Philosophy Art Paper

Philosophy of Art (241B)

October 16, 2001

Philosophy of Art, Midterm Paper


Aristotle, a proponent of using art as a teaching tool, claims that of all plots “episodic are the worst” (Ross 74). In regard to man in general, Aristotle believes that, “he…learns at first by imitation,” therefore it is not strange when Aristotle finds that because largely disconnected plots do not imitate consistently, they are not very high forms of art (Ross 68). Aristotle implies that episodic plots take art away from the true purpose, which is to imitate actions and essentially educate the public. This distortion in the creation of plots is done largely when, “…bad poets construct through their own fault, and good ones on account of the players. His work being for public performance a good poet often stretches out a plot beyond its capabilities, and is thus obliged to twist the sequence of incident” (Ross 74). Aristotle finds episodic works largely forced. Often, these plots are simply drawn out excessively, so that they are no longer acceptable art, or they are twisted away from their original meaning.


In the “Birth of Tragedy” Nietzsche implies that song and dance are the ideal forms of art for people. Nietzsche believes that in these largely Dionysian arts, man “has become a work of art” (Ross 165). Only in song and dance does this happen and only then is “the noblest clay, the most costly marble, man…kneaded and cut” (165). Nietzsche believes that through these forms of art man reaches his peak in the artistic world. Unlike simple paintings or sculptures, song and dance elevate man to status as, “a member of a higher community” and “the artistic power of nature reveals itself to the highest gratification of the primordial unity” (165). Only these two artistic forms allow man to make himself an equal of the gods and live out his dreams in everyday life. Nietzsche realizes the uniqueness and suitability of song and dance for vividly expressing human emotion, and therefore he bestows upon them the honor of having the “ideal” form for us.


When Bullough explains “distance,” he provides a view extremely similar to Kant’s view of the judgment of taste as “disinterested.” Kant claims that he is, “concerned, not with that in which I depend on the existence of the object, but with that which I make out of this representation in myself” (Ross 99). Similarly, Bullough asserts that, “Distance appears to lie between our own self and its affections” (Ross 459). Both of these philosophers refer to the gap between appreciating the subject of an artwork for its value in actual life and for the way the representation makes the viewer feel when they consider it as purely art. Essentially by judging the taste of a work, one must hold this precise distance as nearly as possible. If this perfect distance between a viewer’s own interest in the subject and their own emotion, based purely upon the aesthetic value, erodes or expands, then one may be, “prejudiced in favor of the existence of the things” or prejudiced against this same subject matter (Ross 99). Properly appreciated art always remains somewhat distant from the artist’s personal views on the subject of the artwork.

Essay Question


Art is relevant in society for numerous reasons. Some philosophers assert “Art equips us for survival” (Ross 248). Others claim, “man…goes on symbolizing because he cannot stop” (Ross 248). While yet another group of philosophers state, “Works of art are messages conveying facts, thoughts, and feelings; and their study belongs to the omnivorous new growth called ‘communications theory’” (Ross 248). In his chapter on the “Languages of Art,” Nelson Goodman provides the best answer to Tolstoy’s question about why art is worth all of the sacrifices people make in order to create and preserve it.

Goodman believes that, “art is judged by the satisfaction it gives” (Ross 247). This remains almost exactly opposite of what Plato claimed art should do. Instead of simply pleasing a person’s psyche, Plato believed that art should imitate precisely and teach exact lessons. One would expect such a wide variation in art theories thousands of years apart, and this variation remains extremely evident between these philosophers. Goodman claims that many other art philosophers miss the true value of art, in which “the drive is curiosity and the aim enlightenment” (Ross 248). He believes that art exists to please our minds and that “use of symbols beyond immediate need is for the sake of understanding, not practice” like other artistic observers claim. (Ross 248).

Goodman unlike many of his predecessors staunchly advocates for his belief that symbolic art is indeed a method of learning about the world and satisfying our own curiosities and emotions. If an object simply pleases the eyes or infatuates the viewer, the true essence of a “good” work of art may be lost, “for pleasure and prettiness neither define nor measure either the aesthetic experience or the work of art” (249). In a sense the visual desirability of an artwork is unimportant to a large degree. The true foundation of a piece of art is rooted in the deeper, symbolic meaning prevalent in the work, and the evolution of these symbolisms can be seen in the evolution of different styles of art. From the first caveman’s etchings, to the most recent abstract display, new symbols are frequently changing the styles of art everywhere. Goodman sums it up best when he states, “not only do we discover the world through our symbols but we understand and reappraise our symbols progressively in the light of our growing experience” (Ross 250).

Finding and displaying the “best” kinds of art are not what makes art important or necessary in society. Aesthetic value is limited. The true value of an artwork surfaces itself when an individual peers introspectively toward his own natural emotions and becomes connected with the work in a more intimate sense after recognizing the symbolic meaning behind the art. Goodman too believes that, “ works of art are not race-horses, and picking a winner is not the primary goal” (Ross 250). Instead the primary goal should be personal growth through the satisfaction of curiosity and through enlightenment.

Often sacrifice must take place to create and preserve art, and these sacrifices are worthwhile because they allow viewers to truly live through the art they observe as Goodman points out. Artists may create works of art for various reasons, but “the primary purpose of their art is cognition in and for itself” (Ross 248). By understanding the symbolism within an artwork, whether it is simple or complex, we can better understand and appreciate the entire world. Without this ability to explore personal curiosity and to learn more, a person is not truly living. As entire world learns to better comprehend life through artistic symbolism, then the relevance of art may be better understood and appreciated by all.

Works Cited

Ross, David. Art and its Significance. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press,


All text and images Copyright 2001-2006


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