Philosophy 304A: Philosophy of Art (Part 1) - Art the Product [under construction]



Introduction: Art the Product

Section 1: Sorts of artwork
Section 2: Analyses of the sorts of artwork
Section 3: Theories of the nature of artworks
Section 3a: Sorts of pictorial representation
Section 3b: Artistic content, form and context
Section 3c: Sorts of accentuation in artworks
Section 4: Artworks and ethics (right and wrong regarding artworks)

Appendix A: Representation and the number scales
Appendix B: The Three Groups in this topic


Section 1: Sorts of Artwork

G1: Autographic artworks. The defining characteristic of autographic artworks is that the artist is necessarily also the performer. The prime examples are paintings.

G2: Formally allographic artworks. The defining characteristic of formally allographic artworks is that the artist is the author of a set of formal instructions for the performance of the artwork. The prime examples are musical scores.
'Allographic' means 'made graphic by another' (that is, by someone other than the artist), but this is something of a misnomer because although these artworks can be performed by someone other than the artist the artist can, of course, also perform them.

G3: Contextually allographic. The defining characteristic of this sort of artwork is that it is made graphic ('performed' is hardly the word) by the natural environment. The prime examples are wind-chimes.

Section 2: Analyses of the sorts of artwork

Analysis of the autographic artwork:

G1: The audience necessarily includes the artist.
G2: The artist is necessarily also the performer.
G3: The artwork consists of a single performance, which may or may not persist after being performed.

Paintings, sculptures, some musical performances, and some theatrical performances are autographic.

Analysis of the formally allographic artwork:

G1: The audience necessarily includes the performers, but does not necessarily include the artist.
G2: The artist is not necessarily the performer. The artwork consists of formal instructions for performers.
G3: Performances of the artwork, even if the artist performs them, are interpretations of the artwork.

Musical scores, architectural plans, and scripts for theatrical plays, are examples of formally allographic artworks.

Analysis of the contextually allographic artwork:

G1: The audience, being part of the intrument's environment, necessarily influences the peformance. Typically, the audience's causal influence upon the course of the performance increases with its proximity to the deployed instrument.
G2: The artwork consists in the artist's design of the instrument and the deployment of the instrument.
G3: The performer is the total environment of the deployed instrument. The duration of the performance is equal to the duration of deployment of the instrument.

Wind-chimes, and all mechanisms for producing art-by-chance, are contextually allographic artworks.

Section 3: Theories of the nature of artworks

G1a: The artwork as a representation

This is the theory that a work of art represents an object or event. The literal meaning of 're-present' is to return an object to present experience - in other words, to re-mind. The represented object or event might be real or imaginary, but in this theory there is a bias towards reality. Those who support this theory tend to suggest that art ought to represent the real.

Note that the focus of this theory is on something other than the work of art and the artist, it is on the thing that is represented.

Plato held this view of art, and on this basis gave art a lowly place in his account of the ideal society. His reasoning was that, just as works of art are imperfect copies of physical objects in this world, the copied objects themselves are merely imperfect copies of perfect objects, called Ideas or Forms, that exist in a world we cannot access with our physical senses. We are used to calling the world we can sense 'the real world', but Plato held that the world of Ideas or Forms is the ultimately real world and that it is only accessible to the properly educated intellect. So, for Plato, a work of art was merely a copy of a copy of reality.

There are three sorts of pictorial representation, about which see Section 3a, below.

G2: The artwork as an example of significant form

The word 'form' in this theory doesn't refer to Plato's other-worldly Forms, but to shapes, structures and arrangements of colors. What makes such shapes, structures and arrangements 'significant' is that, in the sufficiently sensitive observer, they produce aesthetic pleasure. According to this theory, representation is only important if it is representing something that already has significant form. But most significant form is not a representation, it is created by the artist's imagination.

Note that the focus of this theory is not reality or the artist but the work of art itself.

The beauty valued in this theory is the beauty of relations (shapes, structures, arrangements). Novelty of form and variety of content-form cominations are also valued in this view of art.

This theory applies well to pictorial art, particularly abstract pictorial art, and to music (if you include the arrangement of sounds under the heading of 'form' - as well you may). It also applies well to the art of architecture.

There are several sorts of form in art, about which see Section 3b, below.

