• Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    I hold that beauty is, broadly speaking, the experience of apprehending something that seems, in some way or another, right. This rightness may be either of a descriptive or a prescriptive nature: the feeling of apprehending some truth, or of apprehending some good.

    Scientific knowledge of many kinds, for example, can be beautiful in its descriptive rightness, in the apprehension of truth. Scholars of all varieties find beauty in understanding some set of rules or patterns that explain some wide variety of previously perplexing phenomena. The concrete phenomena themselves may not be beautiful, and the rules or patterns themselves may not be beautiful in the raw abstract, but finding some abstract rules or patterns to explain the concrete phenomena can be a thing of beauty, because you've found something that is right, in the sense of true, or at least something that seems so.

    Or in a work of art, the telling of some truth may be beautiful even if the truth itself is about something bad: someone else, the artist, communicating publicly, to the audience, that some bad thing they have experience of is a real and true phenomenon can be cathartic and validating and in its own way beautiful for its depiction of the truth.

    Beauty as a feeling of prescriptive rightness may be found in some lofty moral triumph of good over evil; it can be beautiful in a sense to see justice prevail. But it may also be something as simple and subjective as apprehending something to be in some way desirable. Flowers and fruits and other healthy, vibrant flora may be beautiful because they, on at least a subconscious level, signal bountiful food, which is desirable. Huge open vistas may be beautiful because they signal a lack of predators or competitors, and hence freedom and relative abundance of resources. Other people may be beautiful because their features signal that they are in good health, and so safe company, reliable companions, or possibly potential sexual partners. All manner of things can be beautiful to us just because they seem, on an emotional level, to signal some kind of simple, primitive good to us as animals.

    The common factor in all of these diverse kinds of beauty, be it in understanding broad natural laws or honest tellings of personal struggle, in a great triumph of justice or a pretty bed of flowers, is that they are all experiences of something seeming right, either in the sense of "true", or in the sense of "good".

    Beyond these concrete forms of beauty, there are also more abstract aspects to beauty, to be found in the form or structure of a phenomenon (be it natural or a work of art) rather than in its relation to reality or morality, though this abstract sense of beauty also factors into the concrete kinds discussed above. This is beauty as in elegance, which is to say, the intersection of a phenomenon being interestingly complex, but also comprehensibly simple. Complexity draws one's attention into the phenomenon, seeking to understand it; and if that complexity is found to emerge from an underlying simplicity, beauty can be experienced in the successful comprehension of that complexity by way of the underlying simplicity.

    That is to say, symmetries and other patterns, that allow us to reduce a complex phenomenon to many instances and variations of simpler phenomena, are inherently beautiful in an abstract way detached entirely from whether the phenomena are concretely real or moral. This is the kind of beauty to be found in abstract, non-representational art, and also in places besides art such as in mathematical structures.

    The tension here between interesting complexity and comprehensible simplicity is, I think, what underlies the distinction many artists, audiences, and philosophers have made between what they call "high art" and "low art". Those who prefer so-called "high art" are those with enough experience with the kinds of patterns used in their preferred media that they are able to comprehend more complex phenomena than those less experienced, but simultaneously find simpler phenomena correspondingly uninteresting. Those who prefer so-called "low art" (so called by the "high art" aficionados, not by themselves) instead find more complex phenomena incomprehensible, but are simultaneously more capable of taking interest in simpler phenomena.

    Unlike the attitudes evinced in the traditional naming of these categories, I do not think that "high art", a taste for complex phenomena, is in any way inherently better than "low art", a taste for simple phenomena. In each case, the aficionados of one are capable of appreciating something that the other group cannot, while incapable of appreciating something that the other group can. In my opinion, if any manner of taste was truly to be called objectively superior, it would be a broader taste, capable of comprehending complex phenomena and so appreciating "high art", while still remaining capable of finding simple phenomena interesting and so appreciating "low art". In that way, audiences with such taste would be best capable of deriving the most enjoyment from the widest assortment of phenomena, both natural and artistic.
  • Punshhh
    2.6k
    I think it is important in such a discussion to make a distinction between what is beautiful, or of artistic merit, to an individual and what is regarded as such by the artistic establishment, or society. For example the development of conceptual art, a movement which was driven by the establishment, although some individual artists embraced it. There was a kind of arms race of legitimacy in which artists participated in competing efforts to come up with novel, deep, or superior conceptual expressions, installations, or performances. Many viewers and artists reject this project and regard it as art devouring its own tail. Resulting in the artistic establishment losing its way and losing touch with real artists and traditions.
  • tim wood
    8.8k
    I hold that beauty is, broadly speaking, the experience of apprehending something that seems, in some way or another, right.Pfhorrest

