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Taste, Quality, and the Panjective World

Post #1070 • October 10, 2007, 11:26 AM • 177 Comments

Is taste subjective? Is quality objective? These two questions come up repeatedly when we talk about art. The answers are so unsatisfactory that the problem must be a good one to work on.

The two questions ask the same thing, oppositely. Both try to determine whether goodness in art is a stable phenomenon, or changes according to each fickle pair of eyes. Whole ideologies hinge on the answer. If the former is true, then Derrida's signifiers can't defer meaning infinitely, and we should disregard wide swaths of his work. If the latter is true, Greenberg's liking or disliking art is a singular, meaningless exercise, and we should disregard wide swaths of his work. A clear answer would decide whether exercising judgment is a valid activity, or whether it would be just as well to describe one's mental associations when looking at a work of art and leaving it at that. If taste is subjective, why pursue goodness of any kind? If quality is objective, why does opinion about it vary?

The questions don't come to satisfying conclusions because they presuppose that there are internal and external processes, and this is likely a faulty distinction. The subjective/objective split says that there's a world "out there" of materials and facts and a world "in here" of perceptions, ideas, and consciousness. I suspect that we believe in that split for the same reason that we commonly think of the earth as flat - it corresponds well to our usual experience. You don't have to think about the earth's curvature to drive across town. Nevertheless the earth is definitely spherical and considerations of sufficient magnitude require that we deal with it as such.

I suggest instead that instead of a subjective and an objective world, awareness flickers across a framework of material fact like electrons through a circuit board. Like a circuit board directs the flow of electrons, the materials shape the awareness. Unlike a circuit board. awareness can direct the materials to some degree. It would be as if the electrons could order one bit of hardware to produce another bit of hardware. Now imagine this circuit board as the size of the universe. Everything is circuit board. Your awareness is a charge on the board. In a particular spot this charge is high and active. In other contiguous spots the charge is lower, and extending further from the center, lower still. There are contiguous charges on the periphery with hardly any charge at all. Beyond this, we see the vast majority of the board that doesn't contain a connecting charge.

The analogy breaks down in a hurry so I'll restate my point: We have an awareness with an active, energetic center, and that activity and energy decrease by degrees towards a periphery. That periphery is mobile and variable. Even parts towards the center become highly charged or not depending on whether we're applying our awareness to it. Most importantly, the shape of this awareness corresponds to the material facts about the world in which the awareness takes place: our brains, our bodies, our dwellings, our city, our planet. Our awareness does not have a shape of its own independent of these facts. On the other hand, within this material template, it has enormous freedom of movement and configuration.

This model has an interesting implication: Your self includes awareness of distant things. I'm in California at the moment, but in twenty seconds I could go on the Web and look up the weather in Hong Kong. Weather in Hong Kong thus would become part of my self, at the periphery. Richard Dawkins asserted the idea of the extended genotype, which implies that our cultural products, even culture as a whole, is as much of an expression of our genetic material as our limbs. I'm proposing an extended self that includes everything in our awareness.

The self also includes past phenomena. We interact with the facts of world and learn from them. We store those facts as memories, and memories are part of the material template. It lives in our bodies, mostly but not completely in our brains. (Brains store those memories in one way; books store it in another.) Those memories and our ability to make predictions about the world based on them have an enormous impact on our awareness.

Again, this awareness doesn't have a shape independent of its material template. Right now my endocrine system is maintaining a certain level of insulin. If it got this wrong, I would become irritable and tired and stop working on this essay. If it got it really wrong, I'd lose consciousness. Nevertheless I have no idea what my endocrine system is doing at the moment. These material facts that shape awareness, even though outside of awareness, are also part of the self.

So there is no outside world, unless it's all outside, and we're outside with it. It's not subjective and/or objective, it's panjective.

Our awareness can act on the world and change it, using our bodies and by issuing directions to other people. Afterwards the world is shaped differently, and our awareness reshapes accordingly. When I make art, I reshape some material facts about the world and my awareness follows along this new little adjustment in the template. When I present this art to other people, their awareness does the same.

Let's return to our questions, which we now have to restate. Taste isn't taking place "in here" because there is no "in here." Taste is an activity of awareness, just like any other aspect of consciousness. It has a state of its own, a positive or negative charge as it were, as it moves over a set of material facts. That charge is not the materials, but with no materials there's no charge, and that charge is shaped like the materials however it moves around within them. These materials include those of the art, and also our bodies as we interact with it, and all the dependent effects on our awareness that arise from our bodies, including memories residing therein. Taste is as real as electricity. It varies, but it doesn't vary infinitely. Roses may not charm you but they don't induce vomiting. You may not like a certain hue but you don't find it deafening because we don't experience color as sound. (The few genuine synaesthetics in existence don't disprove this.)

If taste is as real as electricity, then quality is as real as matter. Quality is a configuration in the material template. We can't describe this configuration very well for the same reason that we can't describe what's going on with our endocrine systems at any given moment very well - even though it shapes awareness, it exists outside of it. Running our awareness over certain configurations of materials returns a pleasurable feeling. The materials are part of the material template, our bodies are part of it, and our learning is part of it as well. Looking at the material components as one continuous template, we don't have to figure out where the pleasure is coming from. It's coming from the whole template as we run our awareness through it.

Why does taste vary then? Because everyone has a different material template - different bodies, different memories. Unlike electricty, with a mere positive or negative charge, awareness can be colored countless different ways as it travels over its available template. Everyone's borders are different and and their charges are higher in different places. And yet, judgment and criticism remains a meaningful exercise. People with trained awareness and a rich template can bring back descriptors of a high-quality configuration in a manner that escapes people with low-wattage awareness and a poor template. After all, the configuration exists as a real entity. Quality is a stable thing. Taste, as awareness running through a given configuration, can vary, but not infinitely. The materials of the art don't change, our bodies don't differ all that much from one another, and our memories are analogous if not similar. The same world produced all of them, in notably similar ways. We can see certain configurations returning pleasure dependably over time. We respect these things and we should. So we pursue quality because we want to include goodness as part of our template. Certain things prove to be compensating when we point our awareness at it. We might feel inspired to create our own versions of them. This is a worthy thing to do with our attentions, given a choice about the matter that we may or may not have.

Comment

1.

Jns Stlkr

October 10, 2007, 12:50 PM

The production of our art is focused on cause and effect, not the material piece itself. It aims to produce an effect within the minds of those people that live within the environment being altered. It does not necessarily aim to produce art that is meaningful in itself.[Thank you for sharing. - F.]

2.

Fred

October 10, 2007, 1:27 PM

The opening is muddled - needs a couple of paragraphs to develop the relationship between taste and quality if you then assert they are part of the same question asked oppositely.

3.

California dreamin

October 10, 2007, 1:29 PM

In other words, shit happens.

See ya found some good herb, welcome to the west coast.

4.

Fred

October 10, 2007, 1:38 PM

It's a funny aesthetic that brings up Greenberg Derrida and Dawkins but leaves out Aristotle, Kant and Hume.

5.

catfish

October 10, 2007, 2:20 PM

You seem to be saying that quality is stable (suggests "objective") and some taste is better than others (suggests taste is evaluated by its correlation with quality). If so, bravo for you.

However, explaining how all this takes place is messy. Thankfully, no one needs to understand the messy stuff when they are dancing three feet off the ground in front of wonderful art (as Clem once put it). Nor is the messy stuff important in the studio. Nor would it help, as far as I can tell, to understand it in either the studio or in front of wonderful art.

But it is a damn lot of fun to wallow in, whether in a sea of dots on the computer screen or in a sea of beer at a tavern.

6.

opie

October 10, 2007, 5:10 PM

Some notes from a paper in preparation. Sorry for the length,


"Subjective", "objective", "taste" and "quality" are all words that confuse the issue.

Our species has invented and evolved art to preserve something "good", and the fact that we do it so intently and value it so highly is evidence that there indeed is something valuable there. This value cannot be judged objectively, cannot be "good for" or "good or "good, because it is deliberately made to be judged through intuitive judgement, through experience. This is the defining condition of art. Art is not art without it.

The evaluation is derived by particular judgment and exists literally only within the setting of that judgment. It is not identifiable; It is not substantive; it has no specifiable characteristics. It only has effect.the effect is a certain kind ofpleasure, and perhaps an apprehension of some "life force' with in "good" works. (I do not know how to put this into words and I will not try). The pleasure afforded by the experience is simultaneously the judgement of the art and a measure of the value received.

Once we accept that there there is such a thing as good art and bad art and that good art has value for us then we are forced to conclude that the judgements we make about it are not merely individual "exercises of taste" but indicators of how well we get what the art has. We are too neurologically similar to even suggest, as the word "subjective" does, that true judgements of this thing we love and agonize over and spend billions on can possibly be intrinsically capricious.

We don't need to make a list of great art or even agree about what is good, although we do that anyway. All we need to do is agree that there is such a thing. Everything else follows from that. The artist puts something in; you take something out. There is something there or there isn't. It's up to you.

Art in the viewing comes acoss through the singular effect of the living whole, not from the identifiable parts or their intellectually derived implications. These are only materials: musical notes or words or oil paint or the more complex configurations made from them. Art as such resides not in specifiable content but as a reflection of the series of judgements the artist made about that content while consulting some core experience. There are a million paintings of the crucifixion, for example. They all have the same intense, meaningful, familiar content. However, very few are great art, and the art experience provided by these has nothing to do - I repeat, nothing to do - with religion

The fact that this can happen, and that it can happen from stringing sounds or words together, shows us that it really does not matter what art is made of (except for matters of permanence and the like) or what it depicts. Art usually consists of fairly simple, ordinary materials and subject matter, and, as a rule, the simpler and more ordinary the better. What matters is whether the artist is able to use them to bring something refreshing up from that deep well.

To get what art has it must be swallowed whole, like a vitamin pill. experience cannmot be replaced by explanation. Good art has everything you need to know in the work, not on a wall label. It is there to take us beyond language and ideas. We agonize over what is good and not so good because we value art so much, and we naturally want to justify our opinions in words. But this agonizing is no excuse for shortcuts, and we really need to banish those words from the discussion. The "goodness" is there. You either get it or you don't.

7.

catfish

October 10, 2007, 7:28 PM

Your'e right opie that experience can't be replaced by explanation, nor vice versa, though explnation can be greatly aided by experience. But the words "subjective", "objective", "taste", and "quality" are not likely to leave the conversation.

Intuitive judgement does not preclude objectivity. Animals make intuitive judgements all the time, many of which must be objectively on target or the animal loses its life. So do humans, sometimes with the same ultimate consequences. So why can't the intuitive judgement of art be objective? I doubt that it can be proved to be objective, but I don't know how the impossibility of objectivity can be demonstrated either. Experience, our own experience of art, not our experience of the statements made by others about the art we like, says we are, as you say, "getting it". Kant said that when we "get it", we do it in such a way that "gets it" on behalf of the whole human race. Perhaps we pay too much attention to those who don't agree with us, give that circumstance more importance than it deserves. Eventually, the collective human race comes to agree about a lot of art. Meantime, I relax about those who don't agree with me. As Clem once said, it is simply a case of they are probably wrong.

A general theory that might explain all this eludes us. Tip O'Neill said "all politics is local". A friend of mine says "all art is local". Since "local" ultimately means "real" and hence "right there in front of us", I don't see how "objectivity" can be left out. It is a somewhat fancy word for "real", but it is good enough, as is "real" and your "goodness". They boil down to the same thing - the value of art is not arbitrary; some of it is better than others. Just as some of us are better at "getting it" before the rest catch have formed a durable consensus.

8.

ec

October 11, 2007, 5:44 AM

Work that speaks to every nook and cranny of your understanding and experience, even extends it: quality. Quality becomes taste. Acquired taste, immediate response, the range of response.
Elizabeth Murray again: "I want to look at a painting and know someone was home."
Franklin's motherboard analogy recalls mediation; while sitting, the world seeps in, at different pinpoints of consciousness. There is a Helen Frankenthaler show at Ameringer Yohe, offering a wonderful opportunity to test Franklin's model.

9.

opie

October 11, 2007, 6:52 AM

This is mostly semantics, Catfish.

