The following words aren't mine, but written by Susan Sontag in her essay "Against Interpretation", but it is such a good introduction.
It would be a matter of arrogance and hauteur, if I believed I could do it better. Susan Sontag (1933 – 2004) was an American writer, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist.
Let's listen to her.....
The earliest experience of art must have been that it was incantatory, magical; art was an instrument of ritual. (Cf. the paintings in the caves at Lascaux, Altamira, Niaux, La Pasiega, etc.)
The earliest theory of art, that of the Greek philosophers, proposed that art was mimesis, imitation of reality.
It is at this point that the peculiar question of the value of art arose. For the mimetic theory, by its very terms, challenges art to justify itself.
Plato, who proposed the theory, seems to have done so in order to rule that the value of art is dubious.
Since he considered ordinary material things as themselves mimetic objects, imitations of transcendent forms or structures,
even the best painting of a bed would be only an “imitation of an imitation.”
For Plato, art was not particularly useful. The painting of a bed is no good to sleep on nor, in the strict sense, true.
And Aristotle’s arguments in defense of art do not really challenge Plato’s view that all art is an elaborate trompe l’oeil (optical illusion), and therefore a lie.
But he does dispute Plato’s idea that art is useless. Lie or no, art has a certain value according to Aristotle because it is a form of therapy.
Art is useful, after all, Aristotle counters, medicinally useful in that it arouses and purges dangerous emotions.
In Plato and Aristotle, the mimetic theory of art goes hand in hand with the assumption that art is always figurative.
But advocates of the mimetic theory need not close their eyes to decorative and abstract art.
The fallacy that art is necessarily a “realism” can be modified or scrapped without ever moving outside the problems delimited by the mimetic theory.
The fact is, all Western consciousness of and reflection upon art have remained within the confines staked out by the Greek theory of art as mimesis or representation.
It is through this theory that art as such— above and beyond given works of art—becomes problematic, in need of defense.
And it is the defense of art which gives birth to the odd vision by which something we have learned to call “form” is separated off from something we have learned to call “content,”
and to the well-intentioned move which makes content essential and form accessory.
Even in modern times, when most artists and critics have discarded the theory of art as representation of an outer reality
in favor of the theory of art as subjective expression, the main feature of the mimetic theory persists.
Whether we conceive of the work of art on the model of a picture (art as a picture of reality) or on the model of a statement (art as the statement of the artist), content still comes first.
The content may have changed. It may now be less figurative, less lucidly realistic. But it is still assumed that a work of art is its content.
Or, as it’s usually put today, that a work of art by definition says something. (“What X is saying is…,” “What X is trying to say is…,” “What X said is…” etc., etc.)
Thank you for your attention...
[13:15] oola Neruda: Ben Shahn: shape of content..., Kandinski: Concerning the Spiritual in Art.... RM Rilke, Letters to a young poet Rollo May... forget the name of his book
[13:16] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): thank you Herman
[13:16] herman Bergson: Did you all catch the line of thinking here?
[13:16] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): well
[13:16] CB Axel: I'm not sure.
[13:16] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): content
[13:16] herman Bergson: Plato say art as a lie....
[13:16] Zanntha: Yes but without really understanding mimetic theory
[13:17] herman Bergson: as a representation of reality
[13:17] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): is easy to see when looking at our philosophers here
[13:17] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): when looking at Kadinsky???
[13:17] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): hmmm
[13:17] herman Bergson: the next problem is when paintings become abstract......
[13:17] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): right
[13:18] herman Bergson: then it doesn't seem to look like reality anymore...
[13:18] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): i saw a dog doing lovely painting on the tv last week
[13:18] CB Axel: lol
[13:18] oola Neruda: I taught an entire course on this subject at the local university
[13:18] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): really was nice
[13:18] oola Neruda: two things
[13:18] CB Axel: Elephants are better artists than dogs.
[13:18] herman Bergson: but the way out here is to say that there is a content in the painting, in the form...
[13:18] herman Bergson: so you get form and content...and the content IS a representation of reality
[13:19] Zanntha: Guernica by picasso was "abstract" but everyone knows what he meant
[13:19] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): sure did
[13:19] oola Neruda: you must look at the cultire tthat produced the work... primitive, industrial.\, middle of a war...etc
[13:19] herman Bergson: ok...not a bunch of flowers, but some concept derived from the mind of the painter
[13:19] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): true oola
[13:20] herman Bergson: indeed Zanntha
[13:20] oola Neruda: for me, the cave art was a beginning consciousness of using symbol.... creating a symbol for a visual thing... it is possible that the first artists could also have been considered shaman... for some of it could have been related to rituals
[13:21] herman Bergson: what Susan Sontag eventually wants to say is that pieces of art are transformed in their interpretations by art critics
[13:21] oola Neruda: each culture uses "local" symbols
[13:21] oola Neruda: things that have meaning within that culture
[13:21] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): she was very opinionated about lots of things
[13:22] herman Bergson: Not the panting or poem becomes the most important part but the interpretation of the art objec
[13:22] herman Bergson: I guess she was Gemma :-)
[13:22] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): yes
[13:22] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): did you know she taught at UCONN one year?