    Implied is that in beauty and art there is something always already known, some umbilical to the familiar. Not arguing but observing. And it would seem to follow that beauty and art are incrementally removed from the familiar, but therefore as well cannot be too far from it. Or this is trivially true because perception itself calls on some familiarity. Beauty and art as riffs on the familiar. Hmm.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    I distinguish between beauty specifically and artistic merit generally, but I agree with you about the relativity of artistic merit.

    Art in general is good only inasmuch as it succeeds in doing whatever it was meant to do, provoking whatever reaction in its audience it was meant to provoke. This intended reaction can again vary with who is judging the art: the artist may mean to provoke one reaction, different audiences may mean to have different reactions provoked in them, different societies may mean for art to serve some particular purpose or another, and there maybe be some objective, universal standard by which to judge what any art should do. But whatever the art is meant to do by whichever standard it is being judged, it is only good art, by that standard, if it succeeds at doing that. (Though it is nevertheless still art, even if it fails at that; it is merely bad art instead, in that case).

    So an artist may mean some art piece to shock or offend the audience, and if it succeeds at that, then it is good art to the artist; but if the audience does not mean themselves to be shocked or offended, but were simply minding their own business when something caught their attention and then turned out to be something horrible they wished they hadn't experienced, then it can simultaneously be bad art to the audience. Whether there is any such thing as objectively good art depends on whether there is anything that art objectively ought to be doing, any reaction that art objectively ought to be provoking.

    Philosophers of art question what the nature of beauty is, and whether it is inseparable from art, as in whether un-beautiful things can be art, and whether beautiful things are thereby automatically art. I have already answered above that I hold art fully capable of being un-beautiful, and I likewise hold that beauty does not only apply to works of art, but to any experience at all, even ones not put forth by some artist for the purpose of provoking a reaction, but just happened upon in the world. The same beautiful vista that might be captured by a photographer and turned into photographic art was already beautiful before it was made into art. Just as art does not need to be beautiful in order to be art, beautiful things do not need to be art in order to be beautiful.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    I hold that beauty is, broadly speaking, the experience of apprehending something that seems, in some way or another, right. This rightness may be either of a descriptive or a prescriptive nature: the feeling of apprehending some truth, or of apprehending some good.Pfhorrest

    So is it rightness of representation, or of things represented, or either or both? Or is it the pleasure in or anticipation of a representation or a thing? You seem to have it all of those ways. Which needn't be a problem, except the vagueness seems wedded to abstractness (whereby truth and goodness are relatively "concrete"?!), so it's a problem for me. Is it a necessity for you?

    I'm interested because Goodman and Elgin pursue "rightness" as "cognitive efficacy" (of symbolism), which maybe isn't a world away from,

    [facilitation of] the successful comprehension of [that] complexity by way of [the] underlying simplicity.Pfhorrest

    On high and low... perhaps one reason that the distinction so often fails, as when the supposed low art of one age or social class becomes revered in the next, is that artworks are identifiable as physical objects or sets of them. As such, they are potentially inexhaustible sources of insight and revelation. Critical judgements presuming to rate the sophistication of one whole artistic culture relative to another must always underestimate this potential.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    So is it rightness of representation, or of things represented, or either or both? Or is it the pleasure in or anticipation of a representation or a thing? You seem to have it all of those ways. Which needn't be a problem, except the vagueness seems wedded to abstractness (whereby truth and goodness are relatively "concrete"?!), so it's a problem for me. Is it a necessity for you?bongo fury

    I do mean it all of those ways, as I went on to elaborate. It could be "right" as in true, or "right" as in good, in many different senses of "true" and "good". Just any kind of feeling of agreement, a "yeah!" kind of feeling -- which could be "yeah, that's a thing I want!" or "yeah, that's how things are!", etc.

