Michael Battalio

Friday, November 27, 2009

Serious conversations (part 10):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The tenth entry in this series is about art:

        I think there is a caveat to the typical definition of art.  (My friend began the discussion with the sort of definition a critic or textbook would give: art is a timeless expression of some feeling or sentiment.) Art may be a timeless expression of some feeling, but that feeling can be different for different times.  Great art will be able to continuously fit into the mold of attractiveness for a time period.  The question is who defines truly great art?  Who gives art meaning?  The short answer is an individual.  Just because a critic or the populace decides something is a great piece of art doesn't make it great to you.  
        My friend has a hard time getting a particular feeling or expression when viewing art. She is far more interested in the historical context within which it originally fit than with what the painting might express. She believes that many probably do not find something meaningful in art. She supposes that it means far more to them to be able to say that they have seen the painting, rather than to actually look at the painting. So, the true value of the old masterpieces now is that we can say we saw them. A critic might disagree, but in terms of the popular masses, they probably only look at art because other people tell them to. The question is why are some pieces are art “great”, but others not? And is greatness something intrinsic to the piece of art or a result of critics influencing the public or something else?
        I replied: Just because you don't feel that a particular piece of art isn't expressing something to you doesn't make it meaningless and consequently not art. Art doesn't necessarily have to impose meaning to everyone for it to be great.  Art can be considered simply for its own beauty, its appeal to the senses.  That can be technical beauty, as in the level of skill the artist had to demonstrate to create the work.  It could be the intrinsic beauty, as in the colors, composition or form of the subject is pleasing to the eye.  Or I suppose it could be the contextual beauty, as in the meaning we give to a subject makes it beautiful, the sunset is beautiful, two people in love is beautiful.
        I can't say why a great painting doesn't impart meaning to some people. It could depend on the kind of person one is, an analytical person interested in facts as opposed to an emotional person concerned with beauty. When I find myself in a museum, I never to try force any emotion out at the sight of piece of art. Meaning can be very subtle, and a lot of the time I don't get it either, but sometimes meaning will jump off the canvas and hit you.  You just have to be open to it.
        It is probably correct to say that most people see art because others say they should go see it.  Most people follow instead of lead.  People are attracted to what they are told is attractive, find beauty in what they are told is beautiful, see meaning where they are told to see meaning, so I would agree that critics of art steer us to what they conclude just because they are held in authority. Although, it might be because you are seeing something that's one of a kind, unique.  A painting can also connect you to the time period it represents.  A picture is a thousand words.
        However, some pieces and artists are great because they were the avant-garde for a new way of thinking, a new way of artistry or simply because they were one of the first masters of a particular genre or medium.  That might have inspired the interest of the masses at first.  I would imagine though that the continued influence of the great works has to do with a bit of everything - originality, critics, fashion, political and social relevancy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Serious Conversations (part 9)

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The ninth entry concerns family:

        With this entry I must start with my friend’s side. She has a rather large extended family that she doesn’t have much in common with, and she often questions her obligations to her family and what she gets from her family.
        She begins by saying that family is the group of people who are supposed to be there regardless of the circumstances and who should delight in your happiness and be pained in your sadness. The love of a family is more than enjoyment of one another’s company. In a biological sense, we are attached to those with whom we share genes. Socially and culturally, there is pressure to protect and care for our family members.
        Friendship, on the other hand, is optional. Our friendships change as our interests change; we are looking for something specific - pleasure, company, common interests - in our friends. Family, though, is forever; we are tied to our family by our genes and by mutual family members. And it seems we are supposed to get something different from our familial relationships besides enjoyment of company or common interests.
        But what is it, where is it, and at what point do you decide, with a particular relative, that you just don't have it?  Or is the question, “would I feel that something significant was missing if I didn't see them anymore?  Would they?”   What makes me care deeply for some family members and not others.

        I, unfortunately for my friend, have very little context to help here. I have a very limited family, not more than half a dozen that I ever see, and probably less than 20 total. So I have very little to draw from. In these couple of paragraphs is the best response I could muster:
        So, firstly, family love is different, yes, but why?  I think it's mostly cultural.  Something along the lines of a long time ago, when humanity was much more lawless, and trust was in short supply, you could trust your family, and that's all you could trust.  And trust is the first step to building a friendship which can then lead to love.  I also think it might have something to do with a desire to return what love and companionship is given us.  This would explain why you would care for those who care for you. The family members one cares for have established a lasting connection to you.  It's selfish, but that's what humanity is.
        I really don't feel pressure to like or be around extended family. If I like a family member, I don't look at those relationships any differently than ordinary friendship.  If I stop liking them, I stop interacting with them.  I don't really dislike any of my family though.  I suppose my problem with all this is I haven't spent enough time around my family to know whether or not I like them.  I feel my obligations to family are simply being courteous and civil. And that’s about it.
        To say the least, my friend was unsatisfied.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Serious conversations (part 8):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The eighth entry concerns the purpose of science in my life and how religion fills in the gaps.

        Here is how I view the end of science. Just because I can't understand the soul and heaven and God (if they exist) doesn't mean I can't understand everything else. If we understood the universe except for religion, then I would have to think about the end of science again, fortunately we’ll probably never fully understand the universe. Until then why stop pursuing science just because we one day might understand everything except religion? Just because we can't describe the soul or God now doesn't mean we won't some day get there. I think religion and science can describe the same thing, just in different ways. What I can call creation, you can call evolution and the big bang. One being right doesn't mean the other is wrong. If science, then not religion or if religion, then not science is fallacious, a dichotomy in the most horrid sense. Both can exist simultaneously and not only exist but help on another.
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