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On Negative Capability

On Negative Capability
January 28, 2009, 12:59:57 PM
The ability to recognise and enjoy one's surroundings or situation, or an object or visual experience distant from one, without the need to explore its meaning or purpose, without any hint of "symbolism" on one's own part: "... when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason" - John Keats, 22nd December, 1817.

It is disputable whether John Keats was a "good" poet.  Personally, I like his work, and I feel that it is far superior to the work of any of the more "radical" British Romantics, i.e. Shelley, early Coleridge & Wordsworth, &c.  I would happily say that the deliberate search for purpose in either an abstract or physical ideal or object is detrimental to any work of art which could hope to portray said ideal or object.  Poetry, therefore, would be against Realism.  Is there, by this revelation, room for both Poetry and realism simultaneously?

Re: On Negative Capability
January 29, 2009, 11:12:22 AM
If there is art without reason, meaning, thought or concept behind it, how would one judge it's merit compared to similar art?

Re: On Negative Capability
January 29, 2009, 11:39:48 AM
The reason is that the object in question is worthy of being translated into an artistic format by a person of sufficient skill to do it justice.  Meaning is second to ćsthetics in art (in my view).  The thought is in how best to portray the object in question, and then concept is the object.  Art for the sake of art, for the sake of beauty, without any alterior secrets or mysteries of a human nature to cloud the enjoyment of it.

One would judge its merit as one should - by how it looks.  If you like it, it's good.  If not, it isn't.  This, of course, is not all encompassing, but singular, in that it is your own opinion, and in this way, the artist is communicating directly with you through his artistic impression.

The other end of 'pretentious', possibly.

Re: On Negative Capability
January 31, 2009, 12:18:43 AM
We are all looking for meaning. We only care about things that have meaning for us. You can't enjoy art unless you find meaning in it; but it probably has little to do with intentionally "looking for" it. A work of art can be understood independent of the artist, i.e. meaning can be found in a work of art which was not intended by the artist (that is, meaning and purpose/intent are separate though they often coincide).

So I would agree that the deliberate search for meaning (as opposed to purpose or intent) rather misses the point. Yet I entirely disagree that art is a portrayal of objects and its strength is determined by its effectiveness in portraying (i.e. communicating) an ideal or an object. That kind of art - that which communicates ideals and objects - has another name: Advertising. Art is self-expression. A translation of an internal state to an external medium, in a descriptive sense. Art is most enjoyed not when it is distant but when it is very close to your own "state of mind". It is least enjoyed when it is unintelligible or all too matter-of-fact.

Skill is a side-effect of inspiration. There is no "art for the sake of art" - the mysteries of being human are not "alterior" motives but the inspiration for art. I don't think it's important whether you like it, but rather whether you are moved by it. Again, this is the difference between art and advertising. An artist does not paint just so you can pick up a nice print from the supermarket to hang up in your kitchen because it's "nice to look at". We don't call metal art when it's made to sell records and please teenagers. Art always has a motive, and you can find meaning in art with or without being certain of the motive. If there's no (non-alterior) motive, then it's not art.

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One would judge its merit as one should - by how it looks.  If you like it, it's good.  If not, it isn't.  This, of course, is not all encompassing, but singular, in that it is your own opinion, and in this way, the artist is communicating directly with you through his artistic impression.

Suppose we changed this above quote to a reference to metal music (as it is the general topic of this site): "One would judge its merit as one should - by how it sounds. If you like it, it's good." You're probably aware that if you said this about metal, it really wouldn't fly - and neither does saying it about art.

Considering Reason and Poetry, I tend to think poetry (or inspired art, generally) at its best is a step beyond reason. Poetry is where self-expression flees once reason has been exhausted.

Re: On Negative Capability
January 31, 2009, 01:25:18 AM
The Augustans are turning in their graves.

Perhaps this is where a clarification might be necessary: I can see where one might find meaning in and object or ideal, in an abstract fashion, and be inspired by this meaning to portray said object or ideal.  However, as you said, "the deliberate search for meaning... rather misses the point".

