August 2

What is art? vs What is GOOD art?

This post is a response to two videos by YouTube user PaulMcKeever which attempt to answer the basic questions “What is art?” and “What is GOOD art?“. PaulMcKeever is an objectivist/Ayn Rand apologist whom I generally agree with. The videos themselves are in response to YouTube user Luke12000, a young thinker whom I have followed for a while now and find very interesting. Let me preface this by acknowledging that I realize I’m a bit late to the ballgame as these videos are a few years old, but nevertheless, I was compelled to throw in my two cents, as this is a subject I have pondered before. Paul:

First, you attempt to answer the question “What is art?” by rejecting the premise that an object’s state of being art, or what I shall call “artness”, is subjective, and therefore you reject that “anything” is or can be art, subjectively – that is, you imply that “art” MUST be an objective subset of things in the real world. You compare this to the definition of an apple, and whether, if one also called a banana an “apple”, and then expanded the word “apple” to mean any number of things, the definition of the word “apple” would lose its meaning and therefore become meaningless. However, you fail to define the word “art” as you see or understand it. For the sake of clarity, I will use the definition of art as “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance”. The fallacy with your argument, then, is that while an apple contains a certain, rather minimal, set of physical qualities that give it “appleness” – its shape, its texture, its color – “artness” is instead a fully subjective condition wherein the subset of qualities is entirely dependent upon the viewer, and may not fall between the lines of what is generally accepted as “art”. That is, one person may perceive a plastic bag caught in a tree as the most beautiful thing they have ever seen, and while others may find that odd, they are wrong to imply that the person is somehow incorrect for perceiving the state of the object or objects as art.

Now, in attempting to answer the question of GOOD art, you juxtapose subjectivism vs objectivism (vs intrinsicism, but I will omit that here due to relevance). You then launch into a diatribe about the correlation between metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and art, but the question of “what is good art?” is never answered. You then state that subjectivism is “entirely wrong”, after stating that subjectivism implies that “nobody’s art can be judged to be good or evil” – implying that art SHOULD be judged on the criteria of “good or evil”. Now, in an attempt to answer this question for you, I will again invoke your apple metaphor. We can judge whether an apple is a “good apple” because a good apple has utility. We can cut an apple open and generally perceive whether it is fit to be eaten, or whether it is rotten or not ripe or spoiled in some way. The utility of art, however, is again a subjective trait – an object has utility as art only if the viewer perceives it as such.

I think your method of analyzing both of these questions fails because you try to apply an ethical standard of subjectivism vs objectivism to a type of object which can be no more “ethical” than that which it represents in the real world. For example, a painting of an apple cannot objectively be ethical or unethical, at least within the generally accepted set of ethics, because an apple itself cannot be ethical or unethical – they are both NON-ethical (is there another word which describes the absence of ethics?) objects. A painting of a murder, though, can subjectively be ethical, unethical, OR non-ethical, depending on the viewer.

The only way in which we can even attempt to decide “What is GOOD art?” from an objective point of view is to determine the intent of the artist in its creation. If the intent was to illustrate a banana, but the painting clearly illustrates an apple, then it is BAD art – but ONLY from an objectivist standpoint. Some who look at a painting of an apple that is supposed to be an apple will think it is bad, and on the contrary, some who look at a painting of a banana that is supposed to be an apple will think it is good. Therefore, we reach the answer to the question “What is GOOD art?”, and it is the same answer to the questions “what is the best music?”, “what is the tastiest food?”, and “what is the prettiest color?” – the answer is SUBJECTIVE to one’s OPINION. Any attempt to classify art as “objectively” good or bad would be to arbitrarily impose one’s taste on others in an elitist fashion. Therefore, in a Rand Objectivist definition, I would submit that “good art” is that which one perceives as “art” and which makes one happy – subject only to the self.

