Nature through our eyes

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Nature through our eyes

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Brian Yoder wrote:
Given a certain set of tools, skills, and materials why can't I create a work of art that actually makes some objective evaluation of the world and accurately communicates that evaluation to others? It is self-evident that this is possible. If it was not then why would anyone care about making or viewing art? The fact that there are subtle differences in our perceptual biology and that we have different culturally influenced ideas has no bearing on this possibility at all.

jzeissigus wrote:
Brian, this sounds like you're describing scientific and medical illustration. Do you really think that one should care about making or viewing art only insofar as it "makes some objective evaluation of the world and accurately communicates that evaluation to others"? Why bother? Scientists do a much better job of this.

For some things indeed they do. If one is addressing a question like "How far away is the Moon?" then a simple numerical measurement expresses that evaluation just fine. Ditto for questions like "What is the size and arrangement of craters on the moon?", where a detailed drawing, photograph, or database of measurements will do just fine. Art is better at addressing more conceptual evaluations like "What is the moon like on a pleasant summer evening?" or "How lonely can the desert seem when there's nothing for miles around?" (in which case an artist might include in a painting an image of the far away moon painting in a forbidding and alien way). By "objective" I don't mean "measurable by some simple number" or "measurable by a machine", I mean "judgment based on the facts" as opposed to "assertions unfounded on the facts". Since the fact is that the moon DOES appear a certain way on a pleasant summer evening, and that the desert DOES look lonely and alien at times, and that people do have certain reactions to seeing certain kinds of objects, color patterns, compositions, and so on, these facts taken together can give rise to a work of art that is indeed an expression founded on the underlying facts of reality being expressed and the human means of sensation and cognition. Such choices are not subjective, they are objective even though they may be very complex.

jzeissigus wrote:
Beyond that, objectivity usually means that we have a system of measurement in mind. It is especially helpful to have some instrumentation that is not under anyone's control. It is usually easy to agree on whether the meter read such-and-such, the litmus paper turned red, etc. When we do this we are said to be being objective. As far as I know, there is no "Artometer" or similar device for measuring anything to do with art. (It's not a bad idea, however; somebody should start working on that.) Do you actually have a system for measuring aspects of art? What variables do you look at?

The measurements are briefly described in the FAQ I wrote, but the core issue here I think is not what those are, but whether a complex evaluation can be objective or not. The way you are describing it, it sounds to me like you are saying that unless something can be measured by a machine and described with a small set of numbers it can't be objective. Is that actually your position?

jzeissigus wrote:
But, going back to why anyone should care about making or viewing art, isn't this entirely a subjective decision? Why not mow the lawn or study law or blab on internet discussion groups?

I think that the value of art is certainly objectively valuable. I think that you are using the terms here much differently than I do. By "subjective" I don't mean "coming from a person". Every idea comes from a person. The question is whether the conclusions one reaches are ultimately founded in the facts or not. There are plenty of good reasons to see some art, mow the lawn, study law, or blab on the Internet. What's so subjective (in my meaning of the word) about that?

--Brian