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 What is Art?

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 09 Apr 2012, 12:51

Well, I got as far as Heidegger's "the thinglyness of things" - and I then reached in desperation for the chocciness of my choccy egg.

Thanks to bloody Martin Heidegger I probably now weigh 10 pounds more than I did an hour ago.

Back to "Masada".
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 10:05

@Doctaskhan wrote:

I do not post on this message often because I cannot understand how to post a simple reply and it is a little too complicated for me. How nice it would be if we had a board close to the old BBC message board. I do miss it a lot. I still have not figured out how to post a simple reply without quotes of the message I am replying to in quotes.

Tas

Hi Tas - and it is nice to see you posting here. If you wish only to make a simple reply on this forum then it is really quite ... well ... simple. When you come to the end of the thread on your screen you'll see a black box with two buttons under it, "preview" and "send". Type your message in here and press "send" and it's done.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 13:14

Thanks Nordmann,

I knew it would be something simple; only nowadays my brain has become so lazy, even for anything simple. Thanks any way. I will be posting more often here now.

Tas
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 14:41

Your point about Bell brought back several unpleasant memories from a past life in which I had to "study" his "philosophy" about art. It was my first exposure to anything called philosophy and nearly turned me off the subject for life. It was to be a while before I realised that Bell's thinking had as much to do with actual philosophy as Genghis Khan's thinking had to do with flower arranging. Such utter nonsense, I now realise, and worse - nonsense which was used to vindicate claims of artistic "worthiness" (ie. sale value) for decades of unmitigated crap in its aftermath.

Bell believed that art appreciation was an emotion in its own right and shouldn't be confused with its inferior relatives such as happiness, sadness, anger etc. It's the kind of pseudo-esoteric codology which, as I grow older, leaves me colder and colder. His views were afforded critical respect until about the 1960s when the guys making the invisible clothes for the emperor simply got so brazen that even Bell's half-baked apologies for their behaviour didn't suffice any more. The last I read about Bell his art criticism was being cited as a good example of how well-meaning but fuzzy and essentially stupid thinking can be a god-send to scammers. I believe the article was written by one Richard Branson - and he should know.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 16:17

The art historian, Stanley Rosenbaum, said of Clive Bell: "It is undeniable that he was a wealthy snob, hedonist and womaniser, a racist and an anti-Semite..."

But what the heck - we're none of us perfect.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 16:49

Oh dear, now I can't get this out of my head
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 17:06

Lol.

But this slightly longer clip's better:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYUfPTeE0DM

(Please, how do I make it come up as a screen, not just an URL?):
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 18:02

Go to 'preview', select the little strip of film from the top and paste the url into the box.

Better still would be the whole movie.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 20:38

Many thanks, ferval - I understand now.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 15 May 2012, 16:44

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 26 May 2012, 22:17

It's a shame Norman is no longer around: he would love this. The ultimate in arty cons?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/9275545/Invisible-art-exhibition-to-set-imaginations-alight.html

They had two sample "exhibits" on "Have I Got News For You" - a couple of blank canvases - and Paul Merton said one was a portrait of a white Persian cat in a snowstorm, and the other was a picture of the Lib Dem manifesto.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 26 May 2012, 22:56

I assume it takes 4 minutes 33 seconds to view.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 27 May 2012, 05:08

Extremely interesting essay here, an attempted definition of art and its relationship to science.

http://www.imprint.co.uk/pdf/Introduction.pdf
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 08:16

I was going to start a new thread - The Arty Thread - but then I remembered we already had this one.

Just to let people know that there is a programme next week on BBC 4 - The Dark Ages: an Age of Light - in which "Waldemar Januszczak embarks on a trip around the world to discover if, contrary to popular belief, the Dark Ages was actually a time of artistic achievement, inspired by novel ideas and religion."

What alerted me to this programme was a really interesting article in the Radio Times of all things. It's on page 22 - "The First Face of Jesus". No, don't groan - I'm not being all religious again - it's just that Januszczak says that the artists of the Dark Ages had the "most difficult job of all - creating the iconography of Christ".

He tells us things that I certainly never knew:

"The figure submerged to the waist in the river Jordan (pictured right*) scarcely conforms to the received image of Christ. The portion of a stunning mosaic in the Arian Baptistery in Ravenna, Italy, shows Christ as being oddly androgynous, while the plump, feminine features are at striking variance with the male attributes below the waterline.

What we are witnessing is Christian iconography in the making. Christian artists of the fourth and fifth century faced a momentous task - they had to invent a religious imagery. There is no description of Christ in the Bible, and the struggle to find a face for Jesus is fascinating.

We have lots of examples from this period of a clean-shaven Jesus who is young and handsome, and above all incredibly optimistic, bouncing around perfoming miracles with a kind of Harry Potter wand. Just for him to grow a beard took five or six hundred years, and it would be another half century after that before he was pictured in pain, on a cross**. Early Christian societies weren't interested in a god who was "a loser". They wanted someone who was a miracle worker.

