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Being a lover of movies, I sometimes watch a movie that I find very inspiring, motivating or just aesthetically pleasing and I sometimes that many people like it too. However, it is not uncommon to find criticisms from film critics who conclude that the movie is trash or below standards and are not worth watching. My question is: who decides if the movie is "really" good and worth watching: the film experts who don't like it or the public who adored it?

After a hard day's philosophising, I find nothing more relaxing/distracting than a very loud, stupid movie with lots of things blowing up. The kinds of movies that, with rare exceptions, critics hate. Which of us is right? Well, neither, AT LEAST because we are applying different criteria. I want something mindless; critics rarely do, because genuinely intelligent or subtle films are what they want after a long day's watching loud stupid films. Now, let's take your inspiring movie. Again, its quality of being inspiring to you, and to many others, is only one thing a movie might want to do. And some such films work very well and fare well also with the critics -- like the first Rocky, for example. But a film critic has to balance a lot of different possible criteria: story-telling, script, acting, direction, etc. He or she then has to give thumbs up, or down, based upon this balance. That is why film critics often write things like this: 'Well, if you liked Rocky, then go see this; but otherwise...'. What...

It's typical to say that there's no such thing as an "objectively" good piece of art. But if that were so, why would we even bother sharing our thoughts about it? What would be the point in discussing a movie or song or painting with other people if we really thought that all our opinions were ultimately arbitrary? In other words, is there any way to make sense of the way we commonly talk about art that doesn't imply at least some kind of objectivity?

Thank you for your question: a definite puzzle. The real issue may lie in our tendency to divide all our judgements into just two classes, the 'subjective' and the 'objective'. Subjective would be judgements where there is no expectation of agreement from others, and therefore no sense in trying to justify our judgements; so, I like olives and you don't; what seems really pointless would be me trying to convince you that you like olives! Objective concerns those judgements where we believe others should agree with us, because the judgement is saying something about a world that is really out there, and we can all access the evidence concerning the object. So, I say that Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and you express scepticism -- well, we can together review the astronomical evidence. Art judgements seem to be neither one nor the other. They are not subjective, because it does make sense to talk about them, and indeed I may even be able to convince you: suppose, for instance, that I...

Are certain artistic mediums more adept at expressing human experience than others?

In theplayful spirit of Professor Nahmias, let me defend architecture! What could be more fundamental human experiences than sheltering; being safe and warm; having a place that is yours or your family's; having a place that is private (these are all descriptions of the home); or alternatively, a place to fulfill oneself through work, to trade, to meet in order to debate and decide important matters, to watch theatre or movies, buy or borrow books, to worship, to pay respects, to be healed, to watch the beautiful game, and etc. (public or commercial buildings)? We need to decide what we mean by 'experience', I suppose -- for example, do we mean big human and social needs, as in my answer, or do we mean intimate and personal matters? -- and also what we mean by 'adept at expressing' -- for example, does this mean able to produce an experience, able to communicate its meaning, able to make someone sympathise with an emotion?.

If someone is interacting with an interactive art installation, what is their role? Are they part audience, part artist? Are they still just an audience, or do terms like audience and artist cease to make sense in such cases?

A great question. It has never been the case that the role of'artist' and 'viewer' have been as clear cut as we would like. Firstof all, historically, many 'artists' were anonymous craftspeople whoprobably worked collaboratively -- and collaborative art works havereturned more recently as an important category within the art world.Second, in the 20th century, many artists experimented withstrategies designed to introduce either randomness into their works,or allow their 'unconscious' selves to be expressed. On the side of the viewer, we tend to think of the viewer asindividual, and as neutral. By 'neutral' I mean not adding anythingto the work or contributing anything to its meaning. But bothconcepts are clearly ideal situations, at best. Theatrical works, forexample, rely upon the viewers being a crowd and moreover behaving as a crowd. Related, a great deal of philosophical work has pursued theidea that the 'reception' of the work is not to be located in anindividual or group of individuals,...

Is one of the key features of "good art" that its production was deliberate? For example, the degree to which an artist is deliberate with every stroke correlates to the amount of "responsibility" he has over every brush stroke and thus the more that he deserves any praise.

It certainly seems to be essential to most accounts of art that some human agency is involved, generally in the form of a deliberate decision to do or make something. The artist then has to take responsibility for whatever is produced. However, should we think of this as quantitative, such that increases in the artist's explicit, conscious involvement in every 'brush stroke' is correlated to an increase in artistic worth? I don't think so; that would lead us to conclusions that are difficult to accept. For example, we would have to discount much of the work of Rubens because, as was common at the time, he had a whole workshop of assistant artists to whom he delegated parts or even all of a commission. We would also have difficulty with a great number of 20th Century artists who have incorporated chance elements, or audience interaction, into their work. Finally, we would have to accept a architectural or engineering draughtsman as the greatest of artists.

Should we enjoy high quality forms of art that depict an immoral situation? And should we even consider morality when evaluating art? I find myself constantly bringing this issue up whenever I watch a movie for example. Let's say there is a very well done movie that tells how great Suharto is? It's obviously a lie, what effect can this fact have on the value of the movie, as a piece of art.

