The distinction that modern artists and art critics make between the arts, on the one hand, and crafts, on the other, was foreign to classical antiquity. Both arts and crafts were regarded by the ancient Greeks as “productions according to rule” and both were classified as techne, which can be translated as “organized knowledge and procedure applied for the purpose of producing a specific preconceived result.” This concept runs directly counter to the deeply ingrained insight of modern aesthetic thought is that art cannot be reduced to rule, cannot be produced in accordance with pre-established concepts or rules, and cannot be evaluated using a set of rules reducible to a formula. The Greek concept, with its attendant notion that the appropriate criterion for judging excellence in both the arts and the crafts was the “perfection” of their production, predominated until the middle of the eighteenth century, when the French aesthetician Charles Batteux heralded the idea that what distinguishes the arts from the crafts and the sciences is the arts’ production of beauty. This idea lasted until the beginning of the present century when some critics argued that “beauty” was a highly ambiguous term, far too broad and indefinite for the purpose of defining or evaluating art, while, on the other hand, many artists expressly repudiated “beauty” because of its too-narrow associations with an outmoded view that art was beautiful and therefore should not be evaluated or analyzed, but should merely be appreciated. Since 1900, a large number of definitions of art have emerged, each of them covering a sector of accepted creative and critical practice but none of them, apparently, are applicable to the whole of what is accepted as art by the art world.

PARAGRAPH 1

Paragraph 1 Analysis

(1) The distinction that modern artists and art critics make between the arts, on the one hand, and crafts, on the other, was foreign to classical antiquity.

(1) This passage starts with a press of the rewind button. The author orients us with a reference to the familiar—“modern” artists and critics—and then contrasts it with the strange and ancient—classical antiquity. We know we’re going to be learning what ancient Greeks thought about art—specifically, that they recognized no difference between arts and crafts. So, making widgets is just as much of an art as painting.

(2) Both arts and crafts were regarded by the ancient Greeks as “productions according to rule” and both were classified as techne, which can be translated as “organized knowledge and procedure applied for the purpose of producing a specific preconceived result”.

(2) As a rule, dictionary-speak is yawn-inducing, but don’t glaze over a definition—you can bet it’s going to be key to the passage, and more than likely it will be worked into a question. If the definition makes your head spin, you can come back to it when you get a question that asks about it.

(3) This concept runs directly counter to the deeply ingrained insight of modern aesthetic thought is that art cannot be reduced to rule, cannot be produced in accordance with pre-established concepts or rules, and cannot be evaluated using a set of rules reducible to a formula. The Greek concept, with its attendant notion that the appropriate criterion for judging excellence in both the arts and the crafts was the “perfection” of their production, predominated until the middle of the eighteenth century, when the French aesthetician Charles Batteux heralded the idea that what distinguishes the arts from the crafts and the sciences is the arts’ production of beauty.

(3) This is good old compare and contrast. The author brings back our familiar, modern concept: art springs from the souls of tortured rebels who strive to produce beauty. This notion is contrasted with the Greek idea that by following a formula perfectly, you could get great art. But wait—when did the Greek concept fall out of fashion? Who’s this Charles Batteux? It turns out he introduced the revolutionary idea that arts and crafts are different: art produces beauty; craft doesn’t. Pivotal “slam on the brakes” words and phrases to notice: “runs directly counter”, “predominated”, “heralded”.

(4) This idea lasted until the beginning of the present century when some critics argued that “beauty” was a highly ambiguous term, far too broad and indefinite for the purpose of defining or evaluating art, while, on the other hand, many artists expressly repudiated “beauty” because of its too-narrow associations with an outmoded view that art was beautiful and therefore should not be evaluated or analyzed, but should merely be appreciated.

(4) These sentences parse the meaning of an abstract term: beauty. The author tells us that some people started scoffing at the definition that art production of beauty. After all, what is beauty? What is beautiful to one viewer might seem hideous to the next. Another objection critics had was that maybe art did not have to be beautiful at all. Something unappealing could still be art. A lot of artists at this time were expanding their notions of art beyond the merely eye-pleasing. Think my-kid-could-do-that modern art. So far, the whole paragraph is tracing the historical development of the way people think about art. Keep your eye on that thread.

(5) Since 1900, a large number of definitions of art have emerged, each of them covering a sector of accepted creative and critical practice but none of them, apparently, are applicable to the whole of what is accepted as art by the art world.

(5) This is a long sentence with a lot of commas. Don’t get bogged down in all the clauses and prepositions. Focus on the key words, and you’ll see what the author is saying: people have lots of different definitions of art, but no single definition covers everything that’s considered art.

Not only do contemporary definitions of art fail to agree on any common approach to art or on common areas of concern, but individually many of them do not even serve to differentiate those works that are conventionally adopted as art by many artists and critics from those that are not. For example, the “mimetic” theory holds that art reproduces reality, but although amateurs’ photographs reproduce reality, most artists and art critics do not consider them art. Much of what is recognized as art conforms to the definition of art as the creation of forms, but an engineer and the illustrator of a geometry textbook also construct forms. The inadequacy of these definitions suggests a strong element of irrationality, for it suggests that the way in which artists and art critics talk and think about works of art does not correspond with the way in which they actually distinguish those things that they recognize as works of art from the things that they do not so recognize.

