Author Archives: Janna Wu

Posts by Janna Wu

Specialization of What Art Means to People

Richard L. Anderson paints a very rich, thorough, and descriptive picture of the word art in the perspectives of three ancient civilizations, a few 20th century philosophers and the general public throughout the centuries. There is a sense that art means differently in terms of culture to the ancient peoples of the Australian aboriginal, the Navajos, and the Yorubas in contrast with the more contemporary general public. Of course, the views of the ancient people on art, from what I gathered in “American Muse”, are drawn from their day-to-day life experience as well as their surrounding environment while the public’s or our opinion on art is guided by the thoughts of the philosophers. It is interesting to see the Navajos perceiving art as pervading every insignificant details of their lives demonstrated by the Navajo prayer that Anderson referenced to in the text. The Yoruba connects art with their culture “in sustaining fundamental beliefs and values” and of which the concept of harmony is included in daily living. The Australian Aboriginal simply uses art as a means of education, of growing up, and possibly religion (from the mentioning of rituals). Their views of art are in many ways simple and practical when compared to how we see art. Anderson refers to the centuries in which mankind has changed his view of art from art being “the exceptional skills associated with painting, drawing, engraving, and sculpture” in the 17th century through the 19th century to a whole abstract array of art in the 20th century and on.

1) Why is our perception of art always changing and complex in contrast to the understandable meaning art held for people of the ancient civilizations?

Anderson refers to the strategy of philosopher Morris Weitz in defining art in the majority of Chapter 1’s content. According to Weitz, a gray area exists, between what he deems as art and nonart, “to the degree that they possess the recognition criteria that characterizes artworks”, 2) how much do you agree with this statement? Similarly, most of us were left in a debate on Tuesday over whether a sketch of a person by a local Indian artist (who is conspicuously doing sketches for a living) should be deemed as art. Some of us feel that art is black and white, others maybe not. What are your thoughts?

In Chapter 2, Anderson takes us into the homes of three friends in a five minute video interview regarding the role art plays in their lives. Anderson’s wife, Kim, owns a home adorned by plentiful traces of art in a whole range of varieties. From the house’s exterior architecture, to its interior design, to paintings, furnitures, Kim’s attire, and etc, art can be clearly detected implicitly in Kim’s knowledge. Carmen, an elderly Mexican woman, doesn’t see art in her home in contrast to Kim. However Anderson convincingly defends this by remarking hints of art in the interior architectural features, to the furnitures, to the ceramic plaques, and more, all of which Carmen feels is not art to her as her definition of art is restricted to fine arts. Lastly, we are brought to Dick, the passionate auto-repair man, who conveys art in a down-to-earth manner through the sense of a car aficionado. Art is captured simply in his work environment, in the clothing, in the Volvo logo, graphic designs on his business cards, and more. Through Anderson’s eyes, we come to see how these three individuals understand and convey art. 3)With whom do you identify yourself in the notion as to which particular person’s perception of art does your definition of art fits closely in?

In many ways, art can vary between groups of people due to their occupation, philosophy, and ultimately, culture. Anderson’s project interview supports this namely in his interviewees’ designs and physical portrayals of their homes.

Underlying Intentions of the New Barnes: For Alfred or the Public?

Peter Schjeldahl’s “Moving Pictures” and Martin Filler’s “Victory!” certainly depicts the issue of the Barnes Foundation relocation from a different approach and angle.

Given Peter Schjeldahl’s need to write nearly a third of the article’s content on Dr. Alfred Barnes’s development in raising up an artwork display, aesthetic views on art and intentions in dedicating the Merion Museum for educational purposes, one would assume that the author has a complete knowledge and understanding for Barnes’s will to retain his art institution in Merion. In addition, he also remarks the transferring of Barnes’ collections “an aesthetic crime” and sees through this act as a political move to satisfy the “cravings of Philadelphian powers for a Center City tourist magnet.”

