Sunday, January 16, 2011

what is art for? (art in our merchant society)

you probably don't remember me posing that question around new year's day...
and you certainly won't expect me to answer it i hope ;-) !!

but alright, perhaps it is interesting to elaborate a little on this question `what is art for?'. the question smacks a little of utilitarianism (excerpt from wikipedia below:)
Utilitarianism (also: utilism) is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its usefulness in maximizing utility or minimizing negative utility (utility can be defined as pleasure, preference satisfaction, knowledge or other things) as summed among all sentient beings. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome. The most influential contributors to this theory are considered to be Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

Utilitarianism was described by Bentham as "the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle".[1] Utility, the good to be maximized, has been defined by various thinkers as happiness or pleasure (versus suffering or pain), although preference utilitarians define it as the satisfaction of preferences. It may be described as a life stance, with happiness or pleasure being of ultimate importance.

Utilitarianism can be characterised as a quantitative and reductionist approach to ethics. It can be contrasted with deontological ethics (which do not regard the consequences of an act as a determinant of its moral worth) and virtue ethics (which focuses on character), as well as with other varieties of consequentialism.

In general usage, the term utilitarian refers to a somewhat narrow economic or pragmatic viewpoint. Philosophical utilitarianism, however, is a much broader view that encompasses all aspects of people's life.

so you see, with one little question we are already well into the minefield.

few people challenge the value of michelangelo, rembrandt, van gogh, picasso,...for society. still, recently the pvv (dutch political party) declared by word of spokesman martin bosma: `art is a leftist hobby'.


in the course `world and image' that i teach at the unit academy in nijmegen, we recently discussed the societal importance of colour...not even art, just colour. there is a lot of marketing research going into colour, because -obviously!- we are very sensitive to colour when it comes to buying the things we buy. so i quoted some studies on the economic importance of `knowing about colour'.

and i showed the students the absolutely marvelous book `art of colour' by johannes itten:

kunst der farbe, johannes itten
johannes itten, kunst der farbe (art of colour)

itten was a marvelous teacher, i think, and i also consider this book to be one of the most inspiring books i ever came across. (will continue this in a later post).

one of his art works:

johannes itten
johannes itten "Education is revelation that affects the individual."--Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, The Education of the Human Race, 1780. From the series Great Ideas of Western Man. (1966, click on the image for an enlargement)

[to be continued]

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