About the Authors Gene Mittler Gene Mittler is one of the authors of Glencoe's middle school art series, Introducing Art, Exploring Art, and Understanding Art. He. Mar 11, Download [PDF] Books Understanding Art (PDF, ePub, Mobi) by Lois Fichner-Rathus Complete Read Online. Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Lois Fichner-Rathus is professor of art in the Department of Art and Art History of The College of New Jersey. She holds a.

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Other philosophers and theorists have also suggested ways in which to understand works of art. Standard properties are those that are usually taken for granted in a category.

For instance, photographs are flat, typically produced by a specific mechanical and chemical process. The image in a photograph remains two-dimensional even though it produces the illusion of depth, and it remains still, even though it may depict a figure in motion.

We take the two-dimensional and motionless qualities of photographs for granted since Understanding Art 17 they are standard properties.

On the other hand, it is a standard property of film that the projected image appears to be in motion, even though it is actually a series of still photographs projected in rapid succession merely giving the illusion of movement. Standard properties are generally only noticeable if they are absent from a work of art.

In music, a piano sonata follows certain rules and conventions for sonatas and is performed on a piano. To perform it on a cello, for instance, would exclude the standard property of being performed on a piano, and this absence would be noticeable. The variable properties of a work are those that are different from one work to the next, giving it uniqueness or individuality. The particular arrangement of notes varies from one musical work to another.

The subject of a photograph, the size and shape of a sculpture…all of these are variable relative to a particular category.

Moving to a third level, a work of art may also exhibit what Walton refers to as contra-standard properties: qualities that, if present, may serve to exclude a work from a particular category.

It is a standard property of paintings to be flat; were an artist to create a painting with spikes of metal protruding from the canvas, the work would no longer be flat and might cease to be included in the category of painting. The presence of a contra- standard feature in a work of art causes the viewer to engage in evaluation of both the work and the category.

Thus, in the case of the painting with protruding metal spikes, either a new category must be established—that of three-dimensional painting—or the category of painting must be modified to include both two- and three-dimensional objects, subsequently enlarging the variable properties of paintings. History has shown that properties which are initially contra- Understanding Art 18 standard, and often highly controversial, may become variable and even standard with the passage of time as viewers become accustomed to the presence of these properties.

The standard properties of a work of art are comparable to the static level of analysis: in each case, these relate to the basic elements of the work of art.

The variable properties of a work of art correlate with the dynamic level of MIC analysis: qualities that change from one work of art to another within a given category. The contra-standard properties of a work of art demand evaluation, which is also the third level in MIC analysis. Walton represents a work of art as W and a given category as C, giving four considerations by which it is correct to perceive W as being a member of C, all of which relate to the four levels of MIC: First, W possesses a significant number of standard features with respect to C.

This corresponds to the static level of analysis in MIC in that it identifies the standard features of W. Second, W is in some way better, or more interesting or pleasing aesthetically, or more worth experiencing when perceived as C than it is when perceived in alternative ways.

This corresponds to the dynamic level of MIC, analyzing the variable properties of the work. Third, the artist who produced W intended or expected it to be perceived in C, or thought of it as a C. Fourth and finally, C is a well-established, commonly recognized category within the society in which W was produced. In this case, we reach the fourth level of MIC—identity. We recognize the category within society and identify the work as belonging to this category.

In order to analyze the work of art, the viewer must personally possess the requisite knowledge about the standard, variable, and contra-standard properties of the work of art, and must also apply this knowledge within a framework of prior learning about the history and society surrounding the work in order to form a correct judgment about the work. Danto also uses a four-level method of evaluation, but his levels are not hierarchical as in MIC.

If an artist creates a new style—S, then all other works of art are either S or non-S. Not every artistic predicate is relevant to every kind of art; but on the other hand, there have sometimes been artistic predicates—call one of these G, for example—that are widely believed to be a defining trait of artworks simply because no one has ever created a non-G artwork before.

If a non-G artwork is created, then G cannot really have been a defining trait of that particular class of artworks. For instance, it was assumed that all works of art must represent an identifiable subject—the presence of a subject was taken to be intrinsic to being a work of art.

The chart format is highly flexible, and the descriptors chosen for the categories can be adjusted to a given situation. Documentary photographs Understanding Art 21 portray factual information and are also examples of artistic quality. Works of photojournalism also convey factual information, but are not produced with the same attention to artistic quality.

Cindy Sherman is most famous for her Film Stills—self-portraits in staged situations. The photograph is artistic, but the image is fictional. Advertising photography, even though it is intended to convince the viewer that it is factual, is actually staged and misleading just think: did you ever open the box of your Whopper and see a burger of the glorious perfection shown in any Burger King ad?