I just answered a similar question, and much of what I say thereis relevant here too: http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/3749 However, what is new in your question is the idea of art (theother question concerned fiction and, given the context, Iinterpreted that as meaning popular fiction, e.g. thrillers). Theproblem is, can a work's aesthetic value be judged separately fromits moral value (or lack of it)? The usual answer, which follows Kantand others, is 'yes'. In the Critique of Judgement, Kant argues thata judgement of beauty must be disinterested, which is to say wecannot bring other types of judgement in as determining factors.'Other types', he says, includes moral judgements. His example is apalace (such as Versailles; don't forget he was writing in the periodof the French Revolution), which could be judged a beautiful piece ofarchitecture and design, but a political abomination. We can, andmust, separate out the project of coming to judge aesthetically fromthe project of coming to...

Is it immoral to produce a work of fiction where the main antagonist is also the only representative of a disadvantaged minority? For example, a film where the psychopathic killer is also the only gay man, or where the terrorist is the only black man. Does producing such a work contribute to discrimination? What are the responsibilities of the authors/artists?

Thank you for your questions. Onecan imagine a strong 'no' answer to your first question, which isfounded upon the following argument. It stresses the notion offiction. If the novel or film is called fictional, that means itdeviates from, and is known to deviate from, an accuraterepresentation of reality. Fictionseem to function by creating 'worlds' that we as readers or viewerscan occupy in the mode of 'as if'. To get carried along by a story,to be affected by it in any way, is to treat it 'as if' it were real.So, to be sure, in the midst of the experience, the differencebetween fact and fiction is blurred. Now, of course, normally wedon't carry on being affected after the film is over; we're able tosee the story as fiction and thus the world it presented asfictional. So (this argument continues), why should oneelement of its fictionality bother us? Or, expressed differently, whyshould we assume that readers and viewers are perfectly capable oftelling the difference between fiction and reality in...

I have listened to various recordings of Handel's Messiah recently. Each has different rendering of the original work. What is the difference between modifying musical works of art and "touching up" a classical painting or poem?

A good question, and highly seasonal!The Messiah is an interesting subject because there is no ONEoriginal. Handel, always both an artist and a businessman, puttogether several different versions for various different occasionsand groups of musicians. So, there are a number of authenticrecordings, all attempting to 'get back' to the original sound of thepiece, which are nevertheless quite different. This is by no meanstrue for all pieces from the classical tradition but one can spot abroad trend, from the 19 th century onwards, for artists tobecome increasingly concerned about the exact state of their work(various musical markings, instrumentation, etc.) and preciseconditions of performance. This suggests a distinction betweenthose variations among performances that can be accounted for by avariation within the original material (the tinkering Brucknerperformed on his symphonies, for another example), and thoseexplained by artistic decisions in the here and now. This distinctionis...

How do we say something that is recognizably artistically meaningful? It seems that in order for it to meet that standard, it would have to play on themes that have already established; in order to create something fantastically profound, one would have to create something truly new. But then art experts wouldn't recognize it as such since it wouldn't contain any reference to standards created by previous stuff. So suppose we take the mindset that we are writing for future audiences who will recognize it as a timeless classic. But why does the possible acceptance of our work in this way by future audiences guarantee its profundity? Why should they be favored over the intelligent audiences of today?

An excellent question. The relationship between art, standards or rules, andoriginality has been discussed on this site before. But I'll wade in with a fewcomments. First, if we think of rules or standards as being heavy-handed in theirdetermination, then that causes problems in many more domains than in art. Ifour standards for what makes a good X are entirely dependent upon a repetitionof the qualities that made Xs good in the past, then innovation in any fieldbecomes impossible. A good place to start, then, is with the recognition thatsuch rules or standards must always be a little loose or flexible and capableof evolution. Second, however, the problem becomes exacerbated in the domain of art, if weaccept that one criterion of art is precisely the absence of any determiningcriteria. This idea comes from Kant’s aesthetics and, in various forms, hasbecome a mainstay of philosophical aesthetics. Kant’s solution to how it ispossible to judge despite this (that there is a...

Can gardening be considered as an art? Thank you.

Well, Kant for one, seemed to ranklandscape gardening very highly, defining it as in essence a kind ofpainting (see section 51 of the Critique of Judgement ). Thepoint is that such gardening is about form, order, harmony andrelationships – it is, let us say, akin to abstract painting(although of course Kant couldn't have said this). Certainly, also,gardens can have affective and symbolic power, and they participatein a dialogue with their own tradition. Obviously, for everycriterion I come up with, someone could come up with acounter-example that is widely considered art but lacks this feature;so listing criteria is a risky business. Nevertheless, I'm havingtrouble thinking of a defensible reason why gardening should benecessarily excluded from the domain of art – other than the factthat it is not widely considered to be so by the people (artists,gallery owners, critics) whose job it is to tell us what is art. Andthere's the rub. In the absence of relatively stable traditions...

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