Brillo Box by Andy Warhol, 1969
But is it art? by Cynthia Freeland
We all know that taste in art is subjective and each person has a different opinion of what is "tasteful." In her book, Freeland examines the historical philosophical debate about taste between Hume and Kant. While both men agreed that works of art can be classified as superior or inferior, they disagreed about why some people have "better taste."
Hume's idea is that "good taste" is acquired through education and experience. He added that it is these educated people who set the "standard of taste" for all, and who differentiate between good and bad works of art. In contrast to that opinion, Freeland notes the skeptics' viewpoint that Hume's taste-arbiters only acquired their values through cultural indoctrination. In other words, these few elite weren't raised in a vacuum, so the culture they grew-up in influenced their opinions. It's a passive way for society to maintain a form of stasis in aesthetics.
On the other hand, Kant was more interested in explaining judgements of "beauty" in order to address "taste." He felt that good judgements in aesthetics are grounded in features of artworks themselves, not just in us and our preferences. Unlike Hume, Kant believed that judgements of beauty were universal and grounded in the real world, even though they were not actually objective. His definition of what makes something beautiful is that it has "purposiveness without a purpose." Say what????
The author unpacks this for us (thank goodness!). She uses the rose as an example. Although we could say that the purpose of a rose is to produce more roses, that's not what makes it beautiful. Beauty is found in the color, texture, and odor of the rose that seem "right" to our senses and elicits pleasure. This is its "purposiveness without a purpose." Kant believed that to make beautiful art requires human genius , the special ability to manipulate materials so that they create a harmony of the faculties causing viewers to respond with distanced enjoyment. So, Freeland interprets Kant's ideas by stating that beautiful objects appeal to our senses, but in a cool, detached way which satisfied our imagination and intellect.
It's interesting for me to read Freeland's comparison of Hume and Kant's ideas. I think that today we operate in a mixture of the two, since society tends place high regard in the opinions of educated art critics and museum curators while also placing value in what satisfies us personally. For instance, I've been to museums and art exhibitions where a few art objects that are proudly on display don't make sense to me - they lack content and/or skill. For me, the art doesn't have to be beautiful, but it must satisfy my emotions and intellect. There must be some sort of significance for it to be included as an important work of art among others that are deemed "great." When I read a lengthy narrative by a curator about the importance of a work of art, sometimes I'm convinced and sometimes not.
This may seem unimportant, but we artists are part of an industry that is worth bazillions of dollars and has some historical significance. Therefore, the opinons of Hume's few educated elite greatly influence the market, which affects even the smallest artist like me. It's somewhat paradoxical.
What are your thoughts??