Friday, February 10, 2006

Some Thoughts: Art, Reader-Response, Imitation

**I am responding to China's comments on my last blog entry**

China - I see your essential point - it's neo-Platonic, no? Because if the craftsman creates something (i.e. a work of art, a chair, a computer), it has some imitative component, if your argument about potential extends to all objects. So there must be an original bed: for Plato, the ideal bed.

I am interested in your example of the student and the novelist. You equated the student with the artist, and thus an essay with art. But I would not call an essay a work of art. I mean, I suppose that one could tweak one's viewpoint (per Ziff) to see it as art, but most would agree that an analytic essay is more a work of reason than aesthetic ecstasy (and yes, the two are separate here. I think that they can get close together and that they depend upon one-another, but that is for another blog entry. For now, they are distinct, as they are often in literary criticism). We literary critics may want to put our emotion into papers, but they are not intended (there's that word again) for aesthetic appreciation. One lauds a critical piece for its clarity, its complexity: its logical, comprehensive, innovative claim. So I guess the question is: is a writing about a work a piece of art in itself? Can it ever be? Hm.

Reader-response criticism will be helpful here, for it posits that the reader completes a piece by realizing part of its potential. But my preferred version of reader-response criticism doesn't presume to call the reader a second author. Rather, a reader completes the half-finished sculpture of the poem, creating meaning. So, how is this any different from what the artist does? Doesn't the artist just complete something else's meaning? Yes and no. The artist may realize a part of some object's potential, but he creates another part-sculpture, if that makes sense. An artist continues to spawn meaning by creating a definite form, be it music, poetry or dance etc. So then the question is whether the essay is another half-completed structure, another vessel to spark meaning.

I am not sure. Ideas? I am inclined to say no, because, as I said above, it is not just about meaning (which an essay certainly has), but about form. I agree with Bell's claim that form is essential to aesthetic experience. And, for the most part, an essay's form is less about emotion and space for the reader (viewer, audience-member etc) than logic, understanding, clarity, and simplicity of form. It is not meant to inspire, but to inform. Rational instead of emotional. But perhaps I need to say my definition of art:

Art is any human-produced aesthetic object.
An aesthetic object is any object that elicits an aesthetic experience from its viewer.
Aesthetic experience is difficult to describe (and impossible to prove rationally, but isn't that what is so wonderful about it?)

So this leaves room for anything to be an aesthetic object, really, but art has to be human-produced. Humans had to have given it its physical form, even if that action consists in moving a piece of driftwood into a gallery, or aesthetically viewing a bowl of pudding.

Okay, so I know that my definition of art might be a little controversial, and implicit in it is my valuation of the aesthetic experience. I am noting a difference between rational, intellectual objects and aesthetic objects, though there is, of course, overlap in each category. So those are some thoughts.


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