Saturday, September 05, 2009

Notes from The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton

In this book Dutton tries to identify what we think of as art, and to trace its origins in human evolution. He specifies some criteria for what art is as follows:

  1. Direct pleasure. The art object is valued as a source of immediate experiential pleasure in itself, often said to be "for its own sake."
  2. Skill and virtuosity. The making of the object requires and demonstrates the exercise of specialized skills. The demonstration of skill is one of the most deeply moving and pleasurable aspects of art.
  3. Style. Works of art are made in recognizable styles, rules that govern form, composition, or expression. Style provides a stable, predictable, "normal" background against which artists may create novelty and expressive surprise.
  4. Novelty and creativity. Art is valued for its novelty, creativity, originality, and capacity to surprise its audience. This includes both the attention-grabbing function of art and the artist’s less jolting capacity to explore the deeper possibilities of a medium or theme.
  5. Criticism. Wherever artistic forms are found, they exist alongside some kind of critical language of judgment and appreciation.
  6. Representation. Art objects, including sculptures, paintings, and fictional narratives, represent or imitate real and imaginary experiences of the world.
  7. Special focus. Works of art and artistic performances tend to be bracketed off from ordinary life, made a separate and dramatic focus of experience.
  8. Expressive individuality. The potential to express individual personality is generally latent in art practices, whether or not it is fully achieved.
  9. Emotional saturation. In varying degrees, the experience of works of art is shot through with emotion.
  10. Intellectual challenge. Works of art tend to be designed to utilize a combined variety of human perceptual and intellectual capacities to a full extent; indeed the best works stretch them beyond ordinary limits.
  11. Art traditions and institutions. Art objects and performances, as much in small-scale oral cultures as in literate civilizations, are created and to a degree given significance by their place in the history and traditions of their art.
  12. Imaginative experience. Art objects essentially provide an imaginative experience for both producers and audiences. Art happens in a make-believe world, in the theater of the imagination.

Four assertions about the arts:

  1. The arts are not essentially social.
  2. The arts are not just crafts. (The craftsman knows in advance what the end product will look like)
  3. The arts are not essentially religious or moral or political.
  4. High-art traditions demand individuality.

Four requirements for greatness in the arts:

  1. Complexity
  2. Serious Content
  3. Purpose
  4. Distance

Kitsch shows you notihng genuinely new, changes nothing in your bright shining soul; to the contrary, it congratulates you for being exactly the refined person you already are.

1 comment:

  1. nice post, just read his article in NYT and following up by seeing what the blog world thinks....