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On Value

Post #1505 • January 27, 2012, 10:39 AM • 61 Comments

David Thompson links this morning to Samizdata, which features a video that made me wonder if I had gotten something wrong in my essay High and Low: What is Excellence in the Arts?.

Dr. Madsen Pirie, president of the Adam Smith Institute, is saying that value is in the mind that thinks about the object, not the object itself. Does this contradict what I said about artistic excellence, that it's a dynamic between perceiver and perceived?

I agree with Dr. Pirie that if I have no desire for something it has no value to me. And yet if someone crafts an object with the intention of making something that has value for him, there's an extant chance that I, as a fellow human, will find something of value in it as well. In terms I used in my essay, he has put qualities into the object that are designed to trigger my experience of value. Whether those triggers have any affect depends on my state of mind.

So I say there's no contradiction at the point that this becomes an economic discussion, but before that, at an aesthetic level, there may be.

Marx, in any case, is still wrong.

Comment

1.

Chris Rywalt

January 27, 2012, 10:51 AM

I've never read Karl Marx myself, so I can't say for sure what he said or didn't say about anything. But I know that Marx was a very smart guy, and Adam Smith had written what he'd written quite a bit before Marx was working, so I can't believe that Marx made such a basic error. I'm going to therefore conclude—tentatively—that Dr. Pirie—and you, Franklin, and potentially other people as well—have misread Marx.

Off to do some reading of my own on the subject.

2.

Chris Rywalt

January 27, 2012, 11:21 AM

And sure enough, even a quick skim of the Wikipedia page on the Labor Theory of Value shows that Marx's thinking was significantly more subtle than your sketch of it.

In fact it's clear even from the brief precis at Wikipedia that Marx wasn't discussing labor and value at the level of an individual—"I have worked very hard on this ugly little vase and therefore it's worth more"—but at the level of society, an aggregate of individuals—"the value of a product is determined more by societal standards than by individual conditions."

Even considering this very shallowly this makes some sense of the pricing of the works of Damien Hirst, just to name one example. There's a case where societal standards have set the value of the works far more than labor input or individual assessments of worth.

Even at the level Dr. Pirie is discussing it's evident, if you think for a moment, that he's greatly simplifying things. When a caveman trades his bone hook for a skin, there's certainly going to be some consideration for how hard he worked to make his bone hook, and how hard he'd have to work to get his own skin, or how hard he perceives skin acquisition to be. The value may be in the caveman's head—by the way, is there some requirement that economics professors pretend ignorance of anthropology?—but the caveman's calculations of value certainly take into account, to some degree, the labor involved.

3.

Franklin

January 27, 2012, 11:29 AM

Let's say I don't fish, though—in keeping with total ignorance of anthropology, and paleobiology to boot, I'm a triceratops hunter. On an aesthetic level I could admire the labor that went into that bone hook, assuming fine, canny labor. But if it's worth less to me than anything I have, I'm not going to trade for it. Sure, it's a simplification. This is "Economics is Fun," after all. But what Pirie is saying about demand still holds. "That's great, Ug, but what I really need is a bone letter opener. And I'll give you three skins for it if you carve in a picture of a triceratops."

I don't buy the aggregate argument. My wanting to appear a certain way to my society is just another individual demand. If you look around the sentence of Marx you quoted, you have this before it:

"Socially necessary" labor refers to the quantity required to produce a commodity "in a given state of society, under certain social average conditions or production, with a given social average intensity, and average skill of the labour employed."

And this after it:

This explains why technological breakthroughs lower the price of commodities and put less advanced producers out of business. Finally, it is not labor per se, which creates value, but labor power sold by free wage workers to capitalists.

I was thinking basically the same thing as you at first—that labor was all but guaranteed to add value, to the extent that one man's effort to create value for himself was likely to have universal value on some level even if not all individuals were destined to find it. But Marx contradicts this, wrongly, in my opinion. He's after something else: a "natural price" for commodities. It doesn't exist. To get there he's trying to average the unaverageable.

4.

A Reader

January 27, 2012, 12:13 PM

“Regardless of what lies behind our instincts for art, those instincts bestow it with a transcendence of time, place, and culture. Hume noted that 'the general principles of taste are uniform in human nature… the same Homer who pleased at Athens and Rome two thousand years ago, is still admired at Paris and London.' Though people can argue about whether the glass is half full or half empty, a universal human aesthetic can be discerned beneath the variation across cultures.” - Steven Pinker

"We have differences but we're not made different. If you don't agree with me, you're wrong." - Clement Greenberg

5.

Alan Pocaro

January 27, 2012, 3:51 PM

This guy is making a kind of marginal utility argument, which has replaced the labor theory of value (a theory held to be true by none other than Adam Smith) in intellectual circles that are desperate to justify trade as being, in his words, "win-win." Plus, Dr. Pirie reveals his basic ignorance in the first few seconds. Unless you and I and the rest of the living creatures on earth can live on imaginary food, water, and air, natural resources have intrinsic value. That's why even non-human species compete for access to them.

Chris is right, Marx's penetration into the natural laws of capitalism are profound and very subtle. They are also simplified, maligned, and misrepresented on a regular basis by those who stand to befit from current economic conditions, like the guy in the video. Marx recognizes value as being a social relationship, not an objective quality inherent in objects conferred by concrete labor. But you would have to get past the first three chapters of Capital to make that discovery, which most neoliberal economists are incapable of doing.

Simplifying economics is a bit like simplifying Shakespeare, but with dire consequences.

6.

Franklin

January 27, 2012, 6:17 PM

Alan, you're contradicting yourself, or Marx is contradicting you, when you say at first that natural resources have intrinsic value, and then that value is a social relationship. I don't know if Dr. Pirie would agree with me, but I think that when it comes to natural resources, the body is not separate from the mind. Lack of water in the body manifests as the experience of thirst, which alerts the mind to obtain water. If I understand rightly, Smith's conception of the labor theory of value doesn't contradict neoliberal value theory. Marx's does.

I'm a neoliberal myself, by way of deontological (though not opposed to consequentialist) libertarianism. The subtlety of Marx's thinking is irrelevant if it's wrong, and this is what I keep seeing borne out as I look at how Marxism has been applied. Marxist aesthetics are a disaster on all counts, which I regard as a bad sign (and one that I hold against Ayn Rand as well). If there's an argument in Capital that contradicts what Pirie is saying in the context of voluntary exchanges, I'm interested in hearing it—I have a lot of reading about free-market economics to catch up on before I get around to Capital.

7.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 27, 2012, 9:16 PM

Value is not an inherent property. It is a judgment we make about a thing according to how its properties accommodate a particular use.

8.

Franklin

January 27, 2012, 10:39 PM

That's fine until we consider something that we value but have no use for, such as art, arguably, or a sunset.

9.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 27, 2012, 11:14 PM

That's an odd idea. Of course we have a use for art, or sunsets, or anything, if we choose to have a use for them. If we don't they are just phenomena. But even then we are "using" them merely by noting their presence.