G3a: The artwork as an example of emotive expression

According to this theory art is a behavior caused by the impact of the artist's surroundings upon his/her feelings or emotions. The Affective Theory of art, as this is termed, requires that there is often a large degree of interpretation on the part of the audience, since few artworks are very obviously emotive.

Note that the focus of this theory is not the work of art but the artist's feelings or emotions, or, more exactly, the things in the artist's environment that cause his/her feelings or emotions.

This theory tends to place less value on the beautiful and more on the various sorts of feelings, including the feeling caused in us by objects that are described as 'sublime' or as 'awesome'. The sublime is that which excites respectful, even fearful, wonder.

This theory applies plausibly to most arts, exceptions being architecture and the realistic depiction of ordinary inoffensive objects.

G3b: The artwork as an accentuation

To accentuate something is to draw attention to it, if not to emphasize it. The primary way that art accentuates is by the creation of an entity, the artwork, that in being identified as such becomes conceptually independent of any context. There is a mode of artwork called 'installation' that seeks to merge the artwork with its context, but calling the thing 'art' is sufficient to nullify the attempt. The secondary way that art accentuates is by separating the subject of the artwork (its content and form) from its original or normal context. All art, arguably, involves something that is out of context. Secondary accentuation is achieved by using three different sorts of contrast (about which, see Section 3c, below).

A Note on the Theories of Art:

What I have presented as four distinct theories of the nature art might better be considered to be four aspects of art. While many works of art do represent real or imaginary objects, not all do. Many works are not representations at all but are explorations of the possibilities of combinations of form and content. And both art that represents and art that does not can also be expressive of the feelings of the artist. Finally, all art involves accentuation, even if it is only the accentuation of labelling something as 'art'.

Section 3a: Sorts of pictorial representation in artworks

G1: Analog representation

This sort represents by imitating the qualities of an object, usually its visual qualities. Realistic paintings and drawings produced in the traditional way (by brush and pencil) are analog representations. Also, this is representation of an object as an undivided whole. If you look at an analog representation through a magnifying lens it remains continuous and unbroken.

Analog representation can also be regarded as a recording technique, e.g., recording in paint (chemical recording) or the chemical-magnetic recording of sounds and images on tape. But as a recording technique it is subject to both acute disruption and chronic degradation. All paintings will gradually decay, magnetic tape is subject to both chemical decay and magnetic disruption, and the copying of an analog recording is subject to cumulative loss of information.

G2: Abstract representation

This sort represents by using the internal relations of an object. An object's internal relations are its structure and shape. To abstract means to separate out. An abstract representation of an object separates out its basic structure and shape. A 'stick figure' is an abstract representation of a human body. A 'smiley face' :-) is also an abstract representation.

G3: Digital representation

This sort represents by converting the qualities of an object into quantities. Quantities, numbers, are more easily transmitted than qualities. This is how photographs taken by robot spaceprobes are transmitted back to Earth. The on-board computer converts the camera's image into a series of numbers, each of which stands for (rather than represents) a dot of a certain shade of colour along with its position in the image. These numbers are then radioed back to Earth where a computer reconverts them into images. Digital images are made up of dots, which can be seen when the image is magnified.

The wonderful thing about digital recording is that, as long as the set of numbers it consists of retains its integrity, it is not subject to disruption nor decay. A digital representation can exist as long as its set of numbers (and the matrix for interpreting those numbers) exists. Numbers never decay, so a digital recording need never decay. Dorian Gray should have recorded his portrait digitally :-)

Section 3b: Artistic content, form and context

G1. Artistic content

Generic: unit, fraction, range
Visual: color, shade, spectrum
Musical: note, pitch, scale
Literary: word, meaning, vocabulary

G2: Artistic form

Generic: sequence, structure, object
Visual: line, shape, figure
Musical: theme, harmony, variation
Literary: plot, genre, story

G3: Artistic context

Generic: magnitude, duration, location
Visual: lighting, exhibition (time), exhibition (space)
Musical: piano-forte, tempo, acoustic
Literary: reading, setting (time), setting (space)

Section 3c: Sorts of accentuation in artworks

G1: Qualitative contrast

G1.1: Contrasting colors, notes, words.

G1.2: Contrasting shades, pitches, meanings.

G1.3: Contrasting spectra, scales, vocabularies.

G2: Relational contrast

G2.1: figure against ground (one against one)

G2.2: incoherence (one, or several, against several)

Incoherence *in* X occurs when a part of X has a structure that conflicts with the function of X. For example, a picture of a car with a square wheel.

