedness” of architecture means that, as an auxiliary question to that of function, works of architecture pose the question of the nature of their inner space. And unlike any of the other previously considered art forms, realizations about the insides of works of architecture are a significant dimension of their appreciation. We may speculate about what the inside of Complex One or even, with more difficulty, of Autumn Foliage is like or about what it looks like, but such speculation is not a significant part, if a part at all, of our proper appreciation of such works. However, realizations about, and if possible the direct experience of, the inside of, for example, Falling Water is an essential part of its proper appreciation. It is not surprising that books on architecture have diagrams and illustrations of the insides of structures as well as of their outsides. Nor is it surprising that there is something essentially frustrating about appreciating the exterior of, for example, a cathedral or a small country church and then discovering that it is locked, that we are barred from appreciating the inside—and thus unable to complete our appreciation of the work. The appreciative significance of the “insidedness” of works of architecture has two related ramifications. First, it further elaborates the importance of “form follows function”; it makes explicit that this slogan typically spans the gap, as it were, between inside and outside, for, as noted, although function is typically carried out inside a work, much of its most appreciable form is outside. Second, it raises a further question of fit in the appreciation of architecture. In addition to the issue of the fit of the work with its site, there is also that of the fit of the inside of the work with its outside. The upshot of these two ramifications is that the question of fit is really a question of a three-way fit, among inside, outside, and site, and, since much of the fit is accomplished by form, this larger question of fit may be characterized as whether or not fit follows function.39 Some examples illuminate aspects of this larger question. We previously considered cases of lack of fit between the outside of an architectural work and its site, such as with certain postmodern buildings. There are similar examples of lack of fit between outside and functional inside, and the most 212 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION dramatic kinds of cases are the most revealing. Consider the disconcerting experience of entering an old city-center post office or a grand railroad station only to find that it has been gutted and filled with trendy new boutiques and restaurants. Such expediencies may be necessary to save the “building,” but what is saved is only the shell, half a work of architecture that can no longer be fully appreciated due to the lack of any real fit between the outside and the functional inside. An equally disconcerting but in a sense reverse experience can be had in the National Gallery of Canada, where deep inside, surrounded by rooms of Canadian and international paintings, one can enter and appreciate the complete and completely intact interior of Ottawa’s old Rideau Street Convent Chapel. This is the egg without the shell. Function, location, existence: the path of appreciation In the preceding three sections, we considered three challenges posed by works of architecture but not typically by other art forms: the question of existence, the question of location, and the question of function. Each requires us to come to realizations about and to thus make appreciable a certain dimension of works of architecture: the first, the very existence of the work, the second, the fit of the work with its site, and the third, the fit of the site and the outside of the work with its functional inside. The conclusions of these three sections can now be brought together to outline a general way of meeting these challenges. In the first section, the discussion of Tolstoy’s concerns about art suggests that the core idea necessary for addressing the question of existence involves the functional nature of architecture. This suggestion is elaborated and reinforced in the following two sections. In the second section, the question of existence—to be or not to be—is expanded and deepened to that of to be or not to be here, and thus it is aligned with the question of fit. In the third section, the issue of fit is similarly expanded and deepened into a three-way fit, and the idea that form must follow function is developed so as to suggest that fit must follow function. The upshot is a proposition that Tolstoy, Sullivan, and others would have endorsed: that the functionality of works of architecture is the key to all three concerns. In short, realizations about the function of a work of architecture are among the most significant means by which to make appreciable, first, the fit of the inside of the work with its outside, second, the fit of the work to its site, and, last, the very existence of the work. Demonstrating how the appeal to the function of a work of architecture facilitates the appreciation of its three-way fit and its existence is relatively easy with works such as Falling Water. Perhaps this is because Falling Water is the creation of Wright, who, as a disciple of Sullivan, apparently designed the work such that, in Sullivan’s words, “the shape, form, outward expression, design or whatever we may choose” follows the function of the building. Thus, it is easily and straightforwardly appreciable in light of its function. After all, Falling Water is a weekend “cottage,” a place for a leisurely retreat, for a return to nature. From this function its causal yet intimate blending of inner and outer spaces, its “almost total fusion” with the natural rocky and wooded site, and its very existence on that site in the first place all AESTHETICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 213 follow smoothly. Moreover, it is not surprising that many twentieth-century modernist works lend themselves to a similar treatment, as do classic earlier works, especially the religious and public buildings that make up much of the history of architecture. However, works that strongly confront us with their existence and their apparent lack of fit, such as some of the postmodern towers considered previously, are more difficult cases. As noted, Johnson’s AT&T Building leaves us pondering the desirability of its existence and, as we saw at the end of the third section of this chapter, buildings of the postmodernism of reaction, such as Johnson’s and Burgee’s New England Life Building, leave many observers pondering their status as works of the art of architecture. To establish the importance of function concerning such hard cases, consideration of another postmodern work is worthwhile. Especially illuminating is Michael Grave’s fortress-like Portland Building.40 Even more so than some other postmodern structures, this work has been questioned concerning both its existence and its status as architecture.41 Initially the building strikes many observers as fantastical, if not preposterous. Along with other flamboyant features, it was