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No art exists but what man calls art, and man is partial.

If this is true, and if it means that art is only valuable to men, and is thus immaterial outside of that context (the Human Context), then what is the true value of art-—the objective value? I would presume that it is valueless. Further, if an artist knows this, how can he still appreciate art, knowing it to be esoterically meaningful? …*Why* should he continue to appreciate art?

--Darwin K.

August 11, 2008

Response from Allen Stairs on August 12, 2008

Suppose I happen to get great pleasure from something that more or less no one else cares about. Maybe I really enjoy writing poems that avoid using the letter "p." I know that there's no cosmic importance to poems of this sort, and I know that it's just a quirk of my psychology that I enjoy writing them so much. This activity has no "objective" value if that means value from some point of view that doesn't take me into account. But it still has value for me, and as long as I don't spend all my time doing it, there's nothing irrational about my using this odd little hobby as a pleasant pastime. I don't need to be worried about the fact that in the larger scheme of things, "p"-less poems don't count.

The point is more or less obvious, I hope: if I dont' need to be bothered by the fact that some things have value for me alone, artists don't need to be bothered by the fact that some things have value only for a wider circle of creatures: creatures with the sorts of cognitive and perceptual capacities that go into making and appreciating art.

But we can say more: it's not clear that anything has any value apart from some sort of relationship to sentient creatures. It may not be a matter of any creature's actual experience, but it may well be that the idea of value part from all possible experience doesn't make any sense. (I'll confess that I can't make a lot of sense of it.)

Art is something that particular kinds of creatures make and appreciate. It may not just be humans, but suppose it is. Nonetheless, the appreciation of art is a many-layered, complex activity that weaves together various skills, themes and concerns. It's something that humans find meaningful, even if other kinds of creatures don't.

And so I could work myself into a state of needless anomie because art doesn't have some sort of absolute, human-independent value. Or I could stand in front of the Matisse and revel in the deliciousness of those wonderful forms and colors. Which reminds me: it's been way too long since I've been to the museum. Perhaps later this week...

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