Aesthetics Paper: “Art” versus “art”

One thing I thought I might post regularly are Honors essays. Aesthetics isn’t really Honors, but this essay is similar in some ways to an Honors essay. The assignment was to write two-three paragraphs on my perception of the difference between “art” and “Art” (note the capitalization), as well as what an aesthetics class covers. Dr. H has been particularly generous toward how I tend to go on and on, but I hope she notes this time that I did fit it all into three paragraphs. Here it is. It is rough, unorganized, and contains many half-baked thoughts, but Dr. H requested nothing more.

I cannot say the subject of the differences between the capitalized Art and the non-capitalized correspondent has ever been processed by me in any depth; however, I have some very vague impressions on the subject, and these I hope to clarify as I proceed. For instance, I tend to believe that an “art,” as we say in the phrase “the art of…,” we identify as a skill and more than a skill. We also identify it as an expression of the joy of creation, or ordering, or another of the God-given talents involving a modification of pre-existent matter to suit our desire and intention. This usually, as with the visual objects, entails the manipulation of physical objects and substances to create something that the fashioner finds appealing or representative of an idea or other physical bodies. On the other hand, the art of writing, to which I especially adhere, involves the ordering of words to effectively transmit ideas or record thought. The nonfiction writer, even the student working on an essay, is by necessity an artist (though not necessarily a proficient) if he is able to use words in an original way to convey meaning. The fiction writer is substantially the same in intent, though he explores not only the world around him but to a greater degree filters it through the fantastic landscape of his own mind. The separate art of ordering and adornment of the written word is traditionally assigned elsewhere, but in some cases the author works on this as well. Beyond these traditional arts there are of course crafts; a common expression of someone who loves and invests in his or her work to a special and unique creative degree is that he or she makes it an art. And we must keep in mind that “art” originally referred to a skill or science in general, from the Latin ars, artis; we would not usually, for instance, refer to the “art of history,” though we might say the “art of cooking.” Thus I would repeat my original supposition that “an art” refers to the exercise of divinely-inherited creativity and “art” is the product of such activity.

“Art,” with the first letter capitalized, to me indicates the summary of the above ideas. It is the overarching idea, the philosophy of both means and ideal, that drives us to our arts as makers of art. The details of this philosophy are, of course, not universal. Do all articles that were products of human inventiveness count as being a part of that grand thing “Art”? I am not sure that I could say at this point what my beliefs are on that score. I do believe that there is a distinction between “good art” and “bad art,” but even the philosophy behind that remains shaky in my mind. After all, if one splatters the idea over too broad a canvas it becomes meaningless (as the color black becomes meaningless when the world falls into a hole of that particular inclination). When every original thought and movement, when every voluntary twitch of the finger, becomes a part of the Art of life, that suggests overextension that is understandable, perhaps arguable in some sense, but counter to our purposes. How I therefore choose to identify “Art” is as the conscious effort to represent meaning on some level, the product of which can by its nature transfer its ideas to another being. And this not merely, as we might say of lowercase “art,” but in conjunction with a creative desire. In short, it is through Art that we intentionally or unintentionally identify ourselves with Our Maker.

I believe that some of the most important aesthetics questions would involve approaching these ideas of art and creation and asking “why” and everything that branches off of it. If we know why we are driven to create, we should also ask what is an appropriate expression of this drive. We ought also ask where the primary existence of art lies, whether the value of art is attached to the finished product itself, or to what existed or exists in the mind of the artist, or to what exists communally in the minds of all who interact with the product, or in all of the above or in a metaphysical Elsewhere. Such a class should also address the primal questions and definitions I noted in the above paragraphs, most notably what the individual’s philosophy of art is and how it can be reasonably affirmed and defended.

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