    The more abstract beauty-as-elegance I go on to talk about would be a "oh yeah, I get that!" in the apprehension of a pattern, a regularity amidst what might otherwise noise. Like when you look at a random-dot autostereogram ("Magic Eye"), and then suddenly see the image.

    Metaphorically speaking, to people who can easily manage to see the Magic Eye images, which they consider "high art", an ordinary 2D image that takes no special attention to see normally seems like "low art", in that it is boring, just obvious patterns that give no "oh yeah!" feeling. While to someone who can't see the Magic Eye image even if they try, it just looks like noise, and so is boring, while ordinary 2D images have understandable and so enjoyable patterns in them, as they apprehend the patterns and get that "oh yeah!" feeling.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    I do mean it all of those ways, as I went on to elaborate. It could be "right" as in true, or "right" as in good, in many different senses of "true" and "good". Just any kind of feeling of agreement, a "yeah!" kind of feeling -- which could be "yeah, that's a thing I want!" or "yeah, that's how things are!", etc.Pfhorrest

    So "right" isn't any clearer than "beautiful", or even vaguely distinct from it? You might as well have said,

    I hold that beauty is, broadly speaking, the experience of apprehending something that seems, in some way or another, right beautiful. This rightness beauty may be either of a descriptive or a prescriptive nature: the feeling of apprehending some truth, or of apprehending some good.Pfhorrest

    No?
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    “Rightness” is an abstraction away from truth and goodness. The good and the true are paradigmatic examples of things that are, in their different ways, right. Beauty is not the same exact thing as “rightness” though. Someone may find something that is actually false to seem true and thus some work of art conveying that falsehood as truth to be beautiful. It’s more like beauty is a quality that we project on things with which we agree in some way; agree that they’re good, or agree that they’re true. To agree is to think something is right, so that’s where the connection to rightness happens.
  • EnPassant
    667
    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” ~ Keats

    "Mathematics is beautiful. If it is not, nothing is beautiful" ~ Paul Erdős

    I think beauty is beyond biology but biological forms can be a context for beauty.
  • fishfry
    2.9k
    “And what is good, Phaedrus,
    And what is not good—
    Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”
    ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    Beauty is truth, truth beautyEnPassant

    And what is good, Phaedrus,
    And what is not good
    fishfry

    :point: :clap:
  • Gregory
    4.6k
    I read in a book once that art started our ancestors started making art about their ancestors. Primitave religion more generally looks to the past for perfection. There is something about the past that captures us. Art about our ancestors is more dear to us than art about our descendants (if that even exists)
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    Art about our ancestors is more dear to us than art about our descendants (if that even exists)Gregory

    Science fiction is sort of art about our descendants, and I think that broadly speaking that kind of thing (speculative fiction, and its analogues in other non-narrative media) is one of the highest purposes toward which art can be put.

    There are many different things that art can be meant to do. It can be meant simply to engage, to be something interesting that catches people's attention and makes them stop to consider it, with no particular further reaction or another meant beyond that simple engagement, though further reactions may nevertheless occur. It can further be meant to amuse, to provoke a pleased reaction in the audience. Some philosophies of art consider works of whatever media that are simply meant to engage and amuse with no further purpose to be not art at all, but merely entertainment

    But while I am fine to apply the label "entertainment" to works meant to engage and amuse, which not all art might be meant to do, I hold that entertainment thus categorized is still a subset of art as I characterize it, and that art works that are meant to do more than merely engage and amuse often do still intend to amuse or at least to engage, and so are still themselves entertainment even though they might also belong to some other, nominally loftier category of art as well. I dispute that there is some hard line between art and entertainment, with entertainment somehow more base than art; entertaining, engaging and amusing, is just one of many things art can do, and it is a fine thing for art to do.