10.

Ryan McCourt

January 28, 2012, 6:19 AM

Qualities are inherent to objects, though, and we value qualities.

Each step of the making-(or acquiring)-perceiving-valuing cycle is biologically constrained, so we can only value things that human minds value. Value does not exist independent of minds.

Either the sunset has qualities that allows (which is to say requires) a human valuing of it, or it does not. No one can choose to value something they don't.

11.

Franklin

January 28, 2012, 7:50 AM

I think Ryan is closer to it. The idea that I'm using something by noting its presence is too much of a stretch for me. If I use alcohol, the feeling I get from it is involuntary but there's a decision to have the experience. Since art or the sunset works on me instantly, by sight, I have trouble putting it into the same category, although I could see a decision to go into a museum or gallery akin to pouring myself a drink.

12.

Ryan McCourt

January 28, 2012, 8:31 AM

The idea that I'm using something by noting its presence is too much of a stretch for me.

That's exactly how you use alcohol, though: your body simply "notes its presence" in your bloodstream. If you had a different, alien physiology, one that was impervious to intoxication, then you could not "use" alcohol at all, which is not to say that you could not still consume it. You could still take it in, as a liquid, but not as alcohol qua alcohol.

Alcohol only works on those who drink it, just like how the sunset only works on people looking west.

13.

Franklin

January 28, 2012, 9:52 AM

Between Darby's quote-unquote "using" and Ryan's quote-unquote "notes its presence" I am quote-unquote "not buying this whole line of reasoning."

The metabolizing of alcohol is a chemical process, not use. The use part comes in when I drink to get buzzed. I'm sympathetic to physicalism but I'm also soft enough of a soft determinist to think that there must be some distinction between will and reaction that prevents use from applying to both in the same way.

14.

Alan Pocaro

January 28, 2012, 10:44 AM

First, I recognize the awesome task it is to argue with you. Since we agree on so much else, I consider it to be a privilege. Second, I don't wish to be put in the position of defending every ludicrous phenomenon that has as its justification an "application" of Marx's thinking. Particularly matters of art. Just as I wouldn't blame Jesus for the Inquisition or the Crusades, we shouldn't blame Marx for the dumb things people do in his name. (I am not comparing Marx to Jesus.)

Marx was a writer of his time. We should understand that his work cannot be taken as a monolith. Carefully observed phenomenon described in a nuanced book packed with astonishingly rich literary references (Capital) is not the same thing as polemical red meat for the base (The Communist Manifesto). Of course, as Americans we're mostly familiar with the firebrand-type stuff because The Communist Manifesto is short, easy to read, and has the word "communist" in it. But judging Marx based upon that (I am not suggesting that you are) would be like judging a Republican (or Democratic) candidate for general election based solely on the radical positions taken during a primary.

You're right, I have contradicted myself. But I think it is important to recognize that Marx (and by extension, all economists) are making an argument as to what constitutes value in a society governed by capitalist economic relations. They are attempting to examine the nature of commodity value. They are not constructing arguments about value based on biological necessity. So it is possible for value to be both a social relationship and an intrinsic property. An aquatic organism may not not be aware of the value of clean water to its existence, and yet it instinctively moves away from polluted water. If I have 50 gallons of water and you have one, water my be "less valuable" to me as a commodity because of supply and demand, but as a necessity to my existence you and I value it equally.

At any rate, I would suggest that Marx's lasting value (ha ha) lay in his analysis of the origin of profit, which he arrives at by adopting a theory of value that consists of "socially necessary labor-time" which is an abstract quality based on human relationships. Marx's observation that capitalism (and value) is a dynamic process and not a thing, I think, complements your High and Low article quite well.

Lastly, I think we also need to recognize the reality that "voluntary exchange" is a convenient fiction found in text books. Many (but not all) exchanges are governed by some sort of coercion (not the same thing as force, mind you). Those that enter the labor market as sellers of their labor time are coerced to do so because the past 250 years of industrial activity has deprived them of both their autonomy as persons and their ability to provide for themselves. You might say I am free to work or not, but we both know that's not entirely true, without out money gained from work, you eventually perish. I may think I'm "free" to buy an iPhone or not, but a whole range of social forces (and a lot of advertising dollars creating false need) are at work coercing me to buy it. So far I have resisted, as my flip phone can attest.

Socially, I'm probably just as libertarian as you. I part ways with other libertarians when they start talking about the free market like its some kind of panacea bequeathed fully-formed by God, and not a fallible invention of fallible humans. Arguments like "the free market would work if only X variable would get out of the way and allow it to work properly" sound suspiciously like the justifications used ex post facto for a lot of human tragedy.

15.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 28, 2012, 11:24 AM

We have had this discussion in several forms before this, on the old blog, and I have experienced the same reaction each time: it gets fuzzy and over-complicated and is resisted. That means I am not being clear enough.

We live in a world of phenomena of extreme consistency and dependability. Things which we know about and have learned are stable we invest with permanent characteristics, take for granted, give them a name and confidently assume that is what it "is."

Because we take this huge, overall consistency for granted we live in the world of the very few relatively unsettled things, such as where to eat lunch and why is my boss acting like a jerk. As a result, we actually think of our world as chaotic, ever-changing and hard to cope with, and that's what we spend our time and energy while ignoring the fact that 99.99% is utterly stable and dependable.

However, the assumption of what a thing "is" depends entirely on acknowledgement, and that acknowledgement is a function of use, use in the broad sense. If a beer can is in a museum it is acknowledged to be art. If it is on our kitchen table it is acknowledged to be something that holds beer. In the museum: art. On the table: container. Phenomenally, the same thing; practically, two different things. Each has value, but a different value and for different reasons. Value does not reside in the beer can, it resides in the use of the beer can.

Value is imputed, not inherent.

16.

Franklin

January 28, 2012, 12:52 PM

Alan, I don't think thoughtful libertarians would say that the free market is infallible. Rather, like Churchill said about democracy, it is the worst system except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

It's not like nature itself, even, is conspiring to keep you alive and comfortable. It is at best indifferent and at times downright hostile to that effort. What you're calling coercion is built into the fabric of existence. You can't blame the free market for it.

That said, the free market is likely the best system possible for alleviating the discomfort of raw nature. The free market has been proven to be a fine alternative to, say, massacring the neighboring tribe and taking their stuff, or centrally mandating who should have what. I don't sense desperation among the libertarians so much as impatience with the fact that coercive systems keep on failing, and the coercers, who always seem to be in the majority, want to try something even more coercive.

Darby, I agree with that much. What I object to is the lengthy extent to which you're characterizing use. We are not using the beautiful sunset. It works on us in a more fundamental way. We are not using beauty in art either—it just manifests as a pleasurable experience. The beer can in the museum has economic or societal value as art but not artistic value as art. That's why I'm suggesting that what Pirie is saying about economic value may not apply to artistic value.

17.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 28, 2012, 1:24 AM

I'm a neoliberal myself, by way of deontological (though not opposed to consequentialist) libertarianism.