Yet, we find this assumption to be implicitly disproved by his approval of the Williams and Tsien’s construction of the new museum. Schjeldahl mentions that the new positioning of Matisse’s “Joy of Life” in the new building “looks bigger than I remembered, and, while still plenty radical, less confusing.” Furthermore, the author notes that the new installation of Barnes’ collections, while at first may have ignited concern for whether its integrity would be preserved, satisfactorily comments later on that it did “magnificently.”

Based on the gatherings of Schjeldahl’s opinions, (1)Does he really see the relocation as “an aesthetic crime”?  

Martin Filler, author of “Victory!”, introduces the relocation as a court order under legal requirements that the new building’s internal layout be identical to the old structure. However these conditions made people fearful that it would hinder the designers from putting a little originality. Essentially, the new Barnes’ design stemmed from “an invitational competition organized by Martha Thorne, executive director of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Already, the motive for this move is held in question: (2) What is the real purpose behind all this? 

(3) Most importantly, why did both authors avoid mentioning Dr. Barnes’ will in their articles?

Behind the reasonings of the new Barnes installation from both articles, it seems as if people must find ways to justify their opinions in order to accommodate to their selfish desire to display art in what they deemed as appropriate rather than how the founder of his own art foundation sees it.


Comments by Janna Wu

"Frank Sibley’s intention for his piece “Aesthetic Concepts” is to point out the difference between using non-aesthetic features and aesthetic features to describe an artwork. He points out that when people remark on works of art, we employ myriads of terms belonging to either of two groups: aesthetics and non-aesthetics. He illustrates this with examples: in the non-aesthetic sense, a book contains a certain number of characters, is set in a particular type of setting or that a painting utilizes pale colors as its predominant features. In the aesthetic sense however, the description of these works goes into great depth, appealing to the senses and tastes. A poem is “tightly-knit or deeply moving” or a picture “lacks balance”. The use of the aesthetics critiquing requires taste, perceptiveness, and sensitivity while the use of non-aesthetic description is characterized by a more physical, concrete style. Sibley makes a point that no non-aesthetic features, under any circumstances, can be logically related and applied onto aesthetic terms. He also makes repeated mentions with illustrations of examples that aesthetic concepts are not in any way condition or rule-governed. Sibley then notes on the impossibility of supplying conditions or applying aesthetic terms, implying that language is in part a reason to this impossibility since the lack of precision in the language fails to describe these conditions. In the second section of his paper, Sibley attempts to answer the question that since aesthetic concepts are not restricted by rules and concepts, how would people know when they could apply these terms. He notes that to have the ability to discern aesthetic features, one must have good eyesight, hearing, and so on. This does not apply to all since people who do have the senses and understanding still fail to discern the aesthetic features, yet they nevertheless observe and notice of them though in a general and unconscious fashion. There is also the human nature to defend and support our judgments and convince others of what we have observed. Sibley explains that the whole point of our applying aesthetic terms and supporting them with our judgments is simply that we could help others see what we see in an artwork. When puzzlement and questions arise in regards to the verisimilitude and the bias of critics making such judgments, Sibley lay out in details the 7 steps that critics undertake when aiding the audience to see the features they see in a piece of work. Sibley lastly mentions that even from a young age, we have already (and unconsciously) began noticing the aesthetics qualities of and having aesthetic appreciation for our surroundings. Our varied reactions affirm these notions and it is from these responses that we respond to the critic’s discourse."
--( posted on Nov 21, 2013, commenting on the post Frank Sibley, “Aesthetic concepts” )