The first Jesuses were basically carbon copies of the Roman sun god Apollo - they even borrowed his halo. (Apollo is depicted with a halo in Roman art). Like a lot of the pagan gods, Apollo could be both male and female. And there were some wonderful early Jesuses with distinctly feminine characteristics - long, blonde, curly hair, girlish hips and swelling breasts. Angels too are a straight steal from the Romans - Nike figures in Roman art fly around with wings and look exactly like angels. So Christianity assembled its iconography from what was already there. Which is what art has always done. It's never conjured from nothing."

Apologies for the great long quote, but I found this all fascinating. The article is not all religious stuff: Januszczak also has some things to say about the wonderful gold jewellery created by the Huns, and he mentions too the Vandals, whose artistic legacy he describes as "a revelation".

Should be a good series (9.00pm Tuesday BBC4) - four programmes in all.

PS* Will try to find the image of the Christ from the Arian Baptistery mosaic.

PPS** This really stunned me.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 08:21

Found it:



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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 13:13

Depictions of Jesus merit a thread in their own right. My own favourite is the set of mosaics commissioned by Theodoric (an Ostrogoth, and therefore an Arian) for the basilica now called Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. Both Theodoric and Christianity were intent on impressing on everyone that they were now the forces to be reckoned with. Theodoric is therefore always depicted in purple imperial robes, as is JC. Furthermore JC has the clean-shaven look in all the depictions all along the left wall of the basilica right up until half way down the right wall where he ascends into heaven. Then he gets Nero's gold sash, as do the flanking angels, and all five of them are configured around the actual imperial throne in Ravenna adopting the consulate salute (emperor, two consuls and two pro-consuls was a standard configuration in images depicting the boss). It is only then that he also acquires a beard, a Gothic conceit which was incorporated into Arianism depicting someone old enough to have experienced sorrow. It seems to have been the only concession to Arianism after it was decided it was a heresy to keep the "Jesus of the Sorrows" look. Prior to that clean shaven had been the norm.

Theodoric, depicted here probably by the same artist, was also a "man of sorrows". Here he is in Ravenna with the halo, robes and beard, just like the other lad. You can't see it here but he's sitting in the same chair too.

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 13:44

This is from the Book of Kells; another Dark Ages production;

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 14:14

@nordmann wrote:

Theodoric, depicted here probably by the same artist, was also a "man of sorrows". Here he is in Ravenna with the halo, robes and beard, just like the other lad. You can't see it here but he's sitting in the same chair too.


But "the other lad", as you call our Blessed Saviour, doesn't get all the fancy jewellery:



Actually, I rather like the Holy Ghost descending as a dove in the image I posted. He looks really sweet - rather like a little bat.

But I knew nothing of these mosaics - or the history behind them. Thank you for the information, nordmann. It is interesting how we depict God in our own image - and for our own times.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 14:18

Oh heck - I am so sorry, nordmann - really. The image I have posted is too big, and yet again I have managed to muck up a thread.

I shall retreat under my stone at once.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 14:19

Image fixed.

Quote :
But "the other lad", as you call our Blessed Saviour, doesn't get all the fancy jewellery:


No, but he acquires what looks rather like a dildo to me - which really does call Arianism into question. No wonder Justinian had them all covered over in black paint. (the mosaics, I mean. Not the Arians)

Re Kells, by the 7th century the beard had more or less become de rigeur. However the hair length and colour had by no means stabilised. The Irish monks, who were quite influential in the period, persisted with a rather short-haired Jesus for quite a while, despite the Kells depiction. When they finally got their come-uppance from Rome and had their wings clipped with regard to dating easter, diet, liturgy etc the length of JC's hair was also coincidentally lengthened to conform - though I have never read of an explicit edict on the matter. It was almost as if the monks themselves had retained the holy crew cut as a symbol of their own defiance of Rome and voluntarily abandoned it when they were forced to admit defeat.

The other extreme - as depicted in the B of K - was to give the lad a huge mullet of holy hair, different in colour as you can see from the tash and beard. There is a lovely wood carving in a church in Offaly which as been dated to around the 8th century and which was once painted rather garishly in bold primary colours. There Jesus has a distinct likeness to Pat Sharp, the Sky TV VJ from around 1983 or thereabouts.


Jesus. I'll see can I find a pic of Pat Sharp somewhere.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 14:42

@nordmann wrote:
Image fixed.

Quote :
But "the other lad", as you call our Blessed Saviour, doesn't get all the fancy jewellery:


No, but he acquires what looks rather like a dildo to me - which really does call Arianism into question. No wonder Justinian had them all covered over in black paint.


It's boring under my stone, so I've come back out.

Re dildos (or should that be dildoes? - I'm certainly not googling *that*) - you sound like a combination of Swift and John Wilmot.

I've just been reading about Arius - knew nothing about him. Poor chap -first a heretic, then not a heretic, then a heretic again.



But back to the topic - I'm looking for more images of a beardless Christ. Back in a bit.

PS Thank you for fixing image - will try to be more careful.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 15:02

The Jehovah's Witnesses were all for the clean shaven short-haired version at one time, and who can contradict them? They're witnesses after all!



