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This assignment covers chapters 1 & 2.For this assignment, read the following questions first, and then choose only one of the questions and write a short paper of 300-500 words in MS Word .docx format, save and upload it to the submission folder. Remember, respond only to one question. You will not get credit if you answer all of the questions.1. Briefly describe the four definitions of art presented, and indicate one strength and one weakness of each.2. Give an example of a work of art or architecture that shows an artist’s personal need to create and another example of a work that shows a communal need.3. List the six elements of design first and then describe how four of the six elements of design are used in Figure 2.5 Edgar Degas, After the Bath, Woman drying herself and in Figure 2.25 Jocho, Seated Buddha.4. List the five principles of design first and then choose an image from Unit 2 and discuss three of the five principles of design present in the image you selected. Describe how those three principles appear in your image. Any use of sources must be documented in MLA style. You should only use signed sources (that is, sources that have a named author). Wikipedia should not be used as a source itself. Read through your paper several times before you submit, revising where your prose is unclear or needs further explanation and correcting any errors in spelling, grammar or syntax.
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1
What is Art?
Jeffrey LeMieux and Pamela J. Sachant
1.1 LEARNING OUTCOMES
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
• Recognize various historical arguments about the definition of art and who is an artist.
• Engage arguments that distinguish between art and craft.
• Critically evaluate claims about whether an object is or is not art from multiple points
of view.
• Engage questions about who is considered an artist and the role of the viewer.
• Productively speculate about various reasons why people have made and continue to
make art.
• Recognize your intuitive understanding of art, and potentially build a broader, more
comprehensive view of the nature and definition of visual art, one which incorporates
historically and culturally diverse art objects and answers conceptual challenges.
1.2 INTRODUCTION
We live in a rapidly changing world in which images play an important, even central, role. With
widespread use of personal electronics, we instantaneously deliver and receive sound, video, and
text messages. Corporations and governments worldwide recognize the power of advertising. Art
museums worldwide are putting large parts of their collections online. Today we are seeing theater-quality movies made with inexpensive equipment that was unavailable ten years ago. Selfies,
personal video, and memes are everywhere. In 1968, artist Andy Warhol (1928-1967, USA) said,
“In the future everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” (Self Portrait, Andy Warhol:
http://art.newcity.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Warhol_SelfPortrait.jpg) We are seeing
that prediction come true with the advent of personal electronics that rival the sophistication of the
most advanced professional studios of only twenty years ago. We are surrounded by images, but,
for all of our clever technical abilities, the fundamental dynamics of visual art remain the same.
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INTRODUCTION TO ART
CHAPTER ONE: WHAT IS ART?
Take a few minutes to look over the accompanying image, Blind Homer and His Guide.
(Figure 1.1) It was painted in 1875 by a leading
member of the French École des Beaux Arts,
or School of Fine Arts, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1925, France), and serves as a
good example of the kinds of paintings made in
Europe during that time. We might wonder what
a painting made more than 100 years ago in a foreign country could have to do with us today.
The French Academic artist Bouguereau’s
painting is more than a literal presentation
of a forgotten moment in ancient history. The
painting challenges viewers from every age to go
deeper, to see the symbolism behind the history. Homer, who is thought to have lived around
1000 BCE, was the chief poet of the ancient
Greeks. Ancient Greek ideas about social roles
and the nature of virtue come to us in part from
Homer’s epic poems the Illiad and the Odyssey.
In Bouguereau’s painting, Homer symbolizes
civilization and culture. Homer wanders blindly
Figure 1.1 | Blind Homer with Guide
through a savage wilderness with only a youth
Artist: Bouguereau
to shelter him. In this way, Bouguereau implies
Author: User “Thebrid”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
that a wilderness can be not only physical but
License: Public Domain
also cultural, and in that sense, all of us wander
through a wilderness that threatens the human
spirit found in culture. His painting asks the question, “How are cultural values carried forward?”
In Bouguereau’s work, the young man has taken responsibility for protecting Homer, who symbolizes the refined wisdom of the past and the foundation of western culture. This image is a call
to the youth of Bouguereau’s generation (and to ours) to bring precious culture forward safely
through an ever-threatening wilderness.
Wherever we find human beings, we find visual art. Works of visual art raise questions not only about our ancestors, but also about the nature of visual art itself. What is art? Who is an artist?
Why do artists make art? What is the role of the viewer? Does everything count as art? How have
people defined art through time? How do we define art today?