PARAGRAPH 2

Paragraph 2 Analysis

(1) Not only do contemporary definitions of art fail to agree on any common approach to art or on common areas of concern, but individually many of them do not even serve to differentiate those works that are conventionally adopted as art by many artists and critics from those that are not.

(1) The author is hammering home the point that there are a whole lot of definitions of art out there, and a lot of them are pretty inadequate. He’s using a lot of big, abstract words here, so you’re probably hoping he’ll give us some concrete examples to explain what the heck he’s talking about. And then, bingo:

(2) For example, the “mimetic” theory holds that art reproduces reality, but although amateurs’ photographs reproduce reality, most artists and art critics do not consider them art. Much of what is recognized as art conforms to the definition of art as the creation of forms, but an engineer and the illustrator of a geometry textbook also construct forms. The inadequacy of these definitions suggests a strong element of irrationality, for it suggests that the way in which artists and art critics talk and think about works of art does not correspond with the way in which they actually distinguish those things that they recognize as works of art from the things that they do not so recognize.

(2) Don’t worry about the specific definitions — you can come back if necessary. Now, finally, at the end, he shows his cards and reveals an opinion: maybe these definitions themselves are meaningless! People look at art and judge it based not on some definition but on something else — their gut, for instance. Although the author doesn’t bring it up, this contrasts with where we started: the classical concept of art, in which art was judged rationally, according to rules. Our author doesn’t see rules as being at all valid.

PLAY BY PLAY

1. What is the passage type?

Subject: Humanities
Action: Describe

2. What is each paragraph about?

P1: Evolution of concepts of art, from ancient Greece to the present
P2: The numerous but inadequate definitions of art today

3. What is the organization?

This is a contrast passage. We have:

Greek vs. Modern

rational vs. irrational

one definition (the Greek) vs. many definitions (today)

Greek definition vs. Modern definition

Implication of varying definitions; so many definitions, can’t define art

4. What is the Big Idea?

How we think about art has changed a lot since the old days. People used to judge it according to established rules, but now there are a zillion different ways of judging — and people don’t even seem to follow their own criteria.

5. What is the author's purpose?

The author wants to illustrate how concepts of art have changed dramatically throughout history. This is a descriptive passage, so the author is basically just distilling historical information into his two paragraphs. At the end, he leaves us with an observation: that today, true artistic judgment is irrational and essentially unrelated to the definitions of art people come up with. He wants to describe and then share this observation.

Explanatory Answers

1. The author is primarily concerned in the first paragraph with discussing:

(A) problems of producing art.
(B) methods of defining art.
(C) criticisms of Greek art.
(D) similarities between arts and crafts.
(E) differences among various conceptions of art.

Type: Main Idea

(E) In the first paragraph, the author begins by contrasting the definition of art between modern artists, art critics and the classical philosophers. Then he goes on to elaborate on the Greek concept of art. He then tells us how the French aesthetician Charles Batteux distinguished the arts from crafts. He concludes the paragraph by saying that since 1900 a large number of definitions of art have emerged. Hence, (E) is the correct answer. The answer is directly available from the first paragraph.

2. According to the passage, one characteristic that many contemporary definitions of art have in common is that they are:

(A) easy to understand because of their simplicity.
(B) precise in their description of different types of artwork.
(C) similar to ancient conceptions of art except for minor differences in terminology.
(D) applicable to art of former centuries, as well as to contemporary art.
(E) inconsistent with judgments made by many artists and art critics as to which creations are and which are not works of art.

Type: Detail of the passage

(E) The last sentence of the passage says that there are inconsistencies in the definitions of art: “…the way in which artists and art critics talk and think about works of art does not correspond with the way in which they actually distinguish those things that they recognize as works of art from the things that they do not so recognize.” Hence, (E) is correct. The answer requires a reading until the last passage but does not require reasoning or inference.

3. According to the passage, which of the following objections to using “beauty” as the criterion for defining and appraising art emerged in the twentieth century?

I. The word “beauty” can have many different meanings.
II. “Beauty” is associated with an obsolete conception of art as something merely to be appreciated.
III. The ancient Greeks did not use “beauty” as their criterion for judging the value of works of art.

(A) I only
(B) III only
(C) I and II only
(D) II and III only
(E) I, II, and III

Type: Detail of the passage

(C) Regarding Statement I and II, the author says, in the first paragraph, that “some critics argued that “beauty” was a highly ambiguous term, far too broad and indefinite for the purpose of defining or evaluating art, while, on the other hand, many artists expressly repudiated “beauty” because of its too-narrow associations with an outmoded view that art was beautiful and therefore should not be evaluated or analyzed, but should merely be appreciated”. However, Statement III can be ruled out; the author objects to using “beauty” as the criterion for defining and appraising art that emerged in the 20th century. Not only does the author object to using “beauty” as a defining word for art, he or she believes that past definitions of art are no longer valid anyway. Hence, (C) is the correct option. The answer is directly available from the first paragraph but it needs validation of multiple points.

