Monday, June 05, 2006

What is Art? Are We art? Is Art Art?

I saw lots of interesting paintings at the Rittenhouse Square art show yesterday. Not that I really think I have a great eye for artistic appreciation, but certain paintings could even have been said to move me. This, combined with the recent discussion about Belle and Sebastian (and about how much we appreciate works because they are "derivative" or "original"), I have a few questions about what it means to appreciate certain works.

The problem struck me when I saw a painting that was highly reminiscent of what I had been taught was impressionist art. Later, at another display, I saw a painting that was almost an exact replica of one of Claude Monet's "Japenese Footbridge" paintings. I liked it, even though it wasn't by Monet.

So that got me thinking about how there are some pieces of art -- and musical works -- that offer nothing new, in the sense of technical or creative innovation from what came before it, but that can still move us. On its own, the work may be great. But I'm convinced that context does matter.

Should knowing any art history affect our appreciation of that fake Monet work? I think the obvious answer to this question is yes.

Does it matter who comes up with the bulk of technique we value in a work? If this new impressionist whose work I saw yesterday changed a tiny bit of what he or she saw in Monet and then called the whole work his own, should and do we still value it? And to bring it back to the Mongrel's main topic, how do we react to a Belle and Sebastian song that largely sounds like it was ripped off Love or the Zombies? And does that make us appreciate Belle and Sebastian, as a band, less than if we hadn't known about Love or the Zombies? If it does, does that devaluation in turn translate to the music itself? Even though the music is essentially the same thing as that Love or Zombies song that moved us?


At 2:07 PM, Blogger ryunited and it feels so good said...

I'm just baffled by the B&S controversy on here.

Naturally none of this is objective but, I wouldn't take it as fact that B&S are deliberately knocking off something by the Zombies - the two bands have very different sounds all together. I happen to like 'em both, and never thought of them being similar (I think there is a lot more "Twee geek" and awkwardness in B&S than the Zombies...)

If you opine that they sound similar the question becomes whether or not the B&S song moves you or strikes you as special on its own...if the Zombies had put out that track, would you love it?

At 2:11 PM, Blogger ryunited and it feels so good said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 4:01 PM, Blogger Mugshot said...

I probably shouldn't have used a B&S reference here, but there certainly are many examples of what I'm talking about. So the question remains what you said -- how does who writes and performs something affect how we like or appreciate it?

At 1:16 PM, Blogger rpshyena said...

For instances of aesthetic appreciation, there is a period of connection between the artwork and the viewer during which the viewer realizes an understanding of ideas communicated by the artwork. This understanding is typically greatest when the viewer realizes it for the first time. To continue with the B&S analogy (for lack of a better, at the moment), if someone encounters B&S before they encounter Love or the Zombies, he/she will identify the musical ideas with B&S and likely have a greater appreciation than if he/she had encountered these same ideas from B&S after already having been introduced to them though Love or the Zombies. So, for the first instance of appreciation inspired by a particular idea, it doesn't matter what the source of the idea is, because the viewer does not have other sources to consider.

It seems, though, the ability to relive the initial rush of aesthetic appreciation is complicated by many factors. One such factor is perspective. After encountering an idea multiple times, the rush of appreciation associated with understanding the idea diminishes, while the viewer's ability to relate to and identify with the idea becomes more important. For each viewer, some perspectives may be more meaningful; appreciation tends to increase with the viewer's ability to apply the idea to his/her experiences and values. It seems that this B&S problem is a matter of perspective. One may identify more or less with the culture of music that B&S, Love, or the Zombies represent, enabling the artwork to communicate its ideas more or less effectively. But, if one values creativity as well, then the ability to imagine the act of creativity associated with a seminal source will likely increase his/her appreciation of the artwork.

Good discussion. Kind of rushed at the moment. Please respond and/or expand. More from me later.

At 9:57 PM, Blogger Mugshot said...

Things that I hear first certainly hold a special place, but often, learning later that something strikingly similar came out earlier makes me like the earlier manifestation more. That's when the circumstances involved in how something was created comes in.


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