Here's JC and his cousin having a dip circa 1954.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 15:20

Got to be very, very careful what I say here, I know; but *please* do not let the thread just become a "Let's Have a Good Laugh at Daft Jesus Pics" one. The art and the history are too interesting.

Going back to the idea of Christ images appropriate for the politics of the times, here's one of a very military-looking Emperor-Christ, but he carries a cross instead of a sword and has a halo instead of a helmet. The crushed serpent is presumably Satan.

Also from Ravenna.



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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 16:11

I always understood that that mosaic of the Entrance was of Justinian, have I been misinformed? I love it because of the way the emperor (whoever he is) is discretely jostling with Maximianus for pole position. The archbishop has his foot in front but the emperor has got his arm in front. Tactful artist?

This figure on the Pictish Hilton of Cadboll stone from around 800 is thought by some to be a depiction of Jesus entering Jerusalem. Others think it's the more obvious choice of a Pictish princess.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 17:13

This is only from Wiki, so I don't know how accurate it is:

The oldest known portrait of Jesus, found in Syria and dated to about 235, shows him as a beardless young man of authoritative and dignified bearing. He is depicted dressed in the style of a young philosopher, with close-cropped hair and wearing a tunic and pallium – signs of good breeding in Greco-Roman society. From this, it is evident that some early Christians paid no heed to the historical context of Jesus being a Jew and visualised him solely in terms of their own social context, as a quasi-heroic figure, without supernatural attributes such as a halo (a fourth-century innovation).

But how interesting that Christ is described as "depicted dressed in the style of a young philosopher".



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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 18:24

ART, n. This word has no definition. Its origin is related as follows by the ingenious Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J.
One day a wag—what would the wretch be at?—
Shifted a letter of the cipher RAT,
And said it was a god's name! Straight arose
Fantastic priests and postulants (with shows,
And mysteries, and mummeries, and hymns,
And disputations dire that lamed their limbs)
To serve his temple and maintain the fires,
Expound the law, manipulate the wires.
Amazed, the populace that rites attend,
Believe whate'er they cannot comprehend,
And, inly edified to learn that two
Half-hairs joined so and so (as Art can do)
Have sweeter values and a grace more fit
Than Nature's hairs that never have been split,
Bring cates and wines for sacrificial feasts,
And sell their garments to support the priests.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 21 Nov 2012, 21:11

Quote :
Going back to the idea of Christ images appropriate for the politics of the times

Nobody ever left the theme, or do you think the JW version of JC is "daft"? It does beg the obvious question given that we are speculating about a figure for whom no definite image exists.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Thu 22 Nov 2012, 08:19

It wasn't the Jehovah's Witness picture that worried me - it was actually your image of Christ as a DJ that caused some anxiety. I can cope with Jesus cuddling a baby dinosaur, but not if he's sporting a mullet haircut. Jesus I mean, not the dinosaur.

But with the comment "...given that we are speculating about a figure for whom no definite image exists" you make a fair and interesting point. Good taste in art is always a matter of debate, and producing images for a God who exists as a spirit should perhaps never be attempted (unless you are a Michelangelo). Images for the imageless Son of Man, too, are always going to be controversial, and his depiction has produced so much that is wonderful, but also so much that is dire. What is lovely, moving and appropriate for one person can be laughable - even offensive - for another.

I attended a Lent course a couple of years ago and the lecturer there - a deeply religious and sincere woman - illustrated her talk with a series of startling pictures she had found on the internet - Clipart Jesus stuff that I found ridiculous and embarrassing. This one (image won't post) was typical - Christ as a sort of Disney star. (The dove actually flies - bit like one of the birdies in Snow White).

http://images6.fanpop.com/image/photos/32400000/Jesus-jesus-32485838-400-400.gif

It ruined the evening for me to be honest, and quite distracted me from what the wretched woman was trying to say. But it did make me ponder later on how bad art (and art snobbery?) can drive out all charitable thoughts.

I wonder what images of Christ from the past - pictures perhaps now regarded as great art - caused offense, even outrage, when they were first exhibited?

And all that great religious art that was so savagely destroyed during the Reformation - what anger and hatred was shown there.


Last edited by Temperance on Sat 15 Dec 2012, 15:08; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Thu 22 Nov 2012, 08:34

Jesus falls into the same category as much else that is religious - an illusion of fact which in reality is simply a backdrop on which people can project any likeness they wish. The same goes for the character at the centre of the story as for all the theological speculation which has surrounded it for millennia. I do believe this is precisely why that other infamous branch of Abrahamic theology opted quite early on to discourage adherents from depicting the leading characters pictorially at all. They had the advantage of formulating their rules after the christians had already gone through several centuries of incrimination, recrimination and open hostility at times over the issue of icons which was to result shortly afterwards in some iconoclasm the sheer vitriol of which any muslim would be proud. Of course what the muslims also achieved in doing so was the first great international abstract movement in art history, which within its own rules and strictures was just as prone to having individuals stamp their own interpretations and favourite styles on imagery as christian art had ever been.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Thu 22 Nov 2012, 08:55

No more time at the moment, but the Islamic approach to the representation of God in art is indeed very interesting. Summed up by these words: "All you believe him to be, he is not."
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Thu 22 Nov 2012, 15:40

I've found a very interesting site which gives many examples of beautiful* medieval Islamic religious art. Some of the pictures do, however, show the full face of the Prophet which I believe is deeply offensive to Muslims.

