Art is a specialized form of communication
- a source encodes a message that is decoded by a receiver
- an artist creates a work that is appreciated by an audience
high/low art distinction maps onto class distinction, but this is not a truism throughout human culture. Two poles of artistic definition:
- virtuosity in performing conventional skills, approaching ideal form
- innovation and individuality as the badge of genius and mark of quality
birth of the romantic ARTIST
- European 15th/16th centuries, Reformation/Renaissance
- Western preoccupation with the individual
- Thus, art was defined as the innovative product of creative genius.
- This, in turn, undermined art’s traditional communicative function
- Artists came to be viewed as avant-garde
Arts were defined as a separate class of product in the 18th C., and were defined by their irrelevance to daily life. – Arts were banished to a cultural “reservation”
Artists (like clerics) are viewed with a mixture of contempt and awe. This wasn’t always so. As religion’s function waned, so did art’s.
Most Western adults view art as fundamentally separate from their lives. Why?
- our culture doesn’t nourish artistic symbolic competency the way it does linguistic competency.
- children are not raised to be competent in the arts, because the assumption is that only a special few will possess the requisite talent, and most adults are not equipped to help them gain competency.
Artist exceptionality >> arts as scarce resources
- unique, individual, innovative all become synonymous
- this is a problem if we view art as communication, and thus shared meaning
Kant: aesthetic vs. utilitarian
Rousseau: untainted childhood >> becomes model for western artist (cf. Baudelaire)
Late 18th century: Romanticism elevates the role of individualism in art by shifting from skill to unique personal vision
- sincerity, integrity become essential qualifiers of a true artist
- represented through unique distortions of representation (e.g. cubism)
Stetson (late 19th c.): believed that design would be the key to industrial success in a competitive international market (got trumped by Ford, who aimed instead for efficiency and economies of scale). This is really interesting, especially in light of the recent resurgence of design aesthetics for basic consumer goods (e.g. Target). Wonder whether the rules change to benefit Steston’s theory in a post-Fordist, information economy.
Practical art education was thus considered to be essential in public schools through WWI. Then it got eclipsed by “progressive” art education in the 1920s. John Dewey was its chief proponent. Emphasized individuality, etc. In other words, a return to a non-functional, Romantic notion of art, with an I’m-OK-you’re-OK-everyone’s-OK angle. I think there is a middle ground – or rather a meta-ground – between Dewey and Stetson. Aesthetics can be functional but self-contained. This is too complex to elaborate here, but at least I know what I’m talking about.
‘social synergy’ (Bendict and Maslow) – when something is good for both the individual and the collective. Values abundant, rather than scarce, resources. Art can be considered this way instead of as a scarce resource but he doesn’t get into the larger reasons – it’s not just the art-world argument. Our treatment of art echoes and reinforces the logic of capitalism.
“The resulting pattern of constant innovation in the arts undermines their ability to embody the common experiences and meanings of the society, to serve the central communicative functions of socialization and integration – roles now assigned to the ‘popular’ arts and the mass media.” (3)
“The common observation that art and religion seem to ‘go together’ in many cultures of the past and the non-Western present can be traced to their joint roles as carriers and articulators of these cultures’ basic beliefs about the nature of things and about the moral order.” (4)
“Perhaps the capacity to acquire competence in the symbolic modes we associate with the arts is not rare but widespread, and it may wither for lack of nourishment.” (5) RIGHT ON. (Cites Blacking).
“few adults manifest competence or expect it in the child, and the arts do not function as common carriers of cultural knowledge, which thus reinforces their marginal status.” (6)
“Parents, schools and peers convey in a variety of forms the message that art isn’t quite ‘real’ and that its ambivalent, peripheral status is appropriate to those who are ‘called’ to it.” (7)
“The undisputed sincerity of this progressive position nonetheless reinforces the isolation of the arts from the things that really matter and further weakens the basis for art education.” (13) What ‘really matters?’ Politics? Social change? Economics? Aesthetics plays a role in shaping each of these, even if artistic practices remain self-contained (e.g. not used specifically toward commercial or political ends). I should take this up with Larry.
“As a society made up of people whoa re mostly unsure of their judgment in the arts and who are aware of their own lack of skill, we perpetuate a contradictory set of views that trap most of us into dropping out.” (14) I think there are other functional reasons for this (e.g. division of labor)
“It is also important to understand that the ideology of talent and individuality as the passport to the reservation is congruent with the institutional structure of the official, elite art worlds.” (14) yes. Ideology << >> Structure
“A program for early education that focuses on the acquisition of competence in primary modes of thought and action – lexical, iconic, musical, logico-mathematical – understood as communicative systems could make possible a fuller employment of human potential than we now achieve.” (14) telos = employing human potential