Philosophy of Art Paper 2

Philosophy of Art

Final Philosophy Paper

Governmental Policy Towards Old Art

Old art need not be eliminated. It is absurd to assume that an art patron possesses a better knowledge of the present without any knowledge of the past. Art from the past teaches art viewers about how the meta-narrative of art has evolved, and how it has remained the same in many ways. Hundreds of years ago, art was used to capture feelings, and today it is still used for that same purpose, as well as many others. If old art was eliminated, then people would not be aware of the different styles and methods available to present ideas and emotions through art. If a viewer remains constantly exposed to a variety of different styles of art, then art should not be judged by its age, but instead as Goodman puts it, a work of art should be “judged by the satisfaction it gives” (Ross 247).

Art created for it’s own sake does not simply imitate in the ancient sense of copying aesthetically, but it must imitate in the sense of capturing an emotion and causing the viewer to empathize with the feeling. Imitation is not simply an outdated way to represent art, which must be eliminated, but instead imitation remains a constantly evolving method, which is at the very essence of a work. The methods of imitation that Rembrandt used to show emotion varied greatly from the methods of imitation used by Picasso. Quality art is effective regardless of its age, and in Clifford’s words, “human artistic creation transcends location and time” (Ross 635).

Post-modern Western culture cannot be compared to the “human body,” which “only ate and never eliminated.” Western museums do not simply grow larger and larger with old art, for they eventually cough up less striking forms of art from the past and replace them with newer forms. The remaining art forms should be the best of their kinds, and each of these forms may hopefully find the perfect viewer to relate to.

It may seem like somewhat of a stretch when everyday objects from the past such as dinner bowls from ancient Greece are displayed in art museums. Even very modern artists, however, realize the connection and the similarities between simple, ancient art forms and more modern forms of art. Clifford points out “a deep correspondence between primitive and modern art was widely assumed” (635). In an attempt to shun the effects of history totally, many artists have instead just become influenced by history of a different genre.

Within particular kinds of ancient artifacts, however, history itself becomes the factor that distances the individual piece and creates the art. These objects are removed from their original setting in much the same way that some modern day eliminators wish to remove older art from newer art. Part of the beauty of the all-encompassing art meta-narrative rests in the narrative’s ability to show the similarities and differences of the artwork of today and the artwork of three thousand years ago. The relationship between artworks is actually conducive to helping create, as Kant puts it, “freedom of the imagination” (138). Older art, created long ago, can create positive, free play of the mind, different from that of newer art.

Old art need not be sequestered. Old art should indeed be preserved, and admittedly, not all art can be displayed, but that does not mean that all old art should be simply be hidden from the public forever. Superb art forms from different eras and styles should be presented and preserved in museums and institutions everywhere. After all, art and culture are, as Clifford puts it, “strategies for gathering, marking off, protecting the best and most interesting creations of “Man’” (Ross 629). Different art forms appeal to different people, so what one viewer may consider trivial another may consider one of “the best and most interesting creations.” Therefore, it is imperative that all forms of art be protected and presented to the public.

While it is true that some art patrons may not be able to focus on modern art because past works of art affect their views, this is not a necessarily bad thing. Different people are attracted to and relate better to different art works regardless of the age of the piece. What is an old, outdated piece of junk to one man may be the treasure of another. By sequestering art works, some people would be thrilled while others would be devastated. This option is not feasible because it only addresses those who are drawn to newer art.

To wish to start over in the art world without any influence of past art forms is absurd. Every aspect of our culture is affected by the past even if it the art has changed vastly. An artist may rebel against a previous genre by creating a seemingly simpler or more complex form of art, but he is still influenced by that previous generation, even if it is a negative influence. Any artist who ignores this influence is leaving in a dream. He is instead trying in vain to recreate the art of a prehistoric, Neanderthal time period without any influence of the present or past. To regress is not human nature, and it is not art. Even the most abstract art can be created to make a point about art of previous generations, even if no obvious aesthetic similarities exist.

Although the art of yesteryear was created with many other interests in mind, rather than simply creating art for its own sake, it still contains much value. Its true that many art works were created for religious and political purposes, but the period of time which separates ourselves from the art work, gives us enough Distance to evaluate all true art works from a purely artistic standpoint. In regard to this space, Bullough astutely observes, “most desirable is the utmost decrease of Distance without its disappearance” (Ross 463). Art spectators must attempt to delve into an artwork and it’s meaning as intimately as possible, while still realizing that what they are observing is indeed artwork created for a particular purpose.