Objective, as it is commonly and most usefully used, means something that is true because it is proveable or self-evident, like 2+2=4 or the sky is blue.

Saying "that is a good painting" is not objective because it is neither proveable nor self-evident. The intuitive apprehension of the "goodness" of the painting is certainly real - as real as anything can be - but it is neither objective nor is it available to be objective because only the assertion of the "goodness" can be subject to objective verification.

10.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 8:39 AM

It is TOTALLY semantics when you ask that certain words be abandoned from a discussion. But so what? Semantics is part of speculation. A whole philosophy was built on the analysis of language and haggling back and forth about which words to use.

In any case, "objective" is NOT commonly used to denote the proveable or the self-evident. Those are logical properties of propositions, such as your "2 + 2 = 4" and "sky is blue" examples and although I'd readily admit your examples are more or less proveable (though not self-evident), that is not what makes them objective. Instead, "objective" is used to characterize propositions that are relatively unbiased. But the lack of bias does not guarantee that a proposition is self-evident or proveable. All statements that are self-evident or proveable may be unbiased, but not all unbiased statements are self-evident or proveable. So your examples are objective, but not exactly for the characteristics you cite.

In fact neither "proveable" nor "self-evident" are mentioned in the little on line dictionary I use when it defines "objective". Instead, the first definition talks about observable phenomena that are undistorted by personal bias. Kind of Kant-like .. the thing in itself (noumenon) is what "objective" refers to, before we engage it with our perceptual apparatus. When it comes to art, Kant noted that the pleasure we get from the process of knowing it is itself "disinterested", a term I also associate wtih "objective".

There are many relatively unbiased statements that can be made about art works and cultural phenomena, such as "Duchamp's urinal is over-rated". But they are not proveable nor are they logically self-evident. This example is based on the experience of the work and the experience of the esteem in which the work is held. And it reads as objective to me becaue I tend to regard true statements as unbiased, regardless of whether they can be proved.

The more we discuss it, the more I think "objective" is a good term to use in speculating about art. It refers to what is out there, just a little beyond our reach, that supplies the durability that great work can manifest over centuries and centuries. When Clem said taste was objective, he was pointing out that taste, whatever limitations it has, can wrap itself around the thing in itself and never let go.

11.

opie

October 11, 2007, 9:47 AM

Objective has a whole string of definitions, of course. My online dictionsary has 10 or 12. I thought it would be understood that I was using it in the sense implied by the "subjective/objective" debate within art, which is commonly understood to mean "something merely felt" vs. "something that can be demonstrated to anyone's satisfaction."

If you agree that this is the way it is understood, then it roughly conforms to the way I used it above. If you do not agree then perhaps I am not properly comprehending the whole continuing debate and I would appreciate knowing what it is that we are talking about. In either case we have only further demonstrated the inadequacy of the terms.

If we use objective to mean "unbiased" it becomes virtually useless in the given context because the mere liking of a work provides a bias toward it. Using "objective" to mean "distinterested" simply means that we were able to appreciate the work apart from any "interest", such as monetary interest or personal interest. Again, is not a usage which helps much.

The reason we have the subjective/objective discussion in the first place is because art is taken so seriously, and, of all the things we have, demands valuation without criteria. We are confronted with things we are told are very prestigious and "good" and "great" and "important" and which are clearly very valuable without being told why, and if we don't get it we feel uncultured and inferior and put down. This is why we have labels. Most of the denizens of this blog do not think labels are the answer, so they ask "is art subjective or objective", which, I maintain, means just what I saying it means in this context. All I ask is that we get better terminology to deal with it.

12.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 10:42 AM

Opie, I don't think the confusion is caused by the terms themselves. Switch in new terms and cnfusion will undoubtedly continue.

Subjective/objective is the rough equivalent of Kant's phenomenon/numenon way of looking at how we gain knowledge of things. Kant may have wanted to "clarify" the issue to put skepticism to rest through the use of his own terms, but of course it didn't work except to give the skeptics even better tools to pursue their interests.

But to respond directly to your question: No, the issue is not "merely felt" vs. "something that can be demonstrated". Nothing about art will ever be demonstrated as far as I can tell. The problem is whether "goodness", "quality", "beauty", whatever ... actually exists. Is it objective in an extra-mental sense? It is like when Sam Johnson challenged Berkeley to go kick a boulder as hard as he could, if Berkeley really believed there was no world that existed outside our idea of it. Many aspects of current culture want to proceed just like Berkeley, supposing art is simply a mental construct and notions like "beauty" reflect a niave understanding of the mode for art's existence.

"Transendental" idealism says to Berkeley that yes, there is a component of knowledge that is contributed by the mind, but ultimately it is all about "objects" that exist in their own right, even if we can't fully comprehend them. It contains wisdom that might serve our speculations about art well. It may be "merely felt" and subject to all the limitations and caprice of the "merely felt", but it has its own mode of existence that is not dependent upon the "merely felt" always getting it right.

The discussion of art and how we know it can proceed best, I think, if we recognize that nothing is proveable but nonethless there is a durable, objective reality that survives our inadequacies for coping with it.

"Disinterested" means more than unbiased. It references a detachment from many common mental activities, a contemplative state in which we "unknow" everything that might clutter our path into the work, something like mystics are said to unclutter their minds.

13.

opie

October 11, 2007, 11:21 AM

But Catfish (and anyone else who wants to comment) if the issue ("subjective/objective") is not "merely felt" vs. "something that can be demonstrated" then I have been out of the loop for the 40 years or so I have been discussing the matter, and I find that unacceptable.

The "subjective/objective" question is whether "good" can be systematically demonstrated. Whether "goodness, quality, beauty, whatever actually exists", though intimately related, is another question entirely. Presumably the latter question would precede the former, of course, but they are palpably different questions. Furthermore they are precisely the questions I was writing about in my initial comment.

Whether "art goodness" exists "outside" of "mental constructs" is a precise question which avoids confusing terminology. I would say it does not, but that configurations which can evoke the reaction which we call "art goodness" can certainly exist outside of "mental construct", EG within a work of art that is unseen. To quote myself from above "The evaluation is derived by particular judgment and exists literally only within the setting of that judgment."

in my opinion, "disinterested", (which unfortunately through misuse is rapidly coming to mean the same as "uninterested"), is not a very useful term if taken to mean the extreme detatchment of "unknowing", nor is it generally used that way.

14.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 11:44 AM

Kant used "disinterested" to mean extreme detachement in his Critique of Judgment where he discussed aesthetic experience. He was not exactly a "plain talker" but the term holds a lot of water. I remember how Clem defined radical formalism in terms of detachment from all the circumstances that surround art. From "Autonomies of Art":

"What I'm getting at, in a way I hope isn't so roundabout, is the fact that art and the history of art can be approached and discussed illuminatingly all by themselves, as though taking place in an area of experience that's autonomous, a place that doesn't have to be connected with any other area of experience in order to have sense made of it. What I've just said is the most radical expression I can think of what's called vulgarly "formalism." I want to go on to say that better sense can be made of art, justice can be done to the experience of art qua art, if it is dealt with as autonomous, as being abstracted from all political, social, economic, or religious or moral issues or factors. That is, if art, so to speak, is dealt with in a vacuum. I know, that is horrendous -- we're not supposed to do that. All the while we realize, of course, that art doesn't take place in a vacuum. What I mean -- here I'm using some more fashionable jargon -- is that art qua art can best be dealt with by being "bracketed off," as phenomenologists would say, in order to find out more about the experiencing and making of it."

That same vacuum can pave the way into art that is "difficult", including art that is "difficult" because it seems to be "old hat" or otherwise unpopular. Just divest yourself of all that you think you know, and get into what is before you. You are better prepared to discover whether it is the real mcoy or an imposter.

15.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 11:48 AM

opie, this "configuration" idea you present, isn't that just another way of saying something important to an object's success as art exists whether or not we experience it?

16.

opie

October 11, 2007, 12:35 PM

Well, yes, what I am saying is absurdly simple, which is that as far as we can tell the Rembrandt in the Metrropolitan does not disappear at night.

The "configuration" is right there the next morning, unless some enterprising thief has made off with it.

The "goodness", the "art" or whatever we call it only has existence when the art is seen and experienced. In the meantime the painting waits, like a charged electrode.

17.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 2:09 PM

I can't see much of a difference between "configuration that that does not disappear" and "goodness that endures in the work", even though you deny that there is any goodness that endures beyond someone seeing the work. Lights out, goodness out too. Let the viewers back in and goodness comes back with them. What we seek as artists, I surmise, is to create configurations that generate goodness when viewed. That seems unduly roundabout, but what the heck, it winds up in the right place.

The charged electrode idea is appealing. Franklin should like it too if he is still looking in.

18.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 2:16 PM

I know there are lots of folks who believe "goodness" in art is felt/subjective, in the eye of the beholder. But is there anyone "out there" who enterains the idea that goodness (however you define it) in art can be proved?

19.

Fred

October 11, 2007, 2:48 PM

You're all straying from Franklin's original attempt to"try to determine whether goodness in art is a stable phenomenon" by asking the same question oppositely:

Is taste subjective? Is quality objective?

20.

opie

October 11, 2007, 3:51 PM

I think we are dealing with it, Fred. As I have been at pains to maintain, I don't think those are the right questions.

There is no art without the human brain, Catfish. With no eye on it the Rembrandt is just a piece of painted cloth, a nominal work of art perhaps, because that's what it is made to be, but one waiting to be actualized.

I doubt there are many people who think "goodness" can be "proved", at least after they have thought it through for a few minutes, but the question keeps on being posed, for the reasons I gave above. People are just not comfortable with value that does not rest on a clear premise.

21.

g

October 11, 2007, 4:09 PM

Objective – the stimulus.

Subjective – the response

Objective – the fixed properties of an object, it’s size, color texture, composition etc.

Subjective – a response within the viewer which goes beyond a mere taxonomy of the objects properties. This may include the development of cognitive structures for evaluating an object. (the object could be words, so we develop a grammar, etc.)

One can effectively describe an object, create a taxonomy or hierarchy of its physical (etc) properties and NOT say anything about what might be the subjective response.

The subjective response is stimulated by our perception of a things objective qualities. It exists solely in the viewer and is not inherently attached to, or a property of, the stimulus object.

By consensus, a group of individuals, the culture, may ascribe and attach a subjective set of qualities to the object. These qualities, its goodness if you may, are fungible because they are ascribed from the outside and not inherently part of the object.

Therefore, ‘goodness’ may be defined by a group consensus, and the metrics for ‘goodness’ (or any other subjective quality) may be described and enumerated.

Never the less, these subjective qualities exist only by consensus, that is to say, the culture allows them to exist by agreement. Individuals may have differing opinions and even the culture may change its opinion over time.

PS, Put the ‘pan’ back in panties where it belongs.

22.

Franklin

October 11, 2007, 4:38 PM

The charged electrode idea is appealing. Franklin should like it too if he is still looking in.

I am always looking in. I would say instead that the art is the electrode and we're the charge, if I'm going to stay with my metaphor.

The "goodness", the "art" or whatever we call it only has existence when the art is seen and experienced.

I'm saying that it persists without observation above and I'm standing by that unless someone can talk me out of it. Goodness is part of the shape of the thing. Taste is the activity of awareness drawn to that goodness. Pleasure is the experience when the two meet.

these subjective qualities exist only by consensus

G, that doesn't account for the individual's response to the work, which happens without consensus. If the qualities only exist by consensus, what does the individual respond to?

23.

g

October 11, 2007, 4:43 PM

Sorry if I wasn't totally clear.

Of course the individual can have a subjective experience (my last paragraph)

I was referring to the broader ascription of 'goodness' by the culture in the other paragraphs. Without a consensus, these collective subjective experiences are just noise, personal experiences but taken as a whole, they're just noise.

24.

Franklin

October 11, 2007, 4:59 PM

It's hard even to be partially clear about any of this.

G, if not for some property of the object, why would anyone's response resemble anyone else's? If the individual responses were merely subjective, what causes the consensus?

25.

g

October 11, 2007, 5:08 PM

An individual's response can be, and frequently is, defined or shaped by others in the culture, and then erroneously ascribed to the object (stimulus)

26.

g

October 11, 2007, 5:13 PM

"We like to think that people improve their judgment by putting their minds together, and sometimes they do. The studio audience at “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” usually votes for the right answer. But suppose, instead of the audience members voting silently in unison, they voted out loud one after another. And suppose the first person gets it wrong.

