The Philosophy of Art
You do not have to be a scientist to be aware of the contribution science has made to our daily lives. Likewise, although you may not yourself profess belief in a religion or be consciously following the precepts of, say, Christianity, Judaism, or Buddhism, you will probably agree that religion too is pervasive — even in societies where the prevailing orthodoxy is atheism. A similar observation can be made about the arts. One need not be a painter, composer, or poet to appreciate that in one way or another we are influenced by art, music, and literature. All around us we see advertisements, we listen to songs on the radio, and we read newspapers. But, you may say, surely this is not what is meant by ‘real’ art? Michelangelo, Renoir, Constable, Van Gogh, yes; but paintings of coca cola bottles? As for music, surely we cannot refer in the same breath to Beethoven and the Beatles? And how can we possibly compare, say, a ‘Mills and Boon’ novel to War and Peace? This is not to say, of course, that ‘pop’ or ‘mass’ art is necessarily worthless. Perhaps it is. But this raises a fundamental problem: is there a criterion of value? Or several criteria? How do we actually judge the ‘worth’ of a picture, or a piece of music or writing? Is it not all a matter of subjective opinion? A chacun son goût, as the French say. As you have no doubt guessed, these are questions which belong to the philosophy of art. And there are many more, relating to the ‘purposes’ of art, the nature of beauty, the effects of art on individuals and societies, and how the various arts are to be classified. In this chapter we are going to consider just three questions: (1) What is the artist (and we shall use this term in a wide sense to include composers and writers) trying to achieve and why? (2) How does he realize his aims? (3) How do we judge that he has been successful? Underlying all three questions is the central one: What counts as ‘good’ art?
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