designed to have two multistoried rectangular, false columns on the main facades, a representational sculpture, Portlandia, over the main entry, and numerous garlands adorning the side facades. In such a case, the appeal to function may not make the work more appreciable on all counts. However, it does somewhat enhance our appreciation to know that the structure is the Portland City Public Services Building. This realization helps us to appreciate, in light of the building’s overall function, the role of the above-mentioned seemingly self-indulgent features. Thus, for example, we come to appreciate the columns as an invocation of public gates, the sculpture as a reinterpretation of a motif on the city seal, and the garlands as traditional symbols of welcome. In short, although the realization of function may not address all aspects of such cases, it yet appears to deepen and enrich appreciation of even the most difficult examples. And in the last analysis, approaching works in this way is perhaps more fruitful than attempting to exclude them from the art of architecture. In light of these observations, it is now possible to draw some very general conclusions about the appropriate aesthetic appreciation of works of architecture: to outline in a general way what might be called the path of appreciation for a work of architecture; and in doing so, hopefully to shed some light on some of those things that are especially rewarding in the appreciation of architecture. Consider the following scenario. We confront a particular work; it proclaims “Here I stand,” posing for us the three challenges of its existence, its location, and its function. It calls on us to consider, as it were, why is it standing at all, why is it standing here, and what is it, quite literally, doing here? A significant and proper part of our appropriate appreciation of it, therefore, must involve coming to realizations that will answer these questions, solve these problems. However, we cannot address these questions as we might address the questions posed by a work such as Autumn Foliage, that is, by responding to “Here I stand” with the naive question “Where do I stand?” and after determining the right spot proceeding to contemplate the work 214 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION from that spot. Basically this is because, if what has been previously noted is correct, the key to all three questions posed by a work of architecture is the answer to the last, the question of its function. And the function of a work of architecture is not readily and straightforwardly, if at all, realizable by simply contemplating the work from a particular spot in front of it. That the function of a work of architecture is not typically easily realizable simply by static contemplation relates to a number of the features of architecture noted in the preceding sections. For example, given that appreciation of architecture is not an insular experience and that a work’s function is typically nonartistic, the function of the work is unlikely to be found simply in its contemplation. In this sense the function of architecture is unlike the function Tolstoy attributes to art in general. It is not a function that acts directly on the appreciator, and thus it is not realizable by simple static contemplation of the work by the appreciator. Rather it is the kind of function that the appreciator must realize by experiencing the function itself. Moreover, it is not completely adequate simply to know the function of the work and to contemplate it in light of that knowledge. Aesthetic appreciation involves realizations achieved in experiencing the work: to appropriately appreciate Autumn Foliage it is not sufficient to simply know that it is a representational work and what it represents; rather this knowledge must be essentially involved in our experience of it. Similarly, with architecture our realizations about the function of a work must be involved in our experience of it. Thus, it is not in fact sufficient just to know that a structure is, for example, a cathedral in order for its functionality to fully facilitate our appreciation of it as a work of architecture. Ideally, appropriate appreciation would involve the realization of its religious function by direct experience of that function in action, for instance, by experiencing, although not necessarily taking part in, a mass within the cathedral itself. However, the main reason that the function of a work of architecture is not easily realizable by static contemplation is not simply that its function is nonartistic in nature nor that its function must be experienced in action. Rather it is that this nonartistic action normally takes place within the structure. The function of a work is typically performed and thus typically experienced inside the work. It follows that the appreciation of architecture is ideally a process, a path of appreciation that leads to the experience of the function inside the work. Such appreciation is in this way somewhat similar to the appreciation of a literary or dramatic thriller or to the appreciation of a symphony, each of which leads to a climax. Perhaps this is why architecture is sometimes called frozen music. However, with architecture the path of appreciation is not as fully specified by the work as it is in the case of these other art forms. Rather appreciators must make their own way from the initial confrontation with the work to the experience of the work’s inner function. Typically, appreciators move from the outside to the inside: first, approaching the work from a distance, second, closing with it and perhaps circling it, and, only last, entering the work. And in one sense this is the natural path of appreciation in that on confrontation with a work the questions of existence, location, and function logically arise in that order. Thus, in approaching, we experience a work’s existence, AESTHETICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 215 in closing and circling, we experience its outer form and its fit with its site, and, lastly, upon entering, we experience the fit between its outer and inner space and experientially realize its function. As with the thriller or the symphony, the climax comes near the end of the path of appreciation. There is, however, a further complication concerning architecture’s path of appreciation, somewhat of a paradox that contributes to the special nature and richness of the aesthetic experience of works of architecture. It is that although on confrontation with a work the questions of its existence, location, and function naturally arise in that particular order, in our experience of the work the key realizations for addressing these questions—that is, those realizations concerning its function—typically come last. As noted, the physical path of appreciation typically runs from outside to inside. Thus, while the physical path flows in one direction, the path of appreciative application of the realizations gained from following that physical path flows in the opposite direction. This latter path, in one sense the real path of appreciation, involves a series of realizations running from the work’s function back to, one after the other, the fit of its inner with its outer space, the fit of the work with its site, and, lastly, the very existence of the work. In short, the aesthetic appreciation of a work of architecture is an experiential process that is not only not completed until the end is reached, but also not completed until that end is read back into the whole process such that the overall experience is thereby deepened, enriched, and completed. This kind of convoluted and somewhat selfreflective mode of aesthetic appreciation, although not unique to the experience of architecture, is a facet of what makes such experience especially rewarding. Notes 1 I do not defend this notion of aesthetic appreciation here, but see my “Appreciating Art and Appreciating Nature,” in Salim Kemal and Ivan Gaskell (eds) Landscape, Natural Beauty and the Arts, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 199– 227 (reproduced in this volume, Chapter 7) and “Between Nature and Art” (in this volume, Chapter 8). 