Let us ask a question: what is the main goal of pornography? Answering this question poses no challenge: the goal is conveying and/or creating sexual pleasure1. However, if we ask what the main goal of art is, then giving a straight answer that most people would agree with is difficult. In this essay, we will answer this question and show that art is a special and unique category of human activity and that the goal of art is artistic expression, that is, creating the work of art. Furthermore, we will show that the notion of aesthetic value is inherently subjective, but has a profound and definitive connection to art due to the special nature of the latter.
I The nature of art
Pornography is a form of human activity, a method towards achieving a goal. As noted in the introduction, pornography is oriented towards achieving a result – the conveyance and/or creation of sexual pleasure. Indeed, we cannot say that pornography is inherently immoral – or moral –, since pornography is only a method. We can judge the morality of an action, a goal (such as achieving sexual pleasure) or an agent (for example, the creator of a piece of pornography or the people appearing in it), but we have no agency or reason to assess the morality of a method2. This is true for all forms of human activity. When we make statements like murder is immoral or being virtuous is moral, we do not direct this judgment towards the method, but indeed at the result or the action itself: we might argue that the act of murdering a person is immoral or that a murderer is immoral.
The same reasoning fully holds for art3. Art is clearly also a form of human activity and is also a method towards a goal and no moral value can be associated with it. However, art seems to be different from, say, pornography in an important fashion: the goal of art seems to be a process, rather than a strict state of mind or existence.
However, art is special in the sense that the goal for art is the process of creating art, which we can also call artistic expression. To explore the reasoning behind this statement and see that this is indeed the case, it is necessary that we first examine the concepts of aesthetic value and aesthetic judgment. We will do this in the next section and resume the discussion in Section III.
II The nature of an aesthetic judgment
To approach the problem, we first have to understand the meaning of aesthetic value. It seems that aesthetic value is not an inherent quality of any object, but requires an agent who makes an aesthetic judgment. Were this notion to be false, we would not need art critics or, indeed, any form of debate on the aesthetical value of some object. We would simply have to somehow objectively „measure“ this value and, with the right methods, reach the same conclusion4. We know of no such method, since we do not universally agree on the aestheticity of all objects.
It seems that the origins of aesthetic value are thereby clear5: it is ascribed to objects by observing agents through a process which we call an aesthetic judgment. We can therefore now concentrate our efforts on a much more interesting problem: what is the mechanism for this aesthetic judgment, and can the results of it be universal?
When we say „this object has aesthetic value“, how do we know that this assessment is true? There are several aspects, for example:
1. The societal aspect: we might have heard some authority whom we trust say or
imply that the object we perceive has aesthetic value. This authority might be one person or it might be the whole society, which may have some commonly accepted criteria to that end. Context is also important for this aspect: we might not have regarded an urinal as a reasonable object for an aesthetic judgment, but we accepted it as such when M. Duchamp showed us the possibility by placing an urinal in the context of an art gallery.
2. The rational aspect: we might have arrived on such a conclusion on our own,
3. The emotional aspect: we might have arrived on the same conclusion not by rationality, but by pure perception – the way we perceive the object and the feelings this perception evokes in us lead to us ascribing aesthetic value to the object.
Furthermore, when we quantify the aestheticity of objects, the emotional aspect in our aesthetic judgment necessitates that the result we obtain must at least in part be affected by our emotive agency and our conception of positive emotions. What these positive emotions might be differs from agent to agent, but might include emotions or qualities like pleasure, enjoyment and virtuosity.
III The special nature of art and its connection to aesthetic value
In Section I, we postulated that the goal for art is the process of creating art, or artistic expression. Now that we have analyzed the nature of aesthetic value, let us resume the discussion, show that this statement is indeed true and explore its implications, especially in relation to aesthetic value.
Let us for a moment assume that the statement is not true: the goal of art is a distinct object, a work of art. What, then, defines this object that we call a work of art? It should definitely be something, since otherwise we would have no reason to even create the category of „art“ and associate the object with it7. Let us consider a world with three objects that we would normally classify as „art“: an oil painting on canvas by Raphael, conveying Christian ideas in a semi-realistic fashion through depicting a scene from the Bible; a dadaist collage on paper, depicting chaos and the absurdity of human life through objects that are generally regarded as garbage, complemented with newspaper excerpts; and a social realist drawing on paper, depicting manual labor in a naturalist manner. We can see that these objects have seemingly nothing in common – even the medium is not the same! Still, they are all societally regarded to be art.