    But art can also be meant to do other things, that are in some sense more noble than mere entertainment. Art can also be meant to inspire, as in to convey attitudes towards ideas, i.e. opinions. Those opinions that art might mean to convey may be descriptive or prescriptive in nature, intending to make people feel either that something is true (or false), or that something is good (or bad). This can be construed as art being used to educate, either in the descriptive sense that word commonly connotes today, as conveying facts about reality, or in a prescriptive sense now found slightly archaic, as conveying moral norms.

    Art can also be meant to educate in a less paternalistic fashion by conveying not statements, either about facts or norms, but rather questions about either, intriguing its audience by prompting them to wonder what is actually real, or actually moral; or more still, about what is possible, or what is permissible, exploring other worlds and ways of life, exotic other options of what could be real or could be moral. That, I think, is perhaps the most noble of purposes for which art can be meant.
  • Gregory
    4.6k


    You are a really good writer

    Film noir is a kind of art. An old scene in black and white of an alley long ago is a type of art the Renassaince painters didnt dabble in. They were too busy trying to prove Platonism
  • Noble Dust
    7.8k
    In my opinion, if any manner of taste was truly to be called objectively superior, it would be a broader taste, capable of comprehending complex phenomena and so appreciating "high art", while still remaining capable of finding simple phenomena interesting and so appreciating "low art".Pfhorrest

    Yup, exactly. But a potential problem is that calling broad taste "superior" still suggests a hierarchy: broad taste is better than narrow "low art" taste.

    "Objectively superior" suggests something almost ethical or moral. To have broad taste appears to be almost morally (or at least vaguely philosophically) better than to have narrowly "low" taste; it hints at the "universal"; to have broad taste would seem to mean having universal taste.
  • bongo fury
    1.6k
    Beauty is not the same exact thing as “rightness” though. [...] It’s more like beauty is a quality that we project on thingsPfhorrest

    Ok, and (is this right?) beauty is the suspicion or seeming of rightness? I would buy that, vague as it is. Leave beauty to roam free in meaning and, like Goodman, analyse rightness more carefully. It would be one way to make sense of the OP's first sentence, where the operative word is (as also later on) "seems".

    But from the next sentence on, it's clear you make no such distinction, and feel free to gloss rightness itself as the suspicion or seeming of rightness. Main culprit: "apprehending", used here as "representing" (describing or prescribing, and potentially having rightness) and there as feeling or suspecting (rightness).

    But hey, I'm being pedantic. Everything is everything. Art is pleasure. :roll:
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    You are a really good writerGregory

    Thanks! I just wish I could do dialogue, that’s mostly what keeps me from writing the huge work of fiction I’ve been sitting on my whole life.

    It would be one way to make sense of the OP's first sentence, where the operative word is (as also later on) "seems".bongo fury

    Yeah, that “seems” is meant to make all the difference; it’s not the actually being true or good that makes something beautiful, it’s the seeming true or good. Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If anything else I said later seemed contrary, I guess I phrased it poorly.

    "Objectively superior" suggests something almost ethical or moral. To have broad taste appears to be almost morally (or at least vaguely philosophically) better than to have narrowly "low" taste; it hints at the "universal"; to have broad taste would seem to mean having universal taste.Noble Dust

    Indeed, I do think ethics interfaces with art here (although NB that “beauty” and “good art“ are not synonyms on my account; nor “high art” and “good art”, nor “high art” and the “nobler purposes” to which art can be put that I mentioned earlier).

    One of the most important questions in the philosophy of art is whether the quality of art can be judged by any objective standards or only subjectively. I reject both of the more extreme types of view on that topic, that hold respectively either that there is no such thing as objective quality to art, or else that some specific kind of art held in high status by some culture is the one objectively good kind of art and everything else is bad art for its failure to comply with that standard.

