2011年6月26日 星期日

Weekend Fun About America

Been in America for close to two weeks now. America is a really unique nation. Here everything appears to work to a different set of rules. Here are some:

1. Only in America.... does a pizza  get to your house faster than an ambulance.

2. Only in America......are there handicap parking places in front of a skating rink.

3. Only in America......do drugstores make the sick walk
all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while
healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.

4. Only in America......do people order double cheese burgers, large fries, and a diet coke.

5. Only in America......do banks leave both doors open and then chain the pens to the counters.

6. Only in America......do owners leave their cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put their useless junk in the garage.

7. Only in America......do people use answering machines to
screen calls and then have call waiting so they won't miss a call from
someone they didn't want to talk to in the first place.

8. Only in America......do they buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of eight.

9. Only in America......do they have drive-up ATM machines with Braille lettering.

10. Only in America......can a homeless combat veteran
live in a cardboard box and a draft dodger live in the White House.

2011年6月18日 星期六

A Father's Day Joke

How time flies when one does not have to work! Before I know it, it's already almost a week now here in America. I'm done reading three books, made an equal number of trips to various supermarkets and have been to various restaurants with friends, two high school graduations and on top of those, taken numerous photos. So it's about time to return to my fellow bloggers. I've just been reminded that it's Father's Day. So I'll just post one on the joys of fatherhood.

Dear Dad:

I know that it's been three months since I left for college. I have been
remiss in writing and am very sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having
written before. I will bring you up to date now. But before you read
on, please sit down. You are not to read any further unless you are
sitting down... Okay?

Well, then, I am getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and
the concussion I got when I jumped out of the window of my dormitory
when it caught fire shortly after my arrival, are now pretty well healed.  I only spent two weeks in hospital and  I can see almost
normally and only get three headaches a day now.

Fortunately the fire in the dorm and my jump were witnessed by an
attendant at the gas station close by. It was him who called
the Fire Department and the ambulance. He came to see me at the
hospital. As I had nowhere to live after my dorm room was burnt down and there was no immediate alternative room at the dorm after the fire, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It's
really just a basement room, but it is kind of cute. He is a very fine boy
and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to get married. We
haven't set the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy
begins to show.

Yes, Dad, I am pregnant. For heaven's sake, don't tell Mom. She'll freak out. Dad, I know how much you are looking
forward to being grandpa and I know you will welcome the baby and
give it the same love and devotion and tender care you gave me when I
was a child. The reason why we delay in our marriage is that my
boyfriend has a minor infection which prevents us from passing our
premarital blood tests and I carelessly caught it from him. This will
soon clear up with the penicillin injections I am now taking daily.

I know you will welcome him into our family with open arms. He is kind
and though not well educated, he is ambitious. Although he is of a
different race and religion, I'm sure that'll not be a problem to you since you have always taught me that we should never treat someone whose skin color is slightly or even much darker than ours or someone holding different religious beliefs from those of the Southern Baptists any differently. I am sure you will love him as I do. His
family background is good too.  I'm told that his father is an
important gunbearer in the village in Africa from which he comes.

Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that: there
was no dorm fire; I did not have a concussion or skull fracture; I
was not in the hospital; I am not pregnant; I am not engaged; I do not
have syphillis and there is no boyfriend in my life. However, I am
getting a "D" in Spanish 101 and an "F" in GCOM :Human Communications 121. I just wanted you to see
these marks in the proper perspective.

Your loving daughter,


Hope you'll have better luck.

2011年6月9日 星期四

A Short Summer Holiday

I'll be leaving Hong Kong for a month or so and shall resume the blog as soon as I am able to. My apologies.

2011年6月8日 星期三

Performance Art

In the flier to the works of the Sichuan artist Chen Quilin I just wrote about, I noticed an expression which I have heard a number of times in other articles about art and in connection with the prosecution of certain political activist in connection with criminal damage of certain statues in the public parks or squares in Hong Kong but I have never bothered to find out what exactly is meant by the expression "performance art".  What is performance art? I looked it up in Wikipedia ("Wiki") and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ("SEP"). The following is what I found.

According Wiki, performance art is a performance presented anywhere, in any venue or setting and for any length of time, to an audience, scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated, spontaneous or carefully planned, with or without audience participation, live or via media, with the performer, an individual or a group present or absent, in any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body, or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience. It is a contested concept.

In the narrow sense, performance art is closely related to certain strands in the postmodernist art traditions in the West in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, derived from the concepts of visual art by such figures as Antonin Artaud, the Dadaist movement,  the so-called Situationists, Fluxus, installation art and conceptual art. It tends to be defined as "an antithesis to theatre" and strives to challenge orthodox artforms and cultural norms. It is often "an ephemeral and authentic experience for performer and audience" in a so-called "event" which could not be repeated, captured or bought. How concepts of visual arts and concepts of performing arts are in fact used may determine the meaning of a performance art presentation (vide. Marvin Carlson Performance: A Critical Introduction by (1996), pp. 103-105).

Performance is a "conceptual art" concept. Its content-based meaning is usually conveyed in a dramatic way. Performance is seldom done for entertainment or for its own sake. It is seldom done at a conventional theatre nor does it usually seek to depict a set of fictitious characters in a formal script with a linear narrative. It may involve the performer speaking to the audience or spectator directly or deliberately ignoring  their expectations. However, some  performance art can be close to more conventional performing arts in that it may have a script or a fictitious dramatic setting but even so, it seldom follows the usual dramatic norm of creating a fictitious setting with a linear script which follows conventional real-world dynamics but may deliberately seek to satirize or transcend such real-world dynamics in conventional normal theatrical plays. Often, the intention of performance art is to challenge the audience into thinking in new and unconventional ways, into breaking down the conventions of traditional arts or even in challenging the concept of  "what art is". As long as the performer does not become a player who repeats a role, performance art can include satirical elements (cf. Blue Man Group), the use of robots and machines as performers, as in pieces of the Survival Research Laboratories or borrowing elements of any performance arts like dance, music and circus. Performance art may include what has been called body art, fluxus, happening, action poetry and inter-media. Some artists prefer to call it "live art", "action art" , e.g. the Viennese Actionists and the neo-Dadaists "intervention" or "manoeuvre"  or simply "actions".

The SEP article says that conceptual art has a tendency to provoke intense and perhaps even extreme reactions in its audiences in that whilst some people find it very refreshing and the only kind of art that is relevant to today's world, many others consider it shocking, distasteful, skill-less, downright bad, or, and most importantly, not art at all. You either love it or hate it or don't know anything about it. This is by no means an accident because it is the aim of most conceptual art to be deliberately controversial. It seeks to challenge our thoughts about what art is and to make us question our assumptions not only about what may properly qualify as art and what the artist's function should be, but also what our role as spectators should involve, and how we should relate to art.  Thus by reacting strongly to conceptual art we are playing right into its hands.