OK, Franklin, that's a nice little unintelligible tangle, but I'll take the liberty of telling you what I think: you are a highly intelligent person who bought the liberal line, like we all did when we were young and impressionable, and when actual realistic facts started imposing doubts you eased over to libertarianism, with a bunch of hesitant and incomprehensible qualifications, and eventually you will see the whole thing clearly and take politics totally case by case, as it must be taken, and you will call yourself a "free to decide person."

In the meantime please understand that one cannot be a libertarian and a liberal Democrat (or Republican for that matter, though they do favor individual freedom more) because the basic libertarian idea is to be able to do what you want to do and neither party wants you to do that.

Yes, I am overusing "use" and it is a fault of imprecision, but a semantic one which can easily be taken care of by finding some better way to express our relationship to phenomena. But this is a serious philosophical question and I don't particularly want to do the work it entails.

The beer can does not "have" societal and economic or artistic value. The operative word is "have." It is given societal and economic or artistic value by us. Value does not inhere, it is imputed, and it is evanescent. Value is not an intrinsic component of beer cans or anything else, although money and art and other things purposely made to have some kind of specific value have a somewhat greater claim to intrinsic value. Value is conferred, impermanent, flexible. There are all kinds of value.

This all seems so transparently obvious to me.

18.

Ryan McCourt

January 28, 2012, 3:30 PM

The metabolizing of alcohol is a chemical process, not use.

But what other use would consuming alcohol (a chemical) have, if not to be metabolized in a biochemical process?

The use part comes in when I drink to get buzzed.

No, the use comes in when you experience the effects of the alcohol, which is coterminous with it being metabolized by your body. If you don't know the punch is spiked, your intention doesn't enter into it. The alcohol present is used by your body, chemically, and to hell with your will. Likewise, if someone slips you a great sunset, you might not be in the mood for it, but if it pushes your biochemical buttons, it will have an effect on you, your will be damned, again.

To string a couple of relevant Sam Harris quotes together, one:

You are not aware of the electrochemical events occurring at each of the trillion synapses in your brain at this moment. But you are aware, however dimly, of sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, and moods.

And two:

All of our behaviour can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge. In the 1980s the neurophysiologist Benjamin Libet demonstrated that activity in the brain's motor regions can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move. Another lab recently used functional magnetic resonance imaging data to show that some "conscious" decisions can be predicted up to ten seconds before they enter awareness (long before the preparatory motor activity detected by Libet). Clearly, findings of this kind are difficult to reconcile with the sense that one is the conscious source of one's thoughts and actions.

19.

Alan Pocaro

January 28, 2012, 5:33 PM

Fair enough. The market's track record of delivering goods and services is well established, I have no quarrel with it. And this is really about art, not economics. At any rate, perhaps we're (or I was) conflating value with goodness. The use value of a work of art (or its exchange value for that matter) is really irrelevant to how materially good it is. Hence a piece by Hirst can be auctioned for millions, but be fundamentally no good as art. The aforementioned iPhone is of no value to me, but I recognize the material goodness of its design qualities and its abilities. And if I'm not mistaken your argument in High and Low is really one of goodness being an objective property, not "value" per se. Correct?

20.

Alan Pocaro

January 30, 2012, 10:07 PM

It's too bad this great thread has gone silent. Darby, you are quite right when you say that politics must be taken on a case by case basis.

Franklin, "High and Low" has been assigned as my inaugural Drawing IV "Reading Group" essay. I will report my students' reactions after Wednesday. One over-achiever described it as "amazing." Which shows you how easy it is to impress my students after they've had to tolerate me for a semester.

21.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 30, 2012, 10:56 AM

Alan, yes, I agree. Franklin and I have a difference of opinion on the format. I think it is very difficult to get anything going when you sometimes have to wait as much as a day to get the comment up. The old blog developed some wildly contentious 200-comment exchanges purely because it was so immediate.

On the other hand, there were some comments that never should never have been exposed to view. But they were few, and I think it was worth it.

22.

Franklin

January 30, 2012, 11:29 PM

Alan, it was me who went dead. Here are some overdue responses.

Darby, I didn't mean to be unintelligible. I should have linked up neoliberalism as well as deontological and consequentialist libertarianism. And I covet no labels at all but it turns out that other people have made some useful distinctions about these matters and there's no sense in reinventing the rhetorical wheel.

I'm only too aware of the lack of hospitality to libertarianism in both main parties at the moment. Watching the treatment of Ron Paul in this election has been disheartening. The left attacks him from the front, and the right attacks him from the back.

Yes, I am overusing "use" and it is a fault of imprecision, but a semantic one which can easily be taken care of by finding some better way to express our relationship to phenomena. But this is a serious philosophical question and I don't particularly want to do the work it entails.

Well, don't toy with us. If it's easy to take care of, let's hear the other possibilities.

Value does not inhere, it is imputed, and it is evanescent.

This is another problem of will. You don't impute value, you detect it. Quality wouldn't work on you in the instantaneous, choiceless way that it does if you were imputing value. Again, as I set out in "High and Low," if value was wholly subjective, then there's no good explanation for consensus, or how we appreciate objects that don't belong to our time or culture. This is why I describe it as a dynamic in which valuable qualities elicit the experience of value in those who have the eye to see it, in other words, taste. So in answer to Alan's question:

If I'm not mistaken your argument in High and Low is really one of goodness being an objective property, not "value" per se. Correct?

Not quite. I'm saying that value depends on an interaction between the subjective and the objective.

The alcohol present is used by your body, chemically, and to hell with your will.

Ryan, if there is no will involved in use, wouldn't it be just as fair to say that the alcohol was using my body? And doesn't that seem a bit silly? There's a philosophical argument as to whether you're taking your DNA for a walk or vice-versa, and my answer to it is I'm enjoying my walk a lot more than my DNA.

You seem to be a hard determinist. I'm not, so the Libet experiment only convinces me that there's a pre-conscious phase to some actions that we perceive as intentional. Anybody who meditates will tell you that there are continual waves of that sort of mental material coming up into consciousness unbidden at all times. It's kind of a hassle once you're aware of it, but that awareness gives you the space not to succumb to every impulse.

Alan, I invite your students to send me questions or comments. I will respond as best I can.

There were some comments that never should never have been exposed to view. But they were few, and I think it was worth it.

Darby, that's because you were enjoying it out in the audience. I had to maintain order, fight off spammers, plead with people to honor the discussion guidelines, and suffer the professional consequences of appearing to agree with anything said here that I didn't explicitly refute. After seven years of wild contention I had to stop blogging for almost two. The new format is less spontaneous but it's markedly easier on my sanity.

23.

Chris Rywalt

January 30, 2012, 11:46 PM

I was weighing whether I wanted to revisit this or not, but then Alan sounded so plaintive.

