Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Our beloved president is busy shooting himself in every possible bit of his anatomy and I'm busy arguing esthetics with students of analytic philosophy. I'm having fun I guess. But O. Benson did come out and admit, albeit indirectly, to her closeted Platonism. And Platonism is all about Daddy. And George Will is all about Daddy; and David Brooks is all about Daddy; and Donald Rumsfeld thinks he is Daddy; and there ain't no fuckin' Daddy. So I guess I'm doing my bit for the revolution after all.
My last response at B&W. You should read all the comments to see how we've come this far. I fixed one typo. Otherwise as written (in a hurry):

"I just came home and I'm covered in dust.

You're right of course. Baseball is quantifiable to a point. but there are still plenty of arguments. Rule based activities are not grounded in any absolute sense, sports any more than literature, theater, or law.

Off the top of my unwashed head:

If someone creates an enclosed -self referential- system that is complex and formally subtle, that has within it a wide range of categories - gradations of meaning, and of sense- and which exhibits these categories in such a way so as to invite the same sort of mental activity in the 'audience' as in the 'maker'; the system is a work of art. Someone may be called a 'good' conversationalist, or a 'good' dancing partner. Both talking and dancing are formal activities, based on a technical facility; but as social activities both are also based on an ability to involve others, to cater to them without condescending, and engage without flattery.

Art "is that which convinces." It's a kind of complex seduction. The best way to describe the limitations of M.C. Escher is to say that his art dances with itself and allows us to watch. The best criticism of Norman Rockwell is to say that his work is neither 'formally' complex in the modern sense, nor formally complex in terms of distinction of meaning and character. What does Rockwell make out of the aporias of modern American life? How does his work stack up to the complexities- the complexities of meaning (of any sort of meaning) - in Faulkner or John Ford? Not 'What' does it mean? but 'How much' does it mean? How much can a viewer bring to the work without drowning it in the viewer's own response. If Escher's work is dancing with itself, how long until the appreciative viewer is dancing with him/herself in a dream that has little to do with the object/book/film under his/her gaze?

What causes complexity? Is art the creation of individuals? The Bible is not. The Odyssey is not. These stories both became complex through all the hands that touched them over time. With both we are unable to tell the art from the history of its telling. It does not matter how complexity is formed. The point is that on occasion it is focused on a specific point, object or story. But there are within this men and women of 'genius' just as there are people of genius in any other field.

As with justice, which is taught in law schools as 'Imperfect Justice,' all judgment in the arts is 'imperfect' judgment. That does not mean there is no objective ideal of justice, nor any objective ideal of art. What it means is that any given act of judgment may in itself be wrong, but that by our series of approximations we keep these ideals within sight, if not within reach,

At this point I think it's safe to say, however, that Bach is objectively pretty good. If you think the mathematical patterning proves that, then I'll just switch my choice to Titian.

Obviously this I have not tried to ground esthetics in any absolute sense, any more than I've tried to ground law. What I've tried to do is explain how we can ground it to the point of acknowledging mastery, even if at any given point we can not point to one example with absolute certainty.
About Pollock. Interesting problem. He was a very intelligent man at a party full of very interesting people,at a very complex time in our history.
Is it a case of "You had to be there"?  Possibly. In 200 years people may read about the times and the party without needing to look at the pictures; in 200 years, but not yet.

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