The art historian Paul Wood says that it is " not at all clear where the boundaries of ‘conceptual art’ are to be drawn, which artists and which works to include. .... conceptual art gets to be like Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat, dissolving away until nothing is left but a grin: a handful of works made over a few short years by a small number of artists… Then again, regarded under a different aspect, conceptual art can seem like nothing less than the hinge around which the past turned into the present." (Paul Wood Conceptual Art 2002, 6). It aims in particular to challenge the notion that the principal aim of art is to produce something beautiful or aesthetically pleasing. To the conceptual artists including performance artists, art is redundant if it does not make us think but they face a dilemma in that most artistic institutions are not conducive to reflection and prefer to continue to promote a consumerist conception of art and artists based on beauty and technical skill.  The task of conceptual artists is thus to encourage a revisionary understanding of art, artist, and artistic experience. The means of artistic expression, we are told, are infinite and the topics available for questioning and discussion are thus limitless. It adopts alternative means of expression, including performances, photography, films, videos, events, bodies, media, new ready-mades and new mixed media.In short, nothing whatsoever can be ruled out in principle as a possible artistic media, as can be seen, for example, in Richard Long's photograph of a line made in the grass by walking; Bruce Nauman's nine minute film of the artist himself playing one note on a violin whilst walking around in his studio; and Piero Manzoni's act of signing a woman's arm. There may thus be as many definitions of what conceptual art is as there are conceptual artists.

One of the most important areas the conceptual and performance artists work on is to explore where utility ends and where art begins. In particular, some of them emphasize art as a process rather than as a material thing, a consumer product. As such, the artwork is no longer something that can be grasped merely by seeing, hearing or touching the end product of that process. They stress not only the role of the actor (the artist) but also that of the  traditional "spectator" or "consumer" of the artwork in the artistic process.  In many cases, the ‘art-making’ and the ‘artwork’ come together, as what is sought is an identification of the notion of the work of art with the conceptual activity of the artist. It combines art with criticism and turns the artist into a social and cultural critic, To use the words of Joseph Kosuth ( Art After Philosophy and After: Collected Writings, 1966-1990 ), it ‘both annexes the functions of the critic, and makes a middle-man unnecessary.’ (Guercio 1999, 39). But the most radical concept of performance art seems to be the way it proclaims that  "art" is an art of the mind rather than of the senses: it rejects traditional artistic media because it locates the artwork at the level of ideas rather than that of objects. To them, ‘the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work’ (Sol LeWitt ( ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’. Artforum, Vol. 5, No. 10, 1967, pp. 79-83.)1967, 166). In the words of Kosuth, ‘[t]he actual works of art are ideas’ (Lucy Lippard  Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object 1966-1972 1973, 25).The artwork becomes "a focus of appreciation" or critical or creative "reflection" rather than a material object as such. Art is thus ‘de-materialised’ and becomes rooted in the agency of the artist. They think that if art is de-materialised, it is less likely to be institutionalized. In accordance with this conception of art, art has become a reflective activity of the mind: it is cerebral, not emotive and its "representation" is generally semantic rather than illustrative i.e. it sets out to have and convey a strong meaning rather than to depict a scene, person or event. It is semantic in the sense of "presenting a meaning, or having a meaning" ie. to convey a meaning which cannot be "seen" or "non-visual" ie. to represent something one cannot see with the naked eye such that its meaning lies behind the visual images. Accordingly, the conceptual artist's task is to contemplate and formulate this meaning – to be a ‘meaning-maker’. The performance artists aim to provoke the "consumer" of artworks into a "co-creator" and participator in the "creative process" or "event" itself through the active use of his own mind and imagination.

According to the author of the Wiki, Western cultural theorists often trace performance art activity back to the beginning of the 20th century, to the Russian Constructivists, Futurists and Dada, the last of which providing a significant progenitor with the unconventional performances of poetry, often at the Cabaret Voltaire by such artists as Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara and Russian Futurist artists like David Burliuk who painted his face for his actions (1910–20), Alexander Rodchenko and his wife Varvara Stepanova may be identified as precursors of performance art. According to the art critic Harold Rosenberg, in the 1940s and 1950s, Action Painting gave artists the freedom to perform using the canvas as "an arena in which to act", thereby rendering the paintings as traces of the artist's performance in his/her studio. Abstract expressionism and Action painting preceded the Fluxus movement and Happenings and Performance Art. Now performance art is no longer confined to America and the West but has spread to Asia and Latin America. Performance artists and theorists point to different traditions and histories, ranging from tribal to sporting and ritual or religious events.

According to the Wiki, certain Renaissance artists had already put on public performances which could be said to be ancestors of performance art and it was anticipated, if not explicitly formulated, by the Japanese Gutai group in 1950s in such works as Asuko Tanaka's "Electric Dress" (1956). Yves Klein too can be considered a precursor of performance art with such conceptual works as Zone de Sensibilité Picturelle Immatériale ((Zones of immaterial Pictorial Sensibility) (1959–62) and the photomontage, Saut dans le vide (Leap into the Void). In the late 1960s, such Earth artists as Robert Smithsons, Dennis Oppenheim, Michael Heizer and Carl Andre had already created environmental pieces which anticipated the works of the later performance artists of the 1970s. The works of such conceptual artists in the early 1980s like Sol LeWitt who converted mural-style drawing into an act of performance by others were influenced by Yves Klein and the Earth artists as well. Works like "Wall piece for orchestra“ (1962) of Yoko Ono, Meat Joy (1964) of  Carolee Schneemann, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965) by Joseph Beuys, A naked flag burning on the Brooklyn Bridge (1968) by Yayoi Kusama and the Happenings(a term first used by Allan Kaprow, in the 1960's) of Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Whitman and Wolf Vostell ..  A Happening allows the artist to experiment with body motion, recorded sounds, written and spoken texts, and even smells. In a Happening, e.g  Kaprow's "Happenings in the New York Scene," (1961), the audience may without being aware of it, become performers. 

Some people consider that the "Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries" (Orgien- und Mysterien Theater)(1962) of Herman Nitch a precursor of performance art. Others think that the staged events and performances sponsored by Andy Warhol in New York in the mid-60s like those by the Velvet Underground and such an event as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966) which include live Rock music, exploding lights and film as precursors. .

Examples of fluxus action, happenings, interventions, manoeuvres etc. which may be classified as performance art include the following:

1. Chris Burden's Shoot (1971) in which he was shot in his left arm by an assistant from a distance of about five meters and Vito Acconci's Seedbed (1971)

2. The fluxus performance of Carollee Schneemann's Eye Body (1963), Interior Scroll (1975) in which she showed her own female body, and those of  Robert Whitman and Nam June Park, starting from the 1960s on

3. The self-video documentation of Gilbert and George in Britain in the 1970's, creating what they call their "living sculpture" performance like being painted in gold and singing "Underneath The Arches" for extended periods.

4. Joan Jonas's video of her experimental performances in 1972 and Laurie Anderson's performance of Duets on Ice (1973) on New York's streets and Marina Abramović's conceptual violation of her own body (1973)

5. Linda Montano and Tehching Hsieh's  Art/Life: One Year Performance (Rope Piece) (July 1983.July 1984), and Karen Finlay’s I'm an Ass Man 1987.

6. The "performance poetry" of Hedwig Gorski shortly before 1982  to distinguish her text-based vocal performances from performance art, especially the work of performance artist, such as Laurie Anderson's, who worked with music at that time. Such performance poets relied more on the rhetorical and philosophical expression in their poetics than performance artists, who themselves were inspired by the visual art genres of painting and sculpture.

