04 March 2010

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Is good art a matter of opinion?

Important message by Milton + 2 essays

Dear friends,

This week we are discussing; Is good art a matter of opinion?

As we all know this is an old theme in philosophy and the fact that
good, art and good art are still philosophical subjects suggests that
these are key problems in our thinking. And they are so entrenched that
we are still discussing what is good art, we haven't even started
discussing the morality of art. For example, should art reflect reality
or are we justified in depicting reality which is different from the facts?

We are once again lucky this week because Raul has also written a short
essay for Sunday. As always I have not read Raul's essay not be
influenced by what he wrote.

Talking about luck, Milton has asked me to share this important message
with you:

Estoy buscando para mi una habitación o piso compartido para algunos
meses. Sabes de algo o alguien? Milton Miltonriveramanga@gmail.com

All the best



+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
- Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com/
photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

Tertulia with Ignacio and friends: Every Thursday, from 19:30 to 21h, at
Moore's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal).

--------essay by Raul -----------

Hi Lawrence,

Please, I would like to share with my peer debaters my short essay for
this Sunday's meeting.
Btw, I wrote and shot a 3-minute monologue in Spanish, performed and
adapted by the actress Ester Mora. It is uploaded on

What do you make of it?

Thank you in advance,


At the break of dawn I rushed to make the most of the empty streets. As
I jogged around my neighbourhood, I made out a pale monticule of sand
laid down by the bricklayers from the works nearby. The sunlight
filtered through an overcast sky in a myriad of velvet-faceted shapes.
All of a sudden the crest of the monticule glittered brilliantly. I came
puffing and panting up to this precious light. An old silky handkerchief
spiralled downward prodded by the breeze. I wish I had brought my camera
to seize that moment at the moment. So vague, so beautifying, so essential!

That handkerchief itself barely cost some few pennies. The people, who
blew their nose with it and carelessly threw it onto the conoid pile,
weren't aware that their negligence might have been decoded otherwise.
Actually, it prompted me into an artistic feeling. Good or bad one? I
reckon that it is certainly a matter of opinion, since there is no one
single canon in the historiography of art as to set forth what being
beautiful or ugly entails. For Libyans, a woman must be only portrayed
when she boasts thick thighs and spongy breasts, whereas in our
ultramodern Western civilisation if you women aren't slender you had
better make yourselves scarce.

Apparently contradictory, good art has as many judges as disparagers.
Some think that a piece of art is adept when it is life-minded or
matches with a socially-oriented based-upon-reality role, features that
should be easily picked out beyond all possible doubt. Others would wage
war on how reverential a piece of snot stuck on a canvas may be if
framed in a contemporary painting museum.

The point is not to be overwhelmed by the current mass-media approach
that stereotypes a patronising yet dull attitude within the comfortable
boundaries of the institutionalised art. If you are a creator, you have
to risk. By trespassing the limits, you can only scalpel a new anatomy,
for instance, of a vitreous mucous density. I like hygiene. It is a must
in my life. However, filthiness aesthetically photographed will result
in magic. Not in vain, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a leitmotiv
that presides over my life.

Moreover, we should frequently make further use of some sort of everyday
handkerchief, even you. You, who abide by the purportedly foreseeable
rules; you who gaze at your navel and pat on your own back. For canons
are delineated by new coevals every generation. Someone is thus entitled
to revel in art, good or bad one, insofar as you don't put others' lives
at stake. The time is come. Let's whoop it up – canons are now fodder


---------- essay by Lawrence----------------

Is good art a matter of opinion?

Aesthetics is not only the study of what is beauty, but also of what is
objectively beautiful. We accept that art can be beautiful and we also
accept that works of art can also be good.

In our society we think that if something is good that "goodness"
belongs in the object that is good and not in the opinion who believes
or claims that something is good. Matters of goodness and matters of
beauty are usually assumed to belong to the object that is good and the
object that is beautiful.

If we accept that beauty is something that belongs to the object we are
looking at, then it seems quite reasonable to assume that beauty is
something that can be objective because it is a property we perceive to
belong to the object and not to us. However, is this a reasonable
assumption to make? In other words, we basically assume that beauty and
good are properties which can be established objectively. Are we
justified in doing so?

Moreover, we usually try to see a connection between good art with
beautiful art. Again does such a link exist? Must good art always be
beautiful art ; and vice versa.

If there is such an objective link between beauty and the object we
perceive, then good art cannot be a matter of opinion. And since we also
associate good as an objective property belonging to the work we
perceive we also accept that good art is not a matter of opinion. In
fact we are so much indoctrinated in this way of thinking that when we
ask someone to express an opinion on a piece of art and who is not,
let's say, au fait with the instincts of philosophy, they always start
with the defensive statement, "well, I don't really know anything about
art." As if, what we think about art has to be based solely on objective
knowledge in the same sort of objective way we have to know about what
is good road construction or good molecular bonding.

