Advanced Search

Why should movies get the science right? I have long heard that some/many sci-fi movies get the science wrong and I just sit there thinking -"well what's wrong with that?". I've managed construct a few bad reasons as to why they should get it right, but most of these are somewhere along the lines of: 'it might mislead people'. Your help will be much appreciated.

I don't think there's any general injunction about getting the science right, but sometimes getting it wrong can be a distraction. One example that's been discussed by various critics comes from Lord of the Flies . Piggy's glasses are used to focus sunlight and start a fire. But Piggy is nearsighted; his lenses would be concave rather than convex and couldn't be used to start a fire. (Thanks to John Holliday for this example, which he discusses in his dissertation.) Many readers won't realize the problem, but the glasses and Piggy's nearsightedness aren't just an incidental plot element. This is the sort of detail that Golding could have gotten right and once you know that it's wrong, you may never be able to read those scenes in the same way. Needless to say, this doesn't show that getting the science right always matters. It surely doesn't. It's also plausible that these things will be matters of degree. The more esoteric the bit of science, and the less central to the story, the less it's likely to...

Can a painting be *false* by not depicting reality? Suppose that some painter paints something that really happened, but adds or subtracts details that do not correspond to reality. Or suppose that the painter not only does that, but adds a title that makes it cleat that the painting to the real event. Or think about "photoshopped" photos. The reason why I am asking this is that I often read on the internet that (only?) sentences and "propositions" can be true or false, and a painting is not a sentence nor a proposition.

A nice question. Suppose a painter paints a scene with a person in it. Apart from very special circumstances, we wouldn't take this to be a matter of the painter telling us that the event really happened and the person depicted was really there. It might be that a real person is depicted who really was in the place pictured. But that's not how paintings are ordinarily intended, and it's not how they're ordinarily understood. Calling the painting false because what it asks us to imagine never really happened would be a bit like saying that the Sherlock Holmes stories are false because there was never any such person as Sherlock Holmes. Of course, a painter could use a painting as a way of conveying information intended to be factual. I take that to be the point of your example. And in many cases, some aspects of paintings are intended in just that way. Suppose a portrait depicts a blue-eyed person as having brown eyes. Depending on the larger story, this might be a genuine inaccuracy in the...

Whenever ethics and aesthetics come into conflict, is it always aesthetics that must give way? What is so bad about killing ugly people to decrease the net ugliness in the world?

I have to wonder: are you trolling? If not, I'm not sure whether any possible reply is likely to satisfy you. That said, since it can be useful to try to articulate things we normally take for granted, a handful of comments. If someone thinks that getting rid of ugly people trumps not killing people, there's an obvious question: perhaps you're beautiful now, or at least, perhaps you're not ugly. But that can change. It might change slowly through the depredations of aging, or it might change in an instant because of some horrific accident. If you think it would be okay to kill someone because they're ugly, you should agree that it would also be okay to kill you if you become ugly. Now the reply might be: this amounts to begging the question; it implicitly puts ethics above aesthetics. The test I've offered is near kin to the Golden Rule or, at least the Silver Rule, or in any case Kant's Categorical Imperative. But that misses the point. If Jack thinks it would be okay to kill someone else just because...
A postscript: the larger question was whether ethics always trumps aesthetics. A closely-related question is whether a life that always puts moral considerations above all other considerations, no matter how apparently trivial the issue, is a good one. Susan Wolf had interesting things to say about this some years ago in her paper "Moral Saints." ( Journal of Philosophy, August 1982.) Here's a link to her essay: http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarneson/Courses/susanwolfessay1982.pdf

Must a given novel, piece of music, etc. give pleasure to the reader/listener before it can reasonably be considered to be a work of art? It seems to me that this really must be so; otherwise, why would anyone even bother to even finish the thing in the first place (assuming they're not forced to do so, as in school)? I guess it would be important to define exactly what we mean by pleasure; if I'm a teary-eyed mess after a performance of Tristan und Isolde, has the music given me pleasure? It has, although some detached observer might certainly be led to believe otherwise. But, as a perhaps more extreme example, am I really expected to believe (as music critics and historians do) that John Cage's 4'33'' is work of art? For me, there is no pleasure to be had anywhere. Sure, there is an intellectual component to it: I'm supposed to place the piece in the context of the development of western music history, understand it as a reaction to (or perhaps the logical extension of) what came before, consider what...

I think the clue to answering your question (and answering no) is to think about your own brief answer: "It seems to me that this really must be so; otherwise, why would anyone even bother to even finish the thing in the first place." This assumes that the only reason someone would subject themselves to an experience is because of the pleasure it gives them. But why believe that? Not every worthwhile experience is a pleasurable experience. I'd have thought, for instance, that some unquestioned works of art are profoundly disturbing and that this is part of their value. Whether we can conjure up some notion of "pleasure" according to which they also give pleasure seems to me doubtful but also beside the point. We might stretch the word "pleasure" so that any worthwhile experience automatically counts as a kind of pleasure. But if we do, we've robbed the word "pleasure" of much of its distinctive meaning. You seem to have it in especially for Cage's 4'33". But suppose we agreed that it doesn...

Is artistic merit necessary for a work of art to be considered art and how can it be assessed? Is a thirty minute pornographic clip of two people having sex merely bad art or is not art at all? If I consider it better than Schindler's List and Roger Ebert does not, how do we determine which view is "right?"

