Example Of Essay On The Aesthetic Theory And The Act Of Creation
The Act of Creation
There are a plethora of different reasons why artists choose to create art in certain manners. Every artistic pursuit in human history has had a goal; from the earliest human productions to the most modern, artists create with a purpose in mind. It seems to be one of the most important, driving forces in human existence: the need to create meaning through artistic expression. If this were not the case, it would be unlikely that art would be such a common theme throughout different cultures, times, and spaces. In the same way that music ties human cultures together and goes through phases and changes, so too does art.
There has always been a problem when it comes to defining art. What constitutes art? It seems as though everyone has a different idea of what constitutes art, and how to properly appreciate art. Some art can be appreciated as art by anyone, regardless of whether or not it is enjoyable to everyone—for instance, even someone who does not like portrait paintings can appreciate that The Mona Lisa is a work of extreme talent and beauty. Other types of art become more problematic, however—a discussion of Rothko or Jackson Pollock can easily become an all-night affair between people with differing opinions.
This discussion with address the issue of the act of creation, and the intention of creation insofar as the artist is concerned. There are many questions raised about the subjectivity of art, and what it means to have created art at all. When an artist creates a piece, he or she is sending a message; does the meaning of art revolve around the message? If the message is offensive or disgusting in some way, does this negate the message and the importance of the piece in some way? These are all important questions that must be addressed.
The act of creation is something that is specific to the artist. When an artist creates a piece, he or she has created something new that has been added to the overall human experience; this is something that is important to consider when discussing the idea of art and the overall meaning of art. Beardsley suggests that works like Duchamp’s Fountain are not works of art, because they do not fit into the narrow definition of aesthetic art; although some would not classify these pieces as art, it seems as though art should be taken outside of the general aesthetic definition of art to truly understand and appreciate pieces.
The Offensive and the Profane: The Viewer and Art
Beardsley suggests that because Duchamp did not have an overall aesthetic purpose when he created Fountain, that Fountain cannot possibly be considered as a piece of art; instead, Fountain should be considered as a comment on art, and a comment on the nature of art (Warwick, 1968). Beardsley certainly did not consider Fountain to be a piece of artwork on the aesthetic par with The Mona Lisa; however, that was never Duchamp’s intention for the work either. Instead, Duchamp meant for his piece to be considered within the structure of art that currently existed, but he also meant for the piece to challenge these structures (Warwick, 1968).
In one important court case in the United States, Miller v. California, the United States ruled that there were certain things that were not considered art under the law. Although this discussion is not a legal one, the Supreme Court set forth a very interesting set of tests to determine if something is considered art or obscenity. In this test, the court must decide if the piece fits the community’s standards for behavior, whether the art describes sexual or excretory functions in an inappropriate way, or whether the work as a whole has political, societal, literary, or artistic value (Oyez.org, 2015).
This is very important to consider, because it gives a general guideline for the way the general public thinks about art. Does education have anything to do with the way people think about art? This is also an important question—because the more people understand art, the better their appreciation for it is (Warwick, 1968). People who do not understand art, and do not understand the many different ways that art has changed over the years tend to misunderstand the different meanings and messages that different pieces of art may carry (Warwick, 1968). Supreme Court justices could not even define art—the test that was developed in Miller is colloquially known as the “I’ll know it when I see it” test. It is almost impossible to determine objectively what will pass the Miller test, because what is considered acceptable varies so heavily from community to community.
Here it is important to draw a line in the sand: just because a piece is offensive does not mean that it is not art. A work of art that is created with a message in mind that is offensive should not be stripped of its title as “art” merely because the artist sought to send a message that is unacceptable in a certain community; when The Satanic Verses were attacked by jihadists in the years after the book was published, the jihadists did not devalue the text merely because they disagreed with the meaning of the text; The Satanic Verses was then and is now a fantastic novel, and the general outrage at the existence of the text did not devalue the text at all.
There must, however, be some kind of line drawn between works of art that are offensive and pieces that are created that are not art, like child pornography. The Supreme Court tried to draw this line by saying that images whose purpose is to arouse “prurient interest” in the viewer should be considered obscene, but if there is anything that the Internet has taught us, it is that people can and will find prurient interest in all manner of things. Perhaps the line should be drawn at causing harm, then; once a piece begins to cause harm, that piece of art can no longer be considered artwork, and must be considered in the realm of obscenity instead. It is undoubtedly a difficult distinction to draw, because some may have considered Piss Christ to be offensive and damaging; however, no human beings or animals were harmed in the creation of Piss Christ.
The thing about art is that it does not have to take the viewer into consideration; the viewer is a byproduct of the creative process. While some pieces of art are seen by millions, others are seen by very few; technical prowess and the beauty or importance of the message may be different between different pieces of art, but either way, the pieces are still art.
Found Art and the Nature of Art
In his essay “The Creative Act,” Duchamp writes: “What I have in mind is that art may be bad, good, or indifferent, but, whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art is still art in the same way that a bad emotion is still an emotion” (Duchamp). In short, just because art is bad does not mean that it does not count as artwork; artwork can be judged on its technical merits and its message, but that does not mean that some “art” falls below the line and thus gets removed from the category “artwork.”