If the second person isn’t sure of the answer, he’s liable to go along with the first person’s guess. By then, even if the third person suspects another answer is right, she’s more liable to go along just because she assumes the first two together know more than she does. Thus begins an “informational cascade” as one person after another assumes that the rest can’t all be wrong.

Because of this effect, groups are surprisingly prone to reach mistaken conclusions even when most of the people started out knowing better, according to the economists Sushil Bikhchandani, David Hirshleifer and Ivo Welch. If, say, 60 percent of a group’s members have been given information pointing them to the right answer (while the rest have information pointing to the wrong answer), there is still about a one-in-three chance that the group will cascade to a mistaken consensus."

Source - NYT Science

27.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 5:16 PM

Hi g,

You have worked out the consequences of opie's position pretty well, with the addition of a number of interesting details. The "goodness" of certain highly valued works is the result of group agreement, subjectivity, caprice, and so on, not the effect of the work itself. It would seem to follow from both of you that Duchamp's urinal is pretty damn "good", given the nearly 100 year old consensus of those thousands and thousands of experts, collectors, and ordinary museum goers alike who maintain the requisite subjective response of "good art" when they experience it. Of course, the urinal would be just a piece of fired clay without them and their response that "goes beyond" how we usually respond to a urinal.

Now, all this mystifies me somewhat, for I have not been able to "go beyond" the normal "taxonomy" of how urinals are to be perceived with respect to that highly aclaimed work. In plainer words, it isn't a bad looking urinal but I am stuck with my clear experience that it is in fact, objectively, in itself, not any good. The experience is so clear to me that I am not troubled at all that I stand outside the consensus. It is the aesthetic equivalent of Descartes' clear and distinct idea - a clear and distinct experience that flies in the face of the conventional consensus.

Thus, I cannot accept either your or opie's contention that goodness is something generated by human brains as they perceive art. Rather it is something put in the art by its creator (or not put in), and then it stays there (or is not there at all) after the viewers leave and the lights go out. If no one sees it again for 1000 years it will still be there, waiting, I guess, for someone, but not dependent on being percieved for its mode of existence. Instead, it IS dependent on its medium for continued existence. If the pigment fades to zero, if mildew digests the canvas, if the marble crumbles to a pile of dust, then and only then is the goodness put there by its creator "gone".

On the other hand, if goodness is not there in the first place, a million viewers cannot put it there. Beauty can be in the eye of the beholder only if it is in the object first. Otherwise we are talking about a delusion, and there are plenty of examples of the delusions of crowds that are eventually found out. I hope I live long enough for the delusion of the regard for Fountain to join that elite set of collective foolishness that reminds all of us about what happens when we are not careful.

So it is boiling down to whether goodness is something supplied by the viewers or the creators of art.

Of course, there are many who maintian that goodness is now entirely beside the point of art. To them, this discussion is akin to theologians arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

28.

opie

October 11, 2007, 5:20 PM

Goodness is not defined by consensus nor do the subjective qualities exist by consensus, g. The consensus consists of an accumulation of subjective responses.

There is a very high defree of consistency in consensus=making. We are somewhat blind to this because we are not aware of the 99% of art product the consensus rejects.

An art work can be shown to consistently provoke the judgement that it is "good", Franklin, and it makes sense in conversation to say that the work is "good", but strictly speaking "good" is a human mental construct and can exist only through human agency. What we are really saying is "it does it for me every time so it will next time". Somehow or other "good" artists make things that do that, and we can count on it, and we call it "good". But it is no more "objectively" good than a tiger is objectively fearsome or hamburger is objectively nourishing. These characteristics exist only because of our reactions to the particular item under particular circumstances. Indeed, a sculpture can become deadly if you get hit over the head with it. And so forth.

29.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 5:23 PM

Thanks g, for #26. Your last paragraph is the most plausible explanation I've encountered in a long time for coping with how so many well read, well spoken, and generally cultivated experts can come up with such weird conclusions as the one that is now associated with Fountain.

30.

opie

October 11, 2007, 5:23 PM

Goodness is supplied by the creator and actualized by the viewer, catfish.

Takes two to tango.

31.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 5:30 PM

opie! Hamburgers ARE objectively nourishing. And only a fool would enter a tiger's area in a zoo on the grounds that tigers are not objectively fearsome.

Think about those cruel people who put out saccharine water in hummingbird feeders. The birds die, despite their "subjective" conviction that they are feeding on something nourishing.

There are realities that don't depend upon our perceptions of them.

32.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 5:41 PM

You want to have your cake and eat it too, opie. Viewers experience what is put there by the creator if it actually exists. Otherwise they are participants in what g talks about in #26. This does not deny that creators want viewers who "get it". Not at all. But that is a different question. As I have said elsewhere, culture does not maintain its health without viewers who "get it", and get it right.

33.

Franklin

October 11, 2007, 5:44 PM

...strictly speaking "good" is a human mental construct and can exist only through human agency. ... These characteristics exist only because of our reactions to the particular item under particular circumstances.

No, they exist because someone made it that way. Have you ever seen a pachinko machine? The art object is the machine and the viewer's awareness is the little steel marble that falls down the pins on a variable but not infinitely variable path. We've set things up to channel our attentions in various ways. We call things that do this well "good," and that's a judgment, but the actual quality of goodness is in the object by virtue of its execution.

34.

g

October 11, 2007, 5:53 PM

Catfish, #26 is quoted from the NY Times.

Goodness is supplied by the creator and actualized by the viewer,

This implies that the creator gives an object a property which is considered ‘good’.

‘Goodness’ itself is not a property, therefore the property which elicits the ‘goodness’ response must be something specific or some combination of specific properties.

Objective properties need not always be material but may also be abstract relationships. For example, an object can be half white and half black, it has, the ‘black’ property, the ‘white’ property, a ‘division relationship’ property, etc.

On the other hand, if goodness is not there in the first place, a million viewers cannot put it there.

I think this is false.

35.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 6:01 PM

But g, you just showed how a million viewers can indeed fool themselves that they have gotten something right.

36.

Franklin

October 11, 2007, 6:13 PM

'Goodness' itself is not a property, therefore the property which elicits the 'goodness' response must be something specific or some combination of specific properties.

Goodness is the configuration of materials that elicits the goodness response, or what I'm calling pleasure. Goodness is a property. The response is something else - an activity of awareness.

Objective properties need not always be material but may also be abstract relationships.

All properties are material or arrangements of material. Even memories are material. Only awareness is not material. Awareness is a kind of energy flowing through the material, and I say that knowing how hokey it sounds, but I think it's correct.

37.

g

October 11, 2007, 6:31 PM

cat,

I do not think ‘goodness’ is a property, it is not an objective quality which resides in the object. The perception of ‘goodness’ is a subjective response to the objects properties.

In a large set of viewers, a reasonably accurate consensus can be reached which neutralizes the cascade effect. It may be incorrect but it will be believed because, by definition, it is a consensus. Allow for disbeliveers. Bush got elected, twice.

In my opinion, ‘goodness’ is being defined from the outside, as subjective response by the culture which culls and structure the objective properties in order to, or in the process of, generating a response.

38.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 7:21 PM

This is a great discussion. Very helpful to me as well, as I must make a presentation to a bunch of philosophers next summer. I appreciate the opposition to my ideas as much as the agreement. I've gotten a lot to think about. I hope it can go further.

39.

Franklin

October 11, 2007, 7:24 PM

G, you didn't really answer my question - If not something inherent in the object, what causes the consensus to form?

40.

g

October 11, 2007, 7:57 PM

f. You’re confusing the objective with the subjective. Subject responses are stimulated by objective properties of the object, the response occurs within the viewer. Two viewers may have different responses to the same objective properties, these responses occur because of the objective property, but are not contained within it.

The subjective response is external to the object and not contained within it. If a number of viewers compare their responses, they may find they agree that something is ‘good’ or not so good, and therefore form a consensus.

The urinal is an example, many consider it ‘good’ art and many do not. There is a mixed consensus. However, one might wonder what set of objective qualities have come into play in order to convince so many that it is ‘good’ art.

41.

Jack

October 11, 2007, 8:50 PM

When this finally comes around to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and a consensus is reached on the matter, I'll be glad to consider it--following which, I'll forget all about it and go on about my business as before. But don't let me put a damper on things. Intellect should always have something to chew on, and everyday life is not especially encouraging in that regard--possibly because, in many (if not most) cases, what intellect there is does not exactly cry out for calisthenics.

42.

opie

October 11, 2007, 8:52 PM

I wasn't able to get back this evening, but on a quick scan of g #40 that seems to say it for me.

43.

Franklin

October 11, 2007, 9:08 PM

You’re confusing the objective with the subjective.

Actually, I'm saying that it's a false distinction.

The subjective response is external to the object and not contained within it. If a number of viewers compare their responses, they may find they agree that something is ‘good’ or not so good, and therefore form a consensus.

Then why would anyone's responses agree?

44.

opie

October 11, 2007, 9:08 PM

One more thing - Catfish, I was hoping you would bite on that burger. Tell me, why iis it "objective" that a burger is nourishing?

remember, you said the following in #10:

"In any case, "objective" is NOT commonly used to denote the proveable or the self-evident."

followed by:
""objective" is used to characterize propositions that are relatively unbiased. "

45.

ahab

October 11, 2007, 9:25 PM

It's all rather quantumbjective - just as soon as you look directly at goodness it appears elsewise, and sometimes disappears altogether.

The posted essay, as I understand it, tries to rationalize a holistic approach to assertions about the primacy of either subjectivity or objectivity in the apprehension of quality. I can buy the both/and argument. But honestly, the amperage of the proposed material-awareness paradigm blows my circuitbreakers.

I did find one thing in the comments that I would buy for a dollar: art is found at the end of an electrode. Welded art is, anyhow.

46.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 10:21 PM

opie: When you prefaced the remarks with "it is no more 'objectively' good than ..." I took it to mean you were using the word in the Kantian sense - having to do with the thing in itself, especially when you went on to contend that "these characteristics exist only because of our reactions" - expressing your objection to considering that the things in themselves possesed these characteristics. So it seemed you might even be conceeding that using the term in the Kantian sense was useful. Myself, the Kantian sense seems more useful than any other for attempting to get a hold on the mode in which art exists.

So, burgers in themselves are loaded with complete protein, one of the most nourishing elements in any diet, not to mention the starch and fat that rounds out that particular dish. I think of the burger as one of the more remarkable achievements of American cuisine. A freshly cooked Big Mac is an amazing food that stays within the limits imposed by the fast food situation, yet delivers a satisfying combination of tastes and sensations- salty, slightly sweet, crunchy, warm, chewy, and somewhat richly sauced. I try to eat at least one per month.

47.

catfish

October 11, 2007, 10:33 PM

PS: if the meat stays in the steam drawer very long, "chewey" changes to "rubbery" and the sensation suffers. You gotta get Big Macs just after they fry the meat for maximum enjoyment. So I don't order one unless they are in a busy period.

48.

Fred

October 12, 2007, 4:15 AM

Franklin, I agree with g.

Once taste, objectivity, subjectivity and quality are all mashed up into your agreeable "panjective" what happens? What need do we have to make judgments, hone awareness, excercise taste?

49.

Fred

October 12, 2007, 4:30 AM

You begin your paper seeking to know if goodness is a stable thing - by the end of the paper you are talking about the stability of quality, in fact conflating quality and goodness. That's why the paper devolves to such a vague conclusion:

So we pursue quality because we want to include goodness as part of our template. Certain things prove to be compensating when we point our awareness at it. We might feel inspired to create our own versions of them. This is a worthy thing to do with our attentions, given a choice about the matter that we may or may not have.

Huh?

50.

opie

October 12, 2007, 4:36 AM

Actually, catfish. I lied; I dangled the hamburger out there as bait to try to force you to conclude that you would in fact go by my definition of objectivity, which you implicitly did.

We can "prove" hamburgers are nourishing because we have a precise meaning for nourishing - you might say "it goes without saying" - and if we continued discussing the broader implication of "objective" we would soon see that all so-called objectivity rests on this kind of construction, and perhaps demonstrate by extension that in the long run everything is "subjective". This is why I think the terms are useless and misleading when discussing art.