So I am hesitating even to give the link, let alone post any of the pictures.

There is a section on the site devoted to "Messages from readers offended by the Archive": most of the messages posted there are terrifying in their savagery and vitriol. I can understand how a deliberate mocking of a religion can provoke hurt and anger, but not examples of genuine art which these respectful representations all seem - to my Western eyes at least - to be.

Yes, it does make me despair (the vitriol, not the art).

PS* Some of the pictures of the Islamic hell are not so beautiful, but still interesting - very like the Christian version of the "place" in fact. Full of fire, smoke and gleeful devils.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Thu 22 Nov 2012, 17:26

If I was creating a religion I would also actively discourage pictorial representations of the main character. It means a heightened focus on the verbals which, after all, are the key component in the mind control scam that religion invariably represents. For Sunni muslims it also gives them a splendid opportunity to exercise their renowned civilised restraint, compassion and reasonableness when someone who is not bound by any of their hadith anyway ignores them. When I see Shi'ite muslims behaving similarly I must admit that I do wonder what really motivates these people - it sure as hell isn't generosity of spirit, and even less an understanding of their own particular scam's rules.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Thu 22 Nov 2012, 20:59

@Temperance wrote:


PS* Some of the pictures of the Islamic hell are not so beautiful, but still interesting - very like the Christian version of the "place" in fact. Full of fire, smoke and gleeful devils.

Do any of them look like Andy Hamilton?
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Thu 22 Nov 2012, 21:29

Temp, did the web site include the Qusayr ‘Amra frescoes? It's at least 10 years since I saw them and they were deteriorating badly then so I hope they are surviving and not just because of lack of maintenance but because of increasing fundamentalism in some quarters in Jordan. They're wonderful and so bursting with life. Here's a couple of the racier ones but if you google you'll find lots more.





and a very Byzantine example

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Fri 23 Nov 2012, 07:45

No, those frescoes weren't shown, ferval.

The pictures on the site I mentioned were later - most, I think, dated from the 12th or 13th century. Formal and austere, the work was religious rather than sybaritic, controlled rather than exuberant - magnificent, but rather chilling - reminded me strangely of Calvinism.

Your frescoes are more joyful - bursting with life, as you say - real pleasure there in the beauty and delights of the human body.

Fundamentalists - of whatever faith - don't like joy much, do they, in life or in art?

But perhaps I'm being unfair.

No, I'm not.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Fri 23 Nov 2012, 08:15

I suppose it depends on your definition of fundamentalist. I can think of people who have what seems to me a fairly strong religious faith which I would consider based on rather fundamental beliefs who are full of joie de vivre, fun and take real joy in art and music. One of them is perhaps the nicest people I have ever met as well being fun to be with and taking a very vivid part in the life of the community. But perhaps she's not really what is called a fundamentalist. (She doesn't for instance talk incessantly about her religion or at least be defined by it in other people's minds which I take to be a sign of a fundamentalist.)

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Fri 23 Nov 2012, 10:53

Art which reflects an ideology, be it political or religious, has a tendency to become stylistically as predictable and conformist as its content. What makes individual pieces stand out therefore are generally instances when the artist deviates from the norm, be it through naive or determined reasoning beforehand. In cases of muslim iconography this can sometimes be a tremendously brave act on the part of the artist, but there have been times when christian artists have been equally brave, or at least equally inclined to take big risks. The current popularity in some quarters of Jesus portrayed as a black man, for example, might not elicit a fatwa and death sentence but no doubt raises the hackles of many of the christian equivalent to muslim imams who interpret all non-conformity as threat.

Personally, I value the aesthetic of artwork depicting religious themes with a conscious question as to whether I would share the same aesthetic appreciation were it not ideologically constrained in its expression. This is often not as easy a question to answer as it might sound; a lot of the evaluation of a depiction's effect can be based on its contextual restraints anyway, so religious art can often seem radical and fresh when in fact it is only that when viewed in contrast to the rest of its kind. Muhammed's head depicted as a bomb is no more incongruous than Jesus cuddling a baby dinosaur in that respect. Whereas one uses incongruity to generate humour and the other uses it to prosecute a creationist belief they are both infinitely less provocative than, say, Pollack's "Mural" from 1943 in terms of what can be construed from the ultimate effect of each.