2 Tom Thomson, Autumn Foliage, 1916, 10 ½ by 8 ½ inches, The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 3 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, scene I, lines 56–88 [1601], in G.B.Harrison (ed.) Shakespeare: Major Plays and the Sonnets, New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1948, p. 626. 4 Ibid., p. 626. 5 Philip Johnson, the American Telephone and Telegraph Building, 1980–83, New York. I think that in general works of architecture are perhaps less well known than are those of many other major art forms. Consequently, throughout this chapter I attempt to employ examples that, due to either their location, historical significance, or notoriety, have attained widespread recognition. Also, in accompanying footnotes I indicate the locations and construction dates of all the works discussed in the chapter. 6 Frank Lloyd Wright, Falling Water (The Kaufmann House), 1935–37, Bear Run, Pennsylvania; Taliesin West, 1934–38, Phoenix, Arizona. 216 EXISTENCE, LOCATION, AND FUNCTION 7 Leo N. Tolstoy, What is Art? [1896], Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1960, see especially Chapter 1. 8 Ibid., p. 13. 9 Ibid., p. 15. 10 Ibid., p. 150. 11 Martin Luther, as quoted in Roland H.Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York, Mentor, 1955, p. 144. 12 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, with Philip Johnson, Seagram Building, 1958, New York; Gordon Bunshaft (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill), Union Carbide Corporation Building and Chase Manhattan Bank, 1960, New York. 13 Le Corbusier [Charles Edouard Jeanneret], Villa Savoye, 1929–31, Poissy, France. 14 Richard Serra, Tilted Arc, 1983, Jacob Javits Federal Building Plaza, New York. 15 Richard Serra, transcript of the New York City hearing [1985], reprinted from Harper’s, July, 1985, in Margaret Battin, John Fisher, Ronald Moore, and Anita Silvers (eds) Puzzles About Art: An Aesthetics Casebook, New York, St Martin’s, 1989, p. 182. 16 Elizabeth C.Barker, “Artworks on the Land,” Art in America, 1976, vol. 64, pp. 92–6 reprinted in Alan Sonfist (ed.) Art in the Land: A Critical Anthology of Environmental Art, New York, Dutton, 1983, p. 75. The three works are Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970, Great Salt Lake, Utah; Michael Heizer, Double Negative, 1969–71, Virgin River Mesa, Nevada; Complex One, 1972–76, South-central Nevada. I discuss other ramifications of the relationships of such works to their sites in “Is Environmental Art an Aesthetic Affront to Nature?” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 1986, vol. 16, pp. 635–50 (reproduced in this volume, Chapter 10). 17 Barker, op. cit., p. 79. 18 Serra, transcript of the New York City hearing, op. cit., p. 182. 19 Judge Dominick DiCarlo, transcript of the New York City hearing, op. cit., p. 183. 20 Ibid., p. 183. 21 Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture: A Critical History, New York, Oxford University Press, 1980, p. 189. 22 Ibid., p. 237. 23 Robert A.M.Stern, quoted in Ada Louise Huxtable, “The Troubled State of Modern Architecture,” New York Review of Books, May 1, 1980, pp. 22–9. 24 See, for example, Steven C.Bourassa, The Aesthetics of Landscape, London, Belhaven, 1991, pp. 136–9, or Hal Foster, “Postmodernism: A Preface,” in Hal Foster (ed.) The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, Port Townsend, Bay Press, 1983, p. xii 25 See Kenneth Frampton, “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance,” in Foster, op. cit., pp. 16–30. 26 Paul Goldberger, “A Tale of Two Towers on Boston’s Boylston Street,” New York Times, January 24,1988, p. (H)31. This excellent example and Goldberger’s treatment of it were brought to my attention by Bourassa. 27 Ibid., p. (H)31. 28 Ibid., p. (H)31. 29 Mary McLeod, “Architecture,” in Stanley Trachtenberg (ed.) The Postmodern Moment, London, Greenwood, 1985, p. 34. 30 Huxtable, op. cit., p. 26. 31 Goldberger, op. cit., p. (H)34, Huxtable, op. cit., p. 26 and Mcleod, op. cit., p. 42. AESTHETICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT 217 32 Romaldo Giurgola, “Architecture: More Than a Building,” Architecture Australia, 1987, vol. 76, pp. 43–6; quoted in Bourassa, op. cit., p. 144. 33 Huxtable, op. cit., p. 26. 34 Louis Sullivan, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” [1896], reprinted in Tim and Charlotte Benton (eds) Form and Function: A Source Book for the History of Architecture and Design 1890–1939, London, Open University Press, 1975, pp. 13–14. I apply Sullivan’s ideas to other matters in “On Appreciating Agricultural Landscapes,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 1985, vol. 43, pp. 301–12 (reproduced in this volume, Chapter 12). 35 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, quoted in Frampton, Modern Architecture, op. cit., p. 163. Likewise Walter Gropius proclaims: “We want…an architecture whose function is clearly recognizable in the relations of its form.” In general see the “First Proclamation of the Weimar Bauhaus,” in H. Bayer (ed.) Bauhaus; 1919–1928, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1938; reprinted in Larry L.Ligo, The Concept of Function in TwentiethCentury Architectural Criticism, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Research Press, 1984, p. 12. 36 Le Corbusier, “The New Spirit in Architecture” [1924], reprinted in Benton, op. cit., pp. 132–3. 37 Sullivan, op. cit., pp. 11–13. 38 Maya Ying Lin and Jan Scruggs, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 1982, Washington, DC. 39 I develop a related notion, that of functional fit, in “Reconsidering the Aesthetics of Architecture,” The Journal of Aesthetic Education, 1986, vol. 20, pp. 21–7. 40 Michael Graves, City of Portland Public Services Building, 1980–83, Portland, Oregon. 