In this chapter, we will examine these questions in more detail. The purpose of this examination is twofold: to increase your awareness of the mechanics of those images and, thus, more
effectively understand the visual art that we encounter in our daily lives. Images are powerful.
Images are used in our culture in many ways, not all of them benign. When we enhance our visual
literacy, we raise our awareness of the powerful images that surround us.
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INTRODUCTION TO ART
CHAPTER ONE: WHAT IS ART?
1.3 WHAT IS VISUAL ART?
To explore a subject, we need first to define it. Defining art, however, proves elusive. You may
have heard it said (or even said it yourself) that “it might be art, but it’s not Art,” which means, “I
might not know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.”
Everywhere we look, we see images designed to command our attention, including images of
desire, images of power, religious images, images meant to recall memories, and images intended
to manipulate our appetites. But are they art?
Some languages do not have a separate word for art. In those cultures, objects tend to be utilitarian in purpose but often include in their design the intent to delight, portray a special status,
or commemorate an important event or ritual. Thus, while the objects are not considered art, they
do have artistic functions.
1.3.1 Historic Development of the Idea of Art
The idea of art has developmentally progressed from human prehistory to the present day.
Changes to the definition of art over time can be seen as attempts to resolve problems with earlier
definitions. The ancient Greeks saw the goal of visual art as copying, or mimesis. Nineteenth-century art theorists promoted the idea that art is communication: it produces feelings in the viewer.
In the early twentieth century, the idea of significant form, the quality shared by aesthetically
pleasing objects, was proposed as a definition of art. Today, many artists and thinkers agree with
the institutional theory of art, which shifts focus from the work of art itself to who has the power
to decide what is and is not art. While
this progression of definitions of art is
not exhaustive, it is instructive.
1.3.1.1 Mimesis
The ancient Greek definition of art
as mimesis, or imitation of the real
world, appears in the myth of Zeuxis and Parhassios, rival painters from
ancient Greece in the late fifth century BCE who competed for the title
of greatest artist. (Figure 1.2) Zeuxis
painted a bowl of grapes that was so
lifelike that birds came down to peck
at the image of fruit. Parhassios was
unimpressed with this achievement.
When viewing Parhassios’s work, Zeuxis, on his part, asked that the curtain over the painting be drawn back
so he could see his rival’s work more
Figure 1.2 | Zeuxis conceding defeat: “I have deceived
the birds, but Parhassios has deceived Zeuxis.”
Artist: Joachim von Sandrart; engraving by Johann Jakob von Sandrart
Author: User “Fae”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain
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INTRODUCTION TO ART
CHAPTER ONE: WHAT IS ART?
clearly. Parhassios declared himself the victor because the curtain was the painting, and while
Zeuxis fooled the birds with his work, Parhassios fooled a thinking human being—a much more
difficult feat.
The ancient Greeks felt that the visual artist’s goal was to copy visual experience. This approach appears in the realism of ancient Greek sculpture and pottery. We must sadly note that,
due to the action of time and weather, no paintings from ancient Greek artists exist today. We can
only surmise their quality based on tales such as that of Zeuxis and Parhassios, the obvious skill
in ancient Greek sculpture, and in drawings that survive on ancient Greek pottery.
This definition of art as copying reality has a problem, though.
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956, USA),
a leader in the New York School of
the 1950’s, intentionally did not
copy existing objects in his art.
(Figure 1.3) While painting these
works, Pollock and his fellow
artists would consciously avoid
making marks or passages that
resembled recognizable objects.
They succeeded at making artwork that did not copy anything,
thus demonstrating that the anFigure 1.3 | Left: The She-Wolf; Right: Gothic
cient Greek view of art as mimeArtist: Jackson Pollock
sis—simple copying—does not sufAuthor: Gorup de Besanez
Source: Wikimedia Commons
ficiently define art.
License: CC BY-SA 4.0
1.3.1.2 Communication
A later attempt at defining art comes from the nineteenth-century Russian author Leo Tolstoy.
Tolstoy wrote on many subjects, and is the author of the great novel War and Peace (1869). He
was also an art theorist. He proposed that art is the communication of feeling, stating, “Art is
a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously by means of certain external signs,
hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by these feelings and
also experience them.”1
This definition does not succeed because it is impossible to confirm that the feelings of the artist have been successfully conveyed to another person. Further, suppose an artist created a work
of art that no one else ever saw. Since no feeling had been communicated through it, would it still
be a work of art? The work did not “hand on to others” anything at all because it was never seen.
