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Rob van Gerwen

May 21, 2016

Index Supervenience Agency Lanzmann's ban Propaganda Cave Gaze
Grammar Memory Schopenhauer Art practice Music Art's Morale Issues

Philosophical Directions
The effort of understanding

Defining Art Practice

Abstract of the argument on this page

Debates on the definition of art concentrate on the attribution of art status to singular works of art. In this paper, I approach the issue from the perspective of the art practice as a whole and the attitudes it requires of the audience.
A layered definition ensues: art practice is morally autonomous, and whether or not a culture sustains it, is the first question to be asked. (The why of this is a subsidiary matter).
Within this practice certain art forms enable artists to produce works of high artistic value; the question of the definition of art resides at the level of these art forms. It is they that are allowed into the practice or banned from them and the arguments used for such allowance (or denial) should find a place in the definition of art (the practice).
On the level of singular works the issue is rather simple: if a work conforms to an established art form, it is art, if it doesn't, then, maybe, it contributes to the initiation of some new art form, but whether or not this form gains art status depends on whether it allows artists to deliver instances of high artistic merit, i.e. works that allow for relevant types of experience, to be conceived of historically (in ways such as suggested in Levinson's Historical definition).

1. Perception and Expression

Perception presupposes the workings of five senses and the imagination. Each of these senses provides us with information about the now (they work synchronously), but in this each structures space differently. Whatever it is one hears through one's ears can be either in the space where his body is, too, or elsewhere, three streets away, behind walls, impermeable to one's sight. What one sees, in contrast, must be in a space directly connected with the body (irrespective of the distance). This is not merely a consequence of the physical laws of sound and light: we can see a star, but its sound will take ages to get here, and will probable have faded long before that. Instead, the typical data of each of the senses are part and parcel of the ways in which these senses structure their space. Through the combination of these varying data we achieve a sense of place (cf. Heidegger's notion of Being in the World; and J.J. Gibsons' ecological approach of perception; John McDowell's critique of Daniel Dennett's reductionist views re cognitive science, etc.)
The way in which this works, how the sense and the imagination cooperate to make us at home in the world, can best be understood by looking at relevant examples of impaired perception; hence we can come to understand the normal ways of perception. My thesis: imagination enables us to be-in-the-world, in interaction with objects, animals, and the other members of our moral species.

Imagination's three perceptual roles

The intermodal role Autism is a complex set of syndromes deterring from 'the normal'. Amongst these are the following examples: someone suffering from autism, when in the hall of a railway station can be seriously hindered by the sound there in his attention to another person talking to him. The 'autist' may be perfectly able to perceive the other's lips move, and to hear the sounds he produces, yet he cannot filter these sounds from the noisy bulk of the station hall, failing to connect the sight of the moving lips to specific sounds.
My thesis: In normal cases, one is capable of synchronizing sounds and lip-movements, perceptually: imagination brings the sight and the sound together. This is its intermodal role.

Normally, imagination orders the data coming in through a singular sense making use of the concepts the perceiver has available.
Imagine what it would do to one if one could not bring the distinct data of our distinct senses together in one consistent whole perception. One would be calculating combinations of data --what goes with what?-- every second of one's life!

The intramodal role Autists may also fail in singling out particular data of one sense from all the others that that sense produces in us. Imagination's sense-internal, or intra-modal role lies in differentiating the important from the unimportant data within a particular sense. In the example, the capacity to single out the sounds of the voice from the many voices and other sounds in the station hall. "Surely, one who does not respond to the sound of a gun shot, may not live long.
Normally, imagination brings together synchronous data of the various senses according to conceptual structuring. We normally know what sights belong to what sounds, and tastes and tactile information.

Some autists have the power to concentrate on a single sense's data, such that data of the other senses are totally blocked out: drawing an image and not jumping up at the sound of a gun going off behind one's head.
Yet, normally, however concentrated we are on a single task, our imagination will keep track of the data of all our senses and shall respond whenever relevantly big changes take place in these. It is easy to realize how this is important for one's self preservation. Surely, one who does not respond to the sound of a gun shot, may not live long.
Somehow, an autist person will be aware of his risks. In fact, he will panic in the station hall example, as he cannot possibly know for sure that the sounds that enter his mind do not entail threats to his life.

Imagination and empathy It is no wonder that someone whose imagination fails in its intramodal and intermodal roles, will have trouble empathizing with other people. This takes us to the third perceptual role of the imagination: empathy.
Normally, we have little trouble in getting to grips with another person's mental life, through the perception of his facial expressions, gestures, and attitudes. This should tell us at least two things. First, it tells us how the outward expression in facial traits and gestures is connected with the inner life they express (I shall get back to that), and secondly, it tells that empathetic imagination is not an inferential, or reasoning process, but a functionality of perception.