7. In the 1990's, with the disintegration of the Soviet bloc countries, performance art by such artists like Hungary's Gyögy Galántai and the Russia's Collective Action Group  began to come out into the open surface and also in Cuba, the Caribbean and PRC e.g Zhang Huan who first began underground in the 1980s.

It was said that "In these contexts performance art became a critical new voice with a social force similar to that found in Western Europe, the United States and South America in the 1960s and early 1970s. It should be emphasized that the eruption of performance art in the 1990s in Eastern Europe, China, South Africa, Cuba, and elsewhere should never be considered either secondary to or imitative of the West."and  Sally Barnes has written “… by the end of the 1980s, performance art had become so widely known that it no longer needed to be defined; mass culture, especially television, had come to supply both structure and subject matter for much performance art; and several performance artists, including Laurie Anderson, Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian, Willem Dafoe and Anne Magnuson had indeed become crossover artists in mainstream entertainment.”

In Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (2001), Rose lee Golden  wrote that "performance has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture. Conversely, public interest in the medium, especially in the 1980s, stems from an apparent desire of the public to gain access to the art world, to be a spectator of its ritual and its distinct community, and to be surprised by the unexpected, always unorthodox presentations that the artists devise." and by the 1990s, sophisticated performance art became part of the cultural mainstream in the West and performance art gained admittance into art museums as an art form.This shows the force of consumerism and the ubiquitous commercialization of art. Thus the Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective and performance recreation of the work of Marina Abramović from 14th March to 31st May 2010. the biggest exhibition of performance art in its history. During the run of the exhibition, Abramović performed "The Artist is Present," a 736-hour and 30-minute static, silent piece, in which she sat immobile in the museum's atrium, while spectators were invited to take turns sitting opposite her.  A support group for the "sitters," "Sitting with Marina," was established on Facebook. The performance attracted celebrities such as Bjork and James Franco and got coverage on the internet by Tao Lin, a New York writer.

The following photos and captions were taken from the Wikipedia article:

Yves Klein and Dino Buzzati engaged in the ritual transfer of immateriality, January 26, 1962

Conceptual work by Yves Klein at Rue Gentil-Bernard, Fontenay-aux-Roses, October 1960, photo by Harry Shunk. Le Saut dans le Vide (Leap into the Void)

Chris Burden during the performance of his 1974 piece Trans-fixed where he was nailed to the back of a Volkswagen

Performance artist Joseph Beuys in 1978: Jeder Mensch ein Künstler — Auf dem Weg zur Freiheitsgestalt des sozialen Organismus (Every person an artist — On the way to the libertarian form of the social organism)

Stelarc's "Parasite: Event for Invaded and Involuntary Body" (1997) Ars Electronica Festival

Marina Abramović: Seven Easy Pieces, 9. November 2005

Marina Abramović performing in "The Artist is Present" at the Museum of Modern Art, May 2010

2011年6月6日 星期一

Piazzolla Sound Fest

The concert last Saturday at the Cutlural Centre was one of the greatest surprises of this year. I was surprised that only two of my regular concert going gang were with me. They had no idea how much they should have regretted not having joined me.

The evening featured an all Latin American programme. We had works from three of the greatest composers from the anitpodean world south of the equator whose names I have previously seen only on record and CD label and jackets and apart from Piazzolla ,whose works I have never heard before. The first was Silvestra Revueltas (1899-1940).  According to the Programme Notes, he was born in a small village called Santiago Papasquiaro in Mexico just before the 20th century, trained as a violinist in Mexico and then USA and from 1929, conducted orchestras in Mexico City and taught violin at the Conservatory there, then went to join the Republican cause in Spain during the Civil War of the 1930s and upon his return in 1937, started composing again (having first started in 1930) and then died three years later of alcoholism. He was determined to revitalize Mexican music but was met in his own words by "taunts, hisses, protests, insults and the angry indignation of a public long-ensconced and of the same old critics". Whilst he did not quote directly from Mexican folk dances and melodies, his music was immersed in its tradition. He said, "My rhythms are booming, dynamic, tactile, visual. I think in images that are melodic strains that move dynamically." He loved composing for the cinema and did seven film scores. The evening's programme, called La noche de los Mayas, in lento, molto sostenuto and andante, was originally a film score, which was then converted into a symphonic suite by José Ives Limatour, premiered in 1961 and later shortened into the version heard Saturday night. It began stridently with tipanis, percussions and trumpets, then changed into a more wistful melody and then reverted back dramatically, then romantically and finally resumed it opening motif. The second movement was much slower, peaceful and meditative but in the final movement, the fast-paced drama resumed. One could not help feeling the influence of the sound and rhythms of the mariachis or of the rumba.

The second piece of the evening Astor Piazzolla's The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Like other postmodernist works, it pays tributes to the original Vivaldi Four Season by quoting certain passages therefrom but as the seasons are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres, the order of the seasons is a little different. It starts with Verano Porteño (Summer), Otoño (Autumn) Invierno Porteño (Winter) Primavera Porteña (Spring) (the word "Porteño" in Spanish presumably meaning relating to a port, here Buenos Aires just like the word madrileño means pertaining to Madrid). However, if one were to think that it will retain some of the baroque style of the original, one will be in for a big surprise. It's rhythm is completely South American. As Piazzolla is an Argentinian, it is difficult to see how he could not be influenced by the most famous "national" rhythm: the Tango. But as a Latino, he is full of fun. He plays around with the violin by having some unusual glissando (sound produced by the violinist's left hand finger gliding down the string) and some sound produced for rhythm by striking the string at the space between the bridge and the end hook at the bottom of the violin's sound box. As Vivaldi, he arranged the work for solo violin and string orchestra. The violin solo was played by the very young, energetic, lively and lovely Karen Gomyo, who appeared on stage with a huge pony tail and bare-shoulder evening gown. Her sound was beautiful, smooth, mature, bright but not  scratchy.I learned later that she was playing a Stradivarius! Piazzolla arranged it in such a way, like Vivaldi by having each season represented by a three-movement concerto but in tango form! A most lively piece! As an encore, Gomyo played for us another beautifully nostalgia  piece adapted from a theme which Piazzolla wrote for a film called Oblivion.

Then we had another piece from Piazzolla, this time a bandoneon concerto. Piazzolla himself is an accomplished bandoneon performer class player and has in fact played the bandoneon soloist part in the bandoneon concerto himself when it first premiered in 1979 in Buenos Aires.  According to the Programme Notes, he was invited to accompany the great Tango singer Carlos Gardel on his US concert tours in the 1930s and after taking lessons from Ginastera, he started to compose some serious tango music but was met with hostility when he premiered his concerto Sinfonia Buenos Aires in 1953. He then went to study composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris on a scholarship but was told that his soul was with the Tango and should stick with it, which he did. One can seldom dissociate the bandoneon from Argentinian tango. Piazzolla wrote two concerto for the bandoneon, one  the Concerto for Bandoneon, String orchestra and Percussion in 1979 ,
popularly called Aconcaqua, after the name of highest peak in South
America) and the other with another popular Latin American musical instrument, the guitar, done in 1985.We had the first one. It was a three movement concerto (in Allegro marcato, Moderato and Presto) with the typical energetic rhythms of the tango, with the usual drama, abrupt change of sound and moods the exhilaration, excitement, effusive joy, and sadness and romance. The second movement was much less energetic, gentle, moody and romantic whilst the third was again quite energetic. It used a theme which Piazzolla first composed for a 1970 film Con Alma y vida (With soul and life) and ended most suddenly and without any warning at all!