Duchamp was a master of “found art.” Perhaps his most famous piece, a urinal entitled Fountain, is now in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Duchamp was extremely interested in the ways in which society affected art and the consumption of art; his pieces focused on the ways in which the artist could change a piece from something that he had merely found to something that could be considered art. This infuriated some artists and art critics, as Duchamp was very willing to engage in projects that were strange or abrasive in some way. Duchamp was loved by some but he also enraged many with his pieces of found or “readymade” art.
Readymade art was something that revolutionized the art world in many ways. Duchamp changed the discussion from the discussion of whether something is good or bad art to the discussion of whether something is art or not—philosophically, this is a much different question, and one that Duchamp was interested in engaging with extensively (Marzio and Richter, 1973). Art had, for so long, been subject to many different conventions and rules; these conventions and rules could be extremely restrictive for artists.
Duchamp also notes that the creative process is the thing that should be considered the “barrier for entry” into the realm of art, so to speak; the creative process is what turns a blank canvas into a painting, and a urinal into a sculpture. Duchamp writes, “In the creative act, the artist goes from intention to realization through a chain of totally subjective reactions. His struggle toward the realization is a series of efforts, pains, satisfaction, refusals, decisions, which also cannot and must not be fully self-conscious, at least on the aesthetic plane. The result of this struggle is a difference between the intention and its realization, a difference which the artist is not aware of a link is missing. This gap, representing the inability of the artist to express fully his intention, this difference is the personal ‘art coefficient’ contained in the work” (Duchamp).
Duchamp’s statement that artwork is designated as artwork based on the work that the artist puts into the piece is something that is much easier to use to define art than a subjective test. Duchamp’s utter insistence that one does not have to like a piece—one does not even have to believe that the piece is technically sound—for that piece to be art is one that is very engaging on an artistic and philosophical level. It removes the need for value-based judgments, and opens the door to new and different methods of artistic expression for artists of all different media.
Problems with Modern Art
The term “modern” art may be used to describe a variety of different things, but for the purposes of discussion here, the term will be used to describe art commonly but not always done in non-traditional media, done after the turn of the twentieth century. This includes pop art, readymade art, and installation art pieces that have been done in this particular time period, as well as paintings, sculptures, and buildings.
Part of modern art is stretching the boundaries of what humanity considers to be art, and reaching to the very corners of what is acceptable in society is bound to offend some. In addition, modern artists come from more varied backgrounds than ever before, and sometimes the messages sent in their pieces may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable to viewers. Modern art is sometimes so different from what human beings commonly consider to be “art” that it can be difficult for the viewer to parse, and therefore it commonly gets written off as something that does not need to be considered. Jackson Pollock is one artist that very commonly gets this reaction from viewers.
The Aesthetic Theory of Art
The aesthetic theory of art suggests that art has to be aesthetically pleasing to the viewer to be considered art (Anderson, 1990). If not aesthetically pleasing, the artist must have at least had a mission in mind to please the viewer aesthetically. This is a type of art theory that was developed extensively as a result of some of the Dada and Surrealist art movements of the twentieth century; however, as a kind of unspoken rule, this concept has been around for much longer.
There is something alluring about the idea of having an aesthetic standard upon which to base one’s decision regarding the art-not art question for a particular piece. Urine in a jar may be difficult for many to accept as art, but then, by today’s aesthetic standards, many Byzantine pieces of art are not particularly attractive. The petroglyphs carved into rock canyons in the American Southwest would qualify as hardly more than a child’s doodles today. However, the general public still recognizes these as art, and sees them as important pieces of humanity’s collective cultural heritage.
The problem with aesthetic theory, then, lies in the fact that there is true subjectivity to whether or not someone likes something. Something can be objectively composed perfectly, and still not appeal to everyone in the world; this can be seen very clearly in music. Although certain classical pieces are composed perfectly, they still may be unappealing to certain people because, for lack of better terminology, people’s tastes just differ. When a line has to be drawn between art and not-art, it is almost impossible to remove personal likes and dislikes from the equation; however, it is fundamentally important to do so for the overall advancement and growth of the art world. Art is meant to challenge the viewer: if the viewer wants comfort, he or she is free to look away. An artist that is willing to explore the creative process and understand what the creative process is capable of—even if he or she produces something ugly—has certainly produced art.
Anderson, R. (1990). Popular Art and Aesthetic Theory: Why the Muse Is Unembarrassed. Journal Of Aesthetic Education, 24(4), 33. doi:10.2307/3333105
Duchamp, M. (2015). The Creative Act: Marcel Duchamp’s 1957 Classic, Read by the Artist Himself.Brain Pickings. Retrieved 30 March 2015, from http://www.brainpickings.org/2012/08/23/the-creative-act-marcel-duchamp-1957/
Marzio, P., & Richter, H. (1973). Dada: Art and Anti-Art. Leonardo, 6(1), 71. doi:10.2307/1572434
Nesbit, M. (1986). Ready-Made Originals: The Duchamp Model. October, 37, 53. doi:10.2307/778518
Oyez.org,. (2015). Miller v. California. Retrieved 30 March 2015, from http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1971/1971_70_73
Warwick, J. (1968). The Early Works of Aubrey Beardsley. Art Education, 21(1), 37. doi:10.2307/3191099
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