"The question being addressed throughout Linda Nochlin’s piece is evidently noted in the title, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Nochlin being a female professor of art history surprisingly does not conduct her arguments through a feminist viewpoint. Instead, she dismisses such feminist attempts, stating that the feminist reaction to the woman question (the issue being presented in the title) generally “reinforces[s] its negative implications” rather than truly dig into a possible explanation to find answers to the question. Before plunging into her reasoning for the issue, Nochlin begins with a few common responses from people—men and women, professionals and nonprofessionals—to the question being asked. One attempt she mentions addresses the notion that women artists have a kind of “greatness” that differ from that of male artists, a particular style that is based on women’s special character, situation, and experience. Nochlin argues against this theory stating that while it made perfect sense for there to be clear distinction between the styles of both genders due to societal role differences, where is the explanation for the absence of “femininity” common qualities among styles of all female artists? She backs her argument with the fact that artworks done by Artemisia Gentileschi, Angelica Kauffman, Georgia O’Keefe, etc. had no linked essence of femininity, which parallels the situation among female writers like Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Another so-called attempt is that women artists are inward-looking to which Nochlin refutes right off. Nochlin points out that the underlying real problem does not rest much in the concept of what femininity is but rather on the misconceptions proposed by society of what art is. The fault is on our society’s institutions and education. Nochlin notes that we have a tendency to pinpoint a certain problem to every circumstance: the East Asian Problem, the Poverty Problem…and relevantly, the Woman Problem, essentially equality, and are quick to owe the Woman Problem or equality to the “benevolence or ill-will of individual men” and “the self-confidence or abjectness of individual women.” Rather, the Equality issue ultimately goes back to our institutional structures and the way they impose on our view of life. Nochlin additionally writes, “art is not a free, autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual, ‘influenced’ by previous artists, and, more vaguely and superficially, by ‘social forces’” given the common presumption that art belongs to a genius, one who possesses the “golden nugget”. Elaborately, Nochlin dives into societal constraints on giving artistic education of nudes to women. From the 1850s and on, female nudes were forbidden in nearly all public institutions and aspiring female artists were not allowed any nude models to study off of. However starting from 1893 when female artists were granted permission to life drawing of nude models, the models had to be draped. Men in contrast had no such problems in their artistic education. Women like renowned Angelica Kauffman were to be presented in effigy for art shows that reveal the presence of a male nude. Nochlin includes that it was all right for women to be revealed naked as an art object to be observed and studied in the company of men but it was forbidden that they actively participate in studying a male nude. Social taboo on how education should be conducted for the female and male is hence shown. Another contributing element is Mrs. Ellis’s The Family Monitor and Domestic Guide that discourages and warns women against excelling in any one area of work, notably that associated with higher learning. Furthermore, in concordance with the views of social institutions, men often see women being in the homes, taking on “real” work that involves serving the family and appealing to his sensual needs. But if a woman were to have serious commitments to her study, she was expected to give it up for love and marriage. Unconventionality also factors in where female artists who are willing to give up family life to pursue their careers would undoubtedly encounter difficulties as opposed to me who have done it. Finally it is also in the art works that the idea of a woman prideful of her painting is not expressed. It is rather her vulnerability and innocence that are captured onto the canvas. Nochlin observes that one general trend for many women artists is the very fact that they came from fathers who were artists or have personal connection with a strong male artist figure, implying that even the rise to fame of female artists is the result of men. Nochlin concludes that society, even today, is made institutionally impossible for women have successful accomplishments in the arts. The few number of women who have made this breakthrough does so by wrestling with self-doubt, ridicule, and guilt. She nevertheless praises women for challenging social norms and facing cruel reality without pouts and excuses."
--( posted on Nov 19, 2013, commenting on the post Linda Nochlin, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” )