Representative art of all kinds must be included in any meta-narrative. Whether an artist wants it to or not, their work will eventually fall into the greater meta-narrative of the art world. So instead of destroying the broad meta-narrative by removing older art from the public, museums should instead work to update and to include even more kinds of art in their representations of the artistic meta-narrative, and not to simply focus on particular artists.

The market should not be the only factor in determining the relevance of certain kinds of art. The market may help museum staffs determine the popularity of certain kinds of art, but for the most part reputable art museums should stay impartial to the market, and instead, display a plethora of newer and older styles together.

If a museum wants to feature a particular, popular exhibit in order to temporarily boost attendance, that’s fine, but artworks of other styles should not be removed. Variety, not market value, should be the main determinant of “value” in a large art museum. Smaller galleries and museums may focus on particular genres, but those institutions should also recognize the fact that an artistic meta-narrative rightfully exists. These institutions should not simply consider their art to be the only “true” art that the masses should be exposed to.

If the market were left by itself to decide what artworks should be given prominence, then the opinion of the majority would determine the artworks that patrons view. People with any taste other than that of the majority would be left unsatisfied in their quest for artworks which best relate to them. George Bernard Shaw puts best it in “Reason” when he writes that “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man” (Oxford 498). Without the “unreasonable” artist and the “unreasonable” art patron, new forms of art would have never developed in the past from the likes of such artists as Picasso and Monet, and newer, more “unreasonable” art forms will never develop in the future without this influence. True progress in the artistic meta-narrative will be halted or at least slowed if the market alone is left to decide the value of artworks.

The market works to create mass-produced images and sounds, which have been proven in the past to appeal to the majority of public, and in the words of Plato, “having the ability to make many kinds of representations, but not the judgment which ones are good for people, artists will be swayed to represent what might be popular to the ignorant multitude” (Ross 39). Plato may very well roll over in his grave if he found out about the popularization of many forms of art today. This commercialization pushes out newer artistic ideas and substitutes in subtle, propaganda-like imitations of art, which can be easily etched upon the coke bottles and billboards of consumers to sway “the multitude” into buying products. If the artwork in museums were based solely upon the market rather than variety, new forms of art would rarely develop and the artistic meta-narrative would not progress to any extent in the future.

Allowing the public maximum access to all genres of art is the only way that art should presented. High quality art created long ago should be available right alongside newer art works. After all, art works that were created long ago may not be recognized for their artistic worth for many years to come. Masterpieces are often not appreciated until after the artist has been dead for many years. Therefore older art must be allowed to remain in museums and elsewhere because its artistic value may be overlooked or misunderstood if it is hastily replaced by newer genres. In addition to this, some people can just better relate to and appreciate older art because they can comprehend it more clearly and often the history of the work itself can create a certain free play of the mind.

Mechanical reproductions of various masterpieces both new and old can also help to ensure that art works are never forgotten. Admittedly, it is detrimental that, “that which withers in the age of mechanical reproductions is the aura of the work of art” (Ross 527). The aura or the mystique of an original piece is, however, secondary to the reproduction’s ability to provide the public with the more important service of educating about or sparking interest in a particular form of art. For example someone who grows fascinated with pictures of the ceiling of Sistine Chapel may wish to go the Vatican and view it, or they may simply wish to learn more about Michelangelo. What reproductions take away from art in aura, they more than make up for in education. Not everyone is fortunate enough to travel to Europe or Asia to see magnificent art forms, and for those people, surfing on the Internet may be the closest that they ever get to a famous artwork. Accurate reproductions most definitely help to educate and benefit people who do not have the opportunity to view objects up close.

Important art works of any era should not be eliminated, sequestered, or entered into a popularity contest. Variety and inclusion are the two most important issues to think about when deciding which art forms to display. Art collections can never get too large; they can only get better and more refined. Masterpieces of any type should be allowed for display, while second-rate art of the same kind should be pushed aside. Only the best works of a particular style should be exhibited prominently, along with the best works of a plethora of other styles.

Individuals should be exposed to a very wide variety of art, and they should be constantly searching for art works to which they can better relate, whether old or new. If museums and other institutions keep rotating in new forms of art along with the best of older genres, then the public will be constantly exposed to new ideas alongside older ones, and styles and taste will be allowed to emerge more freely, and change more frequently.

Works Cited

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


The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

All text and images Copyright 2001-2006


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