[13:23] oola Neruda: is it a fetish used by a witch doctor for healing... is it a recording of seeing a super nova in the sky... is it a trail marker.... is it a tattoo that tells all that see you whom your ancestors were(status) is it political grandizement for a ruler
[13:23] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate) GIGGLES!!
[13:23] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ...LOL...
[13:23] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): way before you
[13:23] herman Bergson: We'll get to this in the next lecture...but what she wanted to get rid of was interpretations of art works....
[13:23] oola Neruda: and on and on
[13:23] Zanntha: It's a little more problematic for most people to "get" the abstract Tracey Emin’s My Bed. How can that be interpreted.
[13:23] herman Bergson: rid of those who were telling what the artist really meant
[13:24] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): good idea on that
[13:24] herman Bergson: I am sorry Zanntha but I am not familiar with that Bed :-)
[13:24] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): me either i don't think
[13:24] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): think
[13:24] Zanntha: Its a real unmade bed
[13:25] Zanntha: 1998
[13:25] herman Bergson: conceptual art?
[13:25] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): lololol
[13:25] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): https://artlead.net/content/journal/modern-classics-tracey-emin-bed-1998/
[13:25] Zanntha: It is actually a bed so it turns the argument about form and content inside out
[13:25] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): My Bed it is
[13:25] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): i think
[13:26] herman Bergson: In the previous I mentioned Andy Warhol
[13:26] CB Axel: She is messier than I am!
[13:26] Zanntha: lal
[13:26] oola Neruda: what is the PURPOSE of the work? decor, propaganda, teaching, recording healinglah blah
[13:26] herman Bergson: He took ordinary things as subjects of his artworks in a way that it defied any interpetation
[13:27] herman Bergson: And I think this bed does the same....it just is....you are baffled as spectator.....it is just a bed
[13:27] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): never fond of him
[13:27] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): well look at the floor
[13:27] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): lots to check out
[13:27] herman Bergson: what floor Gemma?
[13:27] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): next to the bed
[13:27] oola Neruda: Albers and Kandinsky (Bauhaus) design theory
[13:28] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): did you look at the bed?
[13:28] herman Bergson: No :-)
[13:28] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): glad it's not mine:)
[13:28] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): https://artlead.net/content/journal/modern-classics-tracey-emin-bed-1998/
[13:28] herman Bergson: ahh...
[13:28] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): right
[13:28] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ahhhhhh
[13:28] herman Bergson: it is just a bed :-)
[13:29] herman Bergson: I guess you would look like a fool if you would come up with some story about what the artist really meant
[13:29] Zanntha: Yes, just a bed. And could Andy Warhol have made any impact at all had he used unfamiliar images? I doubt if he could.
[13:30] oola Neruda: it is what the viewer makes of it... a story... or just composition..etc evoke is the key word
[13:30] CB Axel: I think what Tracy Emin was saying was, "I need a maid."
[13:30] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): maybe
[13:30] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): and a trashcan:)
[13:30] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): maybe
[13:30] CB Axel nods
[13:30] Zanntha: I think she can now afford one
[13:31] CB Axel: lol
[13:31] herman Bergson: No...that is what you think ^_^
[13:31] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): it really is a story in the making for the viewer isnt it
[13:31] oola Neruda: yes
[13:32] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): the only one that knows waht it means is the artist herself
[13:32] herman Bergson: What makes it art?
[13:32] herman Bergson: Is it art or just a bed?
[13:32] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): the photographer made it art
[13:32] oola Neruda: where is it being encountered
[13:32] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): i think by giving to the world to look at
[13:32] oola Neruda: the PLACE
[13:33] herman Bergson: that would mean that becoming art is getting it into a museum
[13:33] herman Bergson: or exhibition
[13:33] oola Neruda: you can have it on the sidewalk
[13:33] oola Neruda: think of Banksy
[13:33] Zanntha: Grafitti?
[13:33] oola Neruda: YES
[13:33] oola Neruda: there is street art and there is grafitti
[13:33] oola Neruda: not the same
[13:34] oola Neruda: and tagging is not the same
[13:34] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): which is art to many
[13:34] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): all three
[13:34] herman Bergson smiles
[13:34] oola Neruda: do architects create works of art?
[13:35] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): some do
[13:35] herman Bergson: I still haven't thefeeling that I know what makes something a piece of art.....
[13:35] herman Bergson: the form?
[13:35] herman Bergson: the content?
[13:35] herman Bergson: the interpretation?
[13:35] oola Neruda: the culture it comes from
[13:36] Zanntha: Perhaps in 1000 years the tags will become more culturally significant.
[13:36] CB Axel: I think art is personal.
[13:36] CB Axel: What I call art someone else think is rubbish.
[13:36] herman Bergson: `You mean there cna be cultures that do not create art, oola?
[13:36] herman Bergson: Yes CB
[13:36] CB Axel: I don't think I'd like to meet up with a culture that has no art.
