Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Nature of Art, Part 2, as well as other things

By Paul "The Good-Looking One" Goldberg

If you click to get to our home page, and scroll down a few stories, you'll see that on May 23rd, I wrote "Part 1" of this essay, in which I discussed what art is, what all art aims at, and very briefly, a method by which one one can evaluate how well a particular artwork achieves its goal.  This article concludes the essay.

And I also have a few things on my mind, which I'll share at the essay's conclusion.
The Nature of Art, Part 2

My critical method is tripartite--split into three parts.  These parts are:

  1. Argument
  2. Theme
  3. Form
Boiling it down, what I do is extract the essential argument of the artwork, and evaluate its soundness; then I look into how the artwork's themes support the argument, and evaluate how well they do so; finally, I analyze how the forms employed by the artist evoke the themes supportive of the argument, and evaluate how well these themes are evoked.

The best works of art have (a) sound, profound arguments, (b) consistently supportive and non-detracting themes, and (c) properly evocative, non-muddled forms.  

The worst works of art have certainly (a) unsound arguments, and also might have (b) inconsistent and detracting themes, and (c) muddled forms.

Works of art that are in between have sound arguments that are lacking in profundity.

My point is this: it's absolutely crucial for an artwork to have a sound argument--as in, it makes an ultimate statement and has good reasons for making the statement.  If the artwork fails in this regard, it must necessarily fail as a whole.  That is because since the ultimate goal of a work of art is to embody truth, it must then embody a statement that is true and arrive at this statement from true and relevant reasons.  Thus, if the artwork embodies a false statement, it has irrevocably failed at reaching its goal; also, if an artwork embodies a true statement but on the grounds of faulty reasoning, it thus only embodies a true statement by pure accident, and embodies it in an untrue manner, thus this artwork irrevocably fails as well.

Analyzing themes and forms simply allows one to understand how well--e.g., how consistently, how powerfully--an artwork expresses its argument.  In other words, the argument is the 'what' of the piece--i.e., the substance--while the themes and forms are the 'how' of the piece--i.e., the ways that the substance is expressed.

To further express how my critical approach works, I'll use an example from Dead Poet's Society, which is probably my favorite film (bear with my highly simplified analysis here; I do it simply to illustrate my critical method).

Dead Poet's Society (SPOILER ALERT)
Argument: There is an eternal essence to life's meaning, and one comes in contact with this meaning by living passionately, honestly, and compassionately.  The evidence for this argument is that many dead poets wrote about (in their lifetimes) love, life, meaning, experience, loss, etc. in ways that resonate with the characters who are still living, and when the passion, compassion, and honesty are cut-off from one of the protagonists, he no longer has the will to live. MY ANALYSIS: The statement is true, and the evidence is very strong to support it (sound).  Moreover, the statement is about the very nature of human existence (profound).
Themes supportive of the argument: Youth, the eternal nature of meaningfulness, inevitable decay and death in humanity, the importance of new experiences, the importance of love, of honesty, of compassion, the importance of freedom, and courage.  MY ANALYSIS: The themes are consistently supportive of the argument; they detract slightly only because they rely on some cliches about old age meaning unoriginality and grouchiness, as well as tradition meaning arbitrary and stifling rules.  It's slightly inconsistent with the film's other theme of the eternality of meaningfulness in human life.
Forms evocative of the supportive themes: The film employs symbolism: standing on the desks at the end of the movie signifies both the students' courage to stand up for truth, as well as courage and thirst for experiencing life passionately and freely.  Poetry is an art form that is very explicitly about beauty and truth and compassion, all themes that the film intends to evoke.  MY ANALYSIS: Again, the film relies on some cliches here--such as the Romantic authors all portraying beauty, while the Realist authors only portray depravity--but overall, the forms employed properly evoke the themes.
Overall: The film's argument is not only sound, but also ultimately profound. High marks here.  Although the themes and forms are slightly detracting and/or muddled, they are mostly successful.  Thus, due to the soundness and profundity of the argument, and the generally effective themes and forms, this film is highly successful in its goal of embodying beauty, thus it is a great work of art.

I hope this clears up lingering uncertainties about my approach.  Of course, I understand that my approach stems from a worldview anchored in objective truth and ultimate accessibility of this truth to human beings, which is at the very least a controversial philosophical worldview.  But it is one that I believe that not only is true, but also important to realize as true.
other things

-Since it always seems to be a longer and longer time between my posts, I don't know when I'll post again.  So I'd like to say, in the upcoming months, please see films, open yourself up to the beauty of art in its many forms, and keep a watchful eye out for works of art that only masquerade as profound.

-Isn't it hard to believe we're already halfway into the 2012 Oscar season?  I know The Savant must be excited.

-My list of favorite movies?  I feel like sharing some of it with you (not in any order).

Dead Poet's Society
Friday Night Lights
Annie Hall
The Purple Rose of Cairo
Garden State
Wings of Desire
The Departed
The Seventh Seal
Little Big Man
Edward Scissorhands
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Disney's the Hunchback of Notre Dame
Crimes and Misdemeanors
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Phantom of the Opera

-Until this half jew posts again, this is The Good-Looking One, saying have a great life and enjoy the arts, audience members of the world.

1 comment:

  1. Very well thought out and reasoned. You have made me think here. I do ask, is there an emotional component to art? We can reason if a piece of art is worthy of the title, but in out interaction with the art, is there not an emotional evocation, as well?