Monday, 21 October 2019

Considerations on Art

These sections ask a number of questions about art and aesthetics, most of which are unanswerable in any way that would be universally accepted! I use the word "Art"in its broadest possible sense, to include music (about which I know very little), poetry, etc.

1     1.Are there any absolute standards to determine what is “good” art? (or music, literature, etc) If so, how are these determined, and by whom? Is it, ultimately, anything more than a matter of fashion? It cannot be denied that standards of judgement appear to change radically over time, as each generation seeks to overturn the standards and norms of its predecessor.     Similarly, is “beauty” merely a matter of individual taste: or perhaps something that is learnt, and passed on through the prevailing culture? In past centuries in the West, it was considered that the Hellenistic tradition of what was beautiful was the only universally valid one, and anything that deviated from it could be considered “not beautiful”; but this would hardly be acceptable nowadays (why not?). If I say some work of art is “good”, am I ultimately saying anything deeper than “I like it”?

         2. Is everyone’s aesthetic judgement equally valid; or should it be accepted that some people have better cultural “taste” than the rest of us? If so, how, and why? Alternatively, is aesthetic value anything more than just popularity? Is there any way of proving that Shakespeare is “better” than some TV soap opera? Or is this just cultural snobbery? (Cynical assessment: “good art” means “admired by those who consider they have good taste”)
     3. What is “art” anyway? Can it be defined? If so, can some things be written off as “not art”? Is anything that is created by man “art”? A tree, for instance, may be considered “beautiful”, but it is not “art” because it has not been created (except possibly by God); but an exact painting of the same tree can be classed as “art” (and what about a photograph of it?). Can all human activities; e.g. a piece of skilled artisan work, or even a pleasing sporting performance; be classified as at least potentially “art”?

       4. Should the personality of the artist in any way affect the evaluation of his art? In other words, does it matter if a great artist is a wicked man? Many people see the two as incompatible, and accordingly try to either devalue the art or excuse the wickedness (the “intentional fallacy”) Example: Wagner's antisemitism

          5. Is there such a thing as “immoral art”? e.g. can a novel be disgusting, but well-written: can a movie be blatant propaganda, but brilliantly conceived and directed? Should these considerations affect our evaluation? (They often do!)

       6. What about fakes and forgeries? In these cases, are we really more concerned with the signature than the artwork? This will undoubtedly determine the price of the work in question, rather than any aesthetic considerations: but why should it? Is it a question of mere snobbery? (“I own a genuine Picasso!”)

.        7. How do we assess the “meaning” of any work of art? Does it matter if any “meaning” we give to it is actually quite different from what the artist intended? (the “affective fallacy”)

        Final point! It seems clear that from a very early point in human evolution, our remote ancestors felt a need to be creative: to paint pictures and play music; and presumably also to sing, dance and tell each other stories. Why? Probably this urge fulfils some biological/evolutionary purpose? Some birds and other animals behave in a similar way; apparently for the purpose of attracting mates. Does human creativity ultimately have its roots in something similar? Or, since we are a species that tends to live in herds, does it serve the purpose of fostering and reinforcing a sense of group-identity?

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Wales: A few days in Gower

Gower (not the Gower, we were informed) is a peninsula beyond Swansea on the south coast of Wales.

We stayed at Parc-le Breos, a country house hotel with enormous lawns, where housemartins zoomed around a few feet above the ground.

Just a mile away was a neolithic burial site, where the bones of at least 40 individuals have been excavated.

From the hotel it was less than half an hour's walk down to Three Cliffs Bay on the south coast.

A few miles to the west we found Oxwich Bay.

At the western end of the peninsula is a rock formation known as "Worm's Head" (a worm meaning a dragon), with the broad beach of Rhossili Bay alongside.

Gower is a maze of footpaths, with many banks of wildflowers. Alongside the main road out of Swansea, beds of wildflowers are ingeniously placed in the wide grass lawns.

We visited two castles. Weobley castle, on the north coast, looking across the estuary to Llanelli, is more of a fortified manor-house than a serious castle. It was mostly the work of the de la Bere family in the 14th century 

In the late 15th century it was the home of Rhys ap Thomas, who in 1485 came out in support of Henry Tudor when he landed in Wales in his successful campaign to overthrow King Richard III. Rhys was rewarded by being made a Knight of the Garter. The family's rise to prominence was to be shortlived, for in 1531 his grandson, Rhys ap Gruffudd, was executed for treason and Weobley reverted to the Crown.

Oxwich castle, in the south-west of the peninsula, is in fact an Elizabethan mansion,whose defences are purely for show. It was built by Sir Rice Mansel and his son Edward, but had been abandoned by their descendants by the 1630s and fell into decay. 

Swansea (or Abertawe, to give it its Welsh name) has always been the principal town of the region. It was given its charter in the mid-12th century, and today in Swansea old and new sit side by side. 
Swansea castle was rebuilt and altered on many occasions; for although Gower came under Norman rule just a few decades after the Conquest, it was attacked and sometimes overrun by Welsh rebels right through to the 15th century.

We spent the only wet day of our visit in the National Waterfront Museum, which was largely devoted to the industrial history of the area, and was most interesting. This picture is a model of Richard Trevithick's steam locomotive. 

In conclusion, we enjoyed our stay to Gower,and would recommend it to other visitors.