4. According to the passage, in contrast to the ancient Greek concept of art, modern aesthetic thought holds that:

(A) artists can have no preconceptions about their work if it is to be good.
(B) the creation of art cannot be governed by stringent rules.
(C) “perfection” is too vague a concept to use as a criterion for judging art.
(D) procedures used to judge art should be similar to procedures used to create art.
(E) arts and crafts are similar because they are both created using the same techniques.

Type: Definition of a term or phrase

The third sentence of the first paragraph explains that “the deeply ingrained insight of modern aesthetic thought is that art cannot be reduced to rule, cannot be produced in accordance with pre-established concepts or rules, and cannot be evaluated using a set of rules reducible to a formula.” Hence rules are irrelevant in modern aesthetic thought, and (B) is the correct choice.

5. The author refers to amateurs’ photograph in order to:

(A) illustrate a critical convention accepted by the art world.
(B) show the weakness of the mimetic theory of art.
(C) describe a way in which art reproduces reality.
(D) explain an objection to classifying photographs as works of art.
(E) underscore the need for a conception of art that does not include photography.

Type: Function of a part of the passage

(B) The second sentence of the second paragraph illustrates that the “mimetic” theory holds that art reproduces reality, but although amateurs’ photographs reproduce reality, most artists and art critics do not consider them art. When an amateur takes a photo, he or she is reproducing reality through a lens, in the same way that a professional does. However, if most people in the art world do not accept the amateur’s work as true art, then an amateur cannot be reproducing reality or creating art. Such a conflict undermines the “mimetic” theory’s fundamental principle. Hence (B) is correct. Though options (C) and (D) are close, the main objective of the amateur photographer example is to show the weakness of the mimetic theory of art. The answer choices are very close and the question requires a thorough reading.

6. The passage is most relevant to which of the following areas of study?

(A) the history of aesthetics
(B) the history of literature
(C) the sociology of art
(D) the psychology of art
(E) the sociology of aesthetics

Type: Category of Writing

(A) Since the passage traces the definition of art from ancient Greek times to the present, the most appropriate area of study to which this passage belongs is history of aesthetics. Aesthetics are principles pertaining to appreciation of beauty or art. The passage offers no information about psychology or sociology, the study of the structures of human society. The answer requires that the passage be read in depth and then an inference be drawn from it.

7. All of the following appear in the passage EXCEPT:

(A) a generalization.
(B) a comparison.
(C) a definition.
(D) an anecdote.
(E) an example.

Type: Detail of the passage

(D) The passage provides a generalization (A) about the Greek concept of art, a comparison (B) of old to new concepts, a definition (C) of the Greek concept of art, and the “mimetic” theory as an example (E) of modern art theories. However, the passage does not contain an anecdote, which is a short account of an entertaining or interesting incident. Hence, (D) is correct. The question calls for prior knowledge of what the word anecdote means, and a search through the entire passage for which answer choice is missing.

8. The passage suggests that, compared to the conceptions of art of earlier eras, twentieth century conceptions are more:

(A) ambiguous and amateurish.
(B) skeptical and irrational.
(C) diverse and fragmented.
(D) conventional and didactic.
(E) realistic and relevant.

Type: Inference

(C) Twentieth century conceptions of art are not amateurish so option (A) is ruled out. Though the word ‘irrational’ is applied to the inconsistency of modern artists’ and art critic’s definitions of art, we cannot say that they are skeptical about their conception of art. Therefore (B) is incorrect. However, the first sentence of the second paragraph tells us that there is a failure in regards to a common approach to art. Hence (C) is appropriate. (D) is incorrect because we cannot call all of new concepts of art “conventional”, since there are so many different concepts. (E) is wrong because the author finds modern concepts of art to be useless, and thus neither realistic nor relevant. Besides a reading of the passage, this question requires that all the answer choices be evaluated completely. Some of the answer choices are also ambiguous.

9. In his treatment of contemporary definitions of art, the author expresses:

(A) praise for their virtues.
(B) concern about their defects.
(C) approval of their strengths.
(D) indifference to people who take them seriously.
(E) ridicule for people who ignore them.

Type: Inference

(B) The author expresses concern about the defects of contemporary art definitions. “Since 1900, a large number of definitions of art have emerged…none of them, apparently, are applicable to the whole of what is accepted as art by the art world…Not only do contemporary definitions of art fail to agree on any common approach to art or on common areas of concern, but individually many of them do not even serve to differentiate those works that are conventionally adopted as art by many artists and critics from those that are not”. The author clearly feels that contemporary art neither has been defined correctly nor fully.

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