    I hold instead that art can only be judged objectively inasmuch as the art itself can be considered a kind of action, a communicative action, a speech-act really, but in a broader variety of media than merely literal speech. What that art is meant to do is thus fundamentally important in how it can be judged. I hold that art meant merely to entertain can only be judged by its success at being a pleasurable experience for many people, for I hold that people being pleased is an objectively good thing. Conversely, I hold that art meant specifically to be displeasing, like something meant just to shock and offend, not merely as a side-effect or a means to some other good end but just as an end in itself, is intrinsically bad art, even if it is good at doing what it sets out to do, because I hold it is objectively bad for people to be displeased.

    But what any person finds pleasurable is still a subjective matter, and so art as entertainment retains always a degree of subjectivity in its judgement. However, art meant to educate can be judged by the same objective standards that the opinions it means to convey can be judged, and so in that sense some art can be more strictly judged as being objectively good or bad art. For instance, a story with an objectively bad moral can for that reason be judged an objectively bad story, even if it excels in technical aspects at conveying that moral successfully; just like art that means solely to shock and offend might be judged bad art by the standard that being shocked and offended is bad, even if that shocking offensive art is technically proficient at being shocking and offensive.

    It is important to note, however, that this does not mean that every work of art that in any way depicts something objectively bad or objectively false is therefore objectively bad art. It may actually be objectively good art if it depicts such things so as to raise the question of whether they are (or could be) good or bad, true or false, and prompt the audience to try to figure out what is real or what is moral, what is possible and what is permissible. The art may also be presenting bad or false things merely for their engagement or amusement value, as entertainment, without meaning to make any claims or raise any questions at all, only to present some interesting or pleasing possibility, which can only be subjectively good or bad art to the extent that each member of the audience finds it interesting or pleasing.

    It is only if the art means to depict bad things as good, or false things as true, that it thereby becomes objectively bad art, regardless of its technical proficiency at delivering that wrong message.

    Circling back again to rhetoric, as the archetypical medium, for illustration: an argument that successfully persuades someone to believe something false or to intend something bad is thereby objectively bad rhetoric, even if the speaker meant his words to do so and so would subjectively consider his rhetoric good for its success, because by objective standards false things are not to be believed and bad things are not to be intended and so rhetoric is not meant, by those standards, to persuade people to do so, and in succeeding at doing what it is not meant to do, that rhetoric thereby fails at doing what it is meant to do, and is thereby bad rhetoric.

    This is analogous to how a logical argument, despite being logically valid and so "good" inasmuch as technical proficiency at logic goes, can still be an unsound and so overall bad argument if its valid inferences are from false premises or to a false conclusion. I would suggest the terminology of "proficient" and "beneficent" to describe these analogues of "valid" and "sound" (or equivalently, of abstract or logical versus concrete or empirical existence).
  • fishfry
    2.9k
    :point: :clap:Pfhorrest

    One finger pointing at the sound of one hand clapping? Is this philosophical charades?
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    Oh shoot, that finger was supposed to be a thumbs up.
  • Punshhh
    2.6k
    I see art as a social enterprise, although that includes artists, as individuals, having a great deal of freedom in their work. Whether this individual work is regarded as good, or valid art, is then assessed by the social enterprise once it becomes exposed to society.

    I do consider though, there there is timeless art produced sometimes, which is always regarded as great art whatever the social conditions. Because it has achieved some transcendent standard of perfection. For example early Greek, or classical art.

    I would also stress that beauty is linked to the human experience of the beauty of people, who are regarded by society as beautiful. Also in the human experience of nature as regarded as beautiful by society. This can also become timeless like the great art I just mentioned.

    Perhaps this timeless quality could be described as archetypal.

