Detritus wrote:What makes for "good" pre-Raphaelite painting and what makes for "good" Hochunk basketry are different things that are based in the people involved, not in paintings or baskets themselves.
I understand the rationale for making this statement, but I still don't see how it's any less culture-bound. After all, it makes no sense to define an artwork as "pre" anything except in the context of subsequent artistic and cultural development. And I certainly don't think knowing anything about the culture which produced a work of art is necessary for arriving at a personal judgement. In fact, one could even argue that "it's good by pre-Raphaelite standards" is an insult, suggesting that what came after is somehow superior. I like some ancient artworks despite their "limitations" and dislike others irrespective of them. Certainly, ancient Egyptians were capable of painting human figures not turned sideways, they just chose not to most of the time. The reasons why have no bearing on whether someone enjoys the images or not, however, and one can appreciate the artistry of such images even if they are unaware ancient Egyptian culture ever existed. The idea that knowledge about art makes pronouncements about it more valuable is just a bias of people who want to justify all the time they've spent studying it, IMO.
Detritus wrote:For example, the Lascaux cave paintings--you claim they were art 17,000 years ago, and remained art even when everyone who even knew about their existence was long dead. How do you know they were art 17,000 years ago?
Fair enough. I think a reasonable argument can be made that the Lascaux painters had no idea they were creating art. In their minds, perhaps what they were doing was purely functional, and in some sense "real", which is a distinction, I think, most of us make today about what is or isn't art. (The idea being that the painters in some sense believed that the representation of an animal was as much a personification of its spirit as the actual animal itself. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant -- I merely suggest it as one possible example of our modern sensibilities imparting a sense of artistry where none was originally intended.) Along those lines, I would answer your question about whether a sunset is art with "no", because it's just a natural process -- it exists independently of any artistic endeavor. However, an artist can incorporate the sunset into a work of art, and in fact I have a friend who recently did exactly that.
Detritus wrote:I will quibble with the idea that any statement biased by previous experience or personal preference is, by definition, subjective. Scientific theories are, by definition, biased by previous experience, are they not?
No. Their formulation certainly is, but the end product (if you do it right) is objective. That's kinda the whole point, actually. A universal law is only a universal law if everyone agrees on the answer. E=mc² is true no matter who does the measurements, where they are located, or when they exist. It makes no difference what culture you belong to, given a right triangle in two dimensions, a²+b²=c² is a result all observers will agree on. Note that in both cases, those formulae can be rewritten in many different forms, but the answers they yield will still be universally agreed upon. Similarly (if less easy to visualize formally) The Theory of Evolution was as true 5 million years ago as it is today, even absent the cultural trappings which made its discovery possible at a particular point in time.
Detritus wrote:In fact, science is specifically lauded for this bias, isn't it?
I am unclear what you mean by this. Seems to me that science is lauded for its ability to transcend human biases, not because it embraces them. I once again feel I'm missing some subtlety in your argument.
Detritus wrote:I'm arguing that "personal preferences" in the realm of art are culturally constructed and socially maintained (or, if you prefer, socially constructed and culturally maintained). And therefore, whether the underlying reasons for a given preference are articulated or not, it is a rational judgement, and not simply a limbic response to external stimuli, whether those stimuli are thought of as pure sense perceptions or the aura of some kind of greatness immanent to the work of art.
If I'm following your argument here (and I admit I might again be missing your real point as you're clearly better equipped for this discussion than I am) I think this can be refuted with two words: Guilty Pleasure.
That's the phrase people use when they like something which does not fit whatever construction they normally use (either consciously or not) to evaluate art. Similarly, when someone says that a movie or a band is "greater than the sum of its parts" it's an admission that, evaluated rationally, it comes up lacking, but there's still something appealing about it which cannot necessarily be expressed except to say, "I like it."