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Sunday, March 16, 2003

Hughey/Kamhi Debate Continues

By Kirk Hughey

To begin I have to agree with Ms. Kamhi that my closing remark in the previous letter was gratuitous in the extreme - she has every right to express an opinion on any subject and like Voltaire, I might disagree with everything she says but would "defend to the death the right to say it." I was less desperate than frustrated with the futility of trying to convince someone to have an open perspective rather than a closed one but my remark remains indefensible.

I appreciate her generousity in including the quote from Professor Zeki's book (this encourages me to find a copy. Of course a scientist would avoid metaphysical speculation in his findings - so Ms. Kamhi's caveat is beside the point.) I'm also pleased with the reference to my site (an updated version is at www.angelfire.com/art2/shibuyi) and other writing. All the above, to any careful reader, only reinforces my position.

From there I'll offer some notes on each of the statements in her latest letter more or less in the order presented. The objective proof of a scientific theory is an experimental result - that of a work of art is its existing fact and the experience it evokes. If the doubts of the artists mentioned were truly persistent they would have changed the direction of their work (Philip Guston comes to mind as an example). They did not.

My question about the people responding to the survey (David Halle's study) was not concerned with their socio-economic position or educational background. I don't think these factors indicate anything about a person's understanding and sensitivity. (not to mention that going down that road would validate my position as much as Kamhi's)

At the risk of redundancy I'll stress again that there is no exclusively third-person objective means of evaluating art. Strict objectivity would define any painting as no more than a surface to which a colored substance has been applied. Mimetic art could even be seen as only the attempt to "fake" the appearance of what it is not and having no objective value in itself. There is no formula that works for art.

Let me suggest that when we look at two different mimetic versions of exactly the same subject and respond more strongly to one, we are in fact responding to the way it is done; the affect created by a particuliar use of elements like color, line and space-"abstract" elements that have evocative power in themselves. Ms. Kamhi states; "In a work of representational art.....it is generally possible to point to objective features that can be understood as a reasonable basis for a particular response in a given individual".

I could object that this is a response to the subject itself; its "story" and symbolic attributes - not to the art-work itself. Still, I am also not prepared to yield to the notion that abstract forms have no collateral reference - they can fit this role as well as any language (words are entirely abstract forms in themselves), if we trouble to learn the vocabulary and syntax. We keep in mind that the subjects addressed are different in each form of art.

If we continue the analogy (it is only an analogy) with science we can see that science has fields concerned with characteristics of the apparent and others concerned with the underlying principles and effects that create the apparent. Mimetic art concerns itself with interpretations of the apparent and abstract art with underlying perceptual principles. There is no opposition - each does something the other cannot do.

In closing, I cannot understand why appreciation for one form of art must exclude appreciation for all others. My devotion to Goya doesn't mean I cannot love the grand resonance of Rothko. Ms Kamhi can't see this because her theory blocks her view. I am saddened by this - she's missing much of beauty and understanding.

Kirk Hughey

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