August 11, 2005
According to JL, the crux of it is Danto's belief that, in his own words:
Beauty is an option for art and not a necessary condition. But it is not an option for life. It is a necessary condition for life as we would want to live it.
It's a sentiment I found myself initially inclined to agree with. However, on reflection, I'm growing increasingly dubious of the logic that follows from it, especially as Danto himself is apparently drawn to the patently strange conclusion that (again, Danto's words via JL):
...we may not lose a lot if artistic beauty were annihilated, whatever that means, because art has a number of other compensatory values, and artistic beauty is an incidental attribute in most of the world's artistic cultures.
It's enough to make me question the meaningfulness of the premise itself.
I'm no logician, so do pardon my awkwardness as I wrestle my way rather clumsily through the following...
Something just doesn't click here in terms of the respective scope of each half of Danto's equation. The more I think about it, the more the pair of questions lurking behind his proposition that beauty is incidental to art but necessary to life appear to be of different orders altogether: on the one hand we ask whether beauty is a necessary aspect of every specific instance of art, on the other whether beauty is a "necessary" part of the life we desire to live, considered in toto.
Danto would have us answer in the negative to the former and in the arfirmative to the latter, which answers strike me (again) as resonable, if debatable.
And yet, though beauty may indeed be a necessary part of any life well-lived, it does not thus hold that beauty must be integral or even party to every lived moment in its particularity. (In fact, I suspect one could make quite the case to the contrary, and think that the resulting proposition would be a far more appropriate parallel to the response to our other question.)
Likewise but in reverse, while we may concede that any given artifact need not be beautiful to qualify as art, it does not necessarily follow from this that art, generally considered, could exist without ever eliciting an experience of the beautiful. That is, I think you'd be hard pressed to show me a world in which beauty exists yet is never of more than peripheral significance when it comes to works of art.
Moreover, just as we accept that beauty is essential to the life "we would want to live" (and this seems to be begging the question a bit), I can't say that I would ever want to see this great amorphous entity we call "art" to exist with no recourse to the beautiful at all.
As JL suggests:
...let us do, as the philosophers say, a thought experiment. Picture youself walking through a great museum, one you know well—the Met, say, or the Art Institute of Chicago. Consider all of the different works from different cultures and times that you see as you pass. Now imagine all of the beautiful ones "annihilated"—whatever that means. Do you think a lot has been lost?
To state it plainly: beauty may not be necessary for art on the level of the particular, but neither is it always absent from art in general. (To conclude otherwise would, I believe, involve committing something in the realm of a distribution fallacy, though I may be talking out of my ass on this point.)
Quite honestly, the more I consider it, the more Danto's premise strikes me as all but meaningless (and, as a consequence, the more afraid I become that I've ultimately said nothing meaningful myself in the foregoing). One might, based on the very same assumptions set out above, invert Danto's quote to say that 'beauty is a possiblity in life but never a guarantee, while it is a necessary part of art as we wish it to be.' Would it then be prudent to determine that, 'we may not lose a lot from life if beauty were annihilated, because life has a number of other compensatory values, and beauty is an incidental attribute in most of our lives'?
I'll stop short of suggesting that the propositions Danto pairs for us have no consequential logical relation to one another whatsoever, but they are beginning to look a bit like apples and oranges to me. And, in any event, they hardly offer any sort of secure ground for concluding that beauty must always be incidental to art and that it may thus be "annihilated" with impunity.
("Whatever that means.")
Update: Franklin piles on, too.
"Fallacies Ain't Too Pretty, Neither"
Posted by Dan at 01:55 AM