↑ comment by RichardKennaway ·
2014-04-17T12:39:04.251Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
This is the sort of question that you have to already know the answer to, to be able to ask. I won't attempt a definition, but as we all know, it involves such things as "the creation of things of beauty", "the expression of a truth that nothing else can express", and so on. That is what art is. We all know that that is what art is.
But for purposes of contradiction, suppose otherwise. Suppose art was entirely about convincing people that you have made art. Then the statement is a definition of art as being the fixed point of the formula "X is about convincing people you have made X". What in this formula picks out the class of works that, when we look at the real world, we see everyone calling art? There is nothing. If this is truly a statement of everything that art is, we should be able to insert a made-up name in the definition and convey the same information: "pightlewarble is about convincing people you have made pightlewarble". The fact that the revised sentence conveys nothing, yet "art is about convincing people you have made art" conveys something, demonstrates that the latter only communicates something because we already know something about what art is.
When such a sentiment is expressed, what it is intended to communicate is a criticism of art as practiced in the speaker's time and place. The claim is that what is being produced is not art, and that it fails to be art precisely because its creators have concerned themselves with nothing more than getting an artistic reputation among a similarly corrupt audience, and have failed to aim at making art at all. The "art" that the sentence is about is being asserted to be not art. The real meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning.
A similar analysis applies to every one of the examples I gave. All of them, when seriously uttered, mean the opposite of their literal reading.
Of course, the artist wants an audience, the lawyer must persuade the court, and so on. But these are not the terminal goals of the activities, and to take them for such is wireheading.
Here is another example. Tomorrow I will travel some 300 miles to Glasgow. How will I know when I have arrived? Well, if all goes to plan, the train will be pulling into Glasgow at about when the timetable says, there will be an announcement on the train, I will see signs on the platform saying "Glasgow", I've been there several times before so it will probably look familiar, and so on. (Btw, I also expect to be both busy and offline most of the weekend.)
So is travelling to Glasgow entirely about convincing myself that I have travelled to Glasgow? Of course, I have to reach the state of being convinced, just as the lawyer must convince the court etc. But the real goal is not to merely be convinced that I am in Glasgow, but to actually be there. In the real world of here and now (a place not as well frequented by LessWrongers as it might be) the only way of achieving the perception is to achieve the reality. Were this not so, my ability to achieve my real goal would be compromised, and I would have to find some other way of detecting when the goal was achieved. Compare the task of flying an aircraft in turbulence and poor visibility. A pilot who thinks that keeping the aircraft level is about feeling that the craft is level will crash. He has to trust the instruments above his physical sensations, and the instruments are there because the sensations are unreliable under those conditions.
Would you get on a train, if maintenance of the railway system was literally entirely about filling in the forms saying that the maintenance had been done?