I would further state that, as "the mysteries of being human" are not the same as "mysteries of a human nature": the former, I would assume, would include our wondering at our intelligence, our ability to reason, to feel emotion, &c.  My meaning, by the latter, was "mundane nature of thoughts of/created by humans, when compared to the emotions and senses invoked by an object ćsthetically pleasing enough to be worthy of artistic expression", which implies that the ordered thoughts of humans are secondary to the primary emotional responses of humans, among other things.  They are "mysteries created by human nature", I suppose, and not good ones.  Superfluous ones.  Effectively, n order to condense what could have been an entirely long and boring description, I went vaguely and tangentially philosophese on yo' ass.

Re: Metal.  This is where the second half of that quote of myself is required.  While, most certainly, there is definably good and definably bad metal in the world, I am all for allowing people to listen to what they want to (as long as they don't insist on pushing it upon me).  If somebody listens to Slipknot and thoroughly enjoys it, then, to that person, "in [his] own opinion", to quote myself, it is good, and Slipknot are "directly communicating with [him] through [their] [utterly shit] ["music"]".  Also, why remove "metal" from "art"?  I would suggest that Metal - good Metal, mark - is Art.

Perhaps our definitions of "art" are different.  I would define "art" as being "the human attempt at expressing any object, emotion, ideal, or concept, through physical means".  Wikipedia, the worst encyclopedia in existence (but all I can be bothered to use for now), states: "Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the sense or emotions".

Amusingly, upon looking at the Wikipedia article on "Art", I've realised that, somehow, my concept of what art is, is, effectively, either artistic "Realism" or artistic "Objectivism".

My final point is an outright rejection of your statement that "art for the sake of art" does not exist.  There are many "works of art" (again, definition required.  Bloody philosophy) by many people who would happily say "Oh, I just like to make music/paint/draw/whatever".  This could be for personal enjoyment, for the sake of it, for both.  It is, I will accept, an ambiguous statement in that regard.  Still, there is no prerequisite of art that it must represent something other than what it obviously represents.  I would say that most art can cause emotions and thoughts in the viewer other than those experienced by the artist, but that fundamental object/ideal is the central point, the focus, the anchor of all conjecture conjured by the work.  All good poetry, should it choose to meander through thought, will return to its original point.

Shelley's "Alastor" (Shelley was not an advocate of Negative Capability, though he admired Keats greatly) had, according to him, a definite "meaning", as it were, which is that a man should not be a recluse, should not shut the rest of the world off from him, and he from it, for it inevitably leads to a death similar to that in the cold, barren wastes, as experienced by "the Poet".  Many have argued that this goes against Negative Capability entirely, as it is "reaching after fact and reason".  I would dispute that the primary ideal that Shelley had in mind when he wrote "Alastor" was that men should not distance themselves from others to the point of abject and complete solitude.  This is the sentiment conveyed by the poem.  Shelley stated no other reason for writing the poem (other than, of course, to write a poem).  It conforms, thus, with the concept of Negative Capability, and is a primary example of a poem, the fundamental ideal of which, is not explored, nor extrapolated on, and is merely translated by the poet into art.  After many readings, I still enjoy it, and have never considered, before now, to gaze so deeply into its depths as to invent a secondary meaning.

Conversely, with a poem like "Ozymandias", also by Shelley, the ambiguity of the poem really rather invites the reader to reach - irritably - after the many facts and reasons of it.

This has turned into rather a long post, in which I've rather raved about a great many things which hold little to no interest in me.  My question has been answered - evidently, Realism and Art can coexist, therefore I would believe that Poetry is not exempt, as long as it is art.

Re: On Negative Capability
January 31, 2009, 09:36:56 PM
I am not sure to what you are referring with "The Augustans are turning in their graves."

Viewing art aesthetically is just a regurgitation of the way we, as humans, already understand ourselves. In approaching art so, we are not open to a broadening or reevaluation of our understanding of ourselves. The set of characteristics which each of us may find aesthetically pleasing is neither universal nor eternal, nor life-changing. A representation of an object "as it is" is not art; Art has the ability to change the way we see it. Art reveals something to us about ourselves or the world which was not previously known/obvious. This can't be explained purely in terms of particular emotional or intellectual reactions. My experience of "good" art is of discovery and personal insight - thoughtfulness, in short - rather than a reaction. When you're truly affected by art, you do not form an opinion of it. You fall into contemplation. This can happen regardless of whether you find the piece aesthetically pleasing. Objects are not "worthy of artistic expression" based upon some aesthetic merit. Art has the power to make them worthy.

