Aesthetic Appreciation: Crash Course Philosophy #30

Aesthetic Appreciation: Crash Course Philosophy #30

Close your eyes and imagine a bronze statue
of a cat. Oh that’s a cute kitty. Yeah. But now imagine the statue is placed at the
top of a staircase at some big university. Since college students can get up to all kinds of tricks, school officials have placed a chain around the neck of the statue, securing it to its podium, to keep it from being spirited away on some raucous Friday night. The statue, as created by its artist, was
unchained. But the chain has been in place for so long, that generations of students have come to know the statue as the “chained cat.” Now here’s the question: is the chain a
part of the artwork? Is it a chained statue of a cat? Or has it become a statue of a chained cat? [Theme Music] Maybe you’re one of those people who doesn’t really care about art – even if it is art of cute cats. If that sounds like you, I want to argue that
you are just thinking about art too narrowly. Think about your day. If you’re like most people, you devote a lot of your time to aesthetic enjoyment – the pleasure you get from sensory experience and sensory emotion. Do you listen to music as you drive your car? Are there posters on your walls, maybe some
stickers on your laptop? Do you feel your spirits lift when you take in a sunset, or a colorful bird, or even an attractive stranger? Do you savor the first bite of your favorite
meal? Are you emotionally invested in the characters
in your favorite shows and books? All of these experiences are examples of aesthetic
appreciation. Philosophers who ponder how and why aesthetic objects have such a hold on us, and what value they serve in our lives, are known as aestheticians. And one major question that aestheticians
deal with is: what actually is art? That’s a pretty heavy topic, but one way of tackling it is to start with the objects that we find ourselves admiring aesthetically. An object of aesthetic appreciation is defined as something that prompts valuable aesthetic emotions in us. As humans, we seem to be drawn to these objects. We choose cars and phones and shoes not solely – and sometimes not at all – based on function, but also on the basis of beauty. Aestheticians typically divide objects of aesthetic appreciation into art objects, which are human-made, and objects of natural beauty. But as you might expect, there is some dispute about this division, and each category is fraught with intriguing problems. For one thing, where does an art object begin,
and end? The frame around a painting, the chain on the cat, the skips in your vinyl recording of The White Album – are those things part of the artwork? And, does the value of the art come from what’s put into an art object, by the person who created it? Or does its value depend on the experience
that it triggers in the audience? Some people, like 19th century Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, understood art primarily in terms of the artist, as an expression of the ineffable emotions of the person who created it. In this view, an artist creates as a way of communicating feelings to other people – oftentimes, feelings that can’t be expressed in mere words. But in some cases, the creation of art might
not be about communicating at all – it might just be a way to purge overpowering
emotions that are raging inside of the artist. Some thinkers argue that the intention of the artist is really important – that the artist must want to evoke some valuable emotion in the audience for their work to be considered art. But others think an object can be art even if it wasn’t created with that intent – that art could come about accident! And this possibility raises a lot of questions, too. Because: If an artist’s intention is important in determining what art is, then that rules out the possibility that, say, a natural object could be art, even though it still might be an object of aesthetic appreciation. And in that case, can a non-human animal can
create art? Is a finger-painting ape an artist? If a skunk walks through paint and leaves footprints on a sheet of paper – has she created art? Maybe you think that the skunk is not an artist, but that the result of her activities is still art. In any case, not everyone agrees with Tolstoy
and his focus on the artist. Some argue that what makes something art is the aesthetic emotion that it brings out in the audience. So, rather than the point of creation, the real key moment is when the audience encounters, and is affected by, an artwork. It’s possible that right now you’re realizing that you thought you knew what art was until you started thinking about it. And the more you think, the more impossible
it seems to define. So maybe the answer is to take a Wittgensteinian approach, and argue that the concept of art defies definition, but you know it when you see it. That’ll do, I guess. But it won’t help you decide whether the chain on the cat statue is part of the artwork or not. To help out here, let’s head over to the
Thought Bubble for some Flash Philosophy. Say there’s a row of visually identical
paintings hanging on a wall. They’re all square canvases painted the
exact same shade of red. However, each of these paintings has a different
backstory. One was designed as a close-up still-life
of an empty tablecloth. Another is meant to represent the Red Sea
after the Israelites had crossed. Another is a Soviet political statement. There’s also one that wasn’t intended
as a finished work of art at all. It was just a canvas that had been primed red in anticipation of being painted, but because it looked like all the others, it was hung up by mistake. So what’s the difference between these paintings? Can we judge one of them to be a better artwork
than another? And if we can, on what basis? Thanks, Thought Bubble! 20th century American
aesthetician Arthur Danto – the same philosopher who brought us the example of the cat and the chain – presented this thought exercise to prompt us to think about the ontology of artworks. When you consider works that look identical, but you still manage to recognize differences between them, you’re almost forced to conclude that there’s some non-physical element that makes something worthy of being called “art.” But what is that thing? Is it something that exists in the minds of the artists, or the audience, or some historical facts about the works’ creation, that makes the works different? Aesthetics falls into the broad category of
value theory – which also includes ethics. But unlike ethics, where many people think
there are absolute right and wrong answers – like, killing is wrong, and helping people is good – many people think that beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder. In other words, aesthetic appreciation isn’t the kind of thing you can be wrong about – it’s all just a matter of taste. And this might how you feel about art. But remember, if you really think beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then no one can be wrong about their aesthetic beliefs. And if that’s the case, then we can’t really have a conversation about it, because we’re all the ultimate arbiters of aesthetic goodness. So I guess that’s it for today! Thank you for joining us for Crash Course
Philosophy. Jokes. There are some philosophers who have realized
that our intuitions about art tend to be conflicting. Like, on one hand, it all seems subjective, but on the other hand, there have to be some kind of objective criteria. Enter 18th century Scottish philosopher David
Hume. He said that when we think about art, we should
take care not to confuse the question, “Do I like it?” with the question,
“Is it good?” Hume said that, as long as you’re being honest, you can’t be wrong about whether or not you like something. Because that’s totally subjective. But, the question of “Is it good?” is
another matter entirely. Hume thought that aesthetic value was objective to some extent, and that we’re all predisposed to find certain objects and patterns to be aesthetically pleasing. For example, he said that humans are naturally drawn to images of health, but we’re repelled by depictions of decay. And we tend to like symmetry and dislike imbalance. And Hume said that, just as we have a sense of smell and sight and hearing, we also have a sense of aesthetic taste – an ability to detect and evaluate the aesthetic properties of an object. But we may each use our aesthetic tastes in different ways, and be better at appreciating some things more than others. Think about something you know a lot about
– like a sport, or a musical instrument. Maybe you’re a wine snob. When you encounter that thing – when you go to a game of basketball, or a concert, or try a new cabernet – you’ll notice all sorts of nuances that other people would miss. You recognize small mistakes, and you also appreciate complicated details that others might overlook. Hume said that some people naturally have a refined sense of aesthetic taste, so they might get more out of watching Stephen Curry play, or having a glass of Old Vine Grenache. But, he added, if you don’t happen to have natural “good taste,” it can still be learned over time. You can study and discover what others appreciate about an aesthetic object that doesn’t currently speak to you. And over time, you’ll recognize it, too, just like you did with basketball, or the bassoon, or the red wines of Washington State – whatever your areas of expertise are. Now, maybe you don’t agree that some of us are born with so-called “good taste,” or are inherently better at creating, or understanding or appreciating works of art. But you might share Hume’s view that an ability to appreciate things can be acquired, and that greater aesthetic appreciation
can be valuable for its own sake – because it gives you pleasure and it lets you understand things about the world, and other people, that you might otherwise miss. And we’ll talk more about that next time. But as for today: we talked about art, and
aesthetic appreciation. We asked what makes something an artwork,
and whether art can be defined. We pondered the question of whether aesthetic value is objective or subjective, and we talked about the development of taste. Crash Course Philosophy is produced in association
with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel and check
out a playlist of the latest episodes from shows like First Person, PBS Game / Show,
and The Good Stuff. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these awesome people and our equally fantastic graphics team is Thought Cafe.