The solo part for the bandoneon was played by a German bandoneon aficianado called Carel Kraayenhof, who appeared in a Chinese style black silk jacket and black trousers and who had to support the mini-accordeon style instrument upon his thigh resting on a stool because it would be too tiring to hold it up by hand as done by some bandoneon players by having both end of the hard handle-board  with stops by strapping them on to their shoulders by a leather strap. He is a wonderfully accomplished player and has  worked with Piazzolla himself in the 1987 Tango Apasionado in New York, Ennio Morricone, Yo-Yo Ma, Janine Jansen, Joshua Bell etc and Quirine Viersen and is a close friend with with another Tango maestro Osvaldo Pugliese. He performed a piece called Adiós Nonino at the marriage of HRH Prince Wilhem Alexander with HRH Princess Máxima in Netherlands in 2002, (a piece which he played for us too, as an encore.).  

Thanks to the lady conductor Gisèle Ben-Dor, a lady conductor born and raised in Uruguay of Polish parents and a champion for the music of Ginastera, Revueltas, Pizzazolla and Luis Bacalov who established the world famous and very popular Tango and Malambo Festival, I came away completely satisfied with the sound of the exciting rhythms reverberating in my head as I rode the MTR home. Ben-Dor is a rather weighty lady who appeared completely immersed in the music she conducted and throughout the concert, we saw her waving her arms, bending her body, bringing down her arms  or and swinging her them in bold energetic and decisive movements and at times almost like a wind-mill. The HKPO shone under her enthusiasm and gave us a brilliant performance.  

2011年6月4日 星期六

Three Jokes for the Holidays

For those  who got to slog day and night, this weekend must come as a big bonus. Three days of holiday! What's a holiday without fun. So here's some, perhaps not for those with too delicate religious sensitivities. But what the hell, a joke is a joke is a joke, religion or no religion.

1. A Hero

People perched atop a concrete bridge were shouting horrifyingly as they watched a drowning woman in the water down under.

Presently, a guy jumped from the top of the bridge down into the water and began to save the drowning woman.

As the hero and the woman were pulled up to the concrete embankment, the crowd broke into a loud applause.

The hero struggled among the crowd, with eyes raging with anger and shouted: “Where’s that son-of-a-bitch who pushed me?”

2. The Favored One

A businessman who felt that God favored him with two consecutive life extensions by his cancer cure and a miracle survival in a road accident, prized himself with a zafari adventure in Africa.

Unfortunately, he and his guide got waylaid from their group and found themselves grabbed by cannibals.

He prayed long and hard on his knees imploring God to give him a third life chance. But God said no.

Sensing the futility of his pleadings, he asked instead for God to convert his captors into Christians like him. And God acceded.

Presently, all the natives fell on their knees with their hands clasped together in prayer and started chanting.

Perplexed, the businessman asked the guide: “What are they saying?”

The guide said, “Thank you, Lord, for this food that we are about to receive from your goodness…”

3.  Three Lucky Guys

Three guys have been stranded on a desert island for days.

One day, they found a magic lamp. Together they  rubbed it. A genie appeared and said he would grant each of them their individual wishes.

The first guy, feeling so homesick, said he wants to be home.

The second guy said he wants to see himself having dinner with his family.

The third guy said: “Now, I’m alone and lonely! Please send my friends back here.”

Have a nice long weekend. You deserve it!

2011年6月3日 星期五

Chen Quilin

Now that I have sought some clarifications on what "art" could mean to various people, I can go back to what prompted the relevant questions in the first place: some of the works of art I saw at Art HK 11. One of the artists whose works caught my attention there was one Chen Quilin. I stopped by her booth and started taking pictures when I was approached  by a European lady from behind. She was France Pepper, the director of arts and culture program at the China Institute in New York. She curates the discussion series Art Salon: The Culture of Contemporary Chinese Art. She explained to me a little of the style of the particular artist and when I asked her what prompted the artist to produce what she did, she told me that the artist was sitting right behind her and if I liked, I could talk to her. What a golden opportunity!

In my broken putonghua, I managed to carry on a  brief conversation with her. I told her I found her work interesting but a bit intriquing  and asked her why she took the photos of herself in a white bridal dress amongst what appeared to be the dark chaotic rubbles of a ruined old town by the earthquake of May 2006 and why her figures always appeared in pairs some facing each other and some away from each other and some on certain rigid tracks. I was told that she passed by that old town completely razed to the ground by the earthquake and felt the urge to do so because the sight of those ruins suddenly prompted in her the desire to do so as a record of her feelings. To her human beings are always torn by conflicting desires. We often find our minds or our emotions split in two, each pulling in a different direction. We often thus feel the need to seek some kind of compromise, some kind of reconciliation, some kind of com-mingling, some kind of convergence, perhaps to maintain a kind of balance.

I checked through a flier written by France Pepper as part of the Hammer Projects, " a series of exhibitions focusing primarily on the work of emerging artists". According to the flier, Chen came from the small town of Wanxian on the Yangtze River, Sichuan which was destined to be submerged by the rising waters in connection with the Three Gorges Dam project and started work painting film billboards because her mother worked in a film company and only went to Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chonging in 1995 at age 20, where she learned traditional Chinese woodblock printing and after graduation in 2000, returned to the film company to continue painting billboards before moving to Chengdu where she encountered performance art for the first time. "Chen has since created a unique fusion of installation, performance, photography and video, producing works that address the rapid urbanization of of China's provincial areas and that toll that has taken on society. " It is said that her work simultaneously capture "the nostalgia of how life used to be and confusion brought on by the fast pace of change and the hope for a new and improved standard of living." She has already produced three videos titled 別賦 (Bie Fu or Farewell Poem) commissioned by Agricultural Museum of in Beijing in 2002 for the exhibition called Harvest: Contemporary Art
in 2002, 江河水
(Jiang He Shui or River, River) in 2005 and 花園 (Hua Yuan or The Garden) in 2007.

In the following photographs, do we not see the contrast between the old the new, destruction and creation, the past and the present, and in the case of the children, between the present and the future? Do we not see the demolition of the old and the construction of the new? Do we not see the weight of mental anguish in the posture of the men struggling in each half of her sculptures?  Do we not see "nostalgia" in her face as a performance artist? Do we not see "hope" in the rather mechanically "wooden" or "masked" faces and body postures of what appear to be the young school children all neatly lined up in their bright uniforms led by an "angel" but on a stage against the background of the Tianmen Square without the portrait of Chairman Mao?  Do we not see the "desires" of the two identical looking figures each with identical postures and each absorbed in their own thoughts, problems, crouched down but with their hands extended without however looking at each other in one of the sculptures and in the second, the three pairs approaching each other, one with a sword, another with an axe in his hands and in the third their desire for some kind of rapprochement signaled by the two figures each absorbed in making a butterfly with the same flimsy gauze ribbon ? Do we not see that some of the the figures in the relevant pairs are in black whilst the others are in gold? If so, do they not suggest black despair and golden hope? Do the figures suggest one and the same person or two different persons?

