fi said:Just to clarify, do you think there are aesthetic universals, and if so, on what basis do you think so? What is your definition of art, or music in particular, how would you measure its value, more specifically? For example,
do have any thoughts on this?
I don't think there are aesthetic universals. I think it's all in our minds. I discuss music below, which has a system based on mathematics, ie the proportions between notes. I think that our brains are designed to recognize order so that we may survive, that's why we like it, it's very ordered and we can grasp it. We enjoy things that make sense to us. Whether or not order is universally beautiful is the question in that case. For human's it might as well be.
I find it hard to untangle physical attractiveness, pleasure-inducing behavior, recognition of order and symmetry, and this intangible concept of "beauty." When I talk about music, for example, I am differentiating between the mental pleasure one experiences upon grasping resolutions of tensions in something like Palestrina and the unknown reasons for why people like other kinds of music. This seems to be what that link of yours is discussing. I definitely think that the dynamics created by the arrangement can be analyzed. However, trying to do a paint by numbers thing seems to still be missing something - the human part. That link talks about auditory scenes, I think this is what I am referring to.
There is also the question of synesthetes who have crossed senses. I have a friend who can taste names. She hates the sounds of machines, eg vacuum cleaners. They taste and sound bad to her. Some famous composers have been synesthetes who see colors and shapes dancing and morphing when they hear music. They see actual ordered patterns. This seems like a good argument for the idea that symphonic music appeals to the mind. The more one studies music and is aware of what to be listening for, the more pleasure one derives. I think this is analogous to Maimonides' golden apple in his intro to Guide for the Perplexed:
...It refers to the image of a golden apple covered by a silver filigree that is itself punctured with small openings. [A] saying uttered with a view to two meanings is like an apple of gold overlaid with silver-filigree work having very small holes,” writes the 12th Century Jewish Rabbi, physician and philosopher, quoting a Sage from Proverbs 25.11:
Now see how this dictum describes a well-constructed parable. For he says in a saying that has two meanings—he means an external and an internal one—the external meaning ought to be as beautiful as silver, while its internal meaning ought to be more beautiful than the external one […] When looked at from a distance or with imperfect attention, it is deemed to be an apple of silver; but when a keen-sighted observer looks at it with full attention, its interior becomes clear to him and he knows that it is gold
That's how I understand composed music. Music today can be appealing for many reasons. For myself, I tend to like histrionic singers, eg Jeff Buckely, Chris Cornell, Muse. They could be singing anything and it'd still sound wonderful to me (not that I don't appreciate their wonderful lyrics). Perhaps this is related to the composed music because the singers are creating and resolving tensions, instead of just repeating the same 3 chords over and over.
We tried to do this in my music class with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterpoint" [Broken]. We'd have the cantus firmus (the pre-existing melody) set, then we'd create a new line of notes that worked with the cantus firmus to create a theme. To do this successfully, we'd use Fux's rules EG no parallel 5ths or octaves (the consonant chords), use imperfect 3rds and 6ths, always resolve with either unison or octave. We always ended up liking the pieces that followed what Fux set out, but even when everyone used the rules, some pieces were better than others - so it wasn't just using those rules but going beyond in some inexplicable way. I just skimmed over that link btw, so point out whatever parts you want me to look over in particular.
I also brought up the idea of attractiveness and pleasant sights. One example could be of a child's face or someone smiling. We are designed to be attracted to these sights, and to receive pleasure from them. We also get pleasure from smiling back, if it was a genuine smile. So this isn't strictly universal, it's just another part of the human experience.
As for art, what is considered beautiful varies from person to person. But I do think there are universal bases for these estimations - they appeal to our individual minds, our unique perspectives and understadings, and are not simply about perceiving order. For example, my favorite artist is http://www.epilogue.net/cgi/database/art/list.pl?gallery=142". She draws mostly dark fairytale in digital media, but she also has a story behind them. That's what I find appealing, the character that I perceive. It isn't the pretty faces, it's the ideas I find appealing that are communicated through the art. I don't have a solid definition of art, there are too many ideas I've encountered to actually choose. I did find one telling point, tho; in my book Material Culture Reader, one of the articles points out that early anthropologists were pretty much antiquarians who would bring back material objects and call them art. In their original context, they may have had a functional use, EG Native American ceremonial masks were now being called art in it's new context - sitting in a museum to be looked at. Are the cave paintings of Lascaux art, or merely functional? Or both? I don't know. I guess you could say art is whatever fits my original statement - anything that speaks to your mind; we can say it can only be man-made, man-made for that purpose, or unintended natural scenes.
Lastly, you asked about value. I guess value would function a lot like my understanding of art - it varies from individual to individual.
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