Since even logic and/or mathematics, themselves are incapable of both consistency and completeness simultaneously (at least of one accepts Gödel), it should not be too much of a surprise that no complete theory of art has been widely accepted, nor will I presume to offer one.
Art is something that has always deeply moved me, and that I believe in. Yet I know that there is little that I can point to in the world that objectively shows that it makes the world better. The only thing I can really point to is my own experience, that art has made my life better, and made me more interested in, and understanding of various cultures. I do feel strongly that interest in, and familiarity with various cultures, is a good in the world, leading to greater understanding and acceptance. Not that this is in any way a panacea to prejudice, but I do think it is generally helpful. And that is more then can be said of most things in this world. As someone with high functioning autism, and depression among other things, I have found the arts to be a great source of comfort, knowledge and understanding, as both an audience member and as a practitioner.
The idea of beauty in art has been I think overly denigrated in the last century or so. This is not too surprising given it’s over emphasis in classical, medieval, renaissance, and even later theories of art. These ideas did not by any means describe the actual limits of art practice even at these times, and so the reaction against them was certainly necessary. But at this point the idea that anything attractive is necessarily just decorative, and/or commercial, and hence uninteresting seems rather lame to me. The beauty of much of the art of many traditions has been both an inspirational and a comfort to me throughout my life. Whether it be Persian miniatures, or Chinese scroll paintings, or Celtic manuscript illumination (or those of William Blake), beauty can be part of great and moving art.
Likewise originality has recently been seen as the sine qua non of artwork. While I think that there is much to be said for originality, I think it has both been wildly over emphasized since the romantics, yet simultaneous been (sometime intentionally) misunderstood as just meaning being in the current style- which by definition is not original.
Nor do I think that technical experiment and innovation as sufficient in itself to create art of any lasting interest. I have seen art that is both interesting and original in its use of media, but to just be original in use of media alone reminds me of David Bowie’s Lines “He’ll think about paint and think about glue; What a jolly boring thing to do“. Yet I do not believe that any resources should be written off just for theoretical reasons, and think that using historic styles allows a wider range of expression, then a slavish commitment to the current moment.
This brings me to the question of cultural appropriation. This has become a very vexatious question, and I don’t claim to have all the answers, but the fact is that all culture is appropriated from others- that’s largely what makes culture. I would also say that with studying Asian arts everyone I have studied with was glad for the interest I showed in their artistic traditions. Yet with all of that, I would say that there certainly are times when cultural appropriation has done evident harm, and I certainly try to not to do any harm.
– Michael Hannon