Tuesday, January 07, 2014

What is a Work of Art?

A work of art is an object that improves the imagination. It need not be made by human hands, but it does at least have to be found and presented as art. A natural object in its natural environment can be mistaken for a work of art (or simply misrepresented as such), but this is because the experience of the beholder is wonderment in a manageable amount. The beholder feels invigorated and refreshed and slightly humbled, but the ability to imagine is not finally improved. Actual awe in the face of natural beauty cannot be mistaken for aesthetic experience.

It becomes a work of art by removing it from its natural environment (obviously, the artist can do this originally in the imagination) and placing it in an artificial setting. Here it can have its effect on the imagination.

A beautiful woman can under the right circumstances be a (found) work of art. (A painting or a photograph of such a woman is not, of course, such a circumstance. Here the work is the painting or the photograph, and the woman merely material out of which it is made.) Under such circumstances, however, she must cease to be an object of love, and even desire. Thus, when her lover says, in an attempt to flatter, "You are a work of art," he is either making a poetico-philosophical mistake or demeaning her. "I am using your beauty to improve my faculty of producing accurate imagery," he is saying.

The natural setting of a beautiful woman is one in which she is loved.

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