Franklin, I'm afraid I'm going to pass over most of the responses here since they wandered off in a direction I don't feel like following. I like your triceratops hunter, but I don't think he makes a good example. Certainly there are cases where the labor that goes into a thing is worthless. But in any case where there's some interest in purchasing the item, the labor involved in its creation counts for something. It counts for very little or it counts for a lot, but it counts. The main thing that makes a Ferrari so much more expensive than a Ford Focus is the Ferrari is put together essentially by hand—and someone is willing to pay for it. It's easy to invent cases where labor means nothing, but those are pretty rare from a market standpoint.

As for the aggregate argument, I'd say you're evincing the singular problem most libertarians with whom I argue evince, which is no sense of scale. Libertarians often seem to me to be the guy pissing in the Pacific saying, "You have no right to tell me where I can or can't urinate!" Meanwhile there's a guy on the beach calculating what would happen if everyone pissed in the Pacific every day and making a frowny face. That guy on the beach is an economist—or perhaps a climatologist—making models which are pooh-poohed by libertarians as leading to government coercion. Except we absolutely need some level of government coercion once there are more than two people on the planet.

Likewise, you reject aggregate arguments because you feel you can understand supply, demand, and other economic concepts from the position of the individual. You might as well say you don't think we need street maps because, after all, you can see where you are if you just look around. Being able to understand an individual's transactions is one worthwhile viewpoint but it doesn't necessarily follow that the aggregate, society-wide systems made up of these individual transactions aren't worthy of study, and that's what Marx was looking at. It's called macroeconomics, and it's not just microeconomics only bigger, any more than you can design an airplane by building a really big bumblebee.

Therefore we can say that the labor involved in an item may matter very little or a lot depending on the circumstances of the individual transactions, but these all add up to something we can accurately model across all transactions, and this can lead us to valuable conclusions and predictions about how the world works. I won't pretend to be an expert on Marx (or Engels, Milton Friedman, or really any economist) but I suspect this is the area in which he was working. You should perhaps not look at the people who have more recently called themselves Marxists any more than you should look at the people who have more recently called themselves artists to find out what art is. In fact to think of Hirst as the Stalin of artists might be about right.

24.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 31, 2012, 12:00 AM

Watching the treatment of Ron Paul in this election has been disheartening.

Yes. Very. He is the only one who seems to almost always make sense (I'm not sure about the foreign policy), seems be having a good time, makes a joke or two and knows exactly where he stands.

Well, don't toy with us. If it's easy to take care of, let's hear the other possibilities.

It is easy because we have ourselves and our experience and we have everything else out there. If you don't like "use" then just use whatever word fits the circumstances. Don't get so complicated!

This is another problem of will. You don't impute value, you detect it.

I don't care about the terminology. There is us and our experience and there is everything else. Value is not floating around somewhere; we make it. How we deal with depends on circumstance. Call it whatever you want to call it.

If value was wholly subjective, then there's no good explanation for consensus, or how we appreciate objects that don't belong to our time or culture.

Forget "subjective" and "objective." The reason there is such a thing as "good art" is because we are all made the same. It is good for us. It is exactly the same as saying there is such an "objective" thing as "effective poison." It is "objectively effective" because it will kill anyone. Other than that it is just stuff. Read the Clem quote above, the short one. He nailed it.

25.

Franklin

January 31, 2012, 1:00 AM

Chris, to my knowledge, no one is claiming that macroeconomics doesn't exist, and you seem to be mixing us up with the anarchists. I'm not saying that no aggregate argument is possible, I'm saying that Marx's aggregate argument is unconvincing, and so is the assertion that societal standards explain the excessive valuation of Hirst. George used to come here and say that the culture gets the art it needs, and it is never wrong. It was just a way of buffering a lot of bad individual judgment in a cozy blanket of aggregation. Absolutely, individual action compounds into something that is not like individual action. The problem is in thinking that these compound forces have an independent existence apart from the individual components. Here's where, for instance, Keynesian and Austrian conceptions of inflation diverge.

Darby, it won't do to claim that value is a judgment we make about a thing according to how its properties accommodate a particular use, then, unable to defend "use" in that assertion, say that I can just go find some other word. I disagree that we are making value, or at least that our manufacture of value is the whole story. And yes, the Greenberg quote is perfect and correct, but it's not generative. I'm making a claim about how it works, not just that it does.

26.

Ryan McCourt

January 31, 2012, 2:18 AM

Ryan, if there is no will involved in use, wouldn't it be just as fair to say that the alcohol was using my body? And doesn't that seem a bit silly?

Does alcohol use your body? Of course it does! It manipulates (uses) you physically, affecting your mood, reflexes, decisions, sleep, dreams, etc. The next morning, when you have a hangover, don't you feel like you've been used?

Of course, the body is still there, after the alcohol is gone, so it is not expended (used) in the same way. If that's silly, then it's the silliness of semantics, and the fact that some aspects of reality are counter-intuitive, and so require hard thinking.

I'm puzzled by Wikipedia's distinction between hard and soft determinists. When Schopenhauer says, "Man is free to do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills", that seems like determinism, plain and simple, which is the hard kind.

Here's an interesting thought experiment by Daniel Miessler:

At what point did every molecule of your being stop being 100% outside of your control? For the vast majority of the universe's history, you and all other humans didn't exist, and the world worked according the laws that determine how the fundamental particles of matter interact with each other.

So at what point between you not existing and you being an adult did your decision-making process inject itself in the middle of natural, causal interactions that were taking place before you were born? The answer is never. Nothing changed. You have today, as an adult, precisely the same amount of control over the universe that you had before you were born. None.

27.

Franklin

January 31, 2012, 7:48 AM

Ryan, I'll give you this: you may be a hard determinist, but you're a consistent hard determinist. I'm going to let Daniel Dennett take it from here:

My own conception of this is that we have almost no free will. We have a wee bit, though, in one existential location: to the extent that we're exercising mindful awareness, we gain nuances in our ability to respond to stimuli. In other words, if you're paying attention you have a small measure of choice. Otherwise will disappears into reaction. But that tiny little bit of will ends up having huge consequences.

28.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 31, 2012, 8:12 AM

We make value. It is a human creation. I make no claim that it is the "whole story," only that it is the only way to begin the story. If you want to believe that value exists out there in the universe in some Platonic way you are free to do so, but it is not in line with simple material observational fact, makes no pragmatic sense and if accepted as the basis for this discussion will do nothing but lead us out into verbal thin air and solve nothing.

I illustrated very simply with the poison analogy why the "subjective/objective" thing is a red herring. What we call "subjective" does not show that art quality is relative, it shows that we get at it in "subjective" ways, and the "consensus" is evidence that we are getting it but getting it imperfectly. This is how it works in real life.

I was not "unable to defend the word 'use'"; I refused to, because if we fall into the trap of insisting on perfect terminology for discussing such a convoluted, messy process we start missing the forest for the trees.

Let's start with the obvious facts and take it from there.

29.

Franklin

January 31, 2012, 10:23 AM

Let's start with the obvious facts and take it from there.

You were the one who was talking about using the sunset.

We make value. It is a human creation.