As an autist will have trouble introducing a conceptually organized order in the data of his senses, he can be expected to have even more trouble making sense of expression and the inner mental lives that shows, for that mental life is hidden and can in the autist's case only be reconstructed circumstantially.
It has been described (by Oliver Sacks) how Temple Grandin, a woman biologist suffering from the more highly developed variety of autism, Asperger's syndrome, has great trouble empathizing with her colleagues and other people, but how she is very confident with regard to the mental lives of 'her' cows. Empathy presupposes concepts of the type of creature one empathizes with--normally these are the concepts with which we think about ourselves, about members of the moral species. A dog will only understand so much of his boss's actions as he can reconcile with the 'concepts' he has of dogs. A dog's understanding of his boss is restricted by caninomorphism."A dog's understanding of his boss is restricted by caninomorphism. Why would this be any different with people? Here, too, empathy is species-proper.
Obviously, more needs to be said about this; for now, I point out these characteristics to enable us to compare varieties of empathy. How are we to understand natural empathy amongst ordinary people, artistic empathy with works of art, and how do autists empathize?

We don't criticize dogs for their caninomorphisms like we do human beings for their anthropocentrisms. Why not?

Art addresses autistically

As I think that art somehow treats normal people as if they suffered from autism, these comparisons should prove fruitful.
A bit more must be said in elaboration of this claim. With autism I do not refer to the extreme variety of autism where the person suffering from it sits in the corner of a room, banging his head against the wall in a rhythmical movement. I realize that autism is a clinical diagnosis, I do not refer to that clinical diagnosis either. Instead, what holds my interest is the idea that many aspects of autistiform behaviour are most normal in the context of art.

I am not committed to theses like those defended by psychiatrists Muhammad Arshad and Michael Fitzgerald. They argued in the Journal of Medical Biography that Michelangelo Buonarotti suffered from Asperger's Syndrome. I am not committed to such clinical diagnoses (especially not if they are about long dead persons). But I am interested in them.

Secondly, I am interested in the well established fact that men suffer significantly more often from autistiform deviations than women do. (I wrote some about this (in Dutch) in my "Kleine overpeinzingen". Does this reference to autism explain why (and how) art is mostly the business of men? [Please bear with me. I realize this question cannot seriously be posed.]

Dutch writer, Esther Gerritsen, in a brilliantly writ short novel (TussenEenPersoon), asks herself over and over questions about her partner, that would fit beautifully well in the diagnosis of an autist person. That very novel also hints at the major chracteristic of women: neurosis. [I know Freud said this, in different wordings. And I realize that this cannot be stated just like this. Take it as a speculation.]"Of course art is a male thing; it is autist. Women are too neurotic, too much in need of control.

Art's Gender

So art is male. Is it a male thing to isolate a domain of culture where thoughts and feelings can be had without the slightest need to according to according to them? [Which might be conceived as helpful for autistiform people wanting to experiment with social events in an autonomous environment without immediately being punished for failing to live up to other people's needs.]

What is neurosis? Can it be conceived as the exact opposite of autism: the belief and trust in the relevance of thoughts and feelings for our actions? The neurotic person thinks and thinks, because she thinks thinking is the only way to control reality. First comes elaborate thinking and, well, the nature of one's behaviour follows compulsorily. [Surely, a neurotic, not only has no need for an autonomous art practice, she also feels that it goes against her deepest convictions.

New developments feminine

In this light, we can see how new developments in art are predominantly female in nature: performances, installations, art that transgresses the boundaries with morality (that define art's autonomy): these developments cut out art practice's roots in autism, and provide the thoughts and feelings induced by art with their psychologically more normal impetus to act.

Expression as a symptom

Uttering the proposition "I have a pain in my knee" is quite different from yelling "ouch!" It seems to describe a state of affairs, a pain in my knee, whereas the yelling makes that state present to an audience, expresses it. Wittgenstein once argued that the distinction is mere appearance, a trick played on us by language. "I have a pain in my knee" resembles "I have a book in my hand", and, therefore, we think that both equally describe, and refer to some objective state of affairs. Both cases are, instead, merely expressions of the pain, the proposition slightly more sophisticated. Both expressions can be more or less appropriate, or awkward. Expression typically takes place in the vicinity of the feeling that is expressed and the body that feels and expresses it. I express my own pain, not yours, and I do it at the time when the pain surfaces (and there is an audience for the expression), not a few days later. "'natural' expression is a symptom of mental life. Hence the thesis that natural expression is a symptom of the mental life that is expressed in it. Quite like the symptom of a disease, it is not the same as that which it expresses, but they always come together. [Unless someone fakes, of course, but this is not part of the concept of expression I am working with here].