"The issue at hand that Berenson writes in his paper is one that questions the possibility of cross-cultural understanding of art. Berenson first presents arguments against such possibility, taking evidences from the two recent theories: relativism (strong and weak) and the institutional theory of art. The strong relativists view such understanding as nonexistent, that the beliefs and knowledge from one culture can only apply to understand concepts from within that culture.The weak relativist, however, is willing to attempt to understand another culture's art. Weak relativism centers around the notion of empathy, in which one takes into account the cultural background (beliefs, norms, practices) of another and putting oneself in that person's place figuratively, which ultimately leads to an understanding for another culture. Then there is the institutional theory of art which dictates whether certain works should be considered art through social/cultural conventions which George Dickie illustrates with the example of a painting by Betsy the chimpanzee. The painting would not be considered as art were it to be exhibited in a natural history museum but having it exhibited in an art gallery would make it an artwork since "the appropriate institution has conferred the status of artwork on it by exhibiting it". Berenson makes clear his stance that there does exists the possibility to cross-culturally understand. He presents three levels of understanding that are crucial to dive into another's culture. The third level, to understand what a particular piece of work (i.e dance, music) means to the performer which he terms "subjective significance", completes one's understanding of another culture. This brought to mind the articles we read in the beginning of the semester about the "right" way to understand art and the ways to go about doing it. I am immediately reminded that all those articles relatively mentions the third level (though in different ways). Berenson stresses the importance of knowing what the artwork mean to someone from a culture where the artwork was developed and the experience associated with it. The idea that if language is used for communication by any culture, then language was learned interpersonally, showing that "concepts and thus understanding and meaning are...dependent...on social interaction." Hence cross-cultural communication and understanding for ideas and art is indeed possible. Furthermore, the existence of relationship with someone from another person is crucial in our understanding of that person's culture despite how much personal attitudes (arose from it) or bias can affect our understanding. I agree with Berenson's statement that " the knowledge and understanding we begin to no longer abstract because it is no longer disconnected from personal attitudes." I feel that understanding culture will always involve subjectivity, a result from the relationships we have with those from other cultures, therefore it is vastly impossible to objectively understand culture."
--( posted on Nov 6, 2013, commenting on the post Frances Berenson, “Understanding Art and Understanding Persons” )
"Walter Benjamin is clearly against the role of mechanical reproduction in the arts. In the first couple of sections (labeled in roman numerals), Benjamin underlines the idea that reproducing an artwork diminishes its authenticity, its uniqueness, and its "aura". He writes, "the uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition", making the argument that everything that makes the artwork special stems from the very idea that it was created from specific traditional values which "originally the contextual integration of art...found its expression in the cult." He elaborates with examples of how an ancient statue of Venus could stimulate completely different traditional perspectives if placed before different groups of people and in different contexts. In essence, the unique value all works of art emit are a result of their ritualistic basis or their cult origin. By pointing this out, Benjamin is saying that reproduction of art destroys this dependent relationship, that which exists between the artwork and its ritualistic origin. Benjamin explains the effect that viewers get when looking at art from its pure form, a painting, and from its mechanically produced clone--a photograph. While "the painter maintains a natural distance from reality," the cameraman zooms into reality with more intensity and depth. The products of these two snapshots are a more generalized picture by the former and one consisting of many fragments "assembled under a new law" by the latter. Hence this is one reason why the modern individual prefer the photograph snapshot to the original painted by the artist according to Benjamin. Reading into the author's thoughts and opinions of the role of mechanical reproduction in the arts, I began to see clearly why reproducibles are ruining the value of art. John Berger said in his BBC tv miniseries show,"Ways of Seeing", that once the meaning of a painting becomes transmittable, it is liable to be manipulated which Benjamin supports by mentioning the panoply of modern technological equipments available today. No longer is a work a constant in the sense that it is viewed in the context it was meant to be because of mechanical reproduction."
--( posted on Oct 30, 2013, commenting on the post Walter Benjamin )
