Function, understanding and assessment : a functionalist interpretation of the assessment of art : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Philosophy at Massey University

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Massey University
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The purpose of this thesis is to develop a functionalist interpretation of the assessment of art. In the following chapters I will explore the idea that we can assess the value of art works in terms of the various functions that they serve. Rejecting the idea that the value of art works lies in some kind of metaphysical value, I suggest that art works are valuable because we value them. We value them, I argue, on account of the various artistic functions that they perform. The purpose of chapter one is to set the scene philosophically, by explaining in greater detail what is involved in a functionalist interpretation of the assessment of art. In this chapter I suggest that the primary objections to my framework of assessment derive from the idea that only aesthetic considerations are relevant to assessment. In response I argue that this idea, which is central to both modernism, aestheticism and formalism, is based upon an unacceptably narrow conception of the nature and purpose of art, and should be rejected. In chapters two to six, I discuss in detail five of the more important non-aesthetic functions of art, providing examples which help to illustrate their contribution to the value of art works. Together these functions help to show that the idea that only aesthetic considerations are relevant to the assessment of art is unacceptably restrictive. Chapter two is a discussion of the idea that a central function of art is to represent the objects of reality. I argue that the concept of representation as ordinarily construed has serious difficulties, and is based upon assumptions which we are better off abandoning. I suggest that it would be better to conceive of art as a vehicle in which we can present ideas, depictions, and conceptualizations of various aspects of our understanding and experience. Such 'presentations', I argue, can be valued for the way in which they provide insights into different aspects of the world, and thus contribute to our understanding. In chapter three, I show that an important dimension of the value of art can be the way in which art works function to express cultural and spiritual beliefs and values. In chapter four, I discuss the way in which art can function to act as a vehicle for the expression of social and political ideas. In chapter five, I show how the moral significance of an art work can contribute importantly to its value, and in chapter six, I discuss the relevance of the expression and arousal of emotion to the value of art works. In chapter seven, I return to discuss the importance of aesthetic considerations to the assessment of art. I suggest that although it would be difficult to sustain the argument that aesthetic merit is a necessary component of artistic value, it is nevertheless true that aesthetic considerations play a particularly important role in the assessment of art works.
Aesthetics, Functionalism in art