The moral imperative to act

In the presence of people, in a perceptual situation that includes people, moral imperatives to act apply. When, in such circumstances something happens which we hold morally less than desirable then one who perceives the misgivings is held to interfere (however, and irrespective of whether or not one answers to the imperative). As this is the normal case, I define the moral situation as that standard perceptual situation which includes the presence of persons.

More, here, about expression.

2. Representation

Philosophers, addressing issues of representation, mostly ask epistemological questions. They want to understand how reference to the represented takes place (or defy all answers to such questions--Goodman, Wittgenstein). Jacques Derrida argues that representations never reach their represented; according to him, representation means introducing distance and postponing rather than getting nearer to the represented. [Derrida, "La Différance"]. In analytical philosophy, epistemological and ontological questions prevail too.
In light of my argument, however, different questions can (and should) be posed. Pictures address only the visual sense, one can only look at them; texts must be read, they must be interpreted both syntactically and semantically. If a killing is depicted in a film, or described in a novel or journal, the beholder, or reader, is not held to interfere. How could he prevent a killing that takes place in a different place from where he takes in its representation? All of the acknowledged types of representation address the perceiving body in limited manner, mostly only a selection of the senses, and, intramodally, a further selection of the relevant data. Film addresses sight and hearing, yet not all visual and audible data are relevant: one is supposed to abstract from those that do not stem from the proper origins, from either the screen or the audio boxes that stand next to it.
Our representations address us in circumscribed manner, as if we suffer from autism. One of the first things to go, in contrast with the exemplary moral situation alluded to above, is the moral imperative relative to the represented. Put differently, a representation brings an elsewhere to our minds. The representation itself is in the moral space where it is perceived. Within that space the representation does something to us: a journalistic report purports to tell us the truth; a fiction film does something else altogether: it does not tell us the truth (it may tell us the truth, but need not); instead, it enables us to empathize with the mostly fictional reality represented.


As I just said, many philosophers conceive of the philosophical issues with regard to representations as problems that start off with epistemological or ontological questions; with questions about establishing the truth of a representation or the reality of the represented. Some of these philosophers, I only mention Greg Currie and Nelson Goodman, have approached representations themselves primarily ontologically. They do not merely ask after the representation's relations to its represented, but also have the nature of the representation depend on the reality of what is represented. According to Goodman something can only be a representation if what it represents really exists or existed. Fictional entities or events cannot be represented. Don Quichote, for instance, cannot be represented: what would one have to represent him like? Yet, of course, we know of the book 'about' Don Quichote, and of his numerous pictures as the knight on the skinny horse with his upright lanse and the wind mils on the horizon. Instead of taking these descriptions and pictures as representing Don Quichote, we should take them as Don-Quichote-representations, one-place predicates that do not imply a relationship between something we are looking at (a picture) and something it represents (Don Quichote, who never existed). Instead, a Don-Quichote-representation is such that it can be described itself as containing certain elements, such as I just provided.
For more detailed criticism of Goodman's and Currie's ontological fallacies, see my 'De ontologische drogreden in de analytische esthetica'.

For now, this summary suffices. My point is, that we cannot establish whether or not something represented exists if the question what we are looking at, a representation of X or an X-representation, depends on our establishing whether or not X exists. Instead of, and prior to, approaching representations ontologically or epistemologically, we should approach them aesthetically, i.e. we should first of all analyse exactly how a (type of) representation addresses its ever audience.
The aesthetic approach assumes that the representation itself tells us what it is we are to see in it: understanding representations is firstly a perceptual process. The difference between real or fictional (as applied to the represented) is secondary to the phenomenology of representational perception.

The aesthetic approach of representations

I distinguish at least three kinds of representation. 1. Conventionalist types (linguistic); 2. naturalistic types (depiction); 3. ellipsis.
Representational ellipsis is produced by editing -particularly, in film- and induces the imagination to either reason or empathize (intimation). The imagination reasons that the character has made a trip on account of a sequence of shots: first, where he packs his trunks, and secondly, exits an airport to call for a taxi. Intimation is the representation of experience, produced by modal ellipsis.