I'll quote some Wikipedia, too (from the same page, "Art"):
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Immanuel Kant, writing in 1790, observes of a man "If he says that canary wine is agreeable he is quite content if someone else corrects his terms and reminds him to say instead: It is agreeable to me," because "Everyone has his own (sense of) taste". The case of "beauty" is different from mere "agreeableness" because, "If he proclaims something to be beautiful, then he requires the same liking from others; he then judges not just for himself but for everyone, and speaks of beauty as if it were a property of things." [...] For Kant "enjoyment" is the result when pleasure arises from sensation, but judging something to be "beautiful" has a third requirement: sensation must give rise to pleasure by engaging our capacities of reflective contemplation. Judgments of beauty are sensory, emotional and intellectual all at once.

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Re: Metal.  This is where the second half of that quote of myself is required.  While, most certainly, there is definably good and definably bad metal in the world, I am all for allowing people to listen to what they want to (as long as they don't insist on pushing it upon me).  If somebody listens to Slipknot and thoroughly enjoys it, then, to that person, "in [his] own opinion", to quote myself, it is good, and Slipknot are "directly communicating with [him] through [their] [utterly shit] ["music"]".  Also, why remove "metal" from "art"?  I would suggest that Metal - good Metal, mark - is Art.

Indeed, good metal is art. But why is it art? Metal is not an example of "persons of high skill" composing pleasing melodies, and the "object or ideal" portrayed is most often intensely aesthetically displeasing - intentionally so. Thus I again suggest that art is not judged by aesthetics. The notion that instinctive reactions to art/music determine what is "good" is simply egalitarianism. If all reactions are "in the eye of the beholder" then you are denying the possibility of metal (or any art) being anything more than an object to be sold, to make money, and to "please". If that is all you see and feel when you listen to metal, that's really unfortunate. Art, as metal music, does not exist to be viewed by men - for if you lock a work away forever, out of sight, it loses none of its potency as art (although its methods may become outdated).

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My final point is an outright rejection of your statement that "art for the sake of art" does not exist.  There are many "works of art" (again, definition required.  Bloody philosophy) by many people who would happily say "Oh, I just like to make music/paint/draw/whatever".  This could be for personal enjoyment, for the sake of it, for both.

Can you give a concrete example of art for its own sake? Art for personal enjoyment is art for personal enjoyment; not art for it's own sake. Nobody wastes their time doing something which has no forseeable purpose or reward (even if that is emotional). The only category of "art for its own sake" I can think of is accidental art - if that is possible. Cats make paintings when someone dips their paws in paint. If we exclude the intent of their masters, perhaps this is art for its own sake:



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Still, there is no prerequisite of art that it must represent something other than what it obviously represents.

I think art says more about an object than is "physically" present. In the age of modern technology, why would anyone still resort to the time-consuming complexity of sculpture or painting in order to accurately represent objects? If you want realism, get a camera. They're much more effective.

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All good poetry, should it choose to meander through thought, will return to its original point.

By the time poetry comes full circle, has our disposition (as readers) not been changed since the introduction of that idea/concept/object? Were all the lines in between the first and the last futile? Filler? Meandering blots of ink to take up space in the most visually appealing way possible?

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Conversely, with a poem like "Ozymandias", also by Shelley, the ambiguity of the poem really rather invites the reader to reach - irritably - after the many facts and reasons of it.