2011年6月1日 星期三


Last week I took time off to visit one of the biggest local "art" events: Art HK 11 which I found extremely enjoyable and shall write about some of the works I found interesting later when I got a little more time to organize the photos I had taken there. I saw an enormous  number of works of vastly different characters, styles and employing different kinds of concepts and materials including paint, ink, paper, wood, glass, metal, plastic, string, fibre glass, gun powder and light! Whilst watching the exhibits, two questions kept popping up in my mind, "What exactly is art? What is the purpose of art, if any?" I tried to find out. I looked it up in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Here's what I found.

According to the author, Thomas Adajian, art is controversial! There is debate even on whether or not art can be defined or if so, whether it is useful to do so since the 1950's ( Peter Kivy, Philosophies of the Arts
1997, and Kendall Walton,“Aesthetics—What?, Why?, and
Wherefore?” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 65:
147–162. 2007) . Whether or not it can usefully be done, there is little doubt that various contemporary definitions of art do exist and they fall into two approximate groups: one focuses on "art's
institutional features, emphasizing the way art changes over time, such that modern works  appear to break radically with all traditional art,
and the way artworks depend on their 
relations to art history, art genres" etc. and the other which is less conventionalist and which "makes use of a broader, more
traditional concept of aesthetic properties that includes more than
art-relational ones, and focuses on art's pan-cultural and
trans-historical characteristics".

No matter what the truth may be, Adajian thinks that there are some "constraints" on the definition of Art: all definitions must deal with the following: (i) artworks (artifacts or performances)
purposely intended to emphasize aesthetic interest, often non-utilitarian,
exist in virtually every known human culture; (ii) such works  and
the relevant associated traditions , might exist in other possible worlds; (iii)
such works  may or may not have non-aesthetic (ceremonial or religious
or propagandistic) functions not; (iv)
traditionally, artworks are deliberately given esthetic, usually perceptual, qualities often transcending most everyday objects (v)new genres and art-forms
may develop, artistic taste may evolve, esthetic understandings and experience may change; (vi) certain institutions focusing on esthetic artifacts and performances without any practical, ceremonial or religious function may exist in some cultures but not in others (vii) such institutions
sometimes classify entities apparently lacking aesthetic interest with
entities having a high degree of aesthetic interest. Evidently, some of these facts are culture-specific, and others are
more universal.

There are also two more general constraints on definitions of art:

1. Since it is not philosophically helpful to say that something is inexplicable and assuming that it is important to extend one's definition of what constitutes "art" as new artworks appear, still it is unacceptable to merely give a series of "enumerative definitions" without giving any principles which may explain why
some artworks are on the list  and not others because that may give one no clue to the
next or general case. Thus Tarski's list-like definition of truth, for example, is often criticized as unenlightening because it merely enumerates primitive denotations). (Michael Devitt, 2001, “The Metaphysics of Truth,” in
Michael Lynch (ed.), The Nature of Truth. Cambridge: MIT
Press, pp. 579-611.; Davidson,

2. Given that most classes outside of mathematics are
vague, and that the existence of borderline cases is characteristic of
vague classes, definitions that take the class of artworks to have
borderline cases are preferable to definitions that don't.
(Stephen Davies Definitions of Art 1991 and The Philosophy of Art, 2006, Robert Stecker, Aesthetics and the Philosophy of
, 2005)

Traditional definitions of artworks focus on either its representative (mimetic) (Aristotle), expressive (Bernadetto Croce, R. G. Collingwood) or exploration of formal
properties.(Kant, Roger Fry and Clive Bell). But it is doubtful if possessing representational, expressive, and formal properties alone are sufficient because instruction manuals are
representational but not typically artworks, human faces and gestures may be expressive without being works of art, and neither natural
objects nor artifacts produced for the homeliest utilitarian purposes may have formal properties without being artworks. Definitions of art may thus be closely related to how we know something (epistemology), the nature of an object or entity (ontology) how and why we attribute value to things (value theory) and how we perceive and think (philosophy of mind). It is therefore both difficult and somewhat misleading to
extract them and consider each of these three elements in isolation. To illustrate this point, let us take as examples two historically influential definitions of art offered by great

1. In the Republic and elsewhere, Plato says that the arts are representational, or
mimetic (imitative).
Artworks are ontologically dependent on, and inferior to,
ordinary physical objects, which in turn are ontologically dependent
on, and inferior to, what Plato thinks is  most real, the non-physical Forms. Artworks are thus an imitation of an imitation of something which is considered "real" and thus cannot give us "true knowledge" nor do their makers  work from knowledge. Because
artworks engage" an unstable, lower part of the soul", art should be
subservient to moral realities, which, along with truth, are more
metaphysically fundamental and hence more humanly important than
beauty. For Plato, beauty does  not  belong exclusively to the arts. In his view, beauty is something metaphysical: we may non-perceptually know a certain Form of Beauty which is more closely related to the erotic
than to the arts.
2. Kant defines art as “a kind of
representation that is purposive in itself and, though without an end,
nevertheless promotes the cultivation of the mental powers for sociable
communication.” (Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews
translation, section 44 2000). This definition includes representational, expressive and formalist elements but forms merely a small part of his much broader discussion of aesthetic judgment and
teleology in a "hugely
ambitious philosophical structure that attempts...to account
for, and work out the relationships between, scientific knowledge,
morality, and religious faith."

Many philosophers have argued, following Wittgenstein's
famous remarks about games (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 1953), that art by its nature, is too diverse to admit of the
unification that a satisfactory definition strives for, and even if there were such a unifying "definition" of art, it is inadvisable to adopt the same because that would stifle artistic creativity. Thus  Morris Weitz, advocates what he calls an "Open Concept Argument" i.e. "any concept is
open if a case can be imagined which would call for some sort of
decision on our part to extend the use of the concept to cover it, or
to close the concept and invent a new one to deal with the new case". To him, all open concepts are indefinable since there are cases calling for a
decision about whether to extend or close the concept of art. (Weitz, “The Role of Theory in
Aesthetics,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 15: 27-35 1956 ). But others argue that the fact that works of art change over time does not, in general, mean that no identity over
time can be preserved and that one may decide to expand a concept in a principled rather
than capricious way and hence that nothing bars a definition of art from
incorporating a novelty requirement.

Others may argue that the
concepts manifested or contained in most definitions of art
e.g. expressiveness, form etc. are embedded in general philosophical theories
which incorporate traditional metaphysics and epistemology, which themselves demonstrate merely language gone wild and definitions of art may thus also share in the analogous conceptual confusions of traditional
philosophy (Benjamin Tilghman, But Is It Art? 1984 ).

Still others follow a historical argument exemplified by the influential study by the historian of philosophy
Paul Kristeller,( “The Modern System of the
Arts,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 1951 12:
496–527) who argued that "the modern system of the five
major arts like painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, and music, which underlies all modern aesthetics is of comparatively
recent origin and did not assume definite shape before the 18th century, although it had many ingredients which go back to classical,
mediaeval, and Renaissance thought." They argue that since that list of five arts is
somewhat arbitrary and since even those five do not share a single
common nature, but rather are united, at best, only by several
overlapping features, and since the number of art forms has increased
since the 18th century, it is inevitable that our present concept of art may differ from that of the 18th century. As a matter of historical fact, there simply is no stable
definiendum for a definition of art to capture.