This is not something that might please the religious mind, particularly muslims who seize on such provocation to generate and justify behaviour which is in reality part of a completely different agenda where lasting global effect is actually a primary aim, but in my view it is incontrovertible. Art and aesthetics are and always have been driven and revolutionised almost exclusively by people who through character, experience or naivete were already outside, and well outside, the religious mindset. Whether they knew it or not.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Fri 23 Nov 2012, 12:05

Most art exhibited and sold in Pakistan by modern artists is politically driven. The place and plight of women is probably the most frequent theme by both men and women artists. Poverty and many aspects of social deprivation are common themes. These are shown in many galleries, art critics abound and examples often printed - in Sunday English language papers, and far more so than here. Religious themes are avoided apart from calligraphic based abstracts. There is little place for evocative landscape painting, though the country abounds in scenic opportunity; slums and urban and rural themes however always feature. I assume theses artists are steeped in a religious mindset more consciously - than here, anyway, but political statement is as important in their work. That is apart from a few charlatans who cash in fame. In course of my travels I have met all kinds. Suffice to say they are always engaging whatever their drive.

Several artists also take up social injustices or lead charity campaigns - there was one such called Jimmy Engineer a fine artists who became highly involved with helping abandoned street children.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Fri 23 Nov 2012, 12:15

Some would argue that all art is political - it's a question of definition.

Art that is driven by ideology however need not necessarily be classified as political in the standard sense of the term, and ideologies which encapsulate conformism lead to the same tendencies anyway when formulating aesthetic expression, be it a religious or political ideology which has informed the artist.

Landscapes can be highly political by the way. It is no accident that artists with Irish republican sympathies (and the general public at large) developed a craze for wild Irish landscape paintings from the last half of the 19th century onwards that in their expression were as far removed from traditional "English" landscapes as Pollack was from Pinturicchio. It was subliminal nationalism, but it was nationalism all the same.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Fri 23 Nov 2012, 13:46

@nordmann wrote:
Some would argue that all art is political - it's a question of definition.


What an interesting statement, although I am not sure I understand you. Definition here is tricky - do you mean by political that which is concerned with persuasion, the winning over of hearts and minds; and by ideological that which is concerned with imposition - ideas inflicted by a dominant (or would-be dominant) group?

There was an incredible collection of modern art on show in Munich in July 1937: the infamous Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) Exhibition.

Good article about it here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/aug/16/secondworldwar

The Degenerate Art show was not just an attack on modernism, it was an attack on a version of Germany. It was German artists Hitler denounced as sick: "In the name of the German people it is my duty to prevent these pitiable unfortunates, who plainly suffer from defects of vision, from attempting to persuade others by their chatter that these faults of observation are indeed realities and present them as 'art'."

And yet out of Nazi Germany came an artist who has been described as "the greatest female filmmaker of the 20th century": Leni Riefenstahl. We may loathe the ideological message of "The Triumph of the Will", but boy did Riefenstaht know what she was doing with a camera.



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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Fri 23 Nov 2012, 14:16

"Political" is ultimately derived from the Greek "polites", now often interpreted as "citizen", a very loaded phrase indeed in the modern context and one which we tend to forget was semantically quite a different kettle of fish when it was first coined. The danger is to assume semantic affinity, and therefore to assume, for example, that the Greek city states in classical times corresponded to the modern concept, and therefore that their citizens did too.

"Polites" was itself a derivative from "Polis" which itself has undergone quite a semantic shift even if the word "city" suffices to explain its original use. "Cities" in ancient Greece were as much mental constructs as physical ones. Not everyone who lived in the community was of the community, and even those who were of it were not necessarily so on a permanent basis. Socrates, for example, regarded himself as "polites" only when talking, not when thinking, and on that basis asked the pertinent question which offended the authorities regarding who actually can claim to administer, own and regulate thought. What he actually said was that he inhabited as many cities as he could think of, and in fact this was true of everyone. Thinking, in other words, was the ultimate political act. Regulating, by the same score, was the ultimate anti-political act.

I do not necessarily agree with this, or at least assume that as a definition it can practically replace the modern one. However it is a concept that has been cited in support of many different political stances (anarchism and communism for example) and was also a popularly expressed one in the Dada art movement, always a movement with borderline political tendencies and motives behind it anyway.

The "they" in my sentence had them in mind. But I am sure there are many others who have approached art with a similar viewpoint.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Fri 23 Nov 2012, 15:38

My waning interest in current exhibitions here stems from what seems to me to be an apparent lack of deeper drive - political or religious allowing for a semantic spread of what is meant by either of those words; artists and critics, also speak an incredible amount of drivel regarding their work.

I know landscape can be a political expression, re my post above, I meant a scene for scenes' sake stuff - such as many skilled watercolours are. I once made a study of scenic woodcuts - German's were good at these. You could sense the powerful statements used in the tooling as well as what and how they chose to present. Style usually reveals far more than what is depicted.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 24 Nov 2012, 08:50

Quote :
Socrates, for example, regarded himself as "polites" only when talking, not when thinking, and on that basis asked the pertinent question which offended the authorities regarding who actually can claim to administer, own and regulate thought. What he actually said was that he inhabited as many cities as he could think of, and in fact this was true of everyone. Thinking, in other words, was the ultimate political act. Regulating, by the same score, was the ultimate anti-political act.