Somehow my dog has become a gourmand in her senior years. If we try to feed her Innova wet food instead of the excelsior Merrick line of wet foods, she has enough awareness to realize that other, better possibilities are available, and enough will to protest her not receiving them. The only reasonable explanation is that Daisy's experience of value correlates to material qualities. Value doesn't exist out in the universe in a Platonic, ideal way; it manifests as materials, and more importantly, good form. The universe is more or less cranking out phenomena at random (or deterministically but unknowably, if you prefer Ryan's conception) but things either accord with the environment and endure or don't and don't. Evolution says so. That accordance is value. One the one hand, you have the traits of value out in the material world. On the other hand, you have the experience of value taking place in your subjective, interior consciousness. Value is both of them. You can't have one without the other. That's why it's insufficient to say that it's human and we made it. It was already there when we started putting our own spin on it.

I was not "unable to defend the word 'use'"; I refused to, because if we fall into the trap of insisting on perfect terminology for discussing such a convoluted, messy process we start missing the forest for the trees.

My objection was logical, not terminological. Use and the idea of making value imply will and deliberation that don't correspond with my experience of beauty as involuntary and instant.

30.

Chris Rywalt

January 31, 2012, 10:58 AM

Ryan, I find it wonderful that free will is still being discussed. My good friend made almost exactly the same argument as Mr. Miessler, back in 1996 or so.

31.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 31, 2012, 12:15 PM

You were the one who was talking about using the sunset.

I was, but so what?

That's why it's insufficient to say that it's human and we made it. It was already there when we started putting our own spin on it.

If this is what you believe we are at an impasse. It is not in accordance with simple observational facts. Without life there is no value.

Use and the idea of making value imply will and deliberation that don't correspond with my experience of beauty as involuntary and instant.

Involuntary does not exclude use, whatever your experience may be.

32.

Franklin

January 31, 2012, 1:11 PM

I was, but so what?

So nothing about that is observable or factual. Which is fine, as you're welcome to your interpretation, except that your argument hinges on it and it's not convincing.

If this is what you believe we are at an impasse. It is not in accordance with simple observational facts.

I provided the simple observational facts with which my assertion accords. If you think it does not, please say why. Your alternative is that my dog is willfully imputing value to her favorite dog food. I think highly of my dog but I don't think that's what's happening. I think that some inherent value in her food is elicitng that response.

Without life there is no value.

I didn't say that value precedes life. In fact, what I said about value contradicts that. I'm saying that value far precedes art, probably precedes humanity, and possibly even precedes hominids. If I had to make a guess, I'd say it started cropping up as soon as mammals got complex enough to have emotional lives, sometime during the early Cenozoic.

"Involuntary" does not exclude use, whatever your experience may be.

So your using the sunset or making value is not like, say, using a hammer or making a cake, but more akin to the manner in which cells use glucose for energy. (Or it is, but we're in Ryan's universe in which everything is akin to the manner in which cells use glucose for energy.) Well, Ryan hasn't talked me out of free will yet.

33.

Ryan McCourt

January 31, 2012, 1:15 PM

Hard determinism requires consistency, while soft determinism appears to demand inconsistency.

Dennett suggests free will is increasing in the universe, when in reality, he's merely noting the increasing complexity of certain systems. His notion of "agents" does not get around the two-lever argument. It merely begs the question, equating agency (avoidance ability) with free will. I'd love to hear Dan Dennett and Sam Harris duke this out. I'm an unqualified amateur philosopher, of course, so I look to the pros to make the arguments, and whichever one convinces me, I go with. I have no choice in the matter.

Your conception of a wee, almost non-existent free will makes me think of the "god of the gaps" argument: something once considered supreme gets whittled down to size, the more we understand about how the world really works. At some point, the whittling makes the original concept irrelevant. The god that doesn't intervene is not a god, and the free will that you do not choose is in no meaningful way "free."

34.

Franklin

January 31, 2012, 1:38 PM

"We must believe in free will—we have no choice." - Isaac Bashevis Singer

What if the universe itself isn't deterministic? We've already determined (sorry) that it's not classical physics all the way down. I think that consistency aside—which is good sign, all things being equal—there's some obligation to remain undecided about determinism until we have a unified field theory and some basic idea about where consciousness comes from.

Thank you, in any case, for correctly using "beg the question." My faith in humanity is restored a little every time someone does.

35.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 31, 2012, 3:21 PM

[Since this comment came in as a paragraphed list, I have responded within it directly. Bracketed and bold text is mine. - F.]

You keep telling me that my "argument"—which is not an argument but just simple empirical observation—is not "convincing", with no attempt to say why it is not convincing.

[You say that value is "a judgment we make about a thing according to how its properties accommodate a particular use." As I said above, this is not convincing because it says that we are using beauty, artistic and natural, which is a strange usage of the idea of use, exacerbated by your "making value" later on, and it imputes will and deliberation to an experience which I claim (along with Greenberg, Schopenhauer, and Kant, if I understand rightly) is involuntary, intuitive, and instantaneous. Question One: Since you've provided no evidence or examples, of what is this a simple empirical observation? Question Two: How do you reconcile the idea that the perceiver attributes value, when the experience of beauty entails the object acting upon the perceiver?]

Then you say "you have the traits of value out in the material world."

[Because that is one side of the dynamic of value, other side, the experience of value, taking place in the consciousness of the perceiver.]

Then you say "It was already there when we started putting our own spin on it."

[I stand by that.]

Then you say "I didn't say that value precedes life."

I shouldn't have put it that way; I was getting ahead of myself. My claim is that value is both material traits and subjective experience, together. You responded, "[This] is not in accordance with simple observational facts." Question Three: With what simple observational facts does this not accord? You continue, "Without life there is no value." I never said that there is value without life. In fact, what I said contradicts the idea that there is value without life.]

Then you ask me to demonstrate something without referring to what it is I am supposed to demonstrate.

[Question Four: What are you referring to here?]

Then, once again, you talk about dog food.

[You say, "We make value. It is a human creation." I provided the simple observation, as best as I can discern it, that (1) my dog is experiencing value, and even making better-or-worse judgments, which means that it is not unique to humans, and (2) as far as I can tell, characteristics of the food are eliciting her experience of value, which means she is not creating it and imputing it to the food. It seems self-evident that her doggy consciousness would not be able to do this. Question Five: In what respect is this "not in accordance with simple observational facts"? Question Six: Is my characterization wrong, and if so, what do you claim is happening instead? Is my dog "making value"?]

This what happened last time I tried to put some backbone in this "value" discussion, on the old blog. Apparently we need some rules of order. Otherwise we are just pissing in the wind.

[Question Seven: What rules of order do you suggest?]

36.

Ryan McCourt

January 31, 2012, 5:00 PM

What if the universe itself isn't deterministic? We've already determined (sorry) that it's not classical physics all the way down.

Not classical, sure, but, is it going to still be physics all the way down, or something else? What would that be? Quantum uncertainty makes for an unpredictable universe, so determinism may not be the best descriptor, since there is still room for randomness, but that certainly doesn't imply that you have any control over that unpredictability.