If you find thinking and interpreting "irritable", then what enjoyment do you derive from art? What is it like for you to view a work? Like eating candy? Like sex? A comfort? Do you then seek art which echoes ideals which you've predetermined as "correct" without hoping to discover something new? Consideration is more difficult than forming a binary opinion, but, per the earlier Kant quote, I agree that it is necessary to the enjoyment of art. I enjoy this very discussion, for example, for the sake of contemplation, discovery, and organizing my thoughts. I wouldn't bother posting if I felt that I already knew the answers, or that all opinions are equally valid. Yet I am not troubled to know that almost noone will read what I write here. Quite frankly, if these "side topics" hold little to no interest for you, I have difficulty understanding how you can derive enjoyment from reading poetry or listening to metal. Even to describe poetry, which you "like", you use adjectives such as "meandering" and "irritably ambiguous". So what is it you like about (some) poetry? Its ability to concisely state a reasoned conclusion which you agree with? Its ability to accurately describe objects, while expertly fitting the words together as in a crossword puzzle?

I can see how realism can be "represented artistically" but I don't see the point - as said, you can get a camera or read a physics textbook. [Wikipedia/Realism] You're not the only person to put forward your view; I just disagree with you on more levels than I can count.

Re: On Negative Capability
February 01, 2009, 08:17:10 PM
Evidently, we will never agree on the subject, so I will answer some basic questions and pose some interesting ones.

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I am not sure to what you are referring with "The Augustans are turning in their graves."

The Augustans valued Reason above all of the other abilities of the mind.

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Metal is not an example of "persons of high skill" composing pleasing melodies, and the "object or ideal" portrayed is most often intensely aesthetically displeasing - intentionally so.

In Metal, ćsthetics is turned entirely on its head, and that which is ćsthetically pleasing could be deemed monstrous to an outsider looking in.  The skill is in the creation of music which invokes the "intensely ćsthetically displeasing".

I would state that ćsthetics can be variable in different forms of art.

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The notion that instinctive reactions to art/music determine what is "good" is simply egalitarianism. If all reactions are "in the eye of the beholder" then you are denying the possibility of metal (or any art) being anything more than an object to be sold, to make money, and to "please"

This sounds like you're trying to flavour your view for this forum's userbase.  How, pray tell, does anything of what you've said in this quote lead to the next?  I fail to be able to make the leaps of logic which you with such grace have.  Art's primary function, in my view, is to "please" (though the method and result will differ, depending, once again, on the form of it).  However, this does not at all mean that it is merely an "object to be sold".

I completely fail to see your logic, and I am trying very hard.  It appears to me, somewhat, that you are grasping at straws located around a central opinion that "art > man".

Art, as metal music, does not exist to be viewed by men - for if you lock a work away forever, out of sight, it loses none of its potency as art (although its methods may become outdated).

What is the purpose of art if not to be viewed by men?

Humans are selfish creatures, driven by their own perceived needs.  Only a certain type of madman would see himself as needing to create art that should not be viewed by other people.

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In the age of modern technology, why would anyone still resort to the time-consuming complexity of sculpture or painting in order to accurately represent objects? If you want realism, get a camera. They're much more effective.

Many reasons.  1.  An artist may be against modernism.  2.  The best way to portray something may be in a three dimensional fashion.  3.  Modern photography captures a precise and definite moment, whereas a painting which takes many hours to complete may be influenced by the differing states of the object being painted (probably most applicable to landscapes).

The first reason is a human reason, the second obvious, the third detailed.  I could write an essay on why other artforms are superior to photography, but I cannot be bothered at this point in time.

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If you find thinking and interpreting "irritable", then what enjoyment do you derive from art? What is it like for you to view a work? Like eating candy? Like sex? A comfort? Do you then seek art which echoes ideals which you've predetermined as "correct" without hoping to discover something new? Consideration is more difficult than forming a binary opinion, but, per the earlier Kant quote, I agree that it is necessary to the enjoyment of art. I enjoy this very discussion, for example, for the sake of contemplation, discovery, and organizing my thoughts. I wouldn't bother posting if I felt that I already knew the answers, or that all opinions are equally valid. Yet I am not troubled to know that almost noone will read what I write here. Quite frankly, if these "side topics" hold little to no interest for you, I have difficulty understanding how you can derive enjoyment from reading poetry or listening to metal. Even to describe poetry, which you "like", you use adjectives such as "meandering" and "irritably ambiguous". So what is it you like about (some) poetry? Its ability to concisely state a reasoned conclusion which you agree with? Its ability to accurately describe objects, while expertly fitting the words together as in a crossword puzzle?

You take the part for the whole, here.

