Sunday, September 9, 2007

What is it

An art lover will argue that art brings beauty to our surroundings and provides occasions for intellectual and emotional reflection. But those who don't appreciate art see it as unnecessary and frivolous - at any rate, certainly not something that tax dollars should go to support. In a time when school budgets for art programs are dwindling, John and Ken are joined by Cynthia Freeland, Chair of the Philosophy Department at the University of Houston, to ask the critical question: what is the value of art?

Listening Notes

Art is often taken as a primary example of something with intrinsic (rather than just instrumental) value. But what’s so valuable about ‘intrinsic’ value? Ken and John question whether attributing ‘intrinsic’ value to something isn’t just a way to avoid giving a rigorous defense of its value.

Before making a final judgment about the intrinsic value of art, they invite Cynthia Freeland to help them understand what art is in the first place. With her explanation in hand, they begin to add some informedness to their judgment, and start to appreciate how philosophical explanations of the world aren’t the only things worth appreciating.

In the next section, Ken and John press Cynthia on the limits of what is appreciable in the arts - especially in modern art. Do ordinary - even repulsive ordinary - things become art just because they are placed in a building with the words ‘art museum’ plastered on its face? On the other hand, are beautiful things less than ‘art’ just because they are ordinary? As they respond to callers, Ken, John, and Cynthia hone down Cynthia’s definition of art.

In the final section, Ken and John talk to Cynthia about funding the arts in education. They ask Cynthia what she would say to Schwarzenegger if he asked about funding the arts in California  public schools. She discusses how art can supplement education in subjects like history and language, and the important career skills, social aptitudes, and personal qualities that involvement in the arts builds.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (seek to 2:00): Polly Stryker reports on the extrinsic value of art, as a tool to help people cope with illness.

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Cynthia Freeland, Professor of Philosophy, University of Houston

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