100 thoughts on “Aesthetic Appreciation: Crash Course Philosophy #30

  1. Thing is alot of “art” isn’t there to be pleasurable
    Say for example american gothic
    If this painting weren’t famous and somebody had it hung on their wall
    I’d think they’re weird because
    A. Have you seen those faces
    B. I wouldnt know any backstory
    Then there is the more controversial modern art
    Which I’d like you to discuss
    Also much love
    These videos are freaking amazing ❤️

  2. Thing is alot of “art” isn’t there to be pleasurable
    Say for example american gothic
    If this painting weren’t famous and somebody had it hung on their wall
    I’d think they’re weird because
    A. Have you seen those faces
    B. I wouldnt know any backstory
    Then there is the more controversial modern art
    Which I’d like you to discuss
    Also much love
    These videos are freaking amazing ❤️

  3. I got sick a long time ago with people being art snobs demanding you recognise that art takes skill to make and if it isnt requiring skill it cant be considerd art

  4. I really like Picasso cubism women. It was considered shockingly ugly at reveal. But i find it incredibly beautiful.

    And many people who copy the style of cubism perform it too technically with little actual expression.

  5. Even I know the NBA star's name in reference is Stephen Curry … as in Stefen, not Steven … smh!

  6. hume would be interested in the aesthetics of horror (which flows over to the aesthetics of metal) where the very fact that a zombie is grotesque makes it aesthetically pleasing because it is intended to be abhorrent.

  7. Can the four paintings being hung on the same wall not be considered a while coherent art piece to represent the efforts and differences in human ideals?