Quote :
Some would argue that all art is political - it's a question of definition.

The artist then as thinker, philosopher - the free-ranging citizen of many places: that idea I really like - if I have actually understood properly what you are saying. And to the "regulators", the leaders/supporters of a totalitarian regime, the political artist will always be a thought-criminal, a traitor to the one true "city-state", i.e., the party's ideology or the dogma of the faith?

Yet I'm still confused. What you say seems to be such a beautiful Greek idea, but wasn't Socrates actually rather dismissive of artists? In "The Republic" he certainly fulminates against "tragedians and other dramatists". The work of painters and artists of all kind are "far removed from reality", and appeal to "an element in us equally removed from reason, a thoroughly unsound combination". Art is "a poor child born of poor parents", appeals to "a low element in the mind", and has a "terrible power to corrupt even the best characters". Weren't poets to be banished from the Republic? All those involved in creative arts deal after all in "deceit": the metaphor - visual or written - is a lie. "Calculation" (logic) is always to be preferred to imagination - denotation to connotation. Being a poet - or any artist - involves imagining one's way into many things and is "unsuitable for our state, because there one man does one job and does not play a multiplicity of roles" (no free-ranging then?). Imagination is inferior thought, a lower class citizen.

And Plato's proscriptions on music, like so much else about his Republic, horrify me (I once got hit for saying that) - they remind one of a Soviet-style totalitarian state - no need of a wide harmonic range; most rhythms are outlawed; flutes, harps etc. are banned, as are all "dirges and laments". Only two kinds of music are approved: the kind that encourages civil orderliness, and the kind that sternly encourages us to war.

All has been reduced to *utility* in the service of the will to power. Or have I got it all wrong? Probably.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 24 Nov 2012, 09:05

@Priscilla wrote:
My waning interest in current exhibitions here stems from what seems to me to be an apparent lack of deeper drive - political or religious allowing for a semantic spread of what is meant by either of those words; artists and critics, also speak an incredible amount of drivel regarding their work.

I know landscape can be a political expression, re my post above, I meant a scene for scenes' sake stuff - such as many skilled watercolours are. I once made a study of scenic woodcuts - German's were good at these. You could sense the powerful statements used in the tooling as well as what and how they chose to present. Style usually reveals far more than what is depicted.

I know very little about woodcuts, style or technique, but I find many of them from the 16th century (used for so much Protestant propaganda) fascinating.

But this rhino by Durer is my favourite. Isn't he a magnificent beast?

I agree about drivel too, but I fear I am a fine drivel-artist myself when let loose in art galleries. I once stood in front of "The Ambassadors", presuming to lecture all around me on what Holbein "meant" by this great work. I got some very funny looks, and was dragged away by an embarrassed companion.



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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 24 Nov 2012, 10:19

I have always thought of Plato and Socrates as akin to Stalin and Marx in the sense that if one takes everything at face value (as depressingly all too many do) then one can naively assume that Stalin's policies and the political theory behind them were refinements of Marx's political theory - end of story. Stalin used Marx to justify his policies, this is true, but one only has to read one page into Das Kapital to see that Stalin is so much a departure from Marx that his policies can be equally stated to be blatant contradictions of the German's primary logic. Stalinism employed the language of Marx, not the logic.

We are hamstrung with Socrates in that we are dependent on what others put in his mouth, and Plato in particular. There is no verbatim record of his teachings, as there is with Marx. If one however attempts to adduce his core philosophical tenets from the utterances of all who claimed him as inspiration then the Stalin/Marx dichotomy is easy to see. It is a (literally) classic case of a revolutionary philosophy with no single political application being claimed as such by several successors - who then disprove the value of this assumed provenance by so abjectly failing between them all to arrive at one single agreed application at all. Christianity saw the danger of this early on when adapting Platonic political theory to its own organisation and establishment of a coherent internal logic. It simply removed Socrates from the picture completely and put strictures on citing Plato.

This is not to draw a similarity between Platonism and communism. One can readily draw parallels with any hijacked ideology ever. Ideologies in fact seem destined always to be hijacked for political ends, and amazingly quickly after they are first formulated too. Romantic (in the story sense) christians know this phenomenon well.

But back to Socrates and imagination. Aristotle, who cited Socrates as his inspiration in this regard while refuting Plato, interpreted the Socratic view of thought as that there was no such thing as fantasy or pure invention. He approved of this view. All thought, he averred, had a motive, whether the thinker knew it or not. It is informed by the thinker's experience and it has, once broadcast, real effect. Whether the thinker controls that effect or not is almost completely immaterial. This was the interpretation of thought used later by christianity to form two of its most odious tenets, that one can "sin" in thought as seriously as in deed (think about that one), and that all thought, like action, is to be employed in devotionary service. Punishment was invented for deviants. Both easily justified by Aristotelean theory, but not so easily by Socratic. But that didn't matter. Once Aquinas had found this apparent classical justification for his bigoted and essentially subversive approach to humanity, one that the church absolutely loved at the time, the middleman Plato could then be jettisoned anyway. This is a prime reason historically as to why we tend to think nowadays of Socrates and Plato almost as father and son or mentor and star student. Socrates had many students, not all of whom were prepared to steer his philosophical theory into demagogism.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 24 Nov 2012, 19:46

@nordmann wrote:
Christianity saw the danger of this early on when adapting Platonic political theory to its own organisation and establishment of a coherent internal logic. It simply removed Socrates from the picture completely and put strictures on citing Plato.