41 For example, architectural critic Alan Colquhoun states: “What the building is saying, with a power and intensity that are almost unique and not at all banal, is that architecture, as it has come down to us from history, is now impossible.” See Kurt Forster, Arthur Drexler, Vincent Scully, Alan Colquhoun, Allan Greenberg, Philip Johnson, and John Burgee, “The Portland Building,” Skyline, January, 1983, p. 19. Aesthetics & Philosophy of Contemp. Art Class 1. Historical Figures The Greeks The word ‘aesthetics’ comes from the Greek… Aisthētikos = to perceive. In the 18th century, its use (especially in German) became closely linked to beauty – perceivable things that are related to beauty. The first use of the term is attributed to Alexander Baumgarten in 1735, but it is later made more robust by Kant. It was then later used in English in a similar sense. Topics in aesthetics have typically included (from Bychkov 2021, Greek and Roman Aesthetics. Oxford Bibligraphies): ‘the sense of beauty and awe before certain natural and artistic forms, which lacks any rational explanation and yet is a source of great pleasure and seems to point to values and truths that transcend the human mind; the whole area of sensory experience that brings us the feelings of beauty and awe; the area of human production that we call the “fine arts” or the production of aesthetic objects; a number of themes and issues associated specifically with the human artistic activity, such as imitation; various literary and rhetorical techniques; and principles of tone, contrast, harmony, and composition in painting and music.’ Other Important Greek terms: Techne: This means a skill at making or doing something, in quite a general sense. A lot Greek discussion of ‘art’ is actually about techne in this more general sense. It can be anything from sculpting a bust to making a shoe. (Sometimes, in this sense, it is thought of as meaning both arts and crafts.) They didn’t have a notion of the arts or fine arts as distinguished from other activities in the way that we do in English today. Nonetheless, they clearly had ideas about beauty and what is artistic etc. Mimesis: This means ‘imitation’ and is thought to be characteristic (or a very important component) of art in ancient Greece. In this sense, the purpose of art is to imitate reality (we will talk more about this as a definition of art later). This has important implications for what both Plato and Aristotle thought about art, although they had quite different views. Plato (429-347 BCE) (see his Hippias Major, Symposium, and Republic). Plato’s reasoning about art is quite negative. He takes the imitative nature of art to be a negative thing for art itself. To see why, we must begin with Plato’s fundamental theory of the Forms. For Plato, the world of the Forms is a non-physical reality that is more real than this reality. In contrast, the world that we occupy is the world of (mere) appearances. For Art: Art is better or worse insofar as it imitates true beauty (or some other perfect Form, such as the Good). But it will only ever be just that—a mere imitation. It will never truly reach the heights of perfection, found only in the world of the Forms. In this sense, art is always going to be failure with respect to its purpose. The purpose is to imitate, but imitation is never the real thing. But, in fact, Plato thought the implications were much worse than just poor imitation. He thought that, in being a poor imitation, art can corrupt people by taking them further away from perfect ideals (that is, from the Forms). He thought that poor imitations were dangerous because they were misleading—much better to pursue the truth (i.e. the Forms) through REASON and MATHEMATICS than through art. Mathematics, for instance, can give us universal truths about the world (that is, they can closely describe the forms). However, art is not like that – it doesn’t give us universals. It just gives us particulars that are far from universal truths. It is for this reason that Plato thought that art can be dangerous to society. He agrees that people enjoy art (whether it is a sculptor or a poem), but this is the problem. They are induced into getting pleasure from something that is not true reality. It is because of this that art can cause a disturbance. It might motivate people to act against the Good, because it causes them to feel strong emotions (it is against reason). Plato Republic SS607: ‘If you allow the sweetened Muse of lyric or epic, pleasure and pain will rule in the city instead of custom and the rational principle which in any given instance seems best in the opinion of the community.’ In this sense, art is thought to violate the principles of reason that give rise to harmony and justice in society. (Plato does allow some hymns in praise of Gods and Heroes, but they must be carefully selected for their positive influence.) This might seem quite extreme, but recent claims that e.g. rock & roll or rap can damage the youth, or computer games, or movies, come from a similar way of thinking. The point: There is a theme that runs through aesthetics and the philosophy of art, since Plato’s times, concerning the moral implications of art. Can art damage society? Should art be censored? When should art be censored? Should artists be punished for their work? What is the scope of freedom for an artist? How do we decide what the limits of art should be, if any? Keep in mind: these might be some of the questions you raise in your presentation – and you can relate them right back to Plato. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) (see his Nicomachean Ethics, Poetics) Aristotle, like Plato, focuses on the imitation element of art. He agrees that art is essentially an imitative process. However, he has a very different view about what this means for art. In particular… Aristotle rejects that there is a more perfect world of the Forms. Art, instead, imitates this world and not the world of the Forms. However, art is not a mere copy of this world, but is a revealing imitation. Through imitating reality in convincing ways, the artist reveals universal truths (about this world)—such as love, justice, goodness, knowledge, beauty... Art mimics reality, but in doing so the art is not devalued. Rather, it copies reality in a way that idealises it. In copying reality, it also idealises it. For example: On Aristotle’s view, Michelangelo’s David is not a poor copy of the Form of man… but is an idealised man. Or, a good epic story (such as Homer’s epic poems) with heroes and villains, etc., captures universal truths about human behaviour. For instance, about what it means to act heroically, even if it isn’t true. The implications of Aristotle’s view are, thus, quite different from Plato’s. Two points: First, art is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing, and artists should be encouraged to create good art. Second, art is actually beneficial, in the sense that it can teach us something. We can learn universal truths about, e.g., morality and the good life from art. Important: again, this is another thing you might consider in your presentations. Is there a cognitive element to your piece of art? That is, does it teach us something? Is it supposed to teach us something? If so, does it succeed? We will talk more about the cognitive elements and whether we can learn from art later in the course. But, like with Plato, you can draw links here to Aristotle. To summarise: Moving forward in time…. David Hume (1711-1776) (See ‘Of the Standard of Taste’ & ‘Of Tragedy’) Hume’s interest in art begins with his emphasis on experience (empiricism). Beauty is not in object but in the mind (sentimental approach). This has important implications for the nature of art… It means that aesthetic judgments – whether a work is good or bad – comes down to our preferences. Aesthetic judgements (e.g. that is beautiful) are not dependent on the object itself, they depend on our minds. In this sense, they are not objective, but subjective. It seems to suggest that aesthetic qualities (like beauty) are relative. A problem with relativity is that it undermines any disagreement we might have about whether an artwork is good, bad etc. However, surely aesthetic judgements can, to an extent, be correct or incorrect – regardless of anyone’s personal preference. For instance, if you tell me Michelangelo’s David is simply a bad sculpture, it is reasonable to think that you are not really getting things right. However, if aesthetic taste is subjective, it really doesn’t matter. This means Hume has an element of relativity to his theory. However: Hume goes some way to alleviate the pressure of relativity. He suggests that aesthetic tastes develop according to cultural influences, so (on the whole) we will have the same ‘sentiments’ in the same cultures anyway. It is thus possible to refine our taste. Even though aesthetic judgment depends on personal taste, some taste are more developed than others. We can imagine, for instance, someone who is an art expert having a more developed taste than someone who has never seen a piece of art before. So, their judgement can be given more weight. Hume’s ethics: We can notice that this kind of aesthetics is grounded in the same metaphysics as Hume’s moral theory—i.e., that moral judgments are just (something like) expressions of approval or disapproval. Other Related Problems: • • • In ‘On Tragedy’, Hume addresses an interesting problem with (esp.) narrative arts, known as the Paradox of Tragedy. Why is it that we ENJOY art that causes us to have UNPLEASURABLE experiences. Given that aesthetic taste is all about how the art makes us feel, it’s strange that we should get pleasure from the unpleasurable. Questions to raise about your presentations: Is the work good or bad objectively? Do you think other’s should agree with your judgement of the work? And why? If someone disagrees with you about the work, what might you say to change their mind? Is it even possible to change their mind? Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) (See his Critique of Judgement) Kant was heavily influenced by Hume. He famously wrote that Hume disturbed his ‘dogmatic slumber’. However, he disagreed with him in many respects. This is true of his metaphysics, his ethics, and his aesthetics. His views: For Kant, beauty begins in nature… The artist then captures something about the beauty we find in nature. In this sense, aesthetic qualities are something objective—they are in the world to be recognised. Four Features: Disinterest: Pleasure in virtue of beauty itself, and for no other reason. Universal & Necessary: We expect others to, generally, agree when we encounter true beauty. Purposive without purpose: Beauty looks designed although true beauty is not. But how do we judge aesthetic quality? It has to do with the (alleged) universality of aesthetic judgment. Taste: If someone just prefers vanilla ice cream to chocolate, we don’t (seriously) require them to justify their preference. Aesthetic Judgment: If someone disagrees with us about e.g. whether the sky at night is truly beautiful, we expect some kind of justification. In this sense, on Kant’s view, we reason about aesthetics unlike preferences. Now: It is important to note that Kant’s analysis is really concerned with true beauty, which he thinks is objective (because derived from the natural world). However, he still leaves space for a notion, similar to Hume’s, of taste. So, he has an important distinction. Judgment of Beauty: This is the objective kind of beauty, which characterises the highest standard of aesthetics. This kind of beauty cannot be doubted. We experience it in an sincere moment of feeling ‘that is beautiful’ – without reflection, without room for debate. He doesn’t think beauty if cognitive in this sense. It is not for reflecting on. It is more like an intuition. Judgment of Taste (or, of the ‘agreeable’): This is more like Hume’s basis for aesthetic judgement. We might see a piece of art, for example, and think about it, reflect on it, conceptualise it, and decide whether we like it. After reflection and experience, we might come to like a particular work, or style, or whatever. However, this is quite different from the experience of true beauty. We might consider some of the examples we’ve looked at earlier, such as Malevich’s ‘Black Square’. We might, after reflection, come to appreciate it as an art work (for instance, due to its attempt to subvert traditional art). However, when we experience it, (I think) we are not immediately struck with a sincere experience of beauty – in a deep sublime sense. Kant thinks this latter sense is the essence of true beauty. Hume thinks only the first sense exists. Questions to ask for presentation: Is the work beautiful? Does the work imitate nature? Does it get its aesthetic value from the natural world? Does the work take some cognitive effort to appreciate? A few more to think about: A couple of quotes to finish. These are about writers, but could easily be about art in general. Definitions of Art I Notes Central Concepts: - Essentialism vs. Non-Essentialism Essentialism: there is a defining feature of art, that distinguishes art from non-art. Non-Essentialism: there isn’t an essential feature of art. - Traditional Definitions (all essentialist). Mimetic: Art must represent (mimic/imitate) the world in some way. Expressive: Art is the expression of an artist’s inner mental state (emotions, beliefs, etc.) Formalism: Whether something is art, depends on the work itself (e.g. style, form). It is not about whether the work represents or expresses. Functional/Pragmatic: Whether something is art, depends on whether it functions as art (e.g. by giving rise to an aesthetic experience). Why attempt to define art? Intuitively, there is a difference between something that is art and something that isn’t. For instance, there is a difference between Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and my picture of a stick woman on the board. It is easy to say that the latter is not art. The same is true of particular mediums of art. For example, literature. Contrast: a great poem vs. ingredients on a food packet. The first is literature (in a truly artistic sense), the latter is just words (non-artistic). These considerations have led theorists to look for a way to define art. Essentialist Views Historically, it was assumed that there is an essence to art—something that makes art art. Here is a breakdown of the essentialist views: MIMETIC THEORIES • The idea that literature must mimic or imitate reality • Work-to-world: The work is structured so as to imitate the world. • This idea dates back to the Ancient Greek conception of art. • Art might mimic the world well by depicting real themes, characters, places, feelings, emotions, etc. • Think about the example: Girl with the Pearl Earring. • How does this work mimic the world? Quite obviously, it is supposed to depict a person (even if it is not a real person, it still imitates reality, because people are real. Here is an example from literature. Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting. What is Welsh attempting to ‘imitate’ here? The Scottish accent. (Maybe Aristotle would like this novel.) Mimesis and Value: • As we have just mentioned, if mimesis is the essence of art, it also sets a standard for valuing art. • We might ask: how well does the piece of art imitate the world? • We can then direct our critical responses towards the work-to-world relation. • (But this runs us into a problem later…) Recall: • For Plato: We could say that art will only be a poor imitation of true reality (i.e. the world of the Forms). • For Aristotle: We could say that art is valuable insofar as it reveals (through imitation) truths about reality. Mimesis and the Creation of Art • The theory of art we adopt can also influence how we go about creating art. • If I believe that good art imitates reality, then I will (presumably) set about attempting to produce art that imitates reality well. • For instance, by using realistic representations, real language, emotions, etc. Consider Michelanglo’s David (1501-4 CE) Does this do a good job of mimicking reality? Mimetic Theories: Advantages. • Very often, it is true that artists attempt to imitate reality. • This is the case in many great works of art. • They attempt to mimic realistic people, situations, cultures, languages, time periods, etc. • At least, that is, to some extent. • Also, as an historical theory of art, it might well have been true (at least to the artists). They perhaps did not consider themselves to be doing art, unless it was some form of imitation. • We might thus say that the mimetic theory captures something important about a lot of art, even if it does not define art (i.e. is not the essence of art). Mimetic Theories: Disadvantages. ONE • Perhaps we don’t want to put too much emphasis on imitation. A lot of art is today produced with the explicit intention of creating situations that can’t possibly be real (e.g. think about Harry Potter and magic). Instead, there are heavy elements of fiction, even if some imitation is involved. TWO • Often art can be produced with the intention for it to be as surreal/irrational as possible—with a complete disregard for reality. This is especially true in more recent art. Mimesis may have been a dominant (exclusive) influence on art traditionally, but that certainly changes later. • For further issues, see the reading. A side note: Mimesis and Photography Historically, a lot of attention was on how well a work depicted it’s subject, right up until recent times. Consider portrait paintings of historical figures. Given that they wanted to preserve an element of truth, it was important that they depicted the actual person (more or less accurately). For example, Jacques-Louis David’s The Emperor Napoleon in His Study (1812). However, with the invention of photography, there became less need for artists to depict reality—a picture can do it. Louis Daguerre (1787-1851), an artist who invented an early form of photography, used photographic depictions in just the same way that artists would paint important figures. Here is his self-portrait (photograph). Αrguably, the ability to photograph people (and landscapes) led artists away from a mimetic approach to art in modern times. It was not long after this that we see impressionism appear. Consider Claude Monet’s (1840-1926) work… This is his Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son (1876). How does this diverge from a standard portrait picture? How does it diverge from direct representation? What we see is that, rather than trying to capture what is happening in the world, Monet attempts to create more of an impression about what is going on. His use of style is supposed to capture the feeling of a casual family outing, rather than the strict representation of the world. We start to get a sense of feeling in the picture, rather than a direct copy of the world. Functional/Pragmatic Theories • The idea is that art serves a particular function, usually this is to bring about a certain effect in the audience. • Work-to-audience: The work is made in such a way as to influence the audience. • These effects might be emotional, but they might also be to do with our values and knowledge (more on the latter two in later sessions). • It is often said to be some kind of aesthetic experience, that is itself unique in character. • Think about the emotional reactions you might have had to any of the pieces of art we have looked at so far. • The functionalist will emphasise these kinds of reactions as an essential feature of art. • Notice: They need not reject that this is often achieved through imitation, but imitation is not thought to be the essence of art. Rather, the essence has to do with the connection to the audience. • Functional theories suggest art has a function. This means it serves as a means to an end. Concerning literature, Samuel Johnson (1755) wrote: • ‘the end of writing is to instruct, the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing’. This captures the functionalist sentiment. • Here: pleasing seems to be the essence of literature, as distinguished from mere text—and something similar can be said about art in general. • That is, the function of (something like) pleasure in the reader. A key functionalist, defining art in terms of its relation to aesthetic experience, is Monroe Beardsley (1982), The Aesthetic Point of View. He writes: A work of art is: “either an arrangement of conditions intended to be capable of affording an experience with marked aesthetic character or (incidentally) an arrangement belonging to a class or type of arrangements that is typically intended to have this capacity” (The Aesthetic Point of View, p. 299) Functional Effects These might include: • Pleasing (or pleasure). • Fear • Pity • Laughter • Excitement • Or a unique aesthetic experience They might also be dependent upon the type or genre of art: For example: Tragedy: sadness, pity Comedy: laughter, excitement. Horror: fear. Functionalism: Disadvantages ONE • • • Perhaps there could exist a work of art that didn’t elicit any kind of response. For instance, if no-one ever saw it. Would that mean it isn’t art? TWO • • • What if individuals are influenced differently by the work? What if some people have a response and others don’t have any? This then raises important questions about what the appropriate response is towards a work. Perhaps we should not put too much emphasis on functions as essential to art. However, it certainly seems important. Artists seem to produce works for people to experience them. Like mimetic theories, then, there is something in functionalism, even if it doesn’t work as a definition. EXPRESSIVISM • Expressivist approaches to art began to emerge in the romantic era of art (approx. 