In what follows, I’ll provide some historical context for the debate and discuss a number of key difficulties surrounding the question “(What) can we learn from art?” ”
According to David Novitz, there are three types of knowledge claims we might make about the humanities, each of which is defined by its objects. The question is what we claim to know or believe about the piece of art itself, as well as any hypothetical or fictional universes that might be linked to it. For instance, I claim to understand how the sunlight reflects in Monet’s Water Lilies. I also claim to know something about Anna Karenina’s interactions with her husband and Vronsky, her lover. Can my knowledge of Anna Karenina, on the other hand, be deemed knowledge in the traditional sense (justified true belief) if Anna Karenina is a non-referring name? Furthermore, how can one’s judgment of her position be any less valid than that of others? Whether or not the same level of reasonable validity is necessary must also be considered.
The second fairly known claim we’ll make about art is about what we all know or feel is an adequate or justified emotional response to the artwork. Of course, one issue here is how we all judge what reasonable response is appropriate to a particular piece. We occasionally seek opinions from friends about a few reactions they had to a specific work of art that was clearly different from ours. How do you tell which response is the most suitable or justified? Even saying that one should reply as if a unique, for example, were to be treated as a real account of true events, with answers as if the events represented therein were actually occurring or had occurred, does not alleviate the problem. Furthermore, despite the “report model” of emotive response, most novels do not appear to be meant to be taken as real.
The third assertion we’ll make about art is about the type of information it may supply about the world; it’s also widely understood that art adds a certain level of desire to our lives; and art, particularly literature, can elicit new beliefs and even new knowledge about the world.