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Definitions (last posting)



Those who would like to find the "art" of an object (event,
performance, etc.) in the object must solve an ancient problem:
suppose you have two objects before you which no test you are
able to devise is able to differentiate, yet one is the result of
directed human activity, the other the result of some random
process.  The classic example is the text of Shakespeare typed by
monkeys in the forest; or wind blowing through trees to give a
full orchestral rendition of a Beethoven symphony.  Are both
objects art?  Neither?

Philosophy does not tell us how to organize the world.  It does
attempt to analyze words (some would say "concepts," "ideas" or
"things") in ways which expose the structure of relationships
among them.  This thread, for example, has been labeled
"definitions."  What is a definition?

In philosophy, it is an equivalence relation: A = B; A if and
only if B; for all x, x is an A if and only if x is a B.  The
standard example: "bachelor" = "unmarried man."  This doesn't
tell you what a man is -- Aristotle proposed "A man is a
featherless biped" -- and the idea of "married" contains within
it concepts of a culture which distinguishes specific sorts of
legal relationships among people.  But: if you know x is a man
and that he is unmarried, then you know -- no ifs, ands or buts -
- that he is a bachelor.

If we need to be reminded that understanding concepts does not by
itself simplify life, we need only consider the incredible
example through which we are currently living: did O.J. Simpson
kill his wife?  If so, was it murder?  How much evidence must be
collected, sifted, analyzed, evaluated, deliberated, judged,
before we obtain an answer to those apparently simple questions! 
And they are simple: to kill is to reduce from life to death; to
murder is to do so without justification.    

So:  Art Attack seems to be doing the sort of thing artists do --
reworking objects to bring out or point to aesthetic qualities;
they seem to be thinking about what they are doing; some of their
results may be unplanned, but like John Cage's music, they seem
to be trying to control the randomness.  It's probably art.  All
art requires materials, so the fact that Art Attack requires old
houses is not relevant; what nanny raised her kid to hope his
skin might one day be wrapped around a book?

Tulsa's large annual fireworks display is scheduled for Monday
evening at a site a few blocks from where I write.  Suppose this
proves a particularly satisfying aural and visual feast, and I
later learn that this was so because the pyrotechnician is a
woman of peculiar genius and this display was a direct expression
of her creative imagination.  I'm happy, and I'd be inclined to
call it art, not because it was good, but because it was the
product of her creative imagination.  Later still, however, I
learn this particular display was actually the result of a
bumbling tyro who mistakenly closed an electric contact and
thereby set in motion an entirely unplanned sequence of rockets
and bombs and geewhizes.  No art here, though my pleasure in the
display remains undiminished.

Sid Huttner, Tulsa.Uttne


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