51.

g

October 12, 2007, 4:39 AM

43:
g. "You’re confusing the objective with the subjective."

f. "Actually, I'm saying that it's a false distinction."

No, it’s a critically important distinction.

I am suggesting that objective properties act as a stimulus to an external subjective response. Objective properties are quantifiable, specific and belong to (are a property of…) the object not the viewer.

Further, an object may have a larger number of objective properties than the viewer normally might be able isolate and perceive individually. These properties will coalesce into simpler aggregates, essentially like the idea behind a halftone.

For example, suppose we have a blue swatch from the paint store. Because it reflects light in a certain wavelength (dominant plus overtones) we can generally agree that it is the color ‘blue.’ We can say ‘blue’ is an objective property of the swatch.

However, if we try to be more specific about the blue swatch we may run into problems discerning what perceptions are objective and what perceptions are subjective. If we say it is greenish-blue, or give it a Munsell coordinate, or a Lab value, we can narrow down our description of ‘blue’ as an objective property based upon an external metric which is measurable or fixed in some other way.

If we attempt to describe the ‘blue’ in a more definite but subjective way, calling it ‘sky blue’ or ‘sea blue,’ we start to run into problems because these descriptions can rely on an external subjective perception. In this particular case, we might be able to use the subjective descriptions as offsets from ‘blue’ in the same way we understand ‘greenish blue,’ but we also might never be sure we have made the offsets in the right direction.

Is blue ‘good’?

52.

g

October 12, 2007, 4:40 AM

Is blue ‘good’?

There is no "goodness’ property.

However we attribute or define ‘good’, I would suggest it is the result of defining or perceiving relationships between the objective properties one finds in an object. Further, such a definition may include perceived relationships with other objective properties which are external to the object in question.

These relationships are external to the object, they occur in the viewer, and they are subjective. Relationships are empirically combinatorial and as such cannot be reducible objective properties of an object which can be used to define or frame "goodness’. Any rigorous attempt to make such an analysis will immediately come up against an infinite number of combinatorial possibilities rendering the hypothetical ‘goodness’ property undefinable and therefore useless at best.

53.

catfish

October 12, 2007, 6:38 AM

Let's see opie - you lied, I took you at your word, and that means I used your definition of objectivity. That's more than I can follow.

What you say about hamburgers is acceptable enough, though. But going from that to "we would soon see that all so-called objectivity rests on this kind of construction" is a generalization that you need to prove but did not. You at least qualified "demonstrate by extension that in the long run everything is 'subjective'" with the word "perhaps".

You are taking what seems like a classically idealistic position, that is, the world is your idea of it. Once anyone gets into a position llike that, it is indeed true that terms like "objective" and "subjective" are useless, with the most useless ones being those that refer to the extra-mental modes of existence.

So, if you really think "everything" (not just art) is "subjective", go kick the crap out of Sam Johnson's rock and come back and tell us if you still deny that there is something "out there" that exists on its own, without our thinking about it.

On the other hand, if it is just art that you view from the idealistic perspective, you will have an easier time of it. Many great minds have gone for "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" because it accounts for all the disagreement surrounding judgments of taste. To leave it at that, however, fails to account for the eventual consensus that often follows.

Kant's transcendental idealism offers an explanation that generally accounts for both sides, the subjective disagreement and the rock-like independent extra-mental stuff that supplies the objects to disagree about. He insisted, however, that intuitive knowledge was just as much knowledge as empirically derived and rationally massaged cognitive knowledge. The status he gave to intuitive knowledge seems to be missing here and everywhere aesthetics is discussed. Why must we aspire to "proof" and supply apriori "precise meaning" before we can say that knowledge delivered intuitively is accurate when it tells us an object is beautiful? You are right that intuitive knowledge cannot meet such a test. But it does not need to because it is literally a form of common sense.

It may boil down to which model you accept in the first place. Myself, I know when I see wonderful art that it is wonderful in itself and does not require me or anyone else to be wonderful. I trust what is delivered through my intuition as much as I trust more standard cognitive modes of knowing. Perhaps I trust it more than the others, especially when it comes to art, because it is common sense and that is the only way to get at art qua art.

So, I know what I see and I don't fret much about it, even though I get a kick out of going around and around with you and the others. Beauty is out there in beautiful objects. The Sam Johnson kick can't get at it, proofs and definitions can't get at it, and you can't make someone else get it if they are not getting it. If you want it you must get it for yourself and you may not have much company to reasure you that it is not an illusion. As this discussion suggests, there are not many experts who will admit that the object you enjoy is enjoyable. That's amazing to me and not entirely negative. Isolation goes well with the disinterestedness that is the foundation of aesthetic experience. I "unknow" myself as I get to know the object more thoroughly. When the real stuff is there to be gotten, the burn it yields is unique. Isolation may be one of the gates to the most intense aspects of the experience.

54.

Marc Country

October 12, 2007, 7:11 AM

It seems to me we have the same, or similar, problems when we talk about the objectivity or subjectivity of morality. "Thou shalt not kill" is "right" or "true" or "good" in a way, but not in the same way a "2+2=4"... it's a truth that seems closer to the truth that Rembrandt was good with a paintbrush. The judgment is individually decided, but consensually confirmed.

Let's delve further in to nerdery, and use a computer metaphor. As far as any of us know, morality and aesthetics are both human-based value programming languages: they only run on, and are compatable with, Hopo Sapien wetware. Both morality and aesthetics developed during our evolution as a species, and so it comes as no surprise that they would both be "common senses", shared across humanity. But that means that both are internal languages: they don't exist outside of us, even though they detect and describe things that we perceive around us. Even though there will still be murder, and still be sunsets, without humans, there is no human morality, and no human aesthetics, which is the same as saying, no morality, and no art, at all.

55.

Franklin

October 12, 2007, 7:19 AM

Keep it coming, by the way. A reader e-mailed me, saying that I'm on to something important, but I haven't expressed it well enough yet. The challenges are helpful.

Once taste, objectivity, subjectivity and quality are all mashed up into your agreeable "panjective" what happens? What need do we have to make judgments, hone awareness, excercise taste?

Fred, if taste is subjective, what need is there to exercise it? Someone else's will differ, and even if it doesn't, agreement is accidental and meaningless. A third person could come along with a different opinion about a work in question and he would be equally justified. It is because of this exact presumption that we have a whole generation of critics who downplay whether they like a work of art or not, which is essential to the exercise of judgment.

On the other hand, if the subjective/objective split is a false distinction, as I'm saying it is, then the art object has goodness (or not) just as it has blue-ness or rectangular-ness or is made from steel or whatever, and our ability to perceive that is worth honing because it becomes possible to perceive something's goodness rightly or wrongly.

Again, what we have instead is the opposite - critics treating us to their mental associations regarding the object. Not long ago I saw a review of a show for which I had written the catalogue essay, and he deliberately, by his own admission, in as many words, misunderstood the art he was looking at so he could riff on what it made him think about. This was published in an allegedly serious magazine among like-minded stuff. Saying that taste is subjective makes this kind of nonsense respectable.

You begin your paper seeking to know if goodness is a stable thing - by the end of the paper you are talking about the stability of quality, in fact conflating quality and goodness.

Quality is goodness. If you have a different idea about this, I'd like to hear it.

This is why I think the terms are useless and misleading when discussing art.

Opie, I do too. The terms are useless and misleading because they represent a false distinction.

I am suggesting that objective properties act as a stimulus to an external subjective response.

I assume you mean external to the object, not external to your consciousness. (Correct me if I'm wrong; I'm just matching that to what you said above.) I'm saying that your response depends entirely on the material facts of the art, your body, and your memories. If you have awareness outside of your physical body and your memories, which are part of your physical body, I'd like you to identify where. The only choice or fluidity you possess is within awareness itself, which you can direct to some degree.

If we attempt to describe the ‘blue’ in a more definite but subjective way, calling it ‘sky blue’ or ‘sea blue,’ we start to run into problems because these descriptions can rely on an external subjective perception.

That's a failure of terminology and nothing more. We don't have adequate words to describe hue just as we don't have adequate words to describe quality.

Is blue ‘good’?

Yes! If you think of all the effort that humankind has put in to producing blues, different blues, brighter blues, blues for different supports, you have to conclude that blue is good. Are all versions and applications of blue equally good? No.

These relationships are external to the object.

If you lay down three sticks into a triangle, is the triangle subjective?

56.

Franklin

October 12, 2007, 7:22 AM

Marc, as it turns out, morality correlates to a region of the brain that is prone to damage by fetal alcohol syndrome, which is how they found out about it. Moral goodness is part of the material template as well.

57.

Franklin

October 12, 2007, 8:11 AM

Marc, my problem with trying to derive any conclusions by removing humans from the equation (reductio ad armageddon?) is that we're talking about about human products made for reasons of human culture. We might as well be talking about beaver dams without beavers - yes, there's a loss of context, but I'm not sure what it therefore says about the objects except, imagining the scenario, that the poor guys used to do this.

58.

g

October 12, 2007, 8:11 AM

g. "If we attempt to describe the ‘blue’ in a more definite but subjective way, calling it ‘sky blue’ or ‘sea blue,’ we start to run into problems because these descriptions can rely on an external subjective perception."

f. "That's a failure of terminology and nothing more. We don't have adequate words to describe hue just as we don't have adequate words to describe quality."

No. Objective properties are definable, color is definable, not specifically in words but using other notation. Remember, color was just an illustrative example, the principles must be extendable to other objective properties.

If an observer describes something as ‘sky blue’, then they are creating a relationship between some blue, an objective property, and the color of the sky. If the direction of this inference goes from the objective ‘xyz-blue’ (some precise defined value) to the sky (at the moment) then we have a directional relationship between a specific and a variable which is valid. The sky is xyz-blue today.

Yes, any blue color in the sky can be mapped back into the set of definable ‘blue’ properties, this goes both ways because the ‘sky’ can be considered an object, possessing object properties such as the color blue. In fact, all of the ‘blues’ in the sky can be mapped onto the abstract blue properties.

However, if you try to run the mapping process backward by assigning a subjective value to the blue in the sky, "sky-blue" then you have a problem. Either you have created a swatch color, associated with the sky but in fact independent of the sky, like a paint sample it will be blue, "sky-blue" by definition, but this only is a property of the "sky-blue" object, sample, whatever, and not specifically a property of the sky which has many varying blues.

What happens here, is in order to attach "sky-blue" to the sky as an objective property, you will need an infinite number of definitions, an infinite number of swatches. The process breaks down.

I contend that ‘goodness’ is subjective and that the problem is not just that we don’t have adequate words to describe it, but that whatever properties and relationships constitute ‘goodness’ itself exist in so many combinations that we would need an infinite list of descriptors.

Objectivly, blue is neither good nor bad, it is just blue. To say blue is ‘good’ is a subjective response,

59.

g

October 12, 2007, 8:27 AM

If you lay down three sticks into a triangle, is the triangle subjective?

No, you are creating a new object, it has the triangle property because the three sticks are arranged in a triangle. If the sticks are arranged in a U, then the object no longer has the triangle property.
It has nothing to do with ‘goodness’.

To me, this whole argument reads like some kind of new age mumbo jumbo, like you are just trying to find a way to validate something you believe in regardless of how much sense it makes.

60.

catfish

October 12, 2007, 8:50 AM

To me, this whole argument reads like some kind of new age mumbo jumbo, like you are just trying to find a way to validate something you believe in ...

That pretty much sums up what everyone is doing here, g, not just Franklin. If not "validate", then at least expand and make lucid. As far as "regardless of how much sense it makes", what makes sense to some of us does not make sense to others.

The journey is the reward, or something like that.

61.

opie

October 12, 2007, 8:58 AM

I am not taking a position Catfish. I don't really even know what an "idealistic" position is. All I am doing is representing things the way i see them. It is all from the bottom up.

"The world is my idea of it" is fun to think about but I will make no such assertion. It is silly to say Johnson's rock is "just our idea of it" because it violates our accepted concept of what is real. If we kick it and it hurts, the pain is also real, but it is not a property of the rock, just as esthetic experience is not a property of a painting.