Unfortunately, like many other activities today, good art is also linked
with the monetary value of a piece of art. Thus good art may easily be
linked either unwittingly or intentionally to money value. It would be
reasonable to assume that money can never be a measure of good art.

However, the issue very much depends on the awareness we have of a
particular piece of art. If we don't know that a piece of art exists we
cannot have an opinion, objective or otherwise, about that piece. And
money value in today's world can easily act as lubricating grease of the
information machine to make information about something flow more
easily. Practically everyone knows about the Mona Lisa and maybe even
have an opinion about whether it is good art, but what's your opinion of
the painting of Doña Isabel de Porcel by Goya?

If knowledge about a piece of art is a must, including the knowledge
that the piece exists in the first place, before we can say anything
about that art whether it is good or not, then that knowledge must
surely be relevant within the context of what we generally know and are
aware of. In other words, something is knowledge if it can be put into a
context. And of course one of those contexts is that we actually know
that the piece exists.

Thus if knowledge about a piece can confer objectivity to that piece of
art, after all even the most philosophically naïve person will accept
that knowledge is supposed to be objective, then what we can claim as
knowledge about that art is both objective and independent of our
opinion. It seems that knowledge about a piece of art can lead us to the
claim that good art is independent of our opinion. And if we can
establish this about a piece of art we can take it all the way to the
bank; sometimes literally! Is there such knowledge between what is good
art and what is independent of our opinion.

Of course, we might argue that by stipulating the condition that
knowledge about something must always be in a context, we are opening
ourselves not only to a slippery slope ending but also leading us into a
vicious circle. If our knowledge has to be put into a context, that
context has to be put into its relevant context, ad infinitum. It might
well be that knowledge is a context short of an infinity funny farm, but
it does not have to be; we can start or stop with our experience.

But this is not without its unintended consequences; one of which is
that it might be true that the person who is philosophically naïve might
have no idea about our piece of art. But because we or this person does
not have an opinion about what is good art, it does not follow that good
art is not a matter of opinion nor good art can be established objectively.

Good art can also be an utilitarian criteria thus good art is good
because, more or less, everyone says so. But of course a collective of
opinions does not make anything good anymore than a single opinion does.
Nor is a collective of opinions the basis of objectivity, although we
expect that if something is objectively true it would be common
knowledge. Indeed we accept that there is a distinction between opinion
and knowledge. My opinion that tomorrow it might snow, is different from
knowing that the weather patterns indicate a high moisture content in
the atmosphere, followed by cloud cover and an eventual drop of
temperatures to below zero. They are still different even if tomorrow it

Maybe good art is good because it is technically good art? But who is to
decide what is technically good? Artists, manufacturers of art
materials, critics? And even if they do have the last say of what is
technically good art, do they also have the last say of what is
beautiful art? But if we accept that technically qualified people can
tell us what is technically good art, but not what is beautiful art,
then we must accept that good art and beautiful art are not one and the
same thing. We can even learn how to live with this distinction, but you
must agree that it is a distinction that jars with our sense of reasoning.

But if good art is not beautiful art, what is good art? Indeed what is
good; what is good independent of the contexts I have mentioned; i.e.
the artist, the critic, the investor and so on?

We can answer these questions by choosing either of two ways. Either
accept that good has no real meaning and is therefore used as some sort
of semantic placebo. Or good means what is generally accepted as good in
a given context.

Thus the Mona Lisa is good art because it represents the best depiction
of an enigmatic smile, or because it is the most thought provoking piece
of art by Leonardo da Vinci, or because investors are prepared to pay a
lot of money for it. Thus, given the context, an opinion about a piece
of art can be either subjective or objective, and maybe even scientific.
In other words, what is good art is a matter of context.

On the other hand, good art can be a matter of opinion and our opinion
depends on our experiences and on any objective knowledge we might
happen to know. Thus, in the expression -good art- the word good works
like a placebo. If our body defense systems are up to the job, then our
body can cure an illness and if not, it doesn't. In the same way, if we
happen to be versed in what is art, either by knowing about art itself
or by taking a short cut and have some semblance of philosophical
awareness, we can safely say what is good art even if it is our opinion.
And if we don't have these skills and background then good means that we
really have no say on the matter.

Which is why I like the Goya painting more than the Mona Lisa. Liking a
piece of art is philosophically sufficient for a piece of art to be good
art. The fact that we are not responsible for any objectivity criteria
for others to follow means that this condition is also efficient. I
don't need to worry about what others think.

As for Doña Isabel, not only is this an incredible painting by one of
the world's best "photo" journalist ever to live, but if you look
carefully in the streets of Madrid you can catch a glimpse of those
genes that once played a role in what Doña Isabel herself looked like.
And that's an objective fact.

Take care


PS the painting by Goya of Doña Isable is in the National Gallery,
London, and this is the link:

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Is good art a
matter of opinion?

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