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 the artist is saying by allowing the audience to hear its own coughing, shuffling, etc. instead of an actual musical performance, blah, blah, blah. In short, I feel like I'm being misled and manipulated by a group of unbelievably erudite critics and historians. I swear, if some nobody like me decided to write 4'33'' (before anyone like John Cage thought to do so) and stage it on some street corner somewhere, nobody would take my artistic intentions seriously (even if I had the same ideas and intentions as Cage). Am I being unfair if I just dismiss every pleasureless, groan-inducing "work of art" as not worthy of the name? (Of course, there is going to be some variation when it comes to who finds what pleasurable. And people get pleasure from playing with ideas and other intellectual endeavors. But I want to know whether a work of art has to be, at its most fundamental level, pleasurable for the reader/listener/viewer to experience and not only just "say something".)

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't really deserve the name "work of art." There are plenty of arguments for that conclusion quite apart from the question of whether 4'3" gives anyone pleasure. Here's one: it's not clear what the work actually is. Here's a related one: two "performances" or instances of 4'3" might have more or less nothing in common except for their duration. Toward what is our aesthetic attention supposed to be directed? (Whether these are ultimately good arguments are not is another matter.)

Of course, there's a nearby question that may be a good substitute for yours: could something count as a work of art if the most reliable thing it did was annoy people? Perhaps the answer is no, though truth to tell, I suspect the answer just might be yes.

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