Intuitive knowledge is indeed as "real" as conceptual knowledge, much more "real" probably. Intuituive knowledge - depending on how we define it - is 99% of what we operate on. The reason we sweat over the intuitive perception of goodness in art is because most people can't see it or feel it but they are confronted with the idea that they are deficient because they can't see it or feel it (and indeed they are) so they bring up the question and that puts us on the defensive. If everyone in the world could look at Rembrandt or a Matisse or an Olitski and immediately be bowled over by the wondefulness of it we would not be having this discussion.

Marc, that's 100% correct.

Franklin, blue is not good. Blue is not bad. Blue is just blue. And the word "blue" is not the same as the property "blue". Blue is what we would call a real ("objective") property because there is universal agreement about what blue is. Good is something we would call a judgement ("subjective"). We have these words to cover these differences.

it is not either/or, it is a kind of sliding scale, with bumps along the way. "subjective" and "objective" are just terms denoting degrees of certainty. "objective" presuppose that the proposition rests on certain definitions or shared assumptions. Art that has a certain effect on us we call "good". (I am not even sure if "good" is an appropriate term, but it's what we have). This "goodness" is not apparent to everyone but there seems to be agreement that it is prestigious and desirable to be able to see it. This creates anxiety and begets questions about "objectivity" and lots of very bad art criticism.

As for the triangle, to begin with, a thing cannot be "subjective" or "objective". The judgement that the arrangement resembles a triangle slides toward the objective because everyone will agree to it; it conforms to a known definition of triangle. We do not have, probably cannot have, a definition of "good art, so the slider goes all the way in the other direction. I don't think it has to be any more complex than that.

62.

opie

October 12, 2007, 9:03 AM

G writes "I contend that ... whatever properties and relationships constitute ‘goodness’ itself exist in so many combinations that we would need an infinite list of descriptors."

No. The problem is not quantitative. Art excludes criteria by it's nature.

63.

Marc Country

October 12, 2007, 9:18 AM

So, where in the brain do we experience art, Franklin? Does fetal alcohol syndrome affect one's aesthetics along with their morality? It seems perfectly reasonable to expect a certain brain function/apparatus to control whether we file a sunset under Art or Weather.

I think art (like morality) is a real, "objective" thing that occurs in the human consciousness; to a greater or lessr degree, and with greater or lesser accuracy, in any given individual, from moment to moment, and subject to factors like experience, attention, 'disinterestedness', etc.

64.

g

October 12, 2007, 9:20 AM

62:

I agree. I was temporarily taking the other perspective, and an infinite number of possibilities is not quantifiable

65.

opie

October 12, 2007, 9:21 AM

My agent in Texas back in the '70s would get an erection when he saw art he liked.

It was interesting going to a museum with him.

66.

Marc Country

October 12, 2007, 9:29 AM

"Marc, my problem with trying to derive any conclusions by removing humans from the equation (reductio ad armageddon?) is that we're talking about about human products made for reasons of human culture."

I'm not necessarily talking about 'human products made for reasons', art as thing: I'm talking about art as experience. I'm sure art existed as a human experience of the world and its objects long before man made an attempt to embody that beauty in something man-made. That's why I go back to sunsets. They are there whether or not we are; but they are only 'art' when we see them as such. For most of our animal history, a sunset just meant that it was going to be dark soon, but somewhere in our evolution, we saw how gosh darned purty they are sometimes. It's not just a solipsistic imagining, either. We all know how purty sunsets can be. It's objective fact, to us humans. That this fact arises in our awareness as intuitive knowledge doesn't make it any less 'objective', does it?

67.

Jack

October 12, 2007, 9:29 AM

OP, I think there's medication for that now.

68.

opie

October 12, 2007, 9:40 AM

I know, Jack. I think the trade name is "Art On".

69.

Franklin

October 12, 2007, 10:37 AM

No, you are creating a new object, it has the triangle property because the three sticks are arranged in a triangle. If the sticks are arranged in a U, then the object no longer has the triangle property. It has nothing to do with ‘goodness’.

I think goodness is no less a material configuration than that triangle. Humans have the ability to recognize a triangle in three sticks laid down thusly. It's not actually a triangle. It's just three sticks. The sticks could be bumpy and irregular and might even have other twigs growning out of them, and the ends could overlap in three dimensions, and we could still see a triangle in them. They don't just remain sticks. Likewise paintings of faces don't just remain smears of oil on canvas. Abstract sculptures don't remain lumps of irregular steel plates. They become something else for us when our awareness interacts with them. The only difference between goodness and the triangle is that we can define the triangle.

To me, this whole argument reads like some kind of new age mumbo jumbo, like you are just trying to find a way to validate something you believe in regardless of how much sense it makes.

That's an ad hominem. If I'm wrong, make a case for it.

Rather, it's the subjective/objective split that doesn't make sense to me. G, there's a question I've asked you a few different ways, and you haven't answered it yet: If not something inherent in the object, what causes the consensus to form?

We could explore this another way: You say your response to that blue is subjective. Is it infinitely subjective? Could you squint at it and see it as orange? No. So is it partially subjective? If so, which part? What is this interior consciousness that runs independently of the material facts that cause it to operate, including your eye, your brain chemistry, and all the other facts of your being? I say you don't have one except for awareness itself, which is running through the material world like electricity through a circuit board (as far as that analogy goes).

it is not either/or, it is a kind of sliding scale, with bumps along the way. "subjective" and "objective" are just terms denoting degrees of certainty.

Then the terms are even more inadequate than I thought. Do you really feel uncertain about your response to art? I don't believe that.

70.

opie

October 12, 2007, 10:54 AM

Goodness is not a material configuration; it is a judgement engendered by a material configuration.

"Inherent" means existing as a quality or attribute. If everyone looks at a thing and says "that is great art" then the capacity to engender that response can be reasonably said to be an attribute of the object.

No, I usually have little uncertainty when I have a strong response to a work of art. A better phrase would be "objective verifiability".

71.

g

October 12, 2007, 10:57 AM

bullshit

72.

Franklin

October 12, 2007, 12:00 PM

Come on, G. You can do better than that. I wouldn't waste my time with you otherwise.

If everyone looks at a thing and says "that is great art" then the capacity to engender that response can be reasonably said to be an attribute of the object.

Absolutely.

73.

g

October 12, 2007, 12:32 PM

If everyone looks at a thing and says "that is great art" then the capacity to engender that response can be reasonably said to be an attribute of the object.

Absolutely.


Obviously this must apply to Duchamps urinal, please explain.

74.

Franklin

October 12, 2007, 12:54 PM

Sure. The urinal has taken on an interesting history as a philosophical object presented within a visual art context. People respond to it philosophically, not formally, and some people find those implications exciting. This is aberrant, but it's not nonfunctional. Now will you answer my questions?

75.

opie

October 12, 2007, 1:53 PM

It is just statistical, g. It doesn not mean that the object is great art, just that it elicits that response, or, more accurately, that people will say it does.

Just as there is no way to measure "goodness" there is no way to measure "true reactions". That's part of why the whole subjective/objective thing is a can of worms.

76.

g

October 12, 2007, 1:53 PM

no, read what I wrote above.

I said what I had to say and don't see the point of going any further with it.

77.

opie

October 12, 2007, 1:58 PM

In fact, I have often wondered what a people who declares that the urinal is "great art" (and many do) are actually feeling. My conclusion would be that they are feeling nothing, except perhaps pressure to agree.

78.

ahab

October 12, 2007, 2:02 PM

I only humbly dare to tread here.

There is a problem with the subjective/objective dialectic, but it doesn't have to do with our understanding or appreciation of subjectivity. I think it may be the concept of objectivity that is suspect, and possibly even fallacious.

As made evident by this thread, we can't even consider objectivity particularly objectively. It's dreamily idealistic to think that we can think of anything with our feedforward turned off. Subjectivity colours even our, I should say my, understanding of objectiveness.

'Objective' is not a suitable antonym for 'subjective'; an objective attitude is not the opposite of a subjective attitude. The proposed sliding scale argues for shades and tints of the two, but does not adequately orient objectivity to subjectivity.

The object (material) in question is tied to our unavoidably subjective take on it. That objectivity is characterized by (nearly) universally agreed upon definition and/or description of an object's attributes, inevitably gets screwed over by contentiousness, or subjectivity.

And yet, appeals to and desires for objectivity reciprocate by colouring our subjectiveness. At least, that's what I'm throwing out there for y'all to do a little dance upon.

79.

opie

October 12, 2007, 2:16 PM

Yet another indication of what a mess the debate is, Ahab. In fact, "objectivity" is really no more than a system for answering questions that rest upon agreed-upon propositions.

It is like the kid who asks "why?" Start with any question and then ask "why" to every answer that is elicited and you will soon end up with BECAUSE THATS THE WAY IT IS, DAMMIT!

So much for objectivity

80.

Franklin

October 12, 2007, 2:19 PM

I'll take that as a concession, G.

Opie, I can imagine someone experiencing intellectual frisson while interpreting a Dadaist work, and a kind of excitement along with it. What I don't get is what they feel in front of contemporary work that relates to Dadaism as a precedent. There's hardly anything left in it. I remember thinking as much when I reviewed that Fluxus show.

Ahab, that exact problem led me to think that something was wrong with the subjective/objective split: there are no objective observers. On the other side, what people call subjective experience takes place in the objective world - the only difference between it and everything else that happens in the universe is that we're aware of some of it. None of what I said above is incompatable with something that Opie said once - that we're just the part of the world that goes around thinking about it.

81.

g

October 12, 2007, 2:33 PM

It's no concession.
I'm just not interested in wasting any more of my time.

82.

opie

October 12, 2007, 3:09 PM

All experience is "subjective".

No experience is "objective".

Apples & oranges.

83.

catfish

October 12, 2007, 3:25 PM

Franklin says there is something wrong with the subjective/objective split, opie says there is something wrong with the words themselves along with "taste" and "quality", and g sees usefulness in differentiating between subjective and objective.

I don't think the words "subjective" and "objective" are going to go away because we understand two things pretty well: 1), there is stuff out there that we are successful to some degree or another in getting to know; and 2), the knowledge we have of it isn't ever quite satisfactory.

It looks like g's view is the one that will prevail in the long run for the greatest number of speculators because it reflects the basic epistemological predicament well, and it has a long track record of viability.

"Taste" and "quality", which are specific to art stuff, reflect the situation that is found in the subjective/objective spectrum as it applies to art, but there is less chance they will be used because they are repugnant to so many within the art scene. Opie may well get his way there.

I doubt that any of this matters to art itself which will have its ups and downs outside the boundaries of this type of discussion. But the discussion will certainly not go away.

84.

Fred

October 12, 2007, 3:29 PM

"Fred, if taste is subjective, what need is there to exercise it?"

That is the most hilarious thing ever written! Why would anyone want to taste the soup for themselves when they could simply agree that it tastes just like somebody else said it did? Too funny.

85.

Fred

October 12, 2007, 3:38 PM

Under your schema Franklin, I could see the development of a lot of resentment toward the pajamadetective.

86.

Franklin

October 12, 2007, 3:46 PM

Of course, G.

Fred, even under my schema there's a difference between tasting the soup yourself and letting someone else taste it for you. I don't understand your point.

87.

Jack

October 12, 2007, 3:49 PM

No, Catfish, it certainly does not matter to art itself, nor does it much matter to me, but no doubt it makes for prime intellectual masturbation, I mean stimulation. Ultimately, the art experience, so to speak, is a personal and individual thing between a specific observer and the art in question. It is what it is, for that person--who has no obligation to adapt to, or come into line with, anybody else's experience or ideas. The only obligation, which may or may not be met, or acknowledged, or even understood, is to be honest, real, clear and focused on one's personal take on art. In other words, my art experience is my experience, and it had damn better be, and I will not modify it to suit anyone but me. But then again, I'm very arrogant, or so I've heard.

88.

catfish

October 12, 2007, 3:56 PM

Jack, I have always admired your willingness to stand alone in front of the art that you wish to engage. You were very much on my mind when I said something about "isolation" back upstream somewhere. You make it very clear that it is between you and the art, the rest is of no interest to you. That's the best way to get it.