I'm puzzling over this. I can see that the architects of *state* (i.e. official "Roman" Christianity) certainly did this, but did Augustine? Surely there are Neoplatonic ideas in his theology - "The Platonic influence was kept alive throughout the Middle Ages by the the study of Augustine, who was powerfully influenced by the Platonic philosophy and had read Plotinus in a Latin translation..."* And didn't many other early Church fathers honestly acknowledge Plato's influence on the new religion?

And what about Luther? I wonder where he fits into this (if he does). Luther loathed Aristotle. In a letter to one of his friends at Erfurt he wrote (in 1517):

"Aristotle, Porphyry, the theologians of the sentences, these are the unprofitable study of this age. I desire nothing more ardently than to lay open before all eyes this false system, which has tricked the Church by covering itself with a Greek mask; and to expose its worthlessness before the world."

@nordmann wrote:
This was the interpretation of thought used later by christianity to form two of its most odious tenets, that one can "sin" in thought as seriously as in deed (think about that one), and that all thought, like action, is to be employed in devotionary service. Punishment was invented for deviants. Both easily justified by Aristotelean theory, but not so easily by Socratic.


I suppose if one does "think about that one" official State Christianity could be compared to Soviet-style totalitarianism too. So every week when we all say the words of Cranmer's general Confession, acknowledging and bewailing "our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us", we are, with the words "by thought", actually confessing that we are all guilty of "thought-crimes". I hadn't interpreted it like that before! (Mind you, I have often believed that Cranmer, when writing his sublime English, often confused God with his more terrifying earthly master whose property was most definitely *not* always to have mercy.) It is an interesting point (if that's what you meant). But then sin is not the same as crime.

But back to art. Here's Raphael's fresco "The School of Athens" to illustrate all this. Plato and Aristotle take centre stage in the throng - Socrates is rather shoved to one side. (He's over to the left, chatting to someone.) It is significant that PLato points upwards to Heaven; Aristotle's hand is towards the earth.







PS Apparently Leonardo da Vinci was the model for Plato and Michelangelo posed as Heraclitus. I bet they had some fun doing it. I don't know who stood in as Aristotle.

*James Mackinnon: "The Origins of the Reformation".
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 24 Nov 2012, 20:53

Christian NeoPlatonism is exactly what it says on the tin - "new" Platonism as approved by the boys at the top. Whether Plato would have recognised it as anything to do with him is a moot point. Plotinus could "reintroduce" Platonism in the 3rd century (by Augustine's time it was already old hat) quite simply - mainly by recognising the elements of Platonism that existed in St Paul's rather fractured body of scripture in the recently paired down "book" which from now on no-one was to deviate from when looking for theological source material.

Luther, in my opinion, was a passable theologian but absolutely no historian. If he reckoned a "Greek mask" was being insiduously introduced into the church's theology in the 16th century and that this was a new development then this simply proves the point. In his defence I would suggest that Luther's quandary was that of a man who has made politicial mileage from a "back to basics" platform and now suddenly has to actually define what those "basics" are. In the end, like any theologian, he cherry picked and discounted the rest as posturing, impostering and when not just worthless, subversive. The remainder he defined as the basic principles of the religion. Having rejected Roman influence rejecting Greek was a doddle, at least for him. But if he thought this influence was recent then he wasn't reading Paul, or indeed the gospels, in an historical context.

"Sin" and "crime" were synomymous for many people through many generations and over a very long time. That was the way the church dictated they be interpreted when they ran things - and those who think that they didn't run things are being rather naive historically. Thankfully however those times are gone, at least in non-muslim societies, so if you find you are owning up to thought crimes every week I would, if I were you, find a new pastime which does not involve as one of its tenets the implication of guilt simply for thinking. Or at least the next time you find yourself in a group all subscribing out loud to self-abasement for the "sin" of using their rational faculties take a moment to interrupt proceedings and ask them if that's what they really believe.

The direction of Plato's point and Aristotle's point in Raphael's painting is normally interpreted as showing the distinction between where each thought the origin of truth lay, one in an eternal and superior external force and one in interpreting causality from the observable universe. By the way if you check out just behind Ptolemy's left shoulder you'll see Raphael himself (playing no one in particular) calmly observing you observing his work.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 09:53

@nordmann wrote:
"Sin" and "crime" were synomymous for many people through many generations and over a very long time. That was the way the church dictated they be interpreted when they ran things - and those who think that they didn't run things are being rather naive historically. Thankfully however those times are gone, at least in non-muslim societies, so if you find you are owning up to thought crimes every week I would, if I were you, find a new pastime which does not involve as one of its tenets the implication of guilt simply for thinking. Or at least the next time you find yourself in a group all subscribing out loud to self-abasement for the "sin" of using their rational faculties take a moment to interrupt proceedings and ask them if that's what they really believe.



