Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Whether Art is Clearly Defined?

(Done in the style of articles in the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Objections mainly come from the Multi-Headed Beast, also known as Wikipedia.)

Article 1. Whether Art is Clearly Defined?

Objection 1. It would seem that it is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore.

Objection 2. Further, art is whatever artists, museums, and art schools say it is.

Objection 3. Further, it is a mistake to define either art or beauty, since they have no essence.

Objection 4. Further, something is art only if an audience perceives it to be art.

Objection 5. Further, a work is art only where it functions in an æsthetic context.

Objection 6. Further, art is the property of the wealthy classes, and is a class prejudice against labor and utility.

Objection 7. Further, the purpose of art is to shock and enrage the bourgeois, or to show the plight of modern man in urban society.

Objection 8. Further, art is the self-expression of the feelings and creativity of the artist.

Objection 9. Further, art is made purely for art's sake.

On the contrary, The Angelic Doctor says that art is right reason with regard to external productions (recta ratio factibilium); the things made with this right method are called objects of art.

I answer that, everything made with reason is art, and the artistic virtue of an artist is reflected in the goodness of his objects of art. The virtue of art is the good habit of an artist, which is developed with education and extensive practice, and is affected by the natural inclinations of the artist and divine inspiration. Restricting the definition of art to the merely æsthetic is mistaken because beauty is dependent on goodness; according to the Anglo-Catholic, beauty is a Second Thing, which must not be placed before the First Thing of goodness, or else the artist risks losing beauty as well as goodness.

Reply to Objection 1. This confusion only occurs because art is placed above the higher things of goodness and truth.

Reply to Objection 2. As a physician is the best judge of the art of medicine, then experts in painting, sculpture, literature, etc., are the best judges of those individual arts, but not art in general.

Reply to Objection 3. Objects of art are things made by the virtue of art. Beauty is that which when seen, pleases.

Reply to Objection 4. An object of art is a concrete thing, and does not depend on how it is perceived.

Reply to Objection 5. If the final cause of object of art is æsthetic, then it is called 'fine art'. However, all objects of art are æsthetic, whether intended or not by the artist. The virtue of art must always consider æsthetics.

Reply to Objection 6. This is only true when particular objects of art are expensive. Oftentimes this is due to greed, vanity, and worldliness in general.

Reply to Objection 7. This is too narrow a definition. Art was far better before there was a bourgeois to shock. Art is made even in rural societies.

Reply to Objection 8. Art is primarily a product of the intellect, and not feelings. Properly speaking, God creates, while an artist can only sub-create, either reflecting or perverting creation.

Reply to Objection 9. Art for art's sake is idolatry. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)


(The various objections above are modern theories about art; and the answer is basically that of Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas. In the olden days, art was not self-important, nor was it something that was restricted to art galleries and the homes of wealthy collectors. Modern societies that reject this classical theory of art are very bland, with ugly buildings, clothing, and music, even if these societies are quite wealthy and could afford better. On the contrary, traditional societies will agree with the classical definition of art, and tend to have bright and vibrant cultures.)

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