1770–1880). • The idea is that art just is an expression of the artists inner thought/experience. • Work-to-artist: The work is created such as to reflect the artists thoughts/emotions/inner experience. A lot of the romantic period focused on poetry and art works based on poems. For example, the works of: • • • • William Wordsworth Samuel Coleridge William Blake John Keats These poets wrote with a conception of expressivism in mind: they explicitly aimed to express their emotions through their work. • Wordsworth 1800: “I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity…” • John Stuart Mill 1833: “All poetry is of the nature of soliloquy… [if the poet has] that desire of making an impression upon another mind, then it ceases to be poetry, and becomes eloquence.” • Notice: Contrast with mimetic and pragmatic theories. • • The extent to which the poem reflects the world, and has an effect upon the reader, is irrelevant. What matters is the expression of the artists inner state. Expressivism and art: This work depicts the suicide of the 17 year old poet Thomas Chatterton. It was first displayed with the quotation: “Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight.” Name: The Death of Chatterton Date: 1856 Artist: Henry Wallis Below info from: Expressivism’s Influence on the Artist • It’s easy to see how a commitment to expressivism can actually change the way an artist conducts his work. • The desire only to reflect one’s states of mind, regardless of the mimetic or functional effects, could result in an entirely different style of work. • Indeed, a fully committed expressivist should have little to no interest in whether his work is read by others. The work is simply for the artists expression. However, is this really plausible? The philosopher Albert Camus gives us something to think about: He writes: “A writer writes to a great extent to be read (as for those who say they don’t, let us admire them but not believe them).” What does he mean? Expressivism Disadvantages: ONE Perhaps puts too much emphasis on the artist’s state-of-mind. Do they really only seek to express their emotions (and indeed should this be all they do)? Couldn’t expressivist art be created (and still be good art) even if the artist pretends to express his emotions? It becomes difficult to judge the quality of a piece of work, if that requires us to have access to the thoughts he is intending to express. It’s probably impossible to make such a judgment. TWO If the artwork just is the expression of an artist’s emotion, where does the artwork exist? Arguably, it is only in the mind of the artist. The work is an expression of the mind, but the art itself seems to exist only in the artist’s mind. This is a question of ontology – where do artworks exist? It seems strange to say art exists only in the artist’s mind. FORMALISM (Autonomous/Objective Theories) • The idea is that there is something about the work itself—the works formal features. • Work-in-itself: The value of a work depends on features of that work (maybe its form, its structure, etc) independently from whether it imitates, influences an audience, or expresses a state of mind. • This idea appears in the late C19th. Oscar Wilde 1891: “Art never expresses anything but itself” “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life” A. C. Bradley 1909: “[Poetry is] not a part, nor yet a copy, of the real world… but… a world by itself, independent, complete, autonomous…” For the early complete statement of formalism, see Clive Bell’s (1913) Art. In answer to the question concerning what unites art, Bell writes: ‘Only one answer seems possible – significant form. In each, lines and colours combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions. These relations and combinations of lines and colours, these aesthetically moving forms, I call “Significant Form”; and “Significant Form” is the one quality common to all works of visual art.’ (1913, p. 5) Notice that this theory includes a mention of ‘aesthetic emotions’—so the claim is not that art has nothing to do with e.g. its function. The point, however, is that the defining feature is not this emotion. It’s the form of the work (the ‘significant form’). ADVANTAGES OF FORMALISM • Once the work becomes a ‘world by itself’, it takes on autonomy, then we never need to look beyond the work to judge its value. • In principle, this should make critical assessment quite straight forward. • It also allows us to assess works regardless of knowledge about authors, time periods, intended audience, etc. Consider how we evaluate works based on the other definitions. They all relate to something outside of the work. However, formalism just depends entirely on the work. DISADVANTAGES What Features? • It is difficult what features of the work in itself that we should consider to analyse the work. • A work in itself might be good, but what makes its formal features good?— won’t we be disagreeing all over again? Indiscernible Works • We might also wonder, on this view, whether two indiscernible works, one create by an artist, and one by the wind, are both now works of art. • Presumably, they could have all the same features. ESSENTIALISM These views are all essentialist views of art. They hold that art has an essence. An essence can be thought of as a set of necessary and sufficient conditions defining art. For example: An object X is a piece of art if and only if X gives rise to aesthetic emotions in the audience. Or we can say something similar about the other theories we’ve looked at. Now, we’ve looked at some potential objections to the individual theories. However, some have question the very possibility of giving a definition of art in this way. Weitz 1956 (the reading!) raises a concern with essentialist approaches… Weitz points out that we need to understand both the normative and descriptive criteria for art. Normative: What makes a work good/bad (evaluative question)? Descriptive: What makes something a work of art (definitional question)? For example (mimetic theory): Descriptively: Does the work imitate/represent something in the world? Normatively: Does the work imitate/represent the world well? However, this presents a difficulty: • • If we both describe and evaluate literature according to the same standard, we cannot have bad literature. • That is, if a work doesn’t meet the definitional criteria, it cannot count as art, according to the descriptive requirement. • For instance, if a poet fails to express his emotions, then his poem could not be a piece of literature, on the expressivist account. It would not be bad literature, it would just not be literature. Consider: For x to be art, it must necessarily express the artist’s emotions. So, if it fails to express the artist’s emotion, it is not bad art – it is not art at all. It fails to meet the (expressivist’s) necessary condition for art. The implication: That essentialist theories are not really definitions, but in fact express value judgments about art. From this perspective, essentialist ‘definitions’ might still be useful, for assessing the standards of value of a period… …but they are not useful as definitions of art.
