Let us take a little excursus into aesthetics.
The term ‘aesthetic” has its roots in sensation or experience; that is, to have an aesthetic experience is to sense the beauty of an object, especially insofar as that beauty evokes emotion. Let me break the definition down into conditions that I think apply with respect to what I wish to call art. A work of art: is sensible; produces in the viewer sensations that provoke or induce feelings (emotions) and thoughts (recollections and analysis); is a creative item (it is a novel presentation of the artist’s concepts and imaginations); and is considered valuable both for what it can bring instrumentally and what it is intrinsically.
Okay. Let me use an example to clarify. The Mona Lisa is sensible in that it can be seen (and touched, but I wouldn’t think that would be a wise action to try). Looking at the Mona Lisa, I notice right away the soft eyes and whimsical smile –which produce tender memories of a sweetheart back in high school. And, that brings back a flood of wondering what happened to that past romance. The more I look at the painting, the stronger those feelings become, and I try to analyze why they occur. It’s the smile. How did Leonardo capture that smile? Did he emphasize the curves through color and brush stoke? Is there subtle modeling of the lips? Whatever. At any rate, it is creative genius at work, no doubt, because it produces strong emotions and turbulent analytic thoughts about those feelings, especially about how they were produced. There’s something in that painting that makes it beautiful or is beauty itself residing in it that I sense. Which makes me want to buy the painting. As do millions of others, which is why the painting has great instrumental value.
A question to ask here. Is a work of art valuable because of its desire by other persons to own it, or is it valuable because of what it is? Would the average Joe rather have a picture of Marilyn Monroe or the Mona Lisa? My suspicion is, Marilyn. So, is the intrinsic beauty of the Mona Lisa may only recognized after it has been analyzed by “experts” who conclude that it is valuable? Or, these experts have been trained to magnify, so to speak, their senses so that the intrinsic beauty of the painting is manifest to them on first viewing.
What it is about art’s “value” that makes us worry, given that our world is so full of magnificent art and entrepreneurs?
Plato said that art is a representation, a creative representation of what we would want to call the real world. Art is a product twice removed already from reality; there is the object in the sensible world, the idea constructed in the artist’s mind, then his representation of that idea in some medium. As such, art can tell us nothing about reality (science can), but only be the cause of bringing about strong emotions, some of which can be very dangerous. That is why Plato said that those in power should carefully watch artists.
Of course, if Descartes is right, the world, as far as we can sense it, consists of nothing but images our minds. And, if Plato is right, art is a creatio ex nihilo production, for it represents no truths of reality. Let’s go with Descartes and Plato for a bit. What is it so interesting about these images of the world in our mind that are produced by art objects? Well, as we have seen, they produce strong emotions in us, and also make us think. In today's world, they also make persons considerable sums of money because they make us laugh, cry, (and all the other emotions) and later think about what the heck went on. Question to ask in today’s world of market value is: is a work of art’s only value that bestowed by the beholder in virtue of evoked emotions and following thoughts, or do works of art have intrinsic worth –that is, beauty in themselves? vI would like to maintain that art is worth no more no less than market value; its worth is what it does and to the beholder. What one person may see as art, another person may see as trash. The market value for the two, thus, would be considerably different. As I said, works of art derive their value from persons coming to be moved by them in one way or another, and willing to pay for those feelings and thoughts. We must remember that van Gogh never sold a painting, though today his works are worth millions. Was van Gogh's work worth more then, or today? Presumably, if his work has intrinsic value, the worth would be the same. However, that is not the case. My intuition is that his works have always had the same aesthetic objectivity, though persons have come to discover, appreciate, and value them more today, for they are more moved by what the see now that they can see them differently after being enlightened. Consequently, their value has increased today. Again, that implies that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, if that beauty can be determined by commentary. Which seems to suggest that there is no objective value in a work of art. If that be true, is there any art that does not fall into this subjective trap? Is there any art that is creative, original, unable to be precisely duplicated, and has value for the viewer in spite of his being the viewer?
What is art? As I said before, art is what moves us, even though it is a representation of reality. An artist draws a female portrait, but has the ability to manipulate shadow, hue, saturation, monocular cues, and color perspective to give the smile of the face a mystique nature that would not be seen on the real person. The image of Mona Lisa is of course, first in Rembrandt’s mind, then on the canvas, and finally in the mind of a viewer. Many changes have occurred on the way to that final product, which, in turn, changes as the viewer gains more knowledge of the subject as he thinks about it.
Is the Mona Lisa a real work of art? No. Why? Because, though it produces emotions and thoughts in a viewer, those thoughts are still not completely the belongings of the viewer. They come from an external source in their raw, so to speak, form. Even Rembrandt who drew the Mona Lisa is not the creator entirely of the emotions that are produced by that work? What if there were an art form that was not a representation of reality, but reality itself, as far as the viewer was concerned? What if the artist and the work of art were one and the same? Moreover, what if the work of art were an original, an original that could never be duplicated or seen by anyone else?
You're probably wondering, what kind of art could this be? Well, think of dreams. Dreams are creations, creative emergings of ideas that you have had, but emergings which are innovative and moving, often beyond the bounds of imagination. Furthermore, given that you are the artist, the creative artist in your dreams, you are the creator of the dream and yet you exist in and of it. And, that makes you the artist and the work of art combined. And consider, no one else is privy to that work of art, which unfortunately may include you in your waking states. Most of us have a very difficult time remembering our dreams, though while we are experiencing them, they are often more exciting and real than the world of our waking state. So, my point is that true art consists in dreams, where the artist, the work of art, and the viewer are one and the same. Dreams are unexpected, sometimes unwanted (nightmares) installations in your “consciousness.” The dreams constitute the very nature of your existence while you ARE the dream.
So, the dream as true art is being as an artist in his own work on the canvas of his mind. It is as real as it can get for the artist, even when the art event is out of the ordinary. Remember, the feeling of falling or flying? Remember, the beautiful visions of things that could not be of the conscious world? Remember, the strong feelings of joy, hurt, or fear caused by objects or persons in the dreams –sometimes the persons being semblances of the self that lies below the surface of the bubbling canvas. Take a look at Jung’s work to find out more about the brushes your mind uses. And, enjoy every night, a work of art –priceless in your sleep, yet hard to even find in your waking, everyday life. Unless you can make those dreams into soft eyes with a curved smile.
Take me to the home page