The print quality of advertising photographs is certainly not museum- worthy in most cases, either. Walton and Danto, on the other hand, would start from the theoretical level and work towards the specific object: the context into which an object is placed determines its status as art more than any intrinsic features of the work itself. The object in question the Brillo Box was placed in a museum and was intended to be seen as art.

Therefore, the Brillo Box is a work of art. Granted, no matter which of these methods we are examining, there is a back-and-forth between example and theory, and the path of logical reasoning can be traced in both directions. Danto began by thinking about the Brillo Box specific , formulated a theory about it general , and then applied the theory to other objects to show that they are also works of art specific.

There are compelling reasons to use all three of these methods, depending on the situation and the object or type of objects under consideration.

In my studies, I begin from the standpoint that nearly any object can be a work of art. My definition is: A work of art is a physical phenomenon object or event that is created for appreciation. This is an unusually liberal definition of art, but contemporary artistic practice has shown that there are no intrinsic limits to what may be classified as works of art. Each object can be traced along this root system back to the main trunk of the tree, to be shown as belonging to the greater conceptual whole.

Dynamic The act of placing the fixture in a gallery and exhibiting it AS a work of art caused people to re-evaluate their ideas of what constitutes a work of art.

Additionally, placing the fixture on its side created a new point of view from which to consider the object as being something other than its original manufactured purpose. To understand a work such as Fountain, it is necessary to begin by identifying it as a work of art. The static level of Fountain does not offer much insight by itself, but when seen in light of a previous identification of the work as art, it can be understood according to the same terms as the static level of other, less controversial, works of art.

To invert the MIC chart in this way can often lead to a more comprehensive understanding of a work of art. Inductive reasoning follows the pattern of observation static , recognition of patterns in the observation dynamic , generation of a tentative hypothesis evaluative , and formulation of a theory identity. Inverse fractal analysis reverses the process according to deductive reasoning. Beginning with a theory identity , it follows through the generation of a hypothesis evaluative , observations dynamic , and confirmation as found in specific data static.

Particularly in the evaluation of problematic objects presented as works of art, it may make more sense to begin with a theory: this object IS a work of art, and then to proceed to prove this theory by evaluating the dynamic and static aspects of the work.

In other cases, it may be more logical to examine the specific static and dynamic components of the work and formulate a theory at the end of the process.

For instance, a close examination of the Understanding Art 25 artistic elements static and subject matter dynamic of a given Renaissance painting may lead to the identification of the artist who produced the work even if a signature is absent. Positivism and Constructivism in MIC: Family Resemblances and Historical Narration A longstanding debate in epistemological circles concerns the philosophies of Positivism and Constructivism, a debate that is also played out in the identification of works of art.

Positivism teaches that we can only fully understand that which we experience through direct sensory input—what we see, hear, touch, taste, or smell for ourselves. According to this point of view, knowledge is only found in what can be directly observed and measured. Watching any given episode of Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel offers excellent illustrations of the scientific method in action.

Wimsatt, Jr. Constructivism, on the other hand, is the view that knowledge has a social basis—that human beings construct knowledge within a particular societal context.

While Positivism would maintain that Truth can be known through objective observation and measurement of data, Constructivism views Truth as being relative to an individual within a given society.

Taking a larger view, Constructivism is the view that knowledge is, literally, constructed, whereas Positivism would suggest that it is discovered through empirical means.

Understanding these ideas involves a series of examples and explanations rather than an overall general definition.

Understanding: Art and science

Just as in the case of games, there is no single quality or essence shared by all works of art; instead we can understand these terms by looking at how particular examples either are, or are not, works of art by examining the ways in which they resemble other items that are already known to be artworks. Understanding Art 27 Sometimes, there really is not much to see—the truth about a work of art must be found in other ways. The narrative approach to classifying artworks establishes the art status of a candidate by connecting the work in question to previously acknowledged artworks and practices.

In this regard, it may appear to recall the family resemblance approach. However, the narrative approach is not merely an affair of similarities between past and present art. The pertinent correspondences must be shown to be part of a narrative development. Such historical narratives track processes of cause and effect, decision and action, and lines of influence.

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Second, art can exemplify. In exemplification, a work of art refers to a label. It does this by being a sample of or embodying some particular aspects of that label.

Exemplification can be not only literal, but also metaphorical. In the metaphorical case, Goodman terms it expression. This concept accounts for how abstract art, such as non-objective painting and instrumental music, can be meaningful even though they do not represent anything that can be described through propositional statements.

With this framework to hand, it becomes obvious that image retrieval systems predominantly organize images according to their denotation, missing their exemplification entirely.