It seems reasonable to conclude, then, that the end result of artistic expression is not the aspect that defines art, since the resulting works may greatly differ from each other. The important aspect of art must then be the process of artistic expression8.
It seems that an interesting question to ask would be: why does the artist start to create a work of art? The answer seems to be that she wants to express (and convey) ideas or emotions. As we discussed in Section II, both ideas and emotions are aspects of an aesthetic judgment. It seems reasonable to say, then, that art is the expression of such ideas and emotions which the artist considers to be of aesthetic value.
Therefore, a direction towards aesthetic value is the conception that sets the process of art in motion and is the defining quality in the category of art – which is, indeed, just a category. Due to the subjective nature of aesthetic judgments, we cannot make the claim that art necessarily has positive value, but the aesthetic judgment must result in a positive conclusion at least for the author.
We analyzed the nature of art and discovered that art seems to be a special form of human activity, since it seems9 to be directed at the process of creating art, or artistic expression – not a specific outcome. As it is a method of human activity, no moral values can indeed be associated with it. However, the driving force behind artistic expression, its raison d’être10 is the desire for aesthetic value. Therefore, the subjective nature of art dictates that art can indeed never necessarily have positive aesthetic value, but the very process of art in itself is based on communicating the aesthetic ideas and would thus be considered to be aesthetic at least by the author11.
1 Laest võetud väide, millele on vägagi võimalik vastu vaielda. Kuna see esineb teksti alguses, siis ilmselt lugeja sellele eriti palju tähelepanu ei pööra, eriti kui see tundub tõepoolest mõistlik steitment.↩
2 See on varjatud eeldusele põhinev väide, millele lisandub ülemäärane lihtsustus. Siin on esitatud üks võimalik käsitlus - tõepoolest täiesti relevantne viis küsimusele läheneda: pornograafia on meetod, meetodil ilma konteksita ei ole moraalset väärtust. Kõrvale on jäetud näiteks aspekt, et pornograafias sisaldub ilmselgelt ka tegevus, kuna selleks, et midagi üleüldse pornograafiaks nimetada, peavad sellel objektil juba olema mingid omadused. Ühesõnaga, valitud on aspekt, mis on diskussiooni jaoks kõige relevantsem. Ilmselt kogu teksti kõige märgatavam küsitavus.↩
3 See, mis järgneb, ei näita, et "this reasoning fully holds" See nimelt ei põhjenda ära, miks kunsti peaks vaatlema samadel alustel kui pornograafiat (või mõnda muud nn meetodit). Argumentatsioon on pädev, aga osaline, mitte täielik.↩
4 Eeldused: tajukogemus on universaalne, inimesed on täielikult ratsionaalsed.↩
5 Siin on üks järeldusaste vahele jäetud. See väide tugineb välistatud kolmanda seadusele. Niisiis, eeldus: esteetiline väärtus on kas predikaadis sisalduv või tuleneb väärtusotsustusest (A on kas B või C). Esimene variant on ümber lükatud (mitte-B), seega C.↩
6 Kui eeldus on "since" taha peidetud, siis on suht kindlalt mingi kahtlane värk käimas. Can you spot the kahtlane värk? Answer in the comments section and you will earn 5 points.↩
7 Näe, vaata! Tuginemine lingvistilisele relativismile. Niisiis ei kehti arutlus reaalselt enam kunsti kohta, vaid ainult sõna "kunst" kui sümboli osas.↩
8 Põhimõtteliselt sama olukord kui 5, ainult et siin on välistatud kolmanda seaduse kasutamine oluliselt kahtlasem, kuna ei ole selge, kas tõesti on ainult kaks võimalust. Also, varjatud eeldus: on ainult kaks võimalust.↩
9 Mitte ilmtingimata, aga selles muidugi avaldubki "it seems" maagiline võlu.↩
10 Näe, tark mees räägib puhta väljamaa keeles, siis peab ikka ju tark jutt olema, kui väljamaa keelt tunneb.↩
11 Kui tähelepanelikult lugeda, siis see on tegelikult esimene kord, kus selline väide esitatakse. See ei tugine otseselt varasemale argumentatsioonile.↩