"Dmitri Shostakovich wrote “The Nose” in 1927 during the Communist era of Russian history. Given the time period that this opera was written and presented, it became more understandable as to why Shostakovich chooses to change Gogol’s storyline and make it overly humorous. Russia after 1917 was completely unlike the czarist Russia. Everything, from books and performances to daily living were under the watchful eye of the Communist government. Works that contain negative innuendoes about the government were immediately censored and the authors of these works were imprisoned or sometimes killed as punishment. Gogol’s “The Nose” was written with a lot of criticisms on the high-rank social classmen of the czarist bureaucracy. Had such messages been relayed into the opera adaptation, it would insinuate negative remarks about the Russian government of the 21st century. Shostakovich henceforth had to modify the plot a bit to make it appeal to the Communist government. Watching the opera adaptation, I noticed that the costumes, while were based on the fashion style of the mid 19th century, also had Communist style in some of the characters, in particular the policemen. Their costumes, the coats, hat, and boots, had the style of that of the uniforms of the Communist soldiers/officials. I couldn’t help but also notice, along with Ahmed and Ann, that Shostakovich incorporated the color red in certain parts of the play, which is still the color for Communism. I have to admit that this particular adaptation was not my cup of tea. I felt that the music was lost in the opera due to the overly done humor. There was no trace of Gogol in the adaptation as well, which took away the depth of the story that Gogol had intended. On the bright side, I thought the actors/singers did a great job portraying Shostakovich’s adaptation, as some of the acts were funny and entertaining."
--( posted on Oct 28, 2013, commenting on the post The Nose )
"In "What is Art?", Leo Tolstoy makes a strong argument that to define art "correctly", one must consider it as "one of the conditions of human life". He disagrees with existing definitions of art as something that manifests beauty and offers pleasure. Instead, he defines art (although stating that no exact objective definition of art exists) as communication between the creator behind the artwork and the recipient of the art that eventually unites people through a common understanding of the artwork. One important aspect to the recipient's part is the capacity to receive feelings and thoughts from the author and pass them on to others. Tolstoy notes that without this, "men would be like wild beasts, or like Kasper Hauser". What does he means in this statement? Why would lacking this specific ability make us like wild beasts and/or the laconic Kasper Hauser? Tolstoy elaborates on the union facet to his definition of art. A work of art according to him is not art if no feelings are evoked and more profound, a feeling of spiritual union with the author and those "infected by it". This spiritual union is happens when the recipient viewing the artwork no longer sees the work as done by the artist but rather sees the work as if the work is his own (the recipient's). This is what real art is by Tolstoy's definition one that "destroys in the consciousness of the recipient the separation between himself and the artist, and not that alone, but also between himself and all whose minds receive this work of art". Do you think such relationship/communion can be achieved when we look at a work of art? Has this happened to you before? Tolstoy also mentions that there are definite signs to distinguish real art from counterfeit art. He lists three conditions that make an artwork real or "infectious" which are first the degree of individuality of the feeling being transmitted, second, the clarity of the feeling being transmitted, and lastly the amount of sincerity in the artwork. Tolstoy states that an artwork that lacks one of these conditions or if the author's "peculiarity of feeling" is "unintelligibly expressed" is a counterfeit. According to his definition of counterfeit art, counterfeit art is incapable of evoking feelings in the recipient. How do you agree with this view? Do you Tolstoy is being too extreme to categorize an artwork as counterfeit if the feeling of the author is "unintelligibly expressed"?"
--( posted on Sep 25, 2013, commenting on the post 9/26 – Tolstoy )
"Raymond Williams holds a very democratic view on his opinions of how the arts and culture should be retained and kept "ordinary" that one "should not have to go to London to find it". His wish for more active public provisions to the arts sounds ideal but, in my perspective, improbable particularly in today's society. I agree that more funds should be allocated to galleries and museums to promote adult learning of culture but in the practical sense, people will always find ways to counter this and make use of these finances for commercial motives. I think the Barnes' relocation was a great example of the impracticability of this. Although Dr. Barnes' intention for his institution to be a mean of education for the public, in the end, his artworks were transferred into Philadelphia with obvious reasons for money-making. Williams' proposition is henceforth ideal but naively impractical in modern days unfortunately."
--( posted on Sep 24, 2013, commenting on the post 9/24 – Williams and Cortazar consolidated )