  8. I agree with Hume. Sometimes when I watch a film that I'm later asked to rate, I find that my "objective" rating is different to my personal rating. Sometimes they match, sometimes they don't. When they don't match it's usually because I've arrived at the film as an existing fan (of the franchise or the characters), so I might enjoy it more than its worth, or less so. One of Hume's criteria is freedom from prejudice; that sounds tricky but nonetheless we can learn to see things according to an external, agreed-upon criteria. It almost makes me feel hypocritical, but I know I'm not, when I say: "It's a poor film but I quite enjoy it."

  9. What about if I appreciate and consider art things that other don't? Who defines 'good taste'? it sounds kinda unfair when you think about that the majority of people define what is 'good aesthetic taste'

  10. I have watched my share of the Antiques Roadshow that classifies ancient artifacts and artwork, and good art goes with a story, where without the story then its value drops in a significant way.

  11. If enough people call it art even if if it a meaningless garbage pile its still art , we live in a world with poop paintings . My point is art can only be subjective

  12. When art is exposed for a long time it can be classified as a monument, though that would include the placeholder of the art.

    The cat is the art, but the cat with chains is a monument.

  13. 1. The statue was made without the chain.
    2. The chain was not put on for any artistic intent.

    Thus the statue was never 'the cat with the chain' it has only become 'the cat with the chain.'

  14. Once, a bank robber was speeding away from a bank with stolen money. The police implemented a large chom chom to halt the robber. The robber's car spun around and stopped. The chom chom saved the day. (You need to use "chom choms" not just simply mention it people).

  15. The Pledge of Allegiance immediately springs to mind. What started as simple advertising art, was altered during the 1950's Red Scare when the words "under God" were added. Now that Putin is a devout Russian Orthodox and the President has become Putin's bestie, doesn't it seem Tim Russert's arbitrary assignment of red for Republicans has become eerily relevant?

  16. Love the Miyazaki reference at 0:20! Though Mononoke is still my favorite. Wish you somehow shoe-horned the Spirit of the Forest there instead, or better yet the Nightwatcher or even better yet Yakul! Yakul 4-ever!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. 5:20.. they are all trash… they didnt took any effort to be made.. everyone can replicate them ..there whole merit as a reflective piece comes form an external narrative , being inside a museum or whatever the viewer protect themselves on it .

  18. Art can be produced by a machine, but the true idea of art can never be replaced by future technology. Art is our unique footprint on the earth.

  19. I literally wrote a whole 2000 word essay based off the information in this and the next video, amazing work guys!

  20. here's one thing you forgot, for something to be art it needs to be some sort of creative endeavor. A tree is beautiful but is not art, a painting of a tree however is art.

  21. Were you on FBE for don’t hug me I’m scared??? I watched it last night and I promise you were up there

  22. Is there any way too check the references used for this video? I could use the specific sources of the Tolstoy and Wittgenstein references. o.O

  23. I don’t think emotion has anything to do with it I think it’s art just bc it was made by s human bc art is a human concept so animals can’t be artist bc they don’t know what art is so what makes it art is that a human perceives it as art

  24. A friend once said art appreciation is the best argument for a soul. Appreciation of someone else's painting probably doesn't serve any reproductive value or won't increase your chances of reproducing. 🤔

  25. Ethics have absolute answers, since when? If killing is always wrong, is killing an terrorist to save hundreds of innocents wrong?

  26. I would argue that many qualities defined as "objectively beautiful" in the world aesthetics are merely time and culture-bound assumptions that large groups of people agree upon for temporary periods. This has become increasingly true in the West since the Enlightenment, with all of its Romantic offshoots, in which people are encouraged to explore their "truest self" in whatever form that takes–abstract paintings made with feces, one of the gazillion subgenres of heavy metal, a Banksy poster slapped on a telephone pole, found "poetry" created from Tweets, or whatever the market and peer pressure decide is acceptable as "art" for the moment. What may have started in the West as Italian Renaissance painters paying homage to the ancient Greeks and Romans in their own unique way has become "art is whatever you say it is."

  27. What's the artist alive when the chain was placed? Did the artist know that a team was being placed? And if so what did the artist say about the chain?

  28. I remember back in my undergrad and my creative writing professor told us about the time he went to a modern art museum and put his hat on the floor and just stared at it, intently. Slowly, more people came to look at the hat. He'd whisper to someone "I think it's called 'Drowned Boy'". Eventually, there was a crowd. After a while, he picked up the hat, put it on an walked away.

    Everyone thought it was a performance piece and talked about how deep and meaningful it was.

  29. – It's a chained statue of a cat.
    – Yes, a non-human can make art.
    – The four paintings are equivocally the same.
    – Yes, no one can be wrong about their aesthetic beliefs.
    – Art is an inherently vague concept or idea abled to be ascribed to anything which evokes an emotional response most associated with some degree of profundity

    Don't overthink it.

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