In both denotation and exemplification, artistic reference is a matter of abstraction—in the sense the word is used in information science, referring to a summary or distillation. In this way, Becker flattens the ontology of the art world, giving visibility to the manufacturers, couriers, shop owners, gallery owners, critics, etc.

Networks entail tracing the processes and relationships that link the diverse entities of the worlds. Apparatuses refer to the physical, mediated activities involved in planning and making a work of art, such as using an information system to conduct research and putting brush to canvas. These concepts are meant to allow different levels of analysis and detail to be possible.

As relevant to the discussion here, what they provide is a toolkit for thinking through the broad systems within which art works. Artworks say something about how they reference Information science theorist Ron Day has long championed critical inquiry in information science, on the grounds that such inquiry can expose assumptions and other hidden layers of meaning.

When a document is analyzed critically, Day argues, it reveals how it references, on top of simply what it references. Examining a given work of art with these systems e. Viviane Couzinet Paris: Lavoisier, , — Gorichanaz Preprint 8 Martin Heidegger, the possibility of this analysis is the highest potential and true value of art.

And not only does art illuminate the worthy and true, however; art constitutes it. However, Heidegger laments that too often today we are inclined to see works of art in hermetic isolation, and considered in this way art does not have a chance to work. That is, art only works when it is woven into the fabric of human life.

Modeling Art-Making as Documentation As we can now see, framing artworks as documents reveals the structural similarity between the work of artists and information professionals. Both are concerned with the organization and articulation of aspects of reality, broadly construed.

Herewith, information professionals, for their part, can better assist artists by considering art-making in comparison and contrast with their own practice. The above discussion was an inchoate attempt at sketching the key areas of this sort of consideration. Moreover, examining the work of artists might lead to new insights for information science in general. To extend this possibility, this section explores in more detail how the process of art-making can be conceptualized as documentation.

Beyond information seeking David Bawden and Lyn Robinson suggest, in their textbook overview of information science, that the unique contribution of information science is that it conceptualizes along the entirety of the information—communication chain.

William Hemmig provides a review of this research, which allows him to draw several coherent conclusions about the information needs and seeking of artists, but nothing about their information use, sharing, creation, etc. Though scholars have pointed out the paucity of research on and difficulties surrounding recruiting practicing artists outside educational institutions, few seem to have been troubled by the lack of research on the information use of artists.

The work of Tidline, discussed above, is a notable exception, but it is also notable that this work only exists in the form of an unpublished dissertation. Case and Lisa G. Bingley, UK: Emerald, Gorichanaz Preprint 9 artists may not view themselves as information needers and seekers, but rather as joyful, creative and engaged builders of understanding. This process unfolds in time and is constrained and enabled by any number of factors, from socioeconomic pressures to individual whims.

Figure 2. The documentation process, adapted from Lund. Information mode Seeking Person medium time Document body physical technology mind individual information society socioeconomic culture Each of these aspects and factors of the documentation process can be examined in three dimensions: the physical, the mental and the social. Lund insists these three analysis must be done separately, but other scholars have suggested that they may be done in symphony.

Gorichanaz Preprint 10 person, while technology is the physical aspect of the document. This is meant only as an attempt to locate these various concepts along the documentation process, with the understanding that in reality they cannot be so cleanly separated or aligned.

An example may be in order. Consider a painter who, after obtaining things like inspiration, materials and information on, say, the time of day and season when the setting looks a certain desirable way, stands on the bank of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia to paint en plein air the Columbia Railroad Bridge.

As a person, the painter can be described in some detail, if a bit reductively in terms of their physical body e. The process of painting happens in time, through the medium of painting, with particular actions such as mixing and layering paints, and it too can be described in terms of the physical objects paint, canvas, easel, brushes , the individual idiosyncrasies and the socioeconomic costs, value creation.

The finished painting, likewise, can be described in terms of its technology paint, style , its information what it expresses and represents and culture its place in the world of art.


It is the purview of information science to point out the synergy among these processes, thereby unifying them and helping the artistic enterprise to advance. However, as art-making is personally meaningful and often idiosyncratic, phenomenological i. To adumbrate a way forward, we can turn again to the work of Goodman.

In the conclusion to Languages of Art, Goodman suggests that there are three intermingled purposes for making a work of art.First, art can denote.


Review the different shapes in Figure 3— Each object can be traced along this root system back to the main trunk of the tree, to be shown as belonging to the greater conceptual whole.

Examine the toolbar, palettes, and menus. Indeed, the part in question does resemble a human face; the lines of the nose and eye sockets are clear.

Paperback Brand: This process unfolds in time and is constrained and enabled by any number of factors, from socioeconomic pressures to individual whims.