June 5

Shenandoah

I watched the old movie Shenandoah today. Since I’d be surprised if anyone who reads this has seen it before, it’s a 1965 Western-style movie about a Virginian man and his family caught up in the Civil War. It’s a Jimmy Stewart flick, full of chuckle-inducing quips & one-liners. But my favorite part was its conventional wisdom:

Mr. Anderson: It’s no easy job, Sam, to take care of a woman.
Sam: No, Sir.
Mr. Anderson: They expect things they never ask for, and when they don’t get them, they ask you why. Sometimes they don’t ask, and they just go ahead and punish you for not doing something you didn’t know you were supposed to do in the first place.
Sam: What, for instance, Sir?
Mr. Anderson: Well that’s a very difficult question to answer, Sam. You’re never quite sure. It’s sorta, you might say, relative.
Sam: Relative to what, Sir?
Mr. Anderson: To how they’re feeling at the moment.
Sam: And how’s that?
Mr. Anderson: You never know.
Sam: Well, I don’t believe I really understand what you’re trying to tell me, Sir.
Mr. Anderson: I know, I know, I never understood it myself. It’s just one of those things, Sam. It’s around; you just don’t ever see it. Now suppose Jenny started to cry one day. You don’t know why, so you ask her what she’s cryin’ about. You ask her, and she won’t tell ya. And that’s when you ask what you did that caused her to cry. She still won’t tell you, and that’s when you start to get angry. But don’t get angry, Sam. She won’t tell you why she’s cryin’ because she doesn’t know. Women are like that, Sam. It’s exasperating, it’s, it’s—! But don’t let it make ya angry. When she gets like that, just walk up and hug her a little bit. ‘Cause that’s all they really want when they’re like that, Sam. A little lovin’. You understand me, don’t ya?
Sam: No, Sir.
Mr. Anderson: You don’t, huh?

[next scene]

Mrs. Ann Anderson: Here’s something else you must remember: husbands like to be alone once in awhile.
Jennie Anderson: Why?
Mrs. Ann Anderson: You never know why, but I can always tell when James wants to be alone. A mood comes over him. I can always see it in his eyes before it gets there. I don’t know where the mood comes from or why, but that’s when I leave him alone. It seems sometimes things get so fickle in a man that he comes to feel that everything is closing in on him – and that’s when he wants to be left alone. You understand, don’t you?
Jennie Anderson: No!

So true, so true. Go rent (download) it! Leave your thoughts below :)

October 21

don’t stop believin’

for the past two weeks, the sky has been falling. we’ve been up in arms about the economy, the election, our jobs. meanwhile, CEOs of companies like AIG are throwing our hard-earned money down the drain. every day we hear about some new scandal, or disaster, or murder. the news is full of depressing and evil stories.

but today I had an experience down a different path. I was standing in line to pay for gas (which is $2.37 here now.. WOW! I truly never thought it would be this cheap again… enjoy it while it lasts!) and the woman in front of me said something to the cashier about cigarettes. it sounded like she was implying that she had paid for two packs yesterday, but only received one. the cashier seemed to think the same thing, and was reluctantly going to give her a “free” pack today, when she corrected him. she did not want another pack for free – she had only been charged for one of the two packs she had gotten yesterday – she wanted to pay for the cashier’s mistake!

I was surprised to see such honesty. I remarked out loud “wow – that’s a pretty impressive display of honesty”. her reply: “well, you’ll never really get anywhere being dishonest”. and isn’t that the truth?

I thought about it for a while today. I hope I would be that honest if I were put in the same situation. I know there have been times where I’ve been given too much change, and gave the extra back right then & there. but to come back the next day and return what was rightfully the store’s, that is some true integrity.

my mom and I talk about this all the time – how there are still good people out there, but those good stories usually get covered up because it’s “more interesting” to report all the bad things. my point is this – there are still good people out there. people who will help you up when you’re down, or help you out when you need a hand. God is good. and next time you’re feeling down, remember this corny one-liner…

life’s a Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’.

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September 28

what’s a Hokie?

I AM.

spend a day in Blacksburg and you’ll see shirts with that tagline. but recently, a Hokie hater I know made an interesting comment, a common misconception many of us have heard before: “a Hokie is a castrated turkey“.

I’d like to set the record straight about my beloved birdy friend. Hokies have a full set of genitalia. no, it’s not typically displayed on our logos or our mascot, but I’ve never seen a Clemson Tiger or the Boston College Eagle with something flapping around down below, either. have you?

I did some research, and came up with this article on the HokieSports.com site.

A lot of misinformation seems to be flying around about the turkey, not the least of which is that a Hokie is a castrated gobbler, slander probably circulated by rivals who feel inadequate to our own beloved mascot. So set misinformed family and friends straight…

it then goes on to establish why Virginia Tech is just, well, awesome!

“I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character. … The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” –Benjamin Franklin

and now you know… the rest of the story.

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