This is getting pretty abstruse, so perhaps we should get our bearings, and recap: If I understand you correctly, you are basically saying valuing is a product of consciousness. Conscious creatures (from the Cenozoic onwards, here on Earth at least) can value things, like good dog food or good sunsets. The qualities that make those things good are there regardless, but without the valuing consciousness present, those qualities are literally "good for nothing," or good for no one present, at any rate. Most conscious valuers, like your dog, do not have free will, since free will is something only a few rare, mindful humans possess, so their value-response is involuntary.

Is that an accurate picture of your view?

37.

Rob Willms

January 31, 2012, 6:00 PM

I was just that close to piping up on value during Artblog.net's quiet weekend, but found I was unable to tighten up my comment satisfactorily. Observing the Swiss cheese nature of all the variously assured formulations gives me a touch more confidence in the soft and spreadable nature of mine:

We take for granted as reliable that we are our cellular, molecular systems (practically?) and they are us (phenomenally?). Mostly we don't have to pinch ourselves over and over to know we're still here. But how stable are these systems, really? My internal organs may reject the worth of the beer that my tongue reasonably anticipates to be of great value. Is each assay (menu-browsing, label-assessing, aroma-sniffing, taste-testing, etc.) imputed by me upon the beer? Am I not also acted upon by it and perhaps found by a third-party assessor to be, say, less suitable as a beer container than the original can? It's not just that "value is conferred, impermanent, flexible," every person's authority and suitability as an adjuster is as well.

Tacking a bit... many beers are active yeast cultures—alive and in some degree discretionary, if not self-consciously so. Like Daisy. So it is not entirely ridiculous to suggest that (even apart from my daily, uh, predilection for it) I am used by my beer. Anyhow, what I'm trying to understand from the thread is how we sight-value art. It doesn't seem a stretch to say that upon catching sight of an artwork, or beer can, or tawny bubbles, it has begun acting on (if not strictly using) me.

Whether that lands its value nearer to or farther from me can only be assessed case by case. Heh. English. This language is like balloon ballast: you can have too much or you can have too little but only relative to your desired position above the ground.

I’ll try again. The better I deem a sculpture to be, the more I’m beholden to it. And when nonsense like that starts sounding accurate, then I know I should maybe hold off observing observations and evaluating evaluations.

38.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 31, 2012, 6:47 PM

I suggest:

1. 25 words or less.

2. Deciding whether or not value can exist without life.

3. No mention of dog food.

39.

Franklin

January 31, 2012, 7:07 PM

Ryan, I think that just about sums it up. (Darby had me wondering if I was utterly failing to express myself—glad to see it got through.) One adjustment: I didn't mean to imply that a few extraordinary beings possess free will at all times (which may be true, but it wasn't my point). Rather, anyone paying attention to anything gets a limited measure of free will commensurate with the degree of attention. This isn't the sole province of Zen masters or whatever. Even such masters are just plodding through existence with the rest of us, at best paying attention to what their perceptions allow them to pay attention to, and every other aspect of their existence (the whole universe!) grinding along in the way that it does. Nobody remains in that state all the time. Even they get caught up in stuff. And yet, that awareness makes a difference. It mitigates suffering. Not pain, but suffering.

On a related note, and in response to Rob, there's an interesting discussion that one could have about where you actually are. The scientific inability to locate the self dovetails with the Buddhist assertion that it isn't there except in a provisional, temporary, basically illusory form. Which means that the existential spectrum you describe between self and other may be the best way of characterizing the phenomenon of existence. My consciousness-plus-object formulation of value maps pretty well to that.

Darby, (1) No, (2) It can't, (3) Daisy tells me that dog food is a fabulous analogy. How about questions One through Six?

An additional note to Ryan: for a while, philosophers have been batting around the idea of the quantum mind. I'm unable to evaluate whether there's something to it or if it's all hooey, but there seems to be a possibility that non-determinism extends up into consciousness.

40.

Ryan McCourt

January 31, 2012, 9:18 PM

So, if it's agreed that value cannot exist without life, and valuing is a product of consciousness, then value does not exist independent of minds, and is therefore obviously not in the object. It is ascribed by the conscious mind that detects within the object certain relevant qualities, like how well it holds beer, or satisfies a dog, or poisons someone, or uplifts spirits, or offers transcendent experience, etc. The "use" of a sunset is merely another way of talking about "what it is good for," and we all agree that art is "good for something," which means it has a "use."

Now, if our will is truly free, we could ascribe value to any object regardless of its actual qualities. I could arbitrarily decide that Rob is an excellent beer can, and I would then be free to pour myself a pint from him, and willfully enjoy those tawny bubbles. But I don't think this is the case, and neither does anyone else.

Is that fair to say?

41.

Franklin

January 31, 2012, 9:49 PM

Value doesn't exist independent of minds, but it doesn't exist independent of objects either. You proved this yourself, because you're not free to regard Rob as an excellent beer can. Rob doesn't have the traits of an excellent beer can, so it's impossible to have the experience of an excellent beer can in regards to Rob.

As for use, all I can say is that you're consistent. In a choiceless, deterministic universe, you could say that every interaction is some kind of use, but you could just as well say that nothing is use. With no intentionality except prior cause, the components of the universe simply collide, change a bit, and move to their next destination. There's no using anything for anything because there is no will. I'm pretty sure that this unfalsifiable.

42.

Ryan McCourt

January 31, 2012, 9:56 PM

Franklin, nothing exists independent of objects.

43.

Franklin

January 31, 2012, 9:59 PM

The next step being that mind doesn't exist independent of objects, at which point we're not talking about value anymore.

44.

Ryan McCourt

January 31, 2012, 10:15 PM

My point is, the fact that value does not exist independent of objects is unremarkable. It tells us nothing about the nature of value, which is confined to conscious minds.

45.

Franklin

January 31, 2012, 10:17 PM

The experience of value is confined to conscious minds (this is equally unremarkable—the experience of anything is confined to conscsious minds), but the nature of value isn't. Its nature is dual, and that dual nature allows value, goodness, quality, or whatever you'd like to call it to operate in the way that it does: across cultures, across time, instantly, intuitively, and involuntarily.

46.

Walter Darby Bannard

January 31, 2012, 11:25 PM

Good grief, Franklin. The "nature" of value is just as much confined to conscious minds as any other characteristic of value. Value is 100% a product of human mentality. It does not inhere in anything; it is given to things, which operate under particular circumstances, some of which, like art, we experience "across cultures, across time, instantly, intuitively, and involuntarily." We all know this.

But it does not mean that value is an inherent property of art, it means that we have produced an object that does what art is supposed to do, just as any utilitarian object does, and good art is "good" because, as Clem said, we are all the same. We allow ourselves to say that something is "good," as if goodness is a property of the object, but the goodness is nothing more than a matter of human concordance. It is real and consistent because we experience it, not because it is "in" anything.

I don't see that this is anything but transparently obvious.

47.