3. What is art?

To the limit

In the wake of Morris Weitz' classical paper on "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics" philosophers, critics, and artists alike concentrated more and more on limit cases. Cases that provoke whole communities, have bestowed censorship on them, etc. This seems logical, too. Weitz had argued that traditional definitions of art all failed in including too many things as art, and, at the same time excluding things that are regularly and correctly (?) reckoned to be art. Thus, the logical question to ask becomes: is this or that particular thing or event a work of art, or not? There is no sense in asking that question about, say, a painting by Lucian Freud, is there? But we will ask that self-same question when Wolfgang Flatz drops a bull from a chopper, filled with fireworks, because it would seem like a critical case for our definition. Is it a performance? Can animals be the material of a work of art? What if they are still alive? [Think of the gold fish in the blender-case].
Why is this our predicament? According to Weitz our definition should remain 'open' so as to allow for creative novelties. And don't we all agree about that? The question rather is, should creativity be conceived of as relating to the limits of a concept identifying a practice?

Is the best we can procure a classificatory, nominalist definition, like George Dickie's institutional conception of art?
"The definition of 'art' that I proposed goes as follows (slightly altered) : 'A work of art in the classificatory sense is (1) an artefact (2) upon which some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the Artworld) have conferred the status of candidate for appreciation." (Dickie 1973, p. 25).

Back to core business

The situation is analogous to that of the guilt of carpenters producing tables with ever sillier forms, so as to test the concept of 'table'. We are not such philistynes with regard to the concept of 'table', even though this, too, is hard to close. What is the difference, conceptually speaking between a table and a chair; what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be a table, as opposed to a chair? Why do we rest our semantic case with tables but keep concentrating on art's limit cases? It seems this is due to the fact that nobody in the business of making, buying or using tables cares much for those definitions, as long as the thing does what it is supposed to do. Stephen Davies analysed this specificity of the concept of art-case in terms of the procedures with which we produce the things in question having loosened from these things' original functionality. But that seems only part of the problem.
The crucial part is that philosophers and art critics do not relate to art in the way they seem to. Art critics do not merely judge occurrent cases of art--works, oeuvres, styles and exhibitions--they also show artists the way to go; and philosophers, too, in reality set the agenda for art. Artists look at critics and philosophy for inspiration. Conforming to the centrifugal move implied in Weitz's argument, and subsequent debates, artists have gone on to concentrate on producing ever trickier cases.
In the first half of the 20th century the concept of Avant-Garde determined artist's approaches, and the way they were picked up by critics and philosophers, in the second half it is the very thought of art's limits: let us make non-art, and make it according to some procedure, and let us then see whether art succeeds in incorporating it, only to make works yet further removed from the core business of art. And philosophy, too, complies, with procedural definitions like Dickie's, or Gaut's cluster concept, or Eaton's culturally enhanced notion of art as the set of objects and events showing forth properties held in esteem in the relevant cultural practice. We must, instead, get back to art's core business, but how?

My thesis: the definition of 'art' is not our problem, much like the definition of 'table' isn't. There is no essence to describe; but we can analyse the philosophical grammar, the language game of 'art practice'. Art practice is a domain in (Western) culture with a particular history, and which is morally autonomous. The historical nature of art is captured in Levinson's Historical definition:

"Initial step: Objects of the Ur-arts are artworks at t0 (and thereafter). Recursive step: If X is an artwork prior to t, then Y is an artwork at t if it is true at t that some person or persons, having the appropriate proprietary right over Y, nonpassingly intends (or intended) Y for regard in any way (or ways) in which X is or was correctly (or standardly) regarded. (Jerrold Levinson, "Defining Art Historically" Music, Art & Metaphysics, p. 19) . "

In short: Something is a work of art if someone with the right proprietory rights intends it to be regarded as we standardly (and correctly) regard certain objects or events as art. If we have no sense of how we are to aesthetically appreciate something it cannot possibly be a work of art. It must somehow or other partake in some artistic procedure. I add: This artistic procedure must have proven to be artistically fruitful.

A 3-step definition of art in terms of our practice

My definition:
Something is a work of art if and only if it is made according to procedures a certain cultural practice has recognized as allowing artists to produce works of high artistic value; presenting something as such, i.e. as an instance of such a procedure, means presenting it as a candidate for artistic appreciation.
The cultural practice referred to -the art world- is morally exempted (i.e. it is autonomous) to bring forth, and support, objects and events (or their reenactments) which are preferably to be perceived and appreciated after taking on an artistic attitude.

Put differently:

» 1. X is a work of art if and only if it properly instantiates an established artistic procedure.
» 2. An ordered set of phenomenological specifications concerning the manipulation of material is a procedure if and only if it allows for more than one proper instantiation.
» 3. A procedure is artistic if and only if it has allowed for one or more instantiations with acclaimed high artistic value.

Talking about artistic procedures allows one to think of these as variations on non-artistic counterparts