Research - Meaning/Taste - Family Resemblance and Beetles in Boxes / by Ally McGinn

In researching taste, aesthetics and attempting to understand what art is, i've come upon the term ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’ a few times. These are the conditions for determining a definition. If both can be defined with regards to a certain subject (A for example) then through the exploration of necessary and sufficient conditions we will be able to find all the things that are ‘A’ by excluding the things that aren't ‘A’. (Philosophy Bites, 2017)

Wittgenstein disagreed with this rigid stance. Using the example of games he shows that there are always things that don't fit the definition. We recognise what games are not through the definition of them, or at least not always, but through the experience of hearing the ways other people use the word, which leads us to an understanding of what Wittgenstein called a ‘family resemblance’. (Janaway, 2006)

Wittgenstein saw language as a living thing, and therefore as subject to the ‘change in variation’. Meaning, according to Wittgenstein, is reliant on use, in that whatever meaning we use is one that is ‘right’. Meaning can be local, we share meaning with those close to us, and have our own meanings for those words based on our own lives. (Janaway, 2006)

Wittgenstein suggests a thought experiment, an extension of the ‘private language argument’. In it he asks us to pretend that we each have a box, we all describe the thing inside the box as a beetle, and yet we cannot ever know what is inside other people's boxes. Whether the thing inside the box actually is what we think of as a beetle or is something else the word ‘beetle’, in this instance, becomes both a word to describe what is inside the box and the implication of a small creature with six legs. (Floyd, 2006)

In this experiment the box can be seen as a metaphor for our brains. A pertinent example of this would be our interpretation of colour. We all, mostly, agree on the standard definitions of colour, but the argument becomes more obvious when colours get specific. Working in an art institution for nearly five years I've regularly heard disagreements about colours, and we have no real way of knowing that what we see as green is what someone else is seeing. Pain is another obvious example, while there are obviously degrees of pain we have no reliable way of comparing our pain to that of another.

Words, or more accurately their meaning, operate in the same way. How often have any of us said something that someone has taken the wrong way. It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that we all have.

It isn't that much more of a leap to suggest that images are the same. As much of the research on this blog has shown, images, and by extension other artworks, have meaning that is integral to their existence. That meaning only exists when interpreted by a human, and those interpretations come through the reading of information. That information can be digital, visual, auditory, tactile or any number of sensory inputs. To define art as simply something beautiful or enjoyable on a basic level denies our own intelligence, and our capability to interpret information.

Art, it could therefore be argued, contains, disseminates, and encourages the transfer of information. While there are many artworks whose information revolves around beauty, or the weirder sensory experience, there are many others that require a form of data processing, or interaction, from the viewer. If nothing else it's clear that is more information to be explored than we realise.

I would argue that one of the purposes of art is to highlight that processing potential in regards to the world around us, and other areas of daily life.

The reading of art encourages a creative thinking process, which can be applied to the world beyond the art gallery.

There is a reason we can nominate the everyday as art, I would argue that this is because these objects have an element of inherent meaning attached to them. The nomination of them as ‘Art’ is a common activity, but maybe it is enough to think of them as art, or see them as art, at an individual level. We bring the meaning to the work, so can we bring it to other things just by imagining it.

If I think that something I'm experiencing is Art, but never say it, is it any less Art than the painting on the wall? Does it matter that I'm an artist? Whose to say where the artwork lies?

Reflection

This section was added in addition to my initial post on taste. The information here is mostly from two short sources, that inspried more thinking. Later parts of this text slip into assumptive writing, so this post is more - thoughts inspired by research.

Bibliography

Floyd, R. (2006) Wittgenstein : The Private Language Argument [Online] Philosophy Now. Available from: https://philosophynow.org/issues/58/The_Private_Language_Argument  [Accessed 03.11.17].

Janaway, C. (2006) Reading Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art: Selected texts with interactive commentary. Pondicherry: Blackwell Publishing.

Philosophy Bites (2017) ‘Elisabeth Schellekens Dammann on Disagreement About Taste’, Aesthetics Bites. [Podcast] Avaliable from: http://philosophybites.com/2017/04/elisabeth-schellekens-dammann-on-disagreement-about-taste.html [Accessed 01.11.17].