G2.3: incompatibility (one, or several, against all)

Incompatibility *of* X occurs when X is a part of a functional whole but has a structure that fails to serve the function of the whole. For example, a picture of a square wheel.

G3: Quantitative contrast

G3.1: worse against better (one relative to one)

G3.2: disproportion (one relative to several)

Spatial disproportion accentuates X by making X either larger or smaller than it should be. Chronic disproportion accentuates by making X of either shorter of longer duration than is normal.

G3.3: dislocation (one relative to all)

Accentuation of X by dislocation is achieved by showing X out of its usual context, or by showing X in its usual context but out of its usual position in that context.

Section 4: Artworks and ethics (Right and wrong regarding the sorts of artworks)

G1: Origination and forgery of autographic artworks

G2: Conception and plagiarism of formally allographic artworks

G3: Conception and plagiarism of instrumental design in contextually allographic artworks

Appendix A: Representation and the number scales

This might startle art lovers, but I show here that the three sorts of representation - analog, abstract, digital - are structurally related to the three number scales - valency, ordinal, cardinal.

G1: The valency scale of numbers

This is the scale of negative and positive numbers. ...-n, -3, -2, -1, 1, 2, 3, n... are numbers on this scale. Zero is not on the scale because it is neither negative nor positive.

The negativity and positivity of numbers on this scale is absolute. A negative number can never be regarded as positive, and vice versa.

The mathematical definition of numbers on this scale is unit/n (units divisible by n), where n is neither zero nor one. In other words, the numbers on this scale are analog - they 'smear' into fractions. Compare this with brush-strokes, and contrast it with pixels.

G2: The ordinal scale of numbers

This is the scale of numbers in linear or structural sequence. First, second, third, nth are numbers on this scale.

Positivity and negativity on this scale is relative to position-in-sequence (e.g. lower, middle, higher, deficient, moderate, excessive).

The definition of units on this scale is unit/0 (units divisible by zero). Since no unit is divisible by zero*, units on the scale are not numbers but place-holders for numbers. In other words, the units are abstract; they have no number content. Compare this with abstract pictorial representation. The comparison is imperfect because math is much more abstract than representation (abstract representation must always have some degree of content); but the two do compare as being more and less abstract.

* Zero is divisible by zero (0/0 = 1), but zero is not a unit.

G3: The cardinal number scale

Numbers on this scale are used in measurement (of magnitudes and durations). One unit, two units, three units, n units are numbers on this scale.

Positivity and negativity on this scale are relative to the measured magnitudes (e.g. shorter, taller, brief, extended).

Units on this scale are defined as unit/1. In other words, units are digital. There is, of course, fractional measurement, but the sizes of the fractions are always relative to the chosen unit-size. For example, a yard/2 (half a yard)is relative to the length of one yard, and is different to a metre/2. Compare this with digital representation in pixels, and contrast it with analog. Sizes of pixels might vary, but the picture they make is not 'smeared' as it is in analog, it consists of unit-pixels of a chosen size.

Appendix: The Three Groups in this topic

Sorts of artwork:
G1: Autographic
G2: Formally allographic
G3: Contextually allographic

Theories of the nature of artworks:
G1: Artworks as representations
G2: Artworks as examples of significant form
G3a: Artworks as affective expression
G3b: Artworks as accentuations

Sorts of pictorial representation:
G1: Analog
G2: Abstract
G3: Digital

Aspects of visual art:

G1.1, 2, 3: Content: color, shade, spectrum
G2.1, 2, 3: Form: line, shape, figure
G3.1, 2, 3: lighting, exhibition (time), exhibition (space)

Aspects of music:

G1.1, 2, 3: Content: note, pitch, scale
G2.1, 2, 3: Form: theme, harmony, variation
G3.1, 2, 3: Context: piano-forte, tempi, acoustic

Aspects of literature:
G1.1, 2, 3: Content: word, meaning, vocabulary
G2.1, 2, 3: Form: plot, genre, story
G3.1, 2, 3: Context: reading, setting (time), setting (space)

Sorts of artistic accentuation:
G1: Qualitative contrast
G2: Relational contrast
G3: Quantitative contrast

Right and wrong regarding artworks:
G1: Origination and forgery of autographic artworks
G2: Conception and plagiarism of formally allographic artworks
G3: Conception and plagiarism of instrumantal design of contextually allographic