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Explanation & Answer



Art and Morality

Institutional Affiliation

Art and Morality
The art has been a backbone of human communication since the time of our sophistries,
reflecting in itself our values, beliefs, and moral dilemmas. Generally, from the spectacular
architecture of bygone societies to the ambiguous paintings of today’s artists, artworks distill the
feelings of being a human. In grasping the complex link between the ethical content of an art and
its aesthetic value, some rudiments of philosophy, ethics, as well as cultural studies have to be
unveiled. Art adopts the philosophical perspectives to examine the ethical dimensions which
interact with the aesthetic value creating art. This study addresses the question of whether or not
the moral nature of art affects its aesthetic value by exploring studies of various artistic forms in
different cultures and historical eras. Eventually, it seeks to disclose the mysterious relationship
that exists between morality and aesthetics in art.
Ethical or moral value of artwork becomes an essential factor in its aesthetic meaning,
which can generate a response from emotional to intellectual one. The work of art, which is deep
of life values stimulates you to think about life and develop not only visual impressions but also
empathy (Erjavec, 2024). For example, have you seen Francisco Goya's painting "The Third of
May 1808" which expresses the criticalities of war and moral dimensions like sacrifice. It is a
jarring juxtaposition to witness the innocence of a victim amidst the lack of mercy against the
perpetrators, which somehow enhances your sense of the aesthetic (Harold, 2020). These art
pieces surpass not only the time span during which they were created but also transform into the
more general topic of human pain and endurance. Consequently, the moral subtleties found in
such artworks enhances their attraction and inculcates everlasting significance to them.
The ethical issues can contribute heavily to the way an artwork is understood which then
could affect its aesthetic value. Artworks that address ethical aspects directly bring spectators

into the discussion and extend the enjoyment of the work of art (Sauchelli, 2013). At last, we will
come to Kazuo Ishiguro's novel "Never Let Me Go" which raises ethical issues related to human
cloning. The ethical dilemma demonstrated in the story alone can make readers consider the
ethical aspects of scientific research and think about the future of humanity. The merger of the
ethical concepts with the aesthetic storytelling of Ishiguro's novel lifts it beyond a (Harold,
2020). On top of that, artworks raise their aesthetic complexity as they become more intricate
due to the moral depth within them and therefore give viewers a complicated but relevant topic
addressed directly to man.
The cultural and historical contexts at which an artwork is created can be the factors
determining the moral and aesthetic level of that work in general. Works that originate from eras
of a social or political turmoil tackles with issues of humanity and appeal to the audiences on a
deeper level (Erjavec, 2024). Take into account “Guernica” by Picasso – a vivid and pitiable
depiction of the horrors of war and the addle mindedness of the powerless civilians. Forged in
reaction to Spanish Civil War’s events, which gives us the idea of this generation’s moral
outrage and as well as existential despair together with the horrors of violence and injustice
(Sauchelli, 2013). Through bringing the story of human suffering into focus, Picasso's
masterpiece also symbolizes sacrifices and the struggle for the victory against inhumanity
(Mitias, 1988). Therefore, moral gravity of artworks is born out of impact and history.
In the same manner, the lack of a deep moral message can annihilate the artistic effect of
art, making them superficial and weak. Artwork defined exclusively by technicality may amaze
in its brilliance but in the end it will only be superficial and fail to hit the heart or the brain
(Harold, 2020). Consist with the commercialization of art in the modern era, when broad copies
market overrun, with no originality or moral value. Quite rightly, this depersonalization pushes

the real essence of the art into the background, giving it a completely commercialized look
(Mitias, 1988). For instance, in this scenario, the absence of clear moral values spoils all artistic
works, turning them into mere "shallow" entertainment rather than a method of deeply
expressing oneself.
A lot of art which violates the accepted ethical norms sparks the heated debate at least
alerting the society, if not challenging their limits. These kinds of artworks, through the
transgression of social norms, direct viewers into the process of reassessing their values and
principles, the level of their aesthetics is increased (Erjavec, 2024). Let us illustrate this by the
case of Marina Abramović's radical performance art that forces the audience to overcome the
strict conventions existing in relation to the body, genres, and identity. Abramović's visceral
performances provoke an inner struggle of audiences when they might face an accountability for
their moral values (Mitias, 1988). In such a means, thus her art is beyond just the shock value
because it supports the deep reflection and conversations. On the other hand, the art forms that
go against the conventional morality make us to go through some resentment thus making us to
be more enlightened.
The process of appreciation of an artwork is automatic and the way is dependent on
individual beliefs, experiences and cultural background. The particular perception of the viewer
as admirable, fragmentary, or immoral can be a matter of heated debate ("Pornography and
erotica," 2003). The presence of this diversity of interpretation also contributes to the unfolding
of multi-layered complexity of the connection between morality and aesthetics, thus emphasizing
that it can sometimes be ambiguous or difficult to pin down. Think about the clash of interests in
works such as Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ," which snowballed into conflicts on the relation of
artistic freedom and religious sensitivity. Meanwhile, some people applauded the picture as a

huge comment on the commercial side of religion, but some others were even offended and
characterized it as a sacrilegious and blasphemous thing (Sauchelli, 2013). In that way, the moral
interpretation or the artworks is determined by the perspectives and values of individuals who
view the works.
Empathy-provoking artworks communicate the idea of mutual humanity through which
the audience enjoy the beauty of the work of art even more. Using such works, different people
living in different cultures and with the different ideologies can connect and build bonds across
time and space (Mulholland, 2019). The works of the highly acclaimed Toni Morrison must be
considered as they address the difficult issues of race, identity, and memory through the
American experience. With the vivid and emotional writing style of Morrison, the readers
engage in the inner lives of her characters, this leads to an increase in empathy and
understanding. In other words, her novels do not only appear as works of art, but also as tools of
moral enlightenment, which in turn enab...

Excellent resource! Really helped me get the gist of things.


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