Ryan McCourt

February 1, 2012, 1:40 AM

If that were the case, then you could also say, although the experience of thinking is confined to conscious minds, thinking also requires an object, so therefore the nature of thinking is not confined to minds. And doesn't that seem a bit silly?

48.

Franklin

February 1, 2012, 8:36 AM

Darby, repeating over and over again that humans make value, that this is transparently obvious to you, and that counterclaims are not in accordance with unnamed simple observational facts does not prove it correct. On the contrary, it leads me to believe that you have no basis for saying this and you're trying to convince me through mere repetition. It's not working.

And doesn't that seem a bit silly?

Ryan, is the nature of thinking confined to minds? Minds are the product of a biological system that developed from a template consistent with the rest of the biological world. The activities of that mind are memories and inferences built up from observations of that world. You don't get to have a subjective, internal experience of consciousness without this gigantic support mechanism that consists entirely of brute matter and electricity. You, as a hard determinist, ought to readily agree that what you're calling "thinking" is at best a by-product of all these external factors.

49.

Franklin

February 1, 2012, 9:17 AM

Although, Darby, I should say that I agree with you about human commonality. I just think that this commonality extends all the way into the object. When it comes to human-made objects, we've designed value into them, and they inhere there as traits. We experience that value upon interacting with them. That commonality, or accordance as I called it earlier, is a basic feature of the natural world as well, which is why a beautiful sunset strikes us with awe and not just a blob of orange light.

50.

Walter Darby Bannard

February 1, 2012, 10:31 AM

What you say in #48—that repeating how obvious something is does not prove anything—is true.

What you say in #49—that we "design value" into things is also true; that's what we do with art and anything else we think might be good to have around.

This is why I said, at the beginning of all this discussion: Value is not an inherent property. It is a judgment we make about a thing according to how its properties accommodate a particular use.

That painting can be a dart board. The beer can may be "art". All things are just things until we use (supply your own term) them. We can put a frame around a painted panel and put it on a wall and endow it with the traits we associate with art, and we can put beer in a can and associate it with beer drinking—this is what we do all the time with everything. This high degree of naming consistency—that we can look at something and know what it "is" and what to do with it—is how we get along in the world.

But this consistency and orderliness does not change the simple fact that that things are just stuff until us living things decide what to do with them. The beer can is not a beer can if it is "art" or a flower pot, or a hunk of aluminum in a recycling plant. The art is "art" when it someone looks at it and an item of commerce on the auction block. The "traits" you mention are physical characteristics which we supply and use to determine further use, continuously, but the fact that the changes are limited and generally stable is mere convenience. When something is not in use it is just stuff waiting to be something. Art is only actual art when it is being used as art.

And so forth.

This seems like splitting hairs until you start to see things, actually see things, this way, and it particularly affects how one sees art. It really changes everything. You don't accept that something is art just because it is supposed to be art. You start to see art where it shouldn't be, and you start to not see art that is supposed to be art. Once the world is no longer a stable collection of purposefully named stuff everything becomes dynamically fluid; everything is only what your brain tells you what it can be. You become a kind of universal skeptic and universal creator. You take complete responsibility by becoming completely alert, and you are hyper-alert to change because everything is already changeable in your mind. We smart art folks think "well, that's the kind of sophisticated person I already am" but it isn't true. We are all way too set on things as they "are", and we are always caught short when they are suddenly not the way they are any more. We are all stuck in our ruts, and you, Franklin, intelligent and enlightened as you are, are stuck in yours and I in mine.

So if I can't convince you of the truth of my position, perhaps I can persuade you to try it out, just for fun.

51.

Ryan McCourt

February 1, 2012, 12:47 PM

Ryan, is the nature of thinking confined to minds?

Yes, because thinking does exist apart from minds. Thinking required the Big Bang to occur, but to suggest that the nature of thinking involves the Big Bang is plainly obtuse.

Your use of words like "value" and "quality" in this thread is way too sloppy to build a convincing argument, since they appear to vacillate between noun and verb forms pell-mell.

When I say "value," I am using it as a verb. When I say "quality," I am using it as a noun. We value qualities. It's that simple.

Believe me, I'm almost as frustrated as Darby by this exchange. I'm think I'm just the Riggs to his Murtaugh.

52.

Franklin

February 1, 2012, 7:23 PM

On the contrary, Darby, by that formulation, you actually do have to accept that something is art because some purblind idiot declared it to be art and is using it as such. Given the parameters you've set out, I don't see how you tell him otherwise, if he's getting value out of it because it's accommodating his use of it as art so well. Whereas in my formulation, experience of value has to correlate to traits of value, so I can ask, "Do the traits of this object support an experience of it as art?" And often the answer is no—rather, it is some poor object that has been put into an art context, and it's the context that has the relevant art traits, not the object. Conversely, there are cases in which the traits of value are present but someone doesn't experience them as value, for example, when Michael Kimmelman claimed several years ago that he didn't really get Rembrandt. (I'm led to understand that he has taken up drawing in the meantime, and I hope he's started to get Rembrandt, because that was pretty sad.) By your formulation that causes The Night Watch to revert to an expanse of daubed cloth, at least for Kimmelman, and that response is valid for him because he's not using it as great art. Whereas by mine, Kimmelman needs to go get some taste so he can detect the value that's been enshrined into Rembrandt's canvases.

As I mentioned before, your man-made value doesn't explain how we find anything in nature beautiful, a sunset, a tree, a stone. On Big Cranberry, where I painted last summer, on the ocean side of the island, granite tumbles in the bay and pops up on the beach as smooth ovoids. I picked up one that was especially orange and nicely rounded, about the size of a grapefruit, brought it back to Boston, and put it on the mantle. I say that the color and the shape, its traits, have aesthetic value, and it triggered an experience of aesthetic value when I laid eyes on it. You say it has no value, so what do you say happened instead?

Ryan, thinking exists apart from minds? That would tend to indicate that it is not confined to minds. And the Big Bang isn't relevant here. Thinking relies on a biological support network right now—brains, bodies, and all the factors that keep them operating.

53.

Alan Pocaro

February 1, 2012, 9:38 PM

Yep, Franklin's right. Art is a self-defining phenomenon. Something is or is not art regardless of what we at the individual level think. The decision is social and collective. I'm free to call standing in an open field with a brick in my hand "basketball" but I'm not going to be playing for the Cavaliers any time soon. I'm might even use the brick as a ball, but its not going to do a very good job because the brick was purposely built to be a structural material independent of my desire for its use as sporting equipment.

Fountain was purposely built as a urinal. You can try and enjoy it as art, but because its "self-nature" as a receptacle for pee was embedded in its manufacture, which an individual cannot change, seeing it as art is a kind of willful delusion.

You can try and surf on Blue Poles but it's not a surfboard. Nothing will change that. I think I wrote an amateurish article about this somewhere.

54.