The answers to your questions will depend somewhat on which view of art we pick. What follows is vastly over-simple, but here we go: On one broad class of views, nothing can be a work of art unless it has "aesthetic" properties. One version: it must be able to induce a kind of absorbed contemplation of the object's qualities. Porn, when it's doing its job, produces a rather different effect. (Of course so do a great many things that really count as art. The argument might be that those thing at least allow and reward a more detached contemplation. Your mileage may vary.) Of course a film could be highly erotic -- even pornographic -- and yet have various aesthetic qualities that reward attention. But a dull and workaday piece of porn probably won't, and so isn't likely to count as art on aesthetic views. A different kind of account holds that whether something is art can't be gleaned by considering the object itself. On this sort of view, what makes something art is that artists, galleries,...

Can a set of rules constitute a form of art? This seems to be one way to get at the question of whether games (chess, basketball, video games etc.) should be considered art.

It's pretty clear that the rules of chess don't count as a work of art. That's not a comment on the virtues or beauty of the rules; it's a comment on what we count as an artwork. As it is, particular chess matches/basketball games... also don't count, though we might get a good deal of aesthetic pleasure from contemplating them. Is there anything necessary about this? I'd say no. The view of what counts as art that I find most plausible is some version of what's called the institutional view. Art is a human practice -- an institution in the broad sense. Though there are no strict criteria, to count as an artwork, something has to be related to the conventions, practices, etc. of art in the right sort of way. But just what that comes to can and does change. This might raise chicken/egg worries, but those aren't actually very pressing. There are undeniable cases of artworks, artists, art museums, art critics, art afficianados, etc. To use the not-entirely-satisfactory term, there is an artworld....

What are the arguments for aesthetics? A friend of mine believes that "all Art is subjective" - in other words, it's all a matter of personal taste and culture/society. According to him, there is nothing "special" about Mozart any more than Britney Spears. Yet to me it seems obvious that Mozart's works are much more beautiful, in an objective sense. This issue came from a debate we had earlier: if a man bought the Mona Lisa and decided to burn it, I would do everything in my power to take it away from him. My friend believes I'm imposing my ideals of what art/beauty is and that's it's elitist of me. What can/should I answer?

I think there's a way to do honor to both sides. What makes works of art valuable isn't independent of human experience. It has something to do with the kinds of responses they call forth in us, though there's no simple story to be told about this. Philosophers sometimes put this by saying that aesthetic value is response-dependent . It's hard to imagine what we could mean by saying that a work of art was aesthetically valuable even though given the way we're wired, more or less no humans would ever find it valuable. And so there is a "subjective" element to aesthetic value: subjective in the sense of depending on how we respond to things. That gets us started, but it also seems to open the door to the response that it's all just a matter of subjective taste: I like chocolate, you don't and there's nothing more to be said. So let's turn to Britney vs. Beethoven. The first point is that there's no need to deny that a Britney Spears song can have real value. This is true even though some...

If a team of monkeys with typewriters accidentally typed a coherent and beautiful sonnet (one that appeared to be written by a talented author, despite being written by a shiftless monkey), would that qualify as art (or at least worthwhile literature)?

If Olla Fritzharold were to give a scat-singing performance whose syllables accidentally added up to something that sounded just like calling one of the audience members a shiftless monkey in his own native language, would that qualify as an insult? No. There's nothing like the relevant intention anywhere in the ballpark (or the auditorium.) Art and insults aren't the same thing, but it's part of the conventions that go with what counts as art that typically, at least, there had to be some sort of relevant intention behind the object. Of course, this isn't airtight. After all, there's such a thing as "found art," and then there's Duchamp's famous "Fountain," which was a factory-made urinal. But in cases like these, there's a good case for saying that what makes the thing art as opposed to merely an interesting(?) object is the fact that someone who stands in the right relation to the "Artworld" declares it to be art. And so we still have an art-relevant intention. The larger point is...

No art exists but what man calls art, and man is partial. If this is true, and if it means that art is only valuable to men, and is thus immaterial outside of that context (the Human Context), then what is the true value of art-—the objective value? I would presume that it is valueless. Further, if an artist knows this, how can he still appreciate art, knowing it to be esoterically meaningful? …*Why* should he continue to appreciate art? --Darwin K.

Suppose I happen to get great pleasure from something that more or less no one else cares about. Maybe I really enjoy writing poems that avoid using the letter "p." I know that there's no cosmic importance to poems of this sort, and I know that it's just a quirk of my psychology that I enjoy writing them so much. This activity has no "objective" value if that means value from some point of view that doesn't take me into account. But it still has value for me , and as long as I don't spend all my time doing it, there's nothing irrational about my using this odd little hobby as a pleasant pastime. I don't need to be worried about the fact that in the larger scheme of things, "p"-less poems don't count. The point is more or less obvious, I hope: if I dont' need to be bothered by the fact that some things have value for me alone, artists don't need to be bothered by the fact that some things have value only for a wider circle of creatures: creatures with the sorts of cognitive and perceptual...

Do you think cosmetic surgery performed by a surgeon is a form of art?

Yes and no, though perhaps most importantly no. Saying that something is an art is sometimes a way of saying that it's an exercise of skill, not least of a skill that isn't simply a matter of following a set of instructions. In that sense, cosmetic surgery is an art. Cosmetic surgery also has an obvious aesthetic dimension and no doubt calls on many of the same skills that a good sculptor needs. So all of that is on the "yes" side. But there's another obvious sense in which cosmetic surgery isn't an art, or better, perhaps, an Art . Painting, sculpture, poetry, etc. are Arts in this sense not just by virtue of being skills whose practitioners may have aesthetic goals. They also fit into a familiar set of cultural practices and institutions (museums, galleries, performances, reviews, critical studies, sales, auctions...) that determine what we count as "Art" with a capital "A." Cosmetic surgery isn't an "Art" in that sense, and this is almost certainly a very good thing.

Pages