The "reaching after facts and reasons" is of the poet, not of the reader.  He is attempting to find and prove meaning in something which has one very clear and obvious.  The reader/viewer/listener is entirely welcome to "reach after facts and reasons", as, at that point, not every reader is forced to come to the same conclusion.

Here I feel I see the root of our perceived differences of opinion, which is a misunderstanding of who is doing what.  It is the artist who should not scrabble after whatever meanings he seeks to find in an object, not the reader.  The artist is he who is showing the object and explaining it in his terms, the reader is he who extrapolates from that what he or she will.

I would write more, but I feel that is almost sufficient, and I'm very hungry.

Re: On Negative Capability
February 01, 2009, 09:57:55 PM
Quote from: Cargest
This sounds like you're trying to flavour your view for this forum's userbase.  How, pray tell, does anything of what you've said in this quote lead to the next?  I fail to be able to make the leaps of logic which you with such grace have.  Art's primary function, in my view, is to "please" (though the method and result will differ, depending, once again, on the form of it).  However, this does not at all mean that it is merely an "object to be sold".

I completely fail to see your logic, and I am trying very hard.  It appears to me, somewhat, that you are grasping at straws located around a central opinion that "art > man".

If the primary function of art is to please, then art is judged by how many people it pleases, aka democracy.  Also, if art is not to have an intended meaning by the artist, then all interpretations of the art are equally valid, aka relativism.  You are clearly advocating an egalitarian view of art, just as ondeaander stated.  Liberalism is a mental disorder, you are a member of the homosexual mafia, gtfo my internets, etc

Re: On Negative Capability
February 01, 2009, 10:26:15 PM
If the primary function of art is to please, then art is judged by how many people it pleases, aka democracy. 
Fallacy. Art may, under these circumstances, be judged by the gravity with which it impacts upon those who are pleased by it. After all, the wise man and the fool do not see the same tree. So, three men enter a gallery and look at two paintings. At the first, the three men agree that the work is of average quality. At the second, two men are left cold by the painting, whilst the third proclaims it the greatest work he has seen. But which painting is the greatest work  of art?

Also, if art is not to have an intended meaning by the artist, then all interpretations of the art are equally valid, aka relativism. 

Noble attempts to divine the objective in art will always fall under closer inspection. Again the flaw is with quantitative evaluations ("equally valied"). There is no equality as there is no hierarchy to what is essentially a dialogic comunication between exhibit and visitor. The values of the informed and the uninformed eye are parallel; one does not trump the other. So you know the meaning of Holbein's Ambassadors. You see the painting and find the intended narrative. But I do not know the meaning of the work. And yet, when I look at the same painting, I discover potential meanings - associations and contexts that will pass by the informed eye, which wastes no time looking for them.

So art provokes different reactions in the informed and uninformed.  In the mind of the informed there is observation; in the mind of the uninformed, there follows creation.

Re: On Negative Capability
February 01, 2009, 11:38:14 PM
Have we managed to learn anything from this topic so far?

Re: On Negative Capability
February 02, 2009, 12:29:39 AM
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Fallacy. Art may, under these circumstances, be judged by the gravity with which it impacts upon those who are pleased by it.

Fair enough, but even so, art would be judged collectively on the sum of it's effect on people, remaining a democratic process.

Great art should move anybody of any worth.  If someone listens to a great piece of music and isn't moved by it, then I would immediately assume there is something wrong with that person, or at least place the onus on them to explain why the piece isn't great.  Also, if someone is greatly moved or pleased by shit music, that doesn't make the music any less shitty.  It just means they're retarded.  No matter how many people love or are moved by Slipknot, they remain a terrible band.

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After all, the wise man and the fool do not see the same tree.

I agree.

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The values of the informed and the uninformed eye are parallel

I disagree. The interpretations of the informed are typically of greater value than those of the uninformed.  For example, if one person is familiar with the symbolism that is used by a piece of art, they will have a better understanding of it than one who is unfamiliar with the symbolism.  If the uninformed find meaning in the piece that escape the informed, that's fine, but if they're unable to understand the intended meaning of the artist, they're missing out more so than the informed.

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Have we managed to learn anything from this topic so far?