Therefore, it would fail as art according to Tolstoy’s definition.
1
Leo Tolstoy, What is Art? And Essays on Art, trans. Aylmer Maude (London: Oxford University Press, 1932), 123.
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INTRODUCTION TO ART
CHAPTER ONE: WHAT IS ART?
1.3.1.3 Significant Form
To address these limitations of existing definitions of art, in 1913 English art critic Clive Bell
proposed that art is significant form, or the “quality that brings us aesthetic pleasure.” Bell stated, “to appreciate a work of art we need bring with us nothing but a sense of form and colour.”2 In
Bell’s view, the term “form” simply means line, shape, mass, as well as color. Significant form is
the collection of those elements that rises to the level of your awareness and gives you noticeable
pleasure in its beauty. Unfortunately, aesthetics, pleasure in the beauty and appreciation of art,
are impossible to measure or reliably define. What brings aesthetic pleasure to one person may
not affect another. Aesthetic pleasure exists only in the viewer, not in the object. Thus significant
form is purely subjective. While Clive Bell did advance the debate about art by moving it away
from requiring strict representation, his definition gets us no closer to understanding what does
or does not qualify as an art object.
1.3.1.4 Artworld
One definition of art widely held today was first promoted in the 1960s by American philosophers George Dickie and Arthur Danto, and is called the institutional theory of art, or the “Artworld” theory. In the simplest version of this theory, art is an object or set of conditions that has
been designated as art by a “person or persons acting on behalf of the artworld,” and the artworld
is a “complex field of forces” that determine what is and is not art.3 Unfortunately, this definition
gets us no further along because it is not about art at all! Instead, it is about who has the power to
define art, which is a political issue, not an aesthetic one.
1.3.2 Definition of Art
We each perceive the world
from our own position or perspective and from that perception we make a mental image of
the world. Science is the process
of turning perceptions into a
coherent mental picture of the
universe through testing and
observation. (Figure 1.4) Science moves concepts from the
world into the mind. Science is
vitally important because it allows us to understand how the
world works and to use that understanding to make good predictions. Art is the other side of
2
3
Figure 1.4 | Perception: Art and Science
Author: Jeffrey LeMieux
Source: Original Work
License: CC BY-SA 4.0
Clive Bell, “Art and Significant Form,” in Art (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1913), 2
George Dickie, Art and the Aesthetic: An Institutional Analysis (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974), 464.
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INTRODUCTION TO ART
Figure 1.5 | Portrait of Percy
Bysshe Shelley
Artist: Alfred Clint
Author: User “Dcoetzee”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain
Figure 1.6 | Portrait of Jean-Jacques
Rousseau
Artist: Maurice Quentin de La Tour
Author: User “Maarten van Vliet”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain
CHAPTER ONE: WHAT IS ART?
our experience with the world. Art moves ideas from the
mind into the world.
We need both art and science to exist in the world. From
our earliest age, we both observe the world and do things
to change it. We are all both scientists and artists. Every
human activity has both a science (observation) and an art
(expression) to it. Anyone who has participated in the discipline of Yoga, for example, can see that even something as
simple as breathing has both an art and a science to it.
This definition of art covers the wide variety of objects
that we see in museums, on social media, or even in our
daily walk to work. But this definition of art is not enough.
The bigger question is: what art is worthy of our attention,
and how do we know when we have found it? Ultimately,
each of us must answer that question for ourselves.
But we do have help if we want it. People who have made
a disciplined study of art can offer ideas about what art is important and why. In the course of this text, we will examine
some of those ideas about art. Due to the importance of respecting the individual, the decision about what art is best
must belong to the individual. We ask only that the student
understand the ideas as presented.
When challenged with a question or problem about
what is best, we first ask, “What do I personally know about
it?” When we realize our personal resources are limited,
we might ask friends, neighbors, and relatives what they
know. In addition to these important resources, the educated person can refer to a larger body of possible solutions
drawn from a study of the history of literature, philosophy,
and art: What did the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley
say about truth in his essay Defense of Poetry (1840)? (Figure 1.5) What did the French philosopher Jean-Jacques
Rousseau claim about human nature in his treatise Emile
or On Education (1762)? (Figure 1.6) What did Johannes
Vermeer (1632-1675, Netherlands) show us about the quiet
dignity of the domestic space in his painting Woman Holding a Balance? (Figure 1.7) Through experiencing these
works of art and literature, our ideas about such things can
be tested and validated or found wanting.