A fourth argument disputes whether it is plausible to adopt a definition of art which specifies individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for a thing to
be an artwork because in actual fact, human beings do not always categorize things in terms of
necessary and sufficient conditions. In fact, cognitive science tells us that concepts often do mirror the way humans categorize things ie. in terms of how close a particular artwork is similar to certain prototypes (or exemplars), and not in
terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. Therefore a
definition of art in terms of individually necessary and jointly
sufficient conditions is misguided and not likely to succeed.( Jeffrey Dean, 2003 “The Nature of Concepts and the
Definition of Art,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art
, 61: 29-35.) Others argue that  "psychological theories
of concepts like the prototype theory and its relatives can provide at
best an account of how people in fact classify things, but not
an account of correct classifications of extra-psychological
phenomena". Moreover, "prototype theory and other
psychological theories of concepts" are themselves still too controversial to
warrant drawing substantive philosophical inferences therefrom.

To deal with the difficulties of finding a universally acceptable definition of what "art" is, some have urged that we may usefully adopt the Wittgensteinian concept of " family resemblance" in terms of " resemblance-to-a-paradigm" and the "cluster
resemblance"  According to the "resemblance-to-a-paradigm" argument, something is or is
identifiable as, an "artwork" if it resembles, in the right way, certain
paradigm artworks, which possess most although not necessarily all of
art's typical features. Others criticize this view as being too inclusive because things do not
simply resemble each other but resemble the others only in certain respects. If so, since
everything does resemble everything else in one respect or another the proposed definition is not helpful because it is too vague and inclusive but on the other hand, if
the relevant resemblances are specified, then those specified similarities will in effect amount to either a necessary or
sufficient condition for being an artwork and we are back to square one. The family resemblance
view also raises questions about what should constitute the relevant criteria for being admitted to the class "artwork" and how we should decide on the "unity of the
class of paradigm" To Adajian, if we cannot explain why some items but not others are included in the "list of paradigm works", it seems
"explanatorily deficient... But if it includes a principle that governs
membership on the list, or if expertise is required to constitute the
list, then the principle, or whatever properties the experts'
judgments track, seem to be doing the philosophical work"!

Then there is what has been called a "cluster version of the family resemblance" by such philosophers as Berys Gaut (“The Cluster Account of Art,” in  Noel Carroll  (ed.) Theories of Art Today 2000, pp. 25-45.), Ellen Dissanayake (What is Art For? 1990,
Denis Dutton
, 2006, “A Naturalist Definition of Art,”
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 64: 367–377.). They typically list out a number of characteristics, none of which is considered a necessary condition for being a work of art, but
which jointly are considered as sufficient for being classified as "a work of art" and such
that at least one proper subset thereof is sufficient for being a work
of art. The lists offered by different philosophers vary and may overlap considerably. Examples from such lists include:

1. it has positive aesthetic properties;

2. it is expressive
of emotion;

3. it is intellectually challenging;

4. it is formally
complex and coherent;

5. it is able to convey complex

6. it exhibits an individual point of view;

7. it is original;

8. it requires a high degree of skill in producing the artifact or performance;

9. it falls within an established artistic form;

10. the artist intends to create it as a work of art. (Gaut,

This view has been criticized on a number of  grounds:

1. The list is in fact equivalent to a long,
complicated, disjunctive but still finite "definition". (Davies, 2006)

2. if the
list of properties is incomplete, as some cluster theorists hold, then
some justification or principle may be needed to extend it

3. the 9th element on the list, belonging
to an established art form
, seems to invite, rather than answer,
the definitional question.

4. One wonders if there is
a principle that unites the items on the list. In this regard, Gaut construes aesthetic
properties (possession of which is the first item on the list), very
narrowly, but this is not essential to cluster views. Another cluster
theorist, Dutton, who gives a list that overlaps very significantly
with the one above (which includes representational properties,
expressiveness, creativity, exhibiting a high degree of skill,
belonging to an established artform), argues that "aesthetic properties" should be excluded because it is precisely the combination of the other qualities in the list in relevant work of art which make such a work "aesthetic"
(Dutton, 2006)

Philosophers are always struggling to solve the problem of how to reconcile two kinds of facts: 1. historically and culturally, art has never stopped evolving, yet 2. there may be certain common esthetic features in all "works of art" which may be regarded as universal, ie. transcending time and space, culture and history. But those who regard art as an invention of 18th century Europe
will disagree. (Shiner 2001) Conventionalist definitions take art's
cultural features to be "explanatorily fundamental" and try to capture such the phenomena as revolutionary modern art, the traditional
close connection of art with the aesthetic, the possibility of
autonomous art traditions, etc. in social/historical
terms but non-conventionalist or “functionalist”
definitions reverse this explanatory order, prioritize a concept like the
aesthetic (or some allied concept like the formal, or the expressive)
as basic and aim to explain to for the constantly changing art scene by working that concept
harder, perhaps by  extending it to non-perceptual properties.

The conventionalists deny that art has any essential connection
to so-called aesthetic, formal and expressive
properties or any other type of property taken by traditional definitions
to be essential to art, being strongly influenced by the emergence, in the twentieth century, of artworks that
seem to differ radically from all previous artworks such as the avante-garde
works like Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (an ordinary urinal
which Duchamp exhibited at the Armory Show in Philadelphia in 1915) and
other “ready-mades” – ordinary unaltered objects like
snow-shovels (In Advance of the Broken Arm) and bottle-racks
— conceptual works like Robert Barry's All the things I know
but of which I am not at the moment thinking - 1:36 PM; June 15,
, and John Cage's 4''33', which seemed to many philosophers to lack or even, somehow, repudiate, the
traditional properties of art like intended aesthetic interest,
arti-factuality, even perceivability and also by the work of a number
of historically-minded philosophers, who have documented the rise and
development of modern ideas of the fine arts, the individual arts, the
work of art, and the aesthetic like Kristeller, Larry Shiner (The Invention of Art 2001, “Western and Non-Western Concepts of
Art: Universality and Authenticity” in Davies and Sukla (eds.),
Art and Essence, pp. 143-157 2003 ) Carroll, Lydia Goehr The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works,1994) and Kivy.  But even the conventionalist are further divided into two camps:  institutional conventionalist (a synchronic view which holds that a works of art is an artifact created by an artist for presentation to the artworld public) (George Dickie  The Art Circle, 1984) and the historical conventionalist ( which holds a
diachronic view that artworks necessarily stand in an
art-historical relation to some set of earlier artworks).

