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Lesson Plans

Re: What is Art?

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Henry Taylor (taylorh)
Sat, 20 Feb 1999 15:38:57 -0700

>A definition of art that I have come to favour is one which has been
>expounded by educators such as Ellen Dissanayake, who through her work
>in evolutionary biology has found art to be an innate and species
>centered human behaviour linked to our need or drive to "make something

I have to agree, Greg. Dissanayake's definition of art is, for me, one of
the most useful. I recently ran into an art-ed textbook which included some
discussion her ideas... do you know anything about her use of the term:
"Paleoanthropsychobiology?" <VBG>

>Dissanayake says:
> Across cultures, the arts may be used to express and reflect religious,
>political, economic, and other aspects of culture. At various times,
>artists, because of the impact of their work, have been identified as
>magicians, teachers, myth-makers, sociotherapists, interpreters,
>enhancers and decorators, exhibitors of status, propagandists and
>catalysts of social change.

One implication of this, and I find it supported somewhat in Anthropology,
is that art (making special) is a tool for the mediation of culture and,
further, that artists are mediators of culture.

I specifically don't say that this is -exclusively- what art IS. It's just
one possibility, one way, one application out of a myriad of possibilities.

It is a Utilitarian model and, evidentally a very ancient one. I notice that
Politicians didn't make the list...maybe that's a problem for Modern
Utilitarianism. <G>
I really like this connection to the early history of art and to disciplines
beyond the urban formalisms of: aesthetics, criticism, production and

>Sometimes artists ask us to question certain values. Sometimes they
>encourage us to imagine and dream.

And sometimes artists work through the medium of society and community
re-establishing balance and pattern; finding new shape and form in (to
reclaim an antique phrase recently appropriated by the Cotton Council) "the
fabric of our lives."

>This behavioural view of both art and artists also puts to bed the age
>old question of what can be defined as "good" art as opposed to "bad"

In Disannayake's context yes. very true--also quite possibly true in the
domains of Anthropology and Ethology. For the moment, in the West the
Formalist and Institutionalist models are much more widely accepted and the
"reality" of both 'good' and 'bad' art is hard to elude. That context may
diminish over time or not but it probably won't disappear. In THAT context
then GOOD and BAD will remain viable ...but perhaps not so influential.
Nothing is removed from the cultural or intellectual "ecology" but the
balance is shifted. Maybe THAt ends up being growth... but maybe not. I tend
to think it would represent growth and development.

>If "making special" is a human drive or need, then what can be
>classified as art becomes irrelevant.

...and the marking of the experience or site of "specialness" and the
quality of that specialness become more important.

>All of the end products are

In that they identify something as special

>but more essential than the result is the behaviour or the

which result from the encounter or recognition of the case: "Special"

>A stance that artists in the post-modern movement certainly
>have come to support.


Cheers Greg!