Box 76, Item 679: Miscellaneous notes on architecture and philosophy


Box 76, Item 679: Miscellaneous notes on architecture and philosophy


Miscellaneous handwritten and typescript notes on scrap paper.


Verso of leaves not digitised. Note, one of two papers digitised from item 679.



The University of Queensland's Richard Sylvan Papers UQFL291, Box 76, Item 679


This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.


For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.


[5] leaves. 2.71 MB.




Como - Cupboard - Pile 3


Deep theory naturally delivers an aesthetics. Rudiments of such a deep aesthetics are readily
assembled from elsewhere. They include:
• a theory of aesthetic objects, fictions, art works, etc., drawn from item-theory (as in JB).
• a value theory, of rich non-reductionistic form, drawn from deep-green theory
• a full pluralism.


Jhe source of our
obligations to respect and protect works of art can be established in the type of value
^theory found in deep-green philosophy. Given the kind of w^ld ^proposed by Richard
•Syfvan, where a diverse range of entities are seen to have inherent value, it seems quite

plausible to believe that artistic works could also be valuable in themselves, and that our
obligations towards them are grounded in a recognition of this metaphysical picture. We
have also seen that the kind of valuation framework described by Sylvan could be usefully
employed to assess the objective value of works of art, which is of important practical




In making an evaluation of the worth of a work of art, we are assessing the intrinsic
value of an item. While that value is inherent in the work itself, it is at the same time
manifested in certain non-natural qualities which can be intuited by those engaged with the
work. These qualities, which are fundamental characteristics of a work of art, provide us
with a criteria for assessing value. This value, however, is not reducible to those
fundamental characteristics by themselves. The value of a work of art is expressed by two
essential types of qualities pertaining to art works, being firstly the qualities associated

with aesthetic value, and secondly the qualities associated with instructional (or didactic)
value. This second type of value relates to the tendency of a work of art to challenge,

instruct, give valuable insight, or enlighten. While these two types of value may prima

facie look like they constitute a distinction between the intrinsic and instrumental value of
an art work, I believe that they could nevertheless be both construed as elements of an art
works intrinsic value. It is certainly true to say that the instructive qualities of a work of art
have instrumental value, but we needn't conclude from this that the didactic value consists

solely in the relation between the art work and the subject experiencing it. It seems quite
consistent to hold that the didactic value of an art work is derived from its inherent
constitution to to provoke certain ideas, and thus is part of its intrinsic value. What Sylvan

refers to as emotional presentation, would then be best construed with regard to artistic
evaluation as the presentation of an art works intrinsic value; a value which is manifested
in terms of both aesthetic and didactic qualities. These qualities can be assessed in terms

of a comprehensive set of criteria for determining value. Such criteria would include for
aesthetic qualities such characteristics as beauty, strength of expression, balance, harmony,
composition, vividness and uniqueness, and for instructive qualities such characteristics as

the vivid encapsulation of an idea or a valuable insight into the nature of life or existence.

After identifying the various components of an artistic presentation, the evaluating agent is
required to engage intellectually in a further assessment. This stage is what Sylvan
referred to as coherence processing, and it is the stage at which the surface characteristics

of a work of art arc assessed for additional complexity or meaning. The qualities of an art
work which are not intuited directly, such as the symbolism of a painting or the message

of a powerful drama, will be assessed at this point. Coherence processing is especially

important in making an evaluation of the instructive or intellectual component of an art

work. In the context of the type of theory of intrinsic value and accompanying evaluative
framework advocated by Richard Sylvan, it seems possible to establish a set of criteria for
assessing the value of works of art, and in doing so enable practical value judgements to
be made.

One objection to the proposal that it'is possible to make value judgements about art
works which are objectively true, is that the interpretation of art is an especially subjective
experience. It is often held that judgements about artistic merit are nothing more than a
matter of personal opinion, and that there is no real way of solving arguments about
artistic value. While Sylvan is quite willing to admit that there is plenty of room for error

in his conceptual scheme, and that it is inevitable that people will come to different
conclusions about the value of the same work of art, there is no need to admit that we are
doomed to artistic relativism. Given a comprehensive criteria for assessing value, it seems

reasonable to assume that a significant proportion of people will recognize at least part of
the central core of characteristics which reflect an art-works value, and thereby come to a

not- too- different judgement of that value. This assumption is supported by the
observation that admirers of art can and frequently do come to some level of agreement
over what constitutes good art. It is important to note that a great many of the finest
paintings, symphonies, sculptures and plays have been held in high esteem for many

centuries by countless individuals, who have all independently come to respect and admire
their value. Another difficulty regarding the attribution of value to works of art is to
determine who should get to make practical decisions about the value of certain works of
art. This kind of decision making is crucial for institutions like art-galleries and museums,
for it will determine which items will be protected, and which will not. While the
judgement of any person who makes a considered evaluation of a work of art is important,
it seems appropriate that we should leave the final decision making to the artists and

admirers ol art who have the most extensive background knowledge and understanding of
what makes a work of art valuable. We must trust that in their capacity as 'experts' on art,
such people have a finely tuned appreciation of artistic value, and that when in positions of
responsibility, such as that of being curator of an art gallery, these people will do their
utmost to ensure that valuable art is preserved.


Richard Sylvan, “Box 76, Item 679: Miscellaneous notes on architecture and philosophy,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed May 27, 2024,

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