The views of the the institutional conventionalist is pioneered by Arthur
, (The Transfiguration of the
, 1981) a long-time influential
art critic for the Nation. It was him who coined the term
“artworld”, by which he meant “an atmosphere of art
theory.” According to Danto, something is a work of art if and only if (i) it has a subject
(ii) about which it projects some attitude or point of view (has a
style) (iii) by means of rhetorical ellipsis (usually metaphorical)
which ellipsis engages audience participation in filling in what is
missing, and (iv) where the work in question and the interpretations
thereof require an art historical context. (Danto, Carroll) 
It is element (iv) which makes its  definition institutionalist.  According to its most influential advocate, George Dickie, a work of art is an artifact upon
which some person(s) acting on behalf of the artworld has conferred the
status of candidate for appreciation. (Dickie, 1971)
but more recently he thinks that there should be an interlocking
set of five definitions: (1) An artist is a person who participates
with understanding in the making of a work of art. (2) A work of art is
an artifact of a kind created to be presented to an artworld public.
(3) A public is a set of persons the members of which are prepared in
some degree to understand an object which is presented to them. (4) The
artworld is the totality of all artworld systems. (5) An artworld
system is a framework for the presentation of a work of art by an
artist to an artworld public. (Dickie, 1984) Both of such versions have
been widely criticized because some argue that any art created
outside institution is ruled out and that the artworld iself, like any institution, seems capable of
error. In addition, it lacks an
independent account of what makes a context art historical,
and this definition cannot accommodate music. Still others say that its definition of art is viciously circular and also that, given the inter-definition of the key
concepts (artwork, artworld system, artist, artworld public) it lacks
any informative way of distinguishing art institutions systems
from other, structurally similar, social institutions. (David Davies  Art as Performance 2003, p. 248-249, mentions the “commerceworld”) Dickie had previously claimed that anyone who sees herself as a
member of the artworld is a member of the artworld: if so, then unless there are constraints on the kinds of things the
artworld can put forward as artworks or candidate artworks, any entity
can be an artwork (though not all) but Derek Matravers, ( 2000, “The Institutional Theory: A Protean
Creature,” British Journal of Aesthetics, 40:
242–250) has
helpfully distinguished between strong and weak
institutionalism (strong institutionalist holding that there must be some often repeated reason which the art institution always has for
saying that something is a work of art and weak institutionalist
holding that for every work of art, there is some reason or other that
the institution has for saying that it is a work of art.) In particular, weak institutionalism makes one query about art's unity: if nothing unifies the
reasons that the artworld gives for designating entities as artworks,
the unity of the class of artworks may be "vanishingly small"!

Historical definitions hold that all artworks stand in some specified art-historical relation to some specified
earlier artworks and denies any trans-historical
concept of art, or the “artish.” All historical
definitions resemble inductive definitions, claiming that certain entities
belong unconditionally to the class of artworks, while others do so
because they stand in the appropriate relations thereto. According Jerrold Levinson's ( Music, Art, and Metaphysics,
1990) 's intentional-historical
definition, an artwork is a thing that has been seriously intended for
regard in any way preexisting or prior artworks are or were correctly
regarded. Historical functionalism says
that an item is an artwork at time t, where t is not
earlier than the time at which the item is made, if and only if it is
in one of the central art forms at t and is made with the
intention of fulfilling a function art has at t or it is an
artifact that achieves excellence in achieving such a function.
(Stecker 2005) Historical narrativism holds that a
sufficient but not necessary condition for the identification of a
candidate as a work of art is the construction of a true historical
narrative according to which the candidate was created by an artist in
an artistic context with a recognized and live artistic motivation, and
as a result of being so created, it resembles at least one acknowledged
artwork. (Carroll, 1993). It is thus like institutionalism and similar criticism applies to them: 1. historical definitions needs but lack any
informative characterization of art traditions (art functions, artistic
contexts, etc.) and hence of any specific way of informatively distinguishing them
(and likewise art functions, or artistic predecessors) from
non-art traditions (non-art functions, non-artistic
predecessors). 2. Correlatively, non-Western art, or alien, autonomous art of any kind appears to pose a
problem for historical views: any autonomous art tradition or artworks
— terrestrial, extra-terrestrial, or merely possible — causally
isolated from our art tradition, is either ruled out by the definition,
which seems to be a reductio, or included, which concedes the
existence of a supra-historical concept of art. Historical definitions
also require, but do not provide a satisfactory, informative account of
the basis case – the first artworks, or ur-artworks, in the case
of the intentional-historical definitions, or the first or central
art-forms, in the case of historical functionalism.

Are art traditions autonomous? It can be said that anything we would recognize as an art tradition or an
artistic practice would display aesthetic concerns, because
aesthetic concerns have been central from the start, and persisted
centrally for thousands of years, in the Western art tradition. Hence
it is an historical, not a conceptual truth that anything we recognize
as an art practice will centrally involve the aesthetic; it is just
that aesthetic concerns that have always dominated our art tradition.
(Levinson, 2002) The idea here is that if the reason that anything
we'd take to be a Φ-tradition would have Ψ-concerns is
that our Φ-tradition has focused on Ψ-concerns since its
inception, then it is not essential to Φ-traditions that they have
Ψ-concerns, and Φ is a purely historical concept
. But according to Adajian, this
principle entails, implausibly, that every concept is purely
historical. He argues: suppose that we find a new civilization
whose inhabitants could predict how the physical world works with great
precision, on the basis of a substantial body of empirically acquired
knowledge that they had accumulated over centuries we can then credit them with having a scientific tradition because our own scientific tradition has since its inception  focused on
explaining thing but still, we can't say that science is a purely
historical concept with no essential connection to explanatory
aims. Other theorists like Davies hold that it is historically necessary
that art begins with the aesthetic, but deny that art's nature is
to be defined in terms of its historical unfolding. (Stephen Davies,1997 “First Art and Art's
Definition,” Southern Journal of Philosophy, 35:
19-34) As to the first artworks, or the central art-forms or
functions, some theorists hold that an account of them can only take
the form of an enumeration e.g.  Stecker takes this approach: he says that
the account of what makes something a central art form at a given time
is, at its core, institutional, and that the central artforms can only
be listed. (Stecker  Artworks: Definition, Meaning,
1997, and Aesthetics and the Philosophy of
, 2005) It is doubtful if relocating the list
at a different, albeit deeper, level in the definition renders the
definition sufficiently perspicuous.

As opposed to the conventionalist view, the functional definitions of art take some function(s) or intended function(s)
to be definitive of artworks. Here only aesthetic definitions, which
connect art essentially with the aesthetic — aesthetic judgments,
experience, or properties – will be considered. Different
aesthetic definitions incorporate different views of aesthetic
properties and judgments. As noted above, some philosophers lean heavily on a distinction
between aesthetic properties and artistic properties, taking the
former to be perceptually striking qualities that can be directly
perceived in works, without knowledge of their origin and purpose, and
the latter to be relational properties that works possess in virtue of
their relations to art history, art genres, etc. It is also, of
course, possible to hold a less restrictive view of aesthetic
properties, on which aesthetic properties need not be perceptual; on
this broader view, it is unnecessary to deny that abstracta like
mathematical entities and scientific laws possess aesthetic

Monroe Beardsley's  definition holds that an artwork is: “either
an arrangement of conditions intended to be capable of affording an
experience with marked aesthetic character or (incidentally) an
arrangement belonging to a class or type of arrangements that is
typically intended to have this capacity.” (The Aesthetic Point of
View 1982
, p. 299). Beardsley's conception of aesthetic experience
is Deweyan: aesthetic experiences are experiences that are complete,
unified, intense experiences of the way things appear to us, and are,
moreover, experiences which are controlled by the things experienced.  Nick Zangwill's aesthetic
definition of art says that something is a work of art if and only if
someone had an insight that certain aesthetic properties would be
determined by certain nonaesthetic properties, and for this reason the
thing was intentionally endowed with the aesthetic properties in virtue
of the nonaesthetic properties as envisaged in the insight. (, 1995a, “Groundrules in the Philosophy of
Art,” Philosophy, 70: 533–544.and “The Creative Theory of Art,”
American Philosophical Quarterly, 32: 315-332). Aesthetic properties for Zangwill are those judgments that
are the subject of “verdictive aesthetic judgments”
(judgements of beauty and ugliness) and “substantive aesthetic
judgements”, (e.g., of daintiness, elegance, delicacy, etc. ). The
latter are ways of being beautiful or ugly; aesthetic in virtue of a
special close relation to verdictive judgments, which are subjectively
universal. Other aesthetic definitions are easily obtained, by
grafting on a different account of the aesthetic. For example, one
might define aesthetic properties as those having an evaluative
component, whose perception involves the perception of certain formal
base properties, such as shape and color. (Raphael De Clercq,“The Concept of an Aesthetic
Property,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 60:
167–172. 2002).