Well, no chance of any communal self-abasement this morning, as all the roads around here are flooded.

The contempt in your remark is withering, but I suppose - if one is honest - there is something faintly ridiculous about a group of middle-aged, middle-class English men and woman all beating themselves up out loud, week after week. I was reminded of Oscar Wilde's comment that the Roman Catholic church is the institution for saints and sinners, whereas the Church of England is merely for the respectable.

Mind you, that said, I would say that between us all we have shattered nine out of the ten commandments (though not every week, I hope); even, in a farming community, the bit from no. 10 about not coveting the neighbour's ox - if you substitute a Devon County Show prize bull for ox, that is. As far as I know, no one has violated no. 6, and I hasten also to add that I am entirely innocent of any transgression of nos. 7 and 8 (even in thought).

But I really don't think I'd ever want to interrupt the confession and absolution sequence of the service with too many awkward questions; but I admit I do have trouble these days with the "This is the word of the Lord" bit that's now added after after the Old and New Testament readings (it used to be simply, "Here endeth..." - can't think why they changed it). I'm terrified that one day I will stand up and shout out: "It's not, you know. It was a very good passage and full of wisdom for us to ponder, but it's probably just the word of some poor so-and-so who lived a few thousand years ago, who was just as mucked-up as the rest of us here, and who was struggling desperately to make some kind of sense of it all."

But I won't, of course. I'm far too much of a coward - or hypocrite - or woolly ditherer (or possibly all three).

@nordmann wrote:
Luther, in my opinion, was a passable theologian but absolutely no historian. If he reckoned a "Greek mask" was being insiduously introduced into the church's theology in the 16th century and that this was a new development then this simply proves the point. In his defence I would suggest that Luther's quandary was that of a man who has made politicial mileage from a "back to basics" platform and now suddenly has to actually define what those "basics" are. In the end, like any theologian, he cherry picked and discounted the rest as posturing, impostering and when not just worthless, subversive. The remainder he defined as the basic principles of the religion. Having rejected Roman influence rejecting Greek was a doddle, at least for him. But if he thought this influence was recent then he wasn't reading Paul, or indeed the gospels, in an historical context.


I disagree. Luther was fulminating against Aristotle long before all the fuss began: as early as 1508 in fact, when he had to lecture at Wittenberg on Aristotle's ethics and dialectics. He was already ranting then about the Greek's stranglehold on thought. He said somewhere that God had sent Aristotle as a punishment for the sins of mankind. Some unkind commentators have said that this was because Luther found philosophy difficult. He admitted as much himself, describing his studies in the subject as "severe". But I'm glad you think he was a "passable theologian". A lot of other people do too. I'm very fond of Luther because he was so passionate and sincere, even if naive: he was so unlike many of the religious men of his time (and earlier). I really don't believe he was interested in "political mileage" - he was genuinely interested in salvation for all men. Probably laughable of me to say that, but there you go. I know he didn't have the diplomacy (or intellect?) of a Melanchthon, but I actually like him all the more for that.

Thank you for all your explanations, especially about Aristotle and Plato in the Raphael fresco. How nice that Raphael included a woman - a rather beautiful Hypatia - in the work. Apparently Sappho's in there too somewhere, but I can't find her. The entire thing would make an excellent jigsaw.



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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 11:16

Hadn't heard of Sappho being included - wrong school, I would have thought (that crap even went on in those days). However I can see a kid arriving late up in the top left clutching scroll and schoolbook while a janitor asks can he turf them out for being late. The figure is flat chested with strong muscular legs and half naked. Could be Sappho.

Also there's a group at the back, just to the right of Alexander the Great and Mark Twain (?), which includes some rather indeterminately orientated figures sexually. Possibly why the bould Alex is sneaking a peek (that went on in those days too).

I'm sorry you see fit to dismiss my well-meant mental health advice as withering contempt. I will rein in and suppress my humanistic impulses to aid my fellow man and resort to the usual christian distortions in future. In which case I must charitably express happiness that you have found peace and contentment amongst others who share the same irrational attitude towards self-esteem but one apparently encouraged by your group's ultimate leader, a human female geriatric with phenomenal wealth who holds a hereditary position of authority that includes assuming a role enforcing specific psychoses amongst her subjects and which is one derived from that held by an equally undemocratically appointed geriatric in Rome, both of whom are too rich and powerful ever to be picked up for thought crimes anyway. Good luck ... (wither wither witter witter)
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 11:34

Sappho's in the Parnassus fresco over the door, leaning languorously against the top left corner of the door frame

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 11:40

That school looks like it would have been much more fun to attend! It even includes some mythical students. It seems position number 11 is up for grabs - maybe it's not too late (if a Toyota car can get in then surely I can too)
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