89.

opie

October 12, 2007, 4:50 PM

Subjective & objective I have a problem with, for sure, as per above.

"Taste" is a useful word because it should specify how we get to what is there; instead, received opinion on taste is that we all have different taste - "De gustibus..." - and by implication that whatever we like is OK, it's all relative, after all, when it should mean "you either get it or you don't".

"Quality" is just a feeble term; I remember a critic in the '70s rebuking me by saying it is a shopkeeper's word. That stung.

Quality refers to "fine goods", products that are measurably better than the common run.
Good art, on the other hand, offers a kind of refreshing joy, and maybe a certain kind of insight into something else pretty profound."Quality" is not sufficient. I don't know what to substitute for it, however.

90.

Jack

October 12, 2007, 4:59 PM

Well, OP, there's always substance, the real thing, the genuine article.

91.

opie

October 12, 2007, 5:14 PM

And if we didn't value that thing so highly we wouldn't be splitting all these hairs.

92.

Fred

October 12, 2007, 5:30 PM

"I don't understand your point."

That is clear.

93.

Fred

October 12, 2007, 5:34 PM

Your essay is convoluted.

94.

Fred

October 12, 2007, 5:41 PM

How might the objective of art criticism differ from aesthetic enquiry? If you are doing art criticism, offer up some art. If you are delving into philosophy, dig deeper and break some ground.

95.

Franklin

October 12, 2007, 6:44 PM

That is clear.

As one would expect when put on the receiving end of nonsense. How about you, Fred - can you answer the questions that G pussed out on?

If you are doing art criticism, offer up some art. If you are delving into philosophy, dig deeper and break some ground.

I'll tell you what - you go break some ground, put it on your website, sign your real name to it, and we'll come have a look.

96.

Fred

October 13, 2007, 4:44 AM

G didn't puss out but happpy to meet your expectations nonetheless. I think "panjective" sounds new age too.

97.

1

October 14, 2007, 7:32 AM

in regards to using another word instead of "quality", great or greatness seems simple and obvious when pertaining to great or "quality" art.

for some reason when i see great art and i feel consumed with it's greatness at the highest levels the word "class" always comes to mind.

these were the first 2 words that popped into my head without giving it too much thought. if i put a little more time into it and went to the the dictionary and thesaurus maybe something better would come up.

greenberg often used the words serious, great, first-rate when describing what he thought was the best art. also if he said it was a masterpiece then i would assume he thought it was of "quality" and atleast as good as great. he would also tag certain painters with the label "master" and let you know who was not.

98.

g

October 14, 2007, 9:47 AM

f. I looked over the thread of my comments and I am not sure what you do not seem to understand in my response.

When we evaluate an [art] object, we engage the stimulus-response pair.

Our [art] object has objective properties which act as a stimulus, and we, as viewers have a response. The response which may be as simple as just perceiving [seeing] that the objects exists, a much more complex psychological response, or both.

Simply put, an external object, something outside of us, causes us to have a response, an internal awareness of something outside of us. The object, as stimulus is outside us, our response in internal to us. Our response cannot reside within the object.

By ‘internal awareness’ I am referring to our consciousness, it’s exact location being a mystery, and not the ‘body’.

* * *

Now, if you are willing to accept the stimulus-response mechanism and process, let’s look at how this affects our perception of [art] objects in the real world.

First, an object will have tangible objective properties. In the general case, these will be physical characteristics which are fixed, at least within the viewers perceptual timeframe. These characteristics, (qualities or properties) are things like size, shape, color, surface etc, and within the viewers perceptual timeframe they are constant. We need to allow for mutable shapes like waves, changing color like weather, or aging, but I think you should be able to grasp the basic principle. that an object has certain tangible properties.

An object may also be enclosed in an envelope of intangible properties, qualities or characteristics which are NOT directly possessed by the object. These properties exist and envelope our object as an external layer of information which may in fact become part of the stimulus, and therefore elicit a response which appears to come from our object. In effect these qualities become external-properties of the object, the viewer may confuse them as being actual properties of the object, but on close analysis one will always find they are not actual tangible qualities contained in the object.

For example, history can often add ‘exo-properties’ to an object in a way which shapes how we respond to it. Consider the Mona Lisa as an example. Agents of the culture, criticism and popular opinion can add ‘exo-properties’ to an object, which can modify the viewers response.

However, it is important to realize, that these ‘exo-qualities’ are NOT part of the object, but inferred onto the object from an external source.

While this may seem trivial, the concept of exo-qualities is important, because although they may be initially derived from a subjective response to an objects objective properties, they are NOT part of the object. They exist outside the object, as part of the culture which refers back to the object. Since they are often manifested in a strong way, they can obscure or modify our perception of the objects primary objective qualities.


* * *

99.

g

October 14, 2007, 9:48 AM

Part II

Now, let’s consider why ‘quality’ or ‘goodness’ or any of the myriad subjective qualities of an object cannot be a property of the object.

Suppose ‘goodness’ was a property of the object. Then for an object to be considered ‘good’ it must contain the ‘goodness’ property.

Now suppose a viewer observes our object but considers it ‘bad’ or ‘not good’. This happens all the time, it is the source of dispute over the relative merits of [art] objects. If our viewer considers the object ‘not good’ then the merits of our ‘goodness’ quality are called into question. How can an object be ‘not good’ if it possesses the ‘goodness’ property. Is there also a ‘not-good’ property?

I am sure that one will try and argue that ‘certain viewers’ are ‘blind’ to the ‘goodness’ property, they just do not see it. But consider, the very real cases, where an object may be considered ‘good’ under certain circumstances and ‘bad’, even life threatening, under others, in this case the ‘goodness’ property is false, our response is not pleasurable.

Or, consider this thought experiment. Suppose we have an object possessing this so called ‘goodness property’. Suppose we, one by one, erase or remove all of this objects other objective properties. At some point, our perception of ‘goodness’ might disappear and we might be drawn to the conclusion that the last property removed was the ‘goodness’ property.

Now suppose we perform the same experiment again, but removing objective properties in a different order, starting with the last one in our previous attempt. Logically we might expect the object to give up its ‘goodness’, either right off, or after a similar number of removals. Keep this thought in mind.

Now, consider a second object, different but with objective properties similar to the first object. If we start removing objective properties, in any order, but preferably mimicking what we did in our first attempt, what would occur?

Given two objects with the blue property, they appear blue to a person with normal vision. If we remove the blue property, these two objects will no longer appear blue as the ‘blue’ property is gone.

Now suppose that in our endeavors, by chance, we discover the so called ‘goodness property’ and remove it from our hypothetical objects, rendering them ‘not-good’ since the ‘goodness property’ is required for the ‘goodness’ response. We will have managed to transform our hypothetical object from ‘good’ to ‘not-good’ WITHOUT CHANGING any of its other objective properties. This does not seem possible unless our concept of ‘goodness’ resides outside the actual object. Example: the swastika.

* * *

Finally, key to this discussion is realizing that there is a difference between an observers subjective and objective perceptions and responses. That an object may, and most likely will, elicit both types of responses in the viewer.

Objective responses are driven by a specific stimulus [or set of stimuli], they are quantifiable and perceived in a similar manner by the general set of observers [allow for color blindness, etc].

Subjective responses are located in the observer and a result of mixing objective stimulus with internal stimuli [memories, emotions, education, experience etc]. As such, subjective responses will vary from observer to observer.

The combined objective and subjective responses to an object constitute an observers holistic perception of the object. This includes not only what the observer perceives but also the observers internal likes and dislikes.

The culture is an aggregate of individual observers which ultimately silently ‘votes’ to form an opinion about the ‘goodness’ of our [art] object. Since each atom of the culture, each individual observer, perceives our object both from an objective AND subjective point of view, the aggregate view of the culture includes all possible points of view, subjective and objective, at a given moment in history. Moreover it also included whatever distortions or modifications are created by what I described as exo-properties.

So the final, and yes, disputed, cultural opinion of our objects ‘goodness’ takes into account all that is known at a given moment in time.

Now, Franklin, I re-read this whole thread last night and I am not clear on what question you are suggesting I didn’t answer.

What is it you don’t understand?

100.

opie

October 14, 2007, 11:48 AM

I'm glad you slept on it & came back, g. We don't have too meny contributors who are willing or able to deal with the thorny things & when you left you sounded pissy & long gone.

The "exo-property" idea needs to be introduced as "what seems to be" an envelope of intangible properties. This is an excellent and probably necessary observation.

In the first instance of part two you slip back into "subjective/objective" thing. Any property "universally perceived" (objective) can be misperceived in one or more instances, eg if someone is colorblind and sees blue as red. Conversely, if everyone in the world decided that the object is good art, "goodness" would become a property by vote or acclimation, it would become a "thing", like "blue". Your property-removal example will not work because the same thing goes for "heavy"; "heaviness" is an "objective" property which will also be diminished by removing various other properties.

Therefore, because any "objective" property can become a "subjective" property, and vice versa. This is why I don't like the terms, or at least would like to see them as continuous rather than distinct.

It then becomes necessary to provide a difference IN KIND between "goodness" and "blue" (and all the other "objective" things) in order to make goodness a necessarily subjective phenomenon, which we agree it must be.

Very simply, "Goodness" cannot be a property because it is an evaluation of properties, a judgement, and this can only be done "subjectively". A thing is only "good" according to use; a hammer is good for driving nails but driving nails is not a property of the hammer.

Art goodness may be unique because is something we specifically require to be "useless" in order to evaluate it. Just what it is that goodness points to or what it says about us is not something I have figured out yet, but I believe it has something to do with the evidence of the choices made by the artist.

101.

Franklin

October 14, 2007, 11:57 AM

Hang on. Fixing missing tag. (Preview, G, preview!)

102.

Franklin

October 14, 2007, 12:02 PM

Okay, proceed.

103.

geoff bunn art

October 14, 2007, 12:06 PM

"as far as we can tell the Rembrandt in the Metrropolitan does not disappear at night".

Theres a Rembrandt in a museum near to me which I wish WOULD disappear overnight. Ghastly thing.

104.

Franklin

October 14, 2007, 1:41 PM

Now, Franklin, I re-read this whole thread last night and I am not clear on what question you are suggesting I didn’t answer.

From #69: If not something inherent in the object, what causes the consensus to form?

What is it you don’t understand?

Understanding and agreement are not the same thing, G.

105.

catfish

October 14, 2007, 1:51 PM

opie says: "Goodness cannot be a property because it is an evaluation of properties". That goes against common sense. I see a lot of red things. When I see THE RED ROOM by Matisse, it is as red as all those other things, but it is incredibly beautiful besides. That what is delivered by intuition because intuition is a common sense that tells us what is obvious, the difference between the Matisse and a fire engine resides in the Matisse, not my process of perception.

opie also says: "Art goodness may be unique because is something we specifically require to be 'useless' in order to evaluate it." Myself, I'm finding a lot more "goodness" in design these days than heavy-duty art. I'll take most any BMW over any Jeff Koons any day of the week. But the Beamer is hardly useless.

g says stuff that is so complex that I can't follow it. He may have gone to these lengths because of the many objections voiced to what he has siad, I really don't know, except that his explaination finally reached the inevitable swastika, which is a good example of a symbol that has been overcome by the way it was used by the Nazis. So ...

catfish says: The experience of beauty, like the experience of most everything else, requires that something be "there" in the first place to experience. That's what common sense tells me. So far, no one has offered any mental gymnastic that can overcome my common sense. If there are exceptions (the swastika is one), that's how life intrudes on speculation.

106.

opie

October 14, 2007, 1:58 PM

Perhaps I can answer it for him, Franklin.

Using the simple hammer analogy above, hammering nails is not "inherent" in the hammer, not a property of the hammer, but it is easy to get a consensus that a hammer is good for hammering nails.

Properties of the hammer - a handle, a metal head with an extended flat striking surface, good balance - make it good for hammering nails, but that "goodness" is a judgement about the hammer, not a property of the hammer.

By the same token, art, which is analogous to a joke or any other kind of entertainment, is "good" when it organized in such a way as to afford a certain kind of pleasure when experienced in a certain way. The interesting question is not "subjective/objective", but why do we, why do I, for example, take art to be so desperately important to our species.

107.