Views which combine features of institutional and aesthetic
definitions also exist. Iseminger, for example, builds a definition on
an account of appreciation, on which to appreciate a thing's
being F is to find experiencing its being F to be
valuable in itself, and an account of aesthetic communication (which it
is the function of the artworld to promote). (Gary Iseminger, The Aesthetic Function of
Another definition that combines features of institutional and
aesthetic definitions is that of David Davies who adopts
Nelson Goodman's account of symbolic functions that are aesthetic
(a symbol functions aesthetically when it is syntactically dense,
semantically dense, syntactically replete, and characterized by
multiple and complex reference, which he takes to clarify the
conditions under which a practice of making is a practice of
artistic making. (Davies 2004; Goodman Languages of Art: An Approach
to a Theory of Symbols

Aesthetic definitions have been criticized for being both too narrow
and too broad. They are held to be too narrow because they are unable
to cover influential modern works like Duchamp's ready-mades and
conceptual works like Robert Barry's All the things I know
but of which I am not at the moment thinking - 1:36 PM; June 15,
, which appear to lack aesthetic properties. (Duchamp famously
asserted that his urinal, Fountain, was selected for its lack
of aesthetic features.) Aesthetic definitions are held to be too broad
because beautifully designed automobiles, neatly manicured lawns, and
products of commercial design are often created with the intention of
being objects of aesthetic appreciation, but are not artworks.
What about so-called "bad art"? What are we to make of them: are they art or not art? (Dickie, Art and Value, and Stephen Davies,
Philosophy of Art, p. 37).

Are aesthetic definitions meaningful or useful?  Beardsley's view, for example, has
been criticized by Dickie, in particular the former's view of an "aesthetic attitude". (Dickie 1965, Cohen 1973, Kivy
1975) Do esthetic criteria help or hinder our understanding of art? To Adajian, the
less restrictive conception of aesthetic properties discussed which may be based on non-perceptual formal properties, can be
deployed because conceptual works may  have aesthetic
features, much the same way that mathematical entities are often
claimed to. (James Shelley 2003, “The Problem of Non-Perceptual
Art.” British Journal of Aesthetics, 43: 363-378. 2003, Noel Carroll, 2004, “Non-Perceptual Aesthetic
Properties.” British Journal of Aesthetics, 44:
413-423. 2004) We should certainly distinguish between those esthetic properties which are time-sensitive from those which are not. Certain higher-order aesthetic properties like drama, humor, and irony, which
explains why the works of  Duchamp and
Cage may appeal to some are indeed time-sensitive. (Eddy Zemach Real Beauty 1997) Third, it might be held that it is the
creative act of presenting something that is in the
relevant sense unfamiliar, into a new context, the artworld, which has
aesthetic properties. Finally, some works (Zangwill's “second-order” strategy) like
Duchamp's ready-mades may lack aesthetic properties but they are parasitic upon, because
meant to be considered in the context of, works that do have aesthetic
functions, and hence constitute borderline cases. But one can, perhaps
heroically deny that Duchamp's Fountain is
a work of art. (Beardsley1982).To me, the last point is especially useful in helping us understand so-called "postmodern" art, which is full of examples of collages, mock-imitation and pastiches of the specific works of former famous artists or more generally references to styles of former historical times or even ironic self-reference to the earlier works of the same artists. 

Adajian concludes that conventionalist esthetic definitions may explain modern art well but not art's universality, especially vis a vis non-Western art traditions and institutions (Stephen Davies  2000, “Non-Western Art and Art's
Definition,” in Carroll (ed.), Theories of Art
Today, pp. 199-217;
Larry Shiner, 2003, “Western and Non-Western Concepts of
Art: Universality and Authenticity” in Davies and Sukla (eds.),
Art and Essence, pp. 143-157.).nor 
revolutionary modern art. We do need a new esthetic which can cover in a principled way conceptual
and other radical art. If list-like definitions are flawed because
uninformative, then so are conventionalist definitions, whether
institutional or historical. He says, "if the class of artworks is an
arbitrary one, lacking any genuine unity, then enumerative definitions
cannot be faulted for being uninformative: they do all the explaining
that it is possible to do, because they capture all the unity that
there is to capture." Walton has written “It is not at all clear that these words –
‘What is art?’ – express anything like a single
question, to which competing answers are given, or whether philosophers
proposing answers are even engaged in the same debate….
The sheer variety of proposed definitions should give us pause. One
cannot help wondering whether there is any sense in which they are
attempts to … clarify the same cultural practices, or address
the same issue.” (Kendall Walton 1977 “Review of Art and the
,” Philosophical Review, 86: 97-101 and 2007, “Aesthetics—What?, Why?, and
Wherefore?” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 65:

To me, there may well be as many definitions of what art is as there are artists and artistic traditions at different times and places. One other useful definition of art is the one found in Wikipedia which defines art as "the product or process of deliberately arranging items (often with symbolic significance) in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect and encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, photography, sculpture and paintings". But traditionally. It says that the term art was used to refer to "any skill or mastery" which conception changed during the Romantic period, when art came to be seen as "a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science" but generally, art is made with the intention of stimulating thoughts and emotions.
Fine art means that a skill is being used to express the artist's
creativity, or to engage the audience's aesthetic sensibilities, or to
draw the audience towards consideration of the finer things.
Often, if the skill is being used in a common or practical way, people
will consider it a craft instead of art. If skill is used in a commercial or industrial way, it will be considered commercial art or applied art. Some art followers have argued that the difference between fine art and
applied art has more to do with value judgments made about the art than
any clear definitional difference. Art may be used to to communicate
ideas e.g. in politically, spiritually, or philosophically motivated
art; to create a sense of beauty, to explore the nature of perception; for pleasure; or to generate strong emotions or for itself. The word "art" may  refer to either the a study of creative skill, a process
of using the creative skill, a product of the creative skill, or the
audience's experience with the creative skill. The creative arts are a collection of disciplines (arts) that produce artworks (art
as objects) that are compelled by a personal drive (art as activity)
and echo or reflect a message, mood, or symbolism for the viewer to
interpret (art as experience) and artworks may be defined by purposeful,
creative interpretations of limitless concepts or ideas in order to
communicate something to another person. 

Theodor Adorno
says in Esthetic Theory (1970) that "It is now taken for granted that nothing which concerns
art can be taken for granted any more: neither art itself, nor art in
relationship to the whole, nor even the right of art to exist." He may well be right because we have indeed entered the postmodern age in art, in which art seems to want to regard itself as mere "play" and is not afraid to parody even itself!