Franklin

February 1, 2012, 11:22 PM

Well, if the decision was social and collective, Fountain would end up being a great work of art, since many people think it so. Rather, the traits of a given object support certain experiences and not others. (I wonder if anyone ever laughed at a sunset?) Holding a brick in a field and calling it "basketball" isn't going to work because you can't get anyone to agree with you that it's basketball. But if you take a sufficiently vague category like "art" and put a urinal in it, that might garner some agreement because unlike basketball, there are no rules or solid definitions to fall back on. But do its traits support the experience of visual value? That we can answer assuredly no. Then we can have a productive discussion about what kind of experiences we'd like art to give us. (Pranks and half-assed intellectual exercises are not on my list, personally. Probably not yours either.)

55.

Walter Darby Bannard

February 1, 2012, 11:24 PM

I will try one more time and then no more.

By your formulation that causes The Night Watch to revert to an expanse of daubed cloth, at least for Kimmelman, and that response is valid for him because he's not using it as great art. Whereas by mine, Kimmelman needs to go get some taste so he can detect the value that's been enshrined into Rembrandt's canvases.

True. However, without human consideration the painting is, in fact, "an expanse of daubed cloth." If you think it is a wonderful work of art, then for you it is a wonderful work of art, and I would agree.

As I mentioned before, your man-made value doesn't explain how we find anything in nature beautiful, a sunset, a tree, a stone.

There is nothing to explain. Finding beauty in nature is the act of a human mind. It is not beauty until we find it to be beautiful.

Something is or is not art regardless of what we at the individual level think. The decision is social and collective.

Social and collective and individual opinions are all products of human minds. It is not art until we find it to be art. If we decide it is art collectively then we treat it that way collectively by saying it "is" art and by making it expensive and putting it in museums.

You can try and surf on Blue Poles but it's not a surfboard.

Someone who tried to use the painting as a surfboard would probably be put in an asylum, but the idea is a human idea, crazy or not, and as far as this deluded person is concerned, it is a surfboard, and, if used as a surfboard, it would be a surfboard, but certainly a very insufficient one.

Seeing [Fountain] as art is a kind of willful delusion.

Absolutely. The art world is full of willful delusions.

I'm sorry if I find this to be so patently and painfully obvious. I do not expect to convince you by saying so. I just don't understand it.

56.

Franklin

February 2, 2012, 12:18 AM

Without human consideration the painting is, in fact, "an expanse of daubed cloth."

The question isn't whether there's value without human consideration. I've already said that without the experience of value you don't have value. The question is whether The Night Watch stops being great art because Kimmelman doesn't experience it as such. I say it doesn't, because the traits of value, quite a lot of it in this case, inhere in the painting, and when someone who is not an idiot comes along and looks at it the value appears to them.

There is nothing to explain.

This is not a satisfactory response on any level. I've asked you several specific questions above and you've disdained to answer all of them except one that didn't matter to the discussion. Again, repeating that this is all obvious to you proves nothing.

Someone who tried to use the painting as a surfboard would probably be put in an asylum, but the idea is a human idea, crazy or not, and as far as this deluded person is concerned, it is a surfboard, and, if used as a surfboard, it would be a surfboard, but certainly a very insufficient one.

The reason we can characterize this Pollock-cum-surfboard as very insufficient is because the traits of the Pollock do not work as a surfboard. His experience of value does not accord with the traits of the painting, which do not support the experience of value as surfing. Without the necessary traits of value there is no value. It doesn't matter what his personal experience is, he's wrong. The people who thought that the Pollock likewise didn't support the experience of good art were also wrong.

57.

Walter Darby Bannard

February 2, 2012, 10:29 AM

I said "no more," but I guess I am a glutton for punishment. We have to stop this at some point because it is keeping me from commenting on subsequent posts, which appear interesting.

I have already acknowledged (twice?) that saying something needs no explaining is not a convincing argument, and I probably should not have said it again, but in this case I immediately went ahead and explained it.

Leaving that aside, You said "I've already said that without the experience of value you don't have value." Good. That's progress.

Any assertion that any property exists, including what you call "traits," depends on human experience. Much of our experience is consistent and apparently universal, so we can safely make the assertion "a rock is hard" because we are confident that the next time we experience a rock we will experience the "trait" of hardness and so will anyone else. This is how we negotiate where we live.

However, the "trait" of hardness only exists, is "real," because it is experientially universal and consistent. What is "real" is just as much an experience-based concept as anything else.

To assert that the Rembrandt "has" value because it has the "traits" of value is circular. Also, be aware that a corollary weakness of the "traits" argument for art is that you cannot specify any of the traits. And, finally, it is disallowed by your acknowledgment above that "without the experience of value we don't have value."

58.

Chris Rywalt

February 2, 2012, 12:49 PM

Alan, I just want to add, as an informational aside, that Duchamp's Fountain was, in fact, purposely built as art, not a urinal. The editions of Fountain found in museums around the world—and there are multiple—were built expressly as art objects by hand working from that famous Stieglitz photo of the original. The original was thrown away in 1917 (probably by Stieglitz himself).

I bring this up because it makes the whole thing even more amusing to me. Fountain may not be great art—I sure think it isn't—but the joke is still pretty funny, even a hundred years later, because so few art people get it.

59.

Alan Pocaro

February 3, 2012, 11:35 AM

Thanks, Chris. I did, in fact know that. But I think its important to note that the reproductions were rebuilt as "art," not the original. And regarding Franklin's comment, I would suggest that actually a minority of people regard Fountain as art. It just happens to be a disproportionately influential minority. I know that sounds conspiratorial, but it's nonetheless true.

60.

Franklin

February 3, 2012, 12:40 PM

Any assertion that any property exists, including what you call "traits," depends on human experience.

Now this is circular. Who else is going to make the assertion?

However, the "trait" of hardness only exists, is "real," because it is experientially universal and consistent.

Not just experientially, but actually. Stones don't stop being hard because no one is attending to them.

What is "real" is just as much an experience-based concept as anything else.

This is solipsism, of which there is a long history of criticism that I won't recapitulate (out of mercy to my readership).

Be aware that a corollary weakness of the "traits" argument for art is that you cannot specify any of the traits.

This, though, I'd like to address. We can easily describe the traits that associate with value in an art object: this color, that shape, that texture. What we can't describe is how value manifests as traits, because we can typically identify those traits as properties of bad art elsewhere. I was just admiring the orangish terracotta color that Darby has been using in his paintings lately. That color is a valuable trait for these paintings, but a bad painter may very well use that color to make bad art. So that remains a mystery, but not one that undercuts what I'm claiming above (and neither supports nor undermines what Darby's claiming instead).

Finally, it is disallowed by your acknowledgment above that "without the experience of value we don't have value."

Because value consists of both the experience and the traits. It's a dynamic, as I said in "High and Low." Breathing consists of both air and lungs. Without lungs in the vicinity, air is still good for breathing.

61.

Walter Darby Bannard

February 3, 2012, 3:58 PM

I said I would give you the last word, but I don't think I am violating the spirit of that promise by simply stating that a kind of qualified solipsism is exactly what I am espousing.

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