1

October 14, 2007, 2:14 PM

franklin, you may want to let this one go on for more than a week so others who don't have as much free time or for whatever reason jump in later

108.

Franklin

October 14, 2007, 2:14 PM

Goodness (for striking nails, anyway) informs every aspect of the hammer's design. Imagine a really good hammer. Now, instead of an oval cross-section with its long axis parallel to the striking direction, change it to a circular cross-section. Now it's harder to hold and aim. Take the bevel off the striking surface. Now it doesn't countersink as well and it dents the wood around the nail head upon finishing. These material qualities are its goodness for striking nails. Art is the same, except that we design it not to be good for anything, but to be good, period.

109.

g

October 14, 2007, 2:16 PM

f. thanks for to

op.

I was reluctant to introduce the term exo-properties but I needed a way to talk about properties or qualities outside the object which become attached to it by reference.

In part II, I intentionally refer to ‘goodness’ as a [false] property of the object in order to analyze what would occur if this was the case and to find the flaw in the assumption.

Regarding objective properties. I believe we have to let the language create our definitions here.

For the object: Objective properties are fixed for measurements or observations made within a defined timeframe. My timeframe constraint is necessary to account for changes which are temporal in nature. At the point of observation or measurement we sample a particular instant and achieve a fixed result.

For the viewer: The perception of an [art] object’s objective properties is potentially subjective.

If a viewer is colorblind and sees red as gray, the objects property of redness does not change but the viewers perception distorts the stimulus and sees gray. The object still ‘looks red’ and measures to a red wavelength but the viewer sees something else.

The color-blind observer will state that they are ‘being objective’ in their response but their perceptual deficit creates a data point well away from the mean. It is conceivable that if a sufficient portion of the population was red color-blind, that there would be no definition ‘red’. The converse is also true. Some cultures have either an extended set of color-words or a reduced set of color-words, it is difficult to say exactly what they might mean when they say ‘blue’ [could be anything from green to purple]

Of course we can still make a spectral measurement and define the color that way, assigning it a convenient word that’s close. Never the less, color for example, may be an objective property which is both subjective and objective to the viewer. Everyone [those not color-blind] may agree that the swatch color is ‘blue’, that is, it is in the range between green and purple. Subjectively, individual viewers may describe the color more precisely, but different from one another.

I disagree with the notion that a ‘subjective property’ can be transformed into objective property without the object property already existing in an undiscovered nascent state. In other words, if we decide to agree that yellow-green is light with the wavelength ‘near’ 550NM, then we can make ‘yellow-green’ an objective property, by discovery, since it already existed in every way but name.

However if we talk about the weight of an object, [strictly speaking, we’re talking about it’s mass, weight is dependant on gravity] one observer may say an object is ‘heavy’ and another may say it is ‘light’. Both terms ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ are completely subjective because they rely exclusively on comparison, a relationship between two objects, conditions, or measurements.

Finally, I’m not making any special assumptions for art. Art objects are objects, they have an assigned property, actually a classification, of being ‘art objects’ but otherwise they are members of the general class of objects and all arguments I’ve made are based upon the general class of objects.

110.

opie

October 14, 2007, 2:19 PM

I think you are being deliberately contrary, Catfish.

Art cannot be anything else but an evaluation of the properties of a thing. What else can it be?

The fact that a fire engine is red and a Matisse is red is nothing more than coincidental. They are both red but one is art and one is a fire engine!

The fire engine can also be presented as art, in which case we would evaluate it esthetically (and probably find it wanting as art) and the Matisse could be used to cover up a fire, in which case it would be a fire extinguisher (and probably found wanting as a fire extinguisher).

Things that are useful in everyday life can be seen as art when we see them as art, and vice versa. Happens all the time. When seen as art the beemer is useless, obviously. A Koons would be a useful doorstop. It is nothing more than a categorical shuffle.

g's examples are not too complex to follow, but some do not work, as I pointed out above.

Of course there is something "there". Who said otherwise? most man-made objects are fashioned for a purpose. Art is fashioned to evoke an esthetic response. But the response is not the same as the thing. That's all there is to it..

111.

catfish

October 14, 2007, 2:29 PM

I'm not so sure art is "desperately important" to our species anymore. A couple of days ago I wrote to the president of my university that if I had to choose between taking my Lipitor and taking a look at the current show in our campus's spankikng new art gallery, I'd take my Lipitor. (I'm encouraging him to persue starting a medical school.)

Presumably, at one time art was thought to have a use - capture food, appease the gods, make us more holy, and so on. As those "uses" have fallen to the way side, perhaps so has the devotion society once had to ensuring that art is really good. That's one explanation, anyway, for the unusual proliferation of bizarre stuff that has found a secure home in today's cultural system.

Art for art's sake may not be all it is cracked up to be.

112.

g

October 14, 2007, 2:29 PM

Speaking of good.

This weekend I saw, for the second time, Keith Tyson's sculptural installation the "Large Field Array" at Pace Gallery in NYC

This is one of the best exhibitions by a young artist I have ever seen. FYI Tyson won the Turner prize in 2002, but nothing you find on the web can adequately describe how great this piece is. Pace finally has some installation shots up, but they cannot to the installation justice [there are roughly 300 individual elements]

Readers who live in or near NYC should make a effort to take in this show, go with a friend.

113.

catfish

October 14, 2007, 2:34 PM

Not deliberately contrary, just sticking to my faith, not matter how qualified, in common sense.

I am fascinated by the machinations of reason, but I live by common sense, whether I'm dealing with art or charging tigers.

114.

opie

October 14, 2007, 2:46 PM

g: I have no problem with subjective and objective if they are loosely used to mean things which are fairly certain in our experience and things that are not. This is a useful distinction, or it can be.

However I do not think it is that useful when discussing art because it clouds the issue, as I have tried to point out.

I disagree about the grey because when the color-blind person sees the color it is in fact gray. The property then becomes gray. All the wave-length stuff is really only evolved sets of factual consistency to "fix objectivity", as you put it. This is how we ward off chaos. If we were all color blind then those wave-lengths would specify gray. And so on and on and on.

Obviously, however, it is much more useful for us to say that the person who sees grey when it is established that it is red is colorblind. it would be stupid to do otherwise. It is up around 99 on the "objectivity" scale. The person who sees grey is "wrong". Tough luck. I am not going to tell you it is gray, because then you would think I was color blind. But if I see gray it is gray.

Furthermore, One may say an object is heavy and another will say it is light but the point is that renmoving (or adding) properties chenges the perception.

Can't everyone see that what "is" is what our perception of it is and what we then proceed to make of it? Really, all "facts" are just security blankets when you come right down to it.

115.

opie

October 14, 2007, 2:54 PM

I have no problem with #111, Catfish.

But as you might guess, I think I'M the one making common sense.

Well, G - we may agree. more or less in this discussion, but that Tyson thing? Geez! Talk about your basic overinflated, hyper-cosmic BS! Ouch!!

116.

beWare

October 14, 2007, 2:58 PM

Maybe the "art" is not the thing we are looking at . Art is the experience/sensation we receive when looking at that thing. The quality of that experience is equivalent to the object. The various subjects, or lack of one, used in the art object throughout history has been a way for the artist to get at the art.

117.

catfish

October 14, 2007, 3:05 PM

opie: I'm talking about using common sense, not making it. That distinction made, no, you are not making common sense either. YOu are giving your rationality a good workout though.

"But if I see gray it is gray." That's between you and the good Bishop Berkeley to agree upon. There may not be many facts we can rely upon in discussions like this, but in this case it is in fact red and you simply can't see it correctly. I believe the scientists who say it is giving off red light, but your receptors for that part of the spectrum are faulty or missing or something.

Perhaps you have set another "trap" for me here. I certainly have fallen for it, if that is the case.

118.

g

October 14, 2007, 3:18 PM

14: op

My point about adding or removing properties was only a conceptual game leading to the point where one might, by accident say, remove the so-called ‘goodness’ property and see what results. Since I do not think there is a ‘goodness’ property, it’s a moot point.

Heavy or light, had nothing to do with the property removal idea. Heavy or light are relational and relative terms, hence subjective.

Frankly, I have a similar take as you.
Art is what we make of it, nothing in this discussion will change anything, nor will it make the process of amking it any easier.

119.

opie

October 14, 2007, 3:20 PM

No trap. No Bishop Berkeley. Just a different conception of what "is" is.

I am perfectly happy to accept red as red and not gray and label the gray seer as colorblind. I agree that the Matisse is red and the firetruck is red. We couldn't function otherwise.

But I also see, and see continuously, as if I have an antenna for it, that all that "is" is is stuff we construct for ourselves to get trhrough the day.

(How about those 3 Izzes in a row?)

120.

opie

October 14, 2007, 3:23 PM

I know g, but is is fun, isn't it.

If I had any gray matter left I would argue about relational & relative and "subjective", but the hell with it.

121.

g

October 14, 2007, 3:27 PM

Regarding Keith Tyson’s sculptural installation.

I am getting similar responses from others who have actually seen it. It is visually engaging, extraordinarily complex, humorous, horrific, beautiful, ugly, ordinary, surprisingly creative, historical, contemporary, for starters. It is the kind of work one could look at for hours, and find it totally differently on different days. The second time I went, I took a friend, just sharing the experience clicked off another whole level of experience.

In my book it is a masterpiece of contemporary sculpture and the first true masterpiece of the twentieth century.

122.

g

October 14, 2007, 3:33 PM

RE KT:
Additionally, the individual elements are perfectly made. I don’t know if they are ‘fabricated’ or not, never the less, in viewing the individual elements, their construction never intrudes on ones experience.

Also in the Pace pics, the ceiling rafters intrude in of the picture in a way which does not actually happen in the gallery space. The roughly 2 foot square elements are situated on a grid with approximately 4 feet between elements, tighter than it looks in the photos.

123.

opie

October 14, 2007, 4:10 PM

"... extraordinarily complex, humorous, horrific, beautiful, ugly, ordinary, surprisingly creative, historical, contemporary'''"

Yeah, and yet another one in the seemingly endless stream of pieces consisting of things lined up with things on top of things next to things, everything oh so pregnant with "meaning".

Aaargh!

Oh, well. It's all subjective, right?

124.

g

October 14, 2007, 4:25 PM

gotta arrange them somehow.

BTW, Earlier in the year I made some bearish comments about the stock market.
We have passed through the negative four year cycle low window, with only a minor pullback which leads me to believe the US stock markets (primarily big-caps) are off to the races and new all time highs over the next 12 months.

For starters, I expect to see the DJIA tag the 15,000 level by the end of THIS year, the end of January 2008 at the latest.

125.

opie

October 14, 2007, 4:29 PM

Prechter is bearish, but then he always is.

126.

g

October 14, 2007, 4:43 PM

Prechter has been wrong for so long it's ridiculous.

While there will always be corrections, the US markets are going to surprise everyone, with the DJIA going well over 20,000 within a few years. This will slow down the art market a tad, as hot money goes back into stocks, but I doubt we’ll see an art market crash for awhile yet.

Full opinion here

127.

ahab

October 14, 2007, 6:47 PM

113: How much do you charge tigers, catfish?

128.

storto

October 15, 2007, 5:02 AM

While scrolling past these comments, catfish made me hungry and I realized that this post is really the opie show. And you know what? I like it like dat.

129.

opie

October 15, 2007, 5:53 AM

Thanks, Storto. However the idea is not to have "an opie show" or anything like it but to really flog some tough art ideas with people who know how to think through problems which have been bugging the philosophers & estheticians for centuries. Arguing with Catfish, Franklin, Jack, Marc, Ahab, Beware, G, 1, EC, and the rest really gets my juices going, shakes up my ideas and assumptions violently and forces me back to the drawing board.

It is the kind of discussion that simply is not available anywhere else. Most blogs seem to be a collection of random, aimless unconsidered shots of personal opinion which evaporate the minute you say "what the hell are you talking about?" Franklin has set a different standard here. As far as I am concerned it is the big leagues when it comes to art discussion.

130.

1

October 15, 2007, 7:03 AM

g

but last year you were a litlle off about the art market.

in your july 28, 2006 article, "whee! There is a sucker born every minute" you wrote about the "dumb money" and that "i think the party is over. the 2006 art season will be seen as the top of the speculative art bubble."

the contemporary art market was up 55% from june 2006 to june 2007.