[13:36] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): very true cb
[13:37] oola Neruda: a bush person in Africa makes totally different items than a potter in Japan.... or a native American in the US
[13:37] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): very true
[13:37] oola Neruda: it is what is understood or familiar to the culture
[13:37] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): i think art makes us human
[13:37] Zanntha: Yes but they all have meaning to the persons who made them
[13:37] herman Bergson: yes but there still is form, content or if allowed ..interpretation oola
[13:37] herman Bergson: indeed Zanntha
[13:38] oola Neruda: because much of it is symbol... whether obvious or implied through abstract symbols
[13:38] herman Bergson: But waht CB said is what Sontag is aiming at too.....art is personal....
[13:38] herman Bergson: it is what it is for you
[13:38] Zanntha: That meaning may be totally lost on another person looking at it for the first time
[13:38] oola Neruda: yes
[13:39] CB Axel: I like looking at art with another person and learning what they are seeing.
[13:39] Zanntha: Or it may mean something else
[13:40] oola Neruda: also, artist have a way of talking to each other by creating objects...it might be "let's look at space this way"
[13:40] herman Bergson: yes, that is always interesting CB....
[13:40] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): almost as bad as politics sometimes cb
[13:40] CB Axel: I rarely get angry over another person's interpretation of a work of art. :)
[13:40] oola Neruda: the picture plane is a major discussion for artists starting in the proto rennaxance
[13:41] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): me either more like amazement
[13:41] Zanntha: I always think i#m missing something when i look at art
[13:41] oola Neruda: they are often talking to each other... and somehow we get to "listen in"
[13:41] herman Bergson: that Zanntha is because you look for the interpretation.....I guess
[13:41] oola Neruda: they have a private language....
[13:42] Zanntha: I think you are right herman
[13:42] herman Bergson: the need for an interpretation actually
[13:42] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): can you give an example oola?
[13:42] oola Neruda: of which statement
[13:43] oola Neruda: talking to each other?
[13:43] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): yes
[13:43] Rebecca (rebecca.rozen) is online.
[13:43] CB Axel: Yes. That's very interesting it me, too, oola.
[13:44] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): it is interesting to get one's own idea in mind then hear an "art expert" discuss what I am looking at.
[13:44] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): have been there done that
[13:44] oola Neruda: painting in the Proto Renaissance was pretty flat looking... sort of like a coloring book and the shapes were filled in..... then in the Renaissance, they found ways to make the surface look 3 dimensional... first with shading .....
[13:44] oola Neruda whispers: perspective
[13:45] herman Bergson: And that is what Susan Sontag is fighting against....the "art expert"
[13:45] oola Neruda: you want it more abstract? i can go there too
[13:45] Zanntha: someone had to explain that to me oola i had always assumed it had always been done that way
[13:46] oola Neruda: why would an artist take out the floor of an art gallery and fill it with mud....
[13:46] oola Neruda: or line up pine cones on a mountainside
[13:46] Zanntha: then when you look again its like a light has gone on
[13:46] oola Neruda: sometimes
[13:47] herman Bergson: but that light goes on because you see the changes in historical perspective Zanntha
[13:47] oola Neruda: those particular things were artists talking to each other and protesting the gallery owners role in pricing and presenting only the artists they wanted to
[13:47] oola Neruda: Spiral Jetty..... cant sell it
[13:48] oola Neruda: Christo wrapping buildings etc. talking about form... aut also making you look to think about what you cannot see...
[13:49] oola Neruda: he started out by wrapping a motorcycle
[13:49] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): yes story time internally
[13:49] herman Bergson: But what makes this art?
[13:49] herman Bergson: A wrapped up building?
[13:49] oola Neruda: advertizing nowdays.... money and gallery owners
[13:50] oola Neruda: that is sort of what andy warhol was saying... anyone can be a celebrity.... or anything can be art
[13:50] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): so every gift wrapped in paper is art?
[13:50] herman Bergson: forget those oola....they aren't interesting in this context, I'd say
[13:50] herman Bergson: you almost would say so, Beertje ^_^
[13:51] herman Bergson: Well...I still have to think about this some more to get a clear answer.....
[13:51] herman Bergson: I guess maybe the next lecture can bring you some answers
[13:51] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ok
[13:51] oola Neruda: the understanding in your mind makes it art... your inquiry...etc.... the questions.... the engagement... the meaning ... the emotional reaction
[13:52] herman Bergson: It is time for you Gemma to host your fishes :-))
[13:52] Zanntha: I'm sorry i have to leave a little early RL but I have really enjoyed this my first class.
[13:52] oola Neruda: most of all lit is art collectors and gallery owners after money who talk it up
[13:52] .: Beertje :. (beertje.beaumont): i have to go too, didn't sleep much last night because of the thunderstorm
[13:52] herman Bergson: You are most welcome Zanntha :-)
[13:52] herman Bergson: Thank you all again....
[13:53] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:53] herman Bergson: Class dismissed....:-)
[13:53] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): fish time
[13:53] CB Axel: Thank you, Herman.
[13:53] Gemma (gemma.cleanslate): bye for now
[13:53] CB Axel: Welterusten
[13:53] oola Neruda: josef albers is a good place to begin thinking about it