…and third thoughts, which started out as a reply to Tom’s comment to Wednesday’s post but grew:
Calling something “art”, like calling it “engineering”, “religion”, “warfare” or “terrorism”, is in itself a piece of political analysis, since the value we give activities depends on how they’re labelled. Sending a space probe to Saturn as scientific exploration will get more funding than sending it as an art project or an exercise in landscape photography, even though the Cassini images are breathtakingly beautiful. Would the space probe have been launched if the beauty of the images was the only justification? But the formal justification – scientific research – can, in this case, be seen as another form of aesthetic appreciation. Of what Earthly (literally) use is an understanding of, say, the dynamics of Saturn’s rings? Understanding is another form of aesthetic enjoyment- less sensual, more intellectual, but still aesthetic.
That’s a digression from the idea I’m really interested in exploring here, however clumsily. What happens when the ostensible target of a cultural activity is imaginary or hypothetical? Does it become art, by default? And is that just because in the 20th century “art” was expanded to comprehend just about everything that’s not immediately useful, but which is not team sports?
This is, in a sense, an inverse of the modernist gesture of labelling one’s own activities or objects (urinals, glasses of water, etc) as “art”: labelling someone else’s behaviour as “art”. This could be, but is not necessarily, a way of trivialising or satirising it. My unmade bed, which I label as “art”, acquires aura and status – well, if I’m Tracy Emin, anyway. But if I call your space program “art”, the implication will probably be the reverse.
Another thought: religious artefacts tend to become artworks over time, as the faith that built them changes or disappears; veneration is replaced by aesthetic appreciation. The same thing may happen to science.