How convincing is the claim that art is valuable to the extent to which it informs us? (30 marks)
The question ‘how much can we value piece of artwork?’ is at the heart of many debates in the metaphysical world.
According to Plato, Kant and Schopenhauer, the world we experience which can be called the phenomenal world (Kant) or the physical world (Plato), is merely a representation of ultimate reality. Plato commonly refers to ultimate reality as ‘The Forms’, which are non-physical, perfect concepts that are objective for example ‘Justice’ or ‘Table’. The objects in the physical world are just copies/ representations of the Forms; they are imperfect and subjective, for example ‘a just act’ or ‘a table’. This distinction can be illustrated by the cave analogy. The Forms line the entrance to the cave, when ‘ultimate reality ‘shines into the cave, shadows are cast onto the wall. These shadows are representations of the Forms, and are the objects that we see. Schopenhauer, an idealist, suggested a similar theory, however there is a clear difference. Schopenhauer believed that the forms (or ideas as he called them) were caused by ‘the Will’, which is a non-physical energy/force which lies within everything.
In this essay I will discuss different ways we can value art, and many philosopher’s responses to these.
One way we can value art, is to the extent that it mimics or imitates reality. Plato calls this mimesis. Both Plato and Schopenhauer believe the role of an artist is to imitate the Forms as best as possible and traditionally art is valued if it looks like its subject. However Plato believes art cannot mimic the forms, as the best an artist can do is a copy of the physical world, therefore meaning art is 2 steps away from the forms, so has little value as we cannot access the Forms. Schopenhauer has a very different approach, that art depicts ideas and the Will, because as we spend time focussing on one piece of artwork, we can gain knowledge of the Will from it.
There are however several problems with the view that art is valuable to the extent it imitates reality. Imitation is not a necessary condition of art, as there are several accepted pieces of abstract artwork which appear not to be imitating anything in particular (eg. Mark Rothko – Untitled). This would undermine the view that valuable art imitates reality. Schopenhauer would respond to this on the other hand, as he believes that artwork does not have to mimic reality, it could imitate the Will or emotion. Anther objection is that Imitation is not a sufficient condition for something to be a valuable piece of art. To say that if something is imitative, it is art is ludicrous. A perfect imitation, we may not value as art, for example mass production, or a painting of a section of ‘lilac wallpaper’. These 2 examples could be perfect copies, alas they are not artwork.
I feel that although poor copies of an object seem to have less value than those that recreate it almost perfectly, art can not only be judged on this one aspect. As well as this, I am in agreement with Schopenhauer that an artist may be trying to access the Will, or emotions, and not just mimic reality.
Another way of depicting how we can value art is to say that we value art to the extent that it represents reality. Representations can ‘stand for’ something without actually resembling it (looking like it). For example Munch’s ‘the scream’ represents certain feelings and emotions, better than a direct depiction could, thus we could say that this art has more value than a direct depiction. However again there are problems. The word ‘represent’ used vaguely, and is very difficult to define. If we cannot give a rigorous definition, beyond the idea that art ‘stands for’ something, then we cannot explain why we value the artwork. I personally believe this argument is weak. Despite not having an accurate definition, I feel when we use the word ‘represent’, it is universally understood that something is trying to convey an experience or show something.
Another argument could be that representation is not a sufficient condition of a work of art, for example street signs and maths symbols all ‘represent’ something. Yet these examples can also not be classed as art.
A final problem is that representation is not a necessary condition. If we can find art that isn’t representative then it undermines art itself. Barnett Newman’s – ‘Adam’ does not appear to represent anything, it clearly looks like wallpaper, yet has the label of ‘art’ attached to it. If this were the case, then we cannot value art on how something represents reality, because we have just seen that not all art is representative. On the other hand, one could say that ‘Adam’ is trying to represent nothingness, and minimalism, whilst Schopenhauer argues that any art can represent the Will. In response to all of these problems, I do not see how we can know what the artwork is trying to represent, without knowing the background of the artist, and their intentions of the artwork. People can have many different opinions as to what the artwork is trying to represent and I therefore do not feel that all art can be judged on how well it represent reality.
The final issue I will discuss is that we value art to the extent that it illuminates our experiences and reveals the ‘truth’ through an artist’s vision. By ‘truth’ we mean ‘a deeper sense of reality; a true understanding’. However immediately an issue arises; what do we really mean when we say ‘truth in art’? It is a very vague word/statement and could have several meanings. One could be that the artists its trying to reveal the ideal (Form), which would be directly expressing truth (idealisation). For example Palma Vecchio’s ‘A Blonde Woman’ is seeking to illustrate the ideal woman, therefore portraying truths about women. Another truth could be revealed by showing the uniqueness and individuality of objects. I feel however that this is a cop-out; any painting can be said to be unique, and could therefore be valued for its individuality.
A separate objection is that illuminating experience and revealing truth is not a necessary condition of art.