131.

g

October 15, 2007, 8:26 AM

Yeah, nobody's perfect, the worst mistake one can make in the markets is insisting you are right when markets are proving you’re not, that’s a fast road to the poorhouse.
There were some major changes which occurred on the economic front that I had not completely anticipated back then. I have avoided referring to an art market crash, because even though I might expect a slowdown, I don't see a crash, at least at the present moment.

Further, there is a technical term used in price movements called momentum, it refers to the rate of change in prices and I believe this did in fact peak at the time of the Geffin sales. Market tops are not necessarily price peaks or spikes, they may also be a flat topped plateau which is what I think will actually happen this time around. It appears to me that what may be occurring in the auction markets, is controlled distribution, on the part of some of the big players who are slowly selling off certain holdings. I do not have enough information to verify this any more than to say it’s just hearsay.

FWIW, market analysis is a hobby I’ve had for the last thirty years. I moderated an investment group for 8 years and though I’m an amateur I’m as good at it as most professionals. My current opinion is that the US stock market will outperform other assets over the next two years. This will dampen some of the speculation in the art market since equities are more liquid and the transaction costs are much lower.

132.

1

October 15, 2007, 9:43 AM

i use to be a financial advisor/stock broker 6 years ago and i couldn't figure it out. not many have. there are many ways to play it. a few times i thought i was onto to something with breakouts over trending averages combined with support levels, but here i am in a different profession.

momentum investing seems like the way to go if you are trading.

different variations on the old "dogs of the dow"/ value investing(w.buffet) seems good for long term success with less volatility.

it is all much more complicated than this, but good fun as well.

i've found it easier to just make more money at what i am doing with my own business than putting the time into figuring it all out.

133.

catfish

October 15, 2007, 12:05 PM

[Comment wasn't from Catfish. It was from a group of cowardly nihlists trying to advertise themselves. - F.]

134.

g

October 15, 2007, 12:18 PM

and? ...

135.

Franklin

October 15, 2007, 12:21 PM

And advertisements are not allowed. Nihilists may purchase display ad space if they'd like to appear here.

136.

g

October 15, 2007, 12:23 PM

oh, gee I didn't know that cause I was responding to the cat that wasn't.

nevermind

137.

opie

October 15, 2007, 4:04 PM

Cowardly nihilists? How pathetic is that!

138.

ahab

October 15, 2007, 5:21 PM

We're rightly tired of debating the definitions and applicability of 'subjectivity' and 'objectivity' here. But I'm still wondering about the accuracy of the essay's proposed 'material awareness', which seems to dovetail with questions embedded in the thread about the nature of an artist's decisions - awareness, attention, assessment, then what?

I know metaphors and analogies are tools dear to art writers (especially Buddhist art writers), but I think they may be leading us astray more often than not. The discussion about 'blue' didn't make 'goodness' any clearer, it read more like a parable. Maybe the "Make Sense" guideline should include "Use Anecdotes, Not Analogies".

And I don't think that the differences between goodness, greatness, quality, m-piece, or seriousness have been exhausted. I'd like to see this thread or another like it continue the conversation.

139.

the real catfish

October 15, 2007, 5:40 PM

This one may have gone far enough. For me, anyway. We have been looking more and more like Little Black Sambo's tigers, simply repeating ourselves over and over, until we have turned into butter. I don't think opie, g, franklin, or myself have much more to offer. BUT ...

You haven't said much ahab. Maybe you should. Maybe I should just shut up. You decide.

140.

opie

October 15, 2007, 5:41 PM

All we did was qualify a few definitions, Ahab, which was hard enough.

In my opinion "artist's choices" is the next step, but if you think the preceding discussion was complicated, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

141.

Franklin

October 15, 2007, 5:48 PM

It'll have to wait until I get a decent idea about those excellent topics, Ahab.

142.

g

October 15, 2007, 6:03 PM

And I don't think that the differences between goodness, greatness, quality, m-piece, or seriousness have been exhausted.

I'm in the 'so what' camp, what difference will it make?

143.

catfish

October 15, 2007, 6:10 PM

I'm in the 'so what' camp, what difference will it make?

The general level of publicly acclaimed culture will surely continue to decline, no matter what we do or do not determine.

144.

g

October 15, 2007, 6:22 PM

The general level of publicly acclaimed culture will surely continue to decline, no matter what we do or do not determine.

Nonsense, culture is what it is, sometimes are better than others, but there is no declining trend, just people who don't get it.

145.

catfish

October 15, 2007, 6:32 PM

there is no declining trend

There is no such thing as a straight line advance. Hence, there are always declines intermixed with advances. The people who don't realize that are often called "those left holding the bag".

146.

g

October 15, 2007, 6:36 PM

Oh come on, cat, that's what I said.

147.

g

October 15, 2007, 6:40 PM

I like it!

ArtBagHolder.net

whoopie

148.

opie

October 15, 2007, 7:47 PM

Good grief, guys. It's fun to talk about. Who cares about "culture"? "Culture" is the Sunday NY Times. Screw it.

149.

ahab

October 15, 2007, 8:17 PM

...the differences between goodness, greatness, quality, m-piece, or seriousness have[n't] been exhausted.

...what difference will it make?


Because it's there.

150.

g

October 15, 2007, 8:27 PM

* * * * * * * Great Painting is an Accident * * * * * * *

151.

ahab

October 15, 2007, 8:59 PM

Maybe on the next thread I'll be able to run with the bulls instead of flagging the course, thanks to our newly hooked up studio computer.

152.

g

October 16, 2007, 7:37 AM

148: Good grief, guys. It's fun to talk about. Who cares about "culture"? "Culture" is the Sunday NY Times. Screw it.

Well this is where we have differing opinions. One can spend endless hours discussing ‘quality’ or ‘goodness’ and end up not knowing much more than when you started. It is clear that there are no formulas for making great art, it is something every artist should aspire to, and leave it at that.

The culture on the other hand is this big messy event which is changing daily right before our eyes. We are at a nodal point in history, a point we will look back at from the future and recognize this was when the change started. It is affecting art but everyone here seems to want to pretend it isn’t. How quaint.

153.

Franklin

October 16, 2007, 7:51 AM

G: One can spend endless hours discussing ‘quality’ or ‘goodness’ and end up not knowing much more than when you started.

Me: The answers are so unsatisfactory that the problem must be a good one to work on. To each his own.

We are at a nodal point in history, a point we will look back at from the future and recognize this was when the change started.

We are at a noodle point in history.

It is affecting art but everyone here seems to want to pretend it isn’t. How quaint.

You're here. Do you include yourself?

154.

g

October 16, 2007, 7:56 AM

You're here. Do you include yourself?

Of course not, otherwise why would I bother bringing up these points which the rest of you would rather avoid.

155.

Franklin

October 16, 2007, 8:10 AM

There's a conversation I don't need to have again: the future will be different from the past in unspecified ways, and I am quaint (or afraid of it or whatever) because I fail to find this interesting.

156.

Marc Country

October 16, 2007, 8:20 AM

When the moon is in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, Then peace will guide the planets, And love will steer the stars...

This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius.

157.

g

October 16, 2007, 8:43 AM

gosh franklin,

I find your lack of curiosity astounding, well maybe not.

Of course things change as time goes by.

Sometimes big changes occur that affect future events in a profound way, the industrial revolution.

That is what is happen now, but nevermind everything will be hunky dory if you just ignore it.

158.

Franklin

October 16, 2007, 8:53 AM

I have more curiosity than I know what to do with. It just doesn't extend to facile millenialist speculation. The present is fascinating, and I tend to think that if I make interesting remarks about it, the future will assign me an appropriate place. Or it won't. I don't plan to be there for it, beyond five or six more decades, and even that might be expecting too much.

159.

opie

October 16, 2007, 9:52 AM

"Noodle point". LOL, Franklin

You know, g, you were so intelligent dissecting the tangled network of the subj/obj discussion that I didn't even realize it was the old George until half way through, but here you are again with "this talk was fruitless" and "the future is upon us and you guys are stuck in the past". The old refrain.

I'm sorry you got nothing out of the discussion. I got a lot out of it. It might not change the world but it forced me to clarify some things I had on my plate that badly needed clarifying and has helped me renew my interest in something I had been writing that had seriously bogged down. The "big messy event" can do what it wants. It doesn't need my help.

160.

opie

October 16, 2007, 9:52 AM

"Noodle point". LOL, Franklin

You know, g, you were so intelligent dissecting the tangled network of the subj/obj discussion that I didn't even realize it was the old George until half way through, but here you are again with "this talk was fruitless" and "the future is upon us and you guys are stuck in the past". The old refrain.

I'm sorry you got nothing out of the discussion. I got a lot out of it. It might not change the world but it forced me to clarify some things I had on my plate that badly needed clarifying and has helped me renew my interest in something I had been writing that had seriously bogged down. The "big messy event" can do what it wants. It doesn't need my help.

161.

opie

October 16, 2007, 9:53 AM

I have no idea how this got posted twice, franklin.

162.

Franklin

October 16, 2007, 9:54 AM

The anti-double-post feature works. Sporadically. Which makes it hard to fix.

163.

ahab

October 16, 2007, 10:13 AM

...a nodal point in history, a point we will look back at from the future and recognize this was when the change started. It is affecting art but everyone here seems to want to pretend it isn’t

What makes you think anyone (everyone else) here is turtling? It seems just the opposite to me - Artblog.net is a *great* place for smelting recently innovated with long-standing received ores of wisdom. The artists among us use their studios to forge the resulting nuggets into something other than more mere words. Let future generations innovate and receive wisdom on their own terms.

164.

g

October 16, 2007, 11:04 AM

No franklin, your curiosity is limited. It would have been simple enough for anyone to ask what I thought was going to happen, but obviously no one cares.

I do not believe art is separated from its time, what happens affects what kind of art gets made. It affects how the culture views the art that is made and how they decide to value it. If one is an artist, especially an artist at a formative point in their life, then I think understanding the culture is as valuable or more valuable that understanding vagaries surrounding some philosophical concept like ‘good’.

FWIW, I’ve started a post on Keith Tyson on FutureModern, just photos at the moment.

165.

opie

October 16, 2007, 11:10 AM

This nodal point might be near
but the present is actually here
so while I await
our nodalized fate
I think I'll go have a beer

166.

Franklin

October 16, 2007, 11:15 AM

It would have been simple enough for anyone to ask what I thought was going to happen, but obviously no one cares.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether that's your fault or everyone elses'.

There isn't really something called "the culture." There are people making things and audiences for those things. Both the things and the audiences are enormously diverse. I'll discuss them when I have something specific to say about them.

167.

opie

October 16, 2007, 11:17 AM

C'mon George. You know you're going to tell us anyway.

168.

g

October 16, 2007, 11:18 AM

franklin, your headed down the road to obscurity, enjoy yourself pal.

seeya, been nice for a day or so.

169.

Franklin

October 16, 2007, 11:20 AM

There also isn't really any such thing as "the future," but that's another discussion.

170.

Franklin

October 16, 2007, 11:25 AM

On the road again
Nothin' but a bunch of obscurity at the end
The life I love is makin' paintings with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again

171.

opie

October 16, 2007, 12:27 PM

Yeah, the future is totally subjective.

172.

Storto

October 16, 2007, 1:01 PM

The catfish tastes great and it was of good quality,couldn't find panjective in the dictionary. What a world.

173.

ahab

October 16, 2007, 8:20 PM

There's neither future nor culture? Please tell me there'll be art tomorrow.

174.

Noah

October 16, 2007, 11:19 PM

Anecdotes tell individual stories and may offer insight into a particular character, event or method but analogies are the clearest way I can understand or describe art in the absence of a specific work. It can be fun to kick around ideas and some ideas need analogies because that's a way of nudging closer to them.

175.

opie

October 17, 2007, 3:29 AM

OK, Ahab. Now it is tomorrow.

Is there art?

176.

Ugly Porno Star Spammers Strike

October 17, 2007, 5:45 AM

in the early morning while the webmaster sleeps

177.

Franklin

October 17, 2007, 7:14 AM

They've been striking every couple of hours for the last two days. I just can't erase them while I'm sleeping.

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