Not really.

Re: On Negative Capability
February 03, 2009, 01:11:07 AM
Quote from: Cargést
This sounds like you're trying to flavour your view for this forum's userbase.

I didn't know the truth comes in flavours.

Quote from: Cargést
Art's primary function, in my view, is to "please" (though the method and result will differ, depending, once again, on the form of it).  However, this does not at all mean that it is merely an "object to be sold". [...] I completely fail to see your logic, and I am trying very hard.  It appears to me, somewhat, that you are grasping at straws located around a central opinion that "art > man".

I like that. Art > Man.

Things meant to please differ from person to person in how well they please, therefore what is "good" is arbitrary, therefore things that please hold no particular truth or meaning, and therefore they are essentially worthless. I don't think art is worthless, and neither do you - so art cannot be meant to please. There is a confusion of the cause-effect relationship here. The desire to please is not the cause of art; Inspiration causes Art, and art may incidentally be the cause of pleasure. When this is reversed, you don't get art. You get a product.

Quote from: Cargést
What is the purpose of art if not to be viewed by men?

What is the purpose of a fart, if not to be smelled by men? (Sorry, couldn't resist)

Art has no purpose in and of itself. The purpose lay in the inspiration. People don't usually think about babies when they're having sex. The purpose of art that is not to be viewed by men is perhaps akin to the purpose of having sex which doesn't produce a child.

Quote from: Cargést
Humans are selfish creatures, driven by their own perceived needs.  Only a certain type of madman would see himself as needing to create art that should not be viewed by other people.

Maybe that's why Artists are often seen as Madmen.

Quote from: Cargést
Many reasons.  1.  An artist may be against modernism.  2.  The best way to portray something may be in a three dimensional fashion.  3.  Modern photography captures a precise and definite moment, whereas a painting which takes many hours to complete may be influenced by the differing states of the object being painted (probably most applicable to landscapes).

The first reason is a human reason, the second obvious, the third detailed.  I could write an essay on why other artforms are superior to photography, but I cannot be bothered at this point in time.

It's really quite beside the point.. the artist's methods actually have little to do with its designation as 'art'.

Quote from: Cargést
The "reaching after facts and reasons" is of the poet, not of the reader.  He is attempting to find and prove meaning in something which has one very clear and obvious.  The reader/viewer/listener is entirely welcome to "reach after facts and reasons", as, at that point, not every reader is forced to come to the same conclusion.

Here I feel I see the root of our perceived differences of opinion, which is a misunderstanding of who is doing what.  It is the artist who should not scrabble after whatever meanings he seeks to find in an object, not the reader.  The artist is he who is showing the object and explaining it in his terms, the reader is he who extrapolates from that what he or she will.

I don't quite follow.. If the meaning is already obvious, then mightn't a poem about a cow just as well be C-O-W scrawled on a piece of notebook paper?

Cow brown
Brown cow
With a spot
On his eye

Quote from: Cargést
Fallacy. Art may, under these circumstances, be judged by the gravity with which it impacts upon those who are pleased by it. After all, the wise man and the fool do not see the same tree. So, three men enter a gallery and look at two paintings. At the first, the three men agree that the work is of average quality. At the second, two men are left cold by the painting, whilst the third proclaims it the greatest work he has seen. But which painting is the greatest work  of art?

The adjective "greatest" has no place in this discussion... there is no "greatest". There are works of art, and there are products. Amongst either, there are those that you like and those you don't - but aesthetic appeal and "greatness" and popularity are not what determine what is art and what isn't.

Quote from: JewBob
Great art should move anybody of any worth.

There is an argument that "intelligent people tend to gravitate towards good art", though I think that's a separate topic.

Re: On Negative Capability
February 03, 2009, 04:41:57 PM
Have we managed to learn anything from this topic so far?
Maybe: that we need a proper definition of art before we discuss it, so that we know what we're talking about?
Whatever you honor above all things, that which you so honor will have dominion over you.

Re: On Negative Capability
February 03, 2009, 05:12:26 PM
Maybe: that we need a proper definition of art before we discuss it, so that we know what we're talking about?

Thus, the problem with any attempt at philosophy is disparate definition.