We will examine works of visual art from a diverse range
of cultures and periods. The challenge for you as the reader
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INTRODUCTION TO ART
CHAPTER ONE: WHAT IS ART?
is to increase your ability to interpret works of art
through the use of context, visual dynamics, and
introspection, and to integrate them into a coherent worldview. The best outcome of an encounter
with art is an awakening of the mind and spirit
to a new point of view. A mind stretched beyond
itself never returns to its original dimension.
1.3.3 The Distinction of Fine Art
From our definition of art proposed above, it
would seem that craft and fine art are indistinguishable as both come from the mind into the
world. But the distinction between craft and art is
real and important. This distinction is most commonly understood as one based on the use or end
purpose of an object, or as an effect of the material used. Clay, textiles, glass, and jewelry were
long considered the province of craft, not art. If
an object’s intended use was a part of daily living,
then it was generally thought to be the product
of craft, not fine art. But many objects originally
intended to be functional, such as quilts, are now
thought to qualify as fine art. (Figure 1.8)
So what could be the difference between
art and craft? Anyone who has been exposed to
training in a craft such as carpentry or plumbing
recognizes that craft follows a formula, that is,
a set of rules that govern not only how the work
is to be conducted but also what the outcome of
that work must be. The level of craft is judged
by how closely the end product matches the
pre-determined outcome. We want our houses
to stand and water to flow when we turn on our
faucets. Fine art, on the other hand, results from
a free and open-ended exploration that does not
depend on a pre-determined formula for its outcome or validity. Its outcome is surprising and
original. Almost all fine art objects are a combination of some level both of craft and art. Art
stands on craft, but goes beyond it.
Figure 1.7 | Woman Holding a Balance
Artist: Johannes Vermeer
Author: User “DcoetzeeBot”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain
Figure 1.8 | Quilt
Artist: Lucy Mingo
Author: User “Billvolckening”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY-SA 4.0
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INTRODUCTION TO ART
CHAPTER ONE: WHAT IS ART?
1.3.4 Why Art Matters
American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer is considered
a “father of the atomic bomb” for the role he played in developing nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project
during World War II (1939-1945). (Figure 1.9) Upon completion of the project, quoting from the Hindu epic tale Bhagavad Gita, he stated, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer
of worlds.” Clearly, Oppenheimer had read more than physics
texts in his education, which fit him well for his important role
during World War II.
When we train in mathematics and the sciences, for example, we become very powerful. Power can be used well or
badly. Where in our schools is the coursework on how to use
power wisely? Today a liberal arts college education requires
Figure 1.9 | J. Robert Oppenheimer
students to survey the arts and history of human cultures in
Author: Los Alamos National Laboratory
order to examine a wide range of ideas about wisdom and to
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain
humanize the powerful. With that in mind, in every course
taken in the university, it is hoped that you will recognize the
need to couple your increasing intellectual power with a study of what is thought to be wisdom,
and to view each educational experience in the humanities as part of the search for what is better
in ourselves and our communities.
This text is not intended to determine what is or is not good art and why it matters. Rather, the
point of this text is to equip you with intellectual tools that will enable you to analyze, decipher,
and interpret works of art as bearers of meaning, to make your own decisions about the merit of
those works, and then usefully to integrate those decisions into your daily lives.
1.4 WHO IS CONSIDERED AN ARTIST? WHAT DOES IT MEAN
TO BE AN ARTIST?
In much of the world today, an artist is considered to be a person with the talent and the skills
to conceptualize and make creative works. Such persons are singled out and prized for their artistic and original ideas. Their art works can take many forms and fit into numerous categories,
such as architecture, ceramics, digital art, drawings, mixed media, paintings, photographs, prints,
sculpture, and textiles. Of greater importance, artists are the individuals who have the desire and
ability to envision, design, and fabricate the images, objects, and structures we all encounter, use,
occupy, and enjoy every day of our lives.
Today, as has been the case throughout history and across cultures, there are different titles
for those who make and build. An artisan or craftsperson, for example, may produce decorative
or utilitarian arts, such as quilts or baskets. Often, an artisan or craftsperson is a skilled worker,
but not the inventor of th …
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