    I agree that art and beauty are separate as you say. But that there is some cross over, where art leans towards beauty and beauty can be nuanced by art. Again this is a social and cultural phenomenon.
  • Gregory
    4.6k
    Indian art often shock and awes you, and has a different intention then say the art in the Vatican. The latter tries the way of Platonic beauty, hinting at universals through the paintings ect. Many Catholics aren't Platonists but I think there traditional art inherently is. Thomas Kinkade's heard says "German idealism" to me and that is where my heart is.
  • Noble Dust
    7.8k


    Hey man, just letting you know I did see this, and am very interested in responding. I'll get back to you soon (ish? I'm an artist, I cant' lie)
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    No rush, and nice to hear another artist-philosopher is here too. :-)
  • Noble Dust
    7.8k


    There's a lot of artists on the forum. We just tend to not stick out.
  • Noble Dust
    7.8k
    Indeed, I do think ethics interfaces with art here (although NB that “beauty” and “good art“ are not synonyms on my account; nor “high art” and “good art”, nor “high art” and the “nobler purposes” to which art can be put that I mentioned earlier).Pfhorrest

    What I mean is that if there really is such a thing as a real, objective aesthetic standard, then, by nature, the standard is ethical. It's important to constantly remember that artistic expression is deeply human and deeply connected to the human experience. From my view, I have no problem with someone making arguments that there is no such thing as an aesthetic standard, at least in theory. I would almost rather consider those arguments than those that I'm about to describe: If you're going to hint at the existence of a real standard, flirt with it, but never commit...you can't do that; you have to go all the way. You (I'm saying this broadly) can't get away with a vague notion that art and ethics are connected; that beauty and goodness are connected. I mean, I guess you can if you honestly take a sort of agnostic approach (figuratively speaking) in the sense of, "there has to be an aesthetic standard, but I don't understand". Which is probably the position closest to mine anyway. But if so, you have to acknowledge your own lack of understanding. I don't know if that makes sense, this is just off the top of my head.

    I agree with you on pretty much everything else you mentioned; again, the above paragraph is just my typical word vomit; feel free to ask questions. But I have a quick note on this:

    Circling back again to rhetoric, as the archetypical medium, for illustration: an argument that successfully persuades someone to believe something false or to intend something bad is thereby objectively bad rhetoric, even if the speaker meant his words to do so and so would subjectively consider his rhetoric good for its success, because by objective standards false things are not to be believed and bad things are not to be intended and so rhetoric is not meant, by those standards, to persuade people to do so, and in succeeding at doing what it is not meant to do, that rhetoric thereby fails at doing what it is meant to do, and is thereby bad rhetoric.Pfhorrest

    I think it's fine to compare rhetoric and art and notice similarities in delivery and interpretation of the two, but I don't think it's correct to lump them together (which I'm not sure if you're doing or not, but I'm not assuming you are. Just making a remark here). Rhetoric clearly functions within philosophy, as a way to potentially deliver information (ideas) in a way that sort of meets the audience where they are, rather than requiring intense logical engagement with complex information. Art is nothing like that. To me, an important aspect of art is a sort of apophatic character; art, at it's best, can sometimes be like that annoying kid in grade school (or that annoying kid in philosophy 101 in college) who questions everything, and is contrary all the time. Art hates being cornered or defined. Just by nature, when you attempt to find a nice box for art, it makes sure to not fit.
  • Pfhorrest
    4.6k
    What I mean is that if there really is such a thing as a real, objective aesthetic standard, then, by nature, the standard is ethical.Noble Dust

    Agreed, and I think I pretty much said as much. Art is only objectively good inasmuch as a work of art is a kind of speech-act and speech-acts like all acts are subject to moral judgement. Pleasing people is good. Teaching people is good, especially Socraticly by raising interesting questions for consideration. So art that does those things effectively is good, in an objective sense, not just good as in effective at whatever, but good as in effective at doing something good.

    I think it's fine to compare rhetoric and art and notice similarities in delivery and interpretation of the two, but I don't think it's correct to lump them together (which I'm not sure if you're doing or not, but I'm not assuming you are. Just making a remark here).Noble Dust

    I’m referring back to my earlier thread about the relationship between rhetoric and the arts, where I characterize rhetoric as being about style and presentation and appealing more personally to passions and feelings (in contrast to logic being about form and structure and appealing more impersonally to dispassionate thought), and put forth that rhetoric holds the same relationship to the arts more generally as logic holds to mathematics more generally: each is a foundational part of its respective larger field and where that field intersects with both philosophy and the more abstract study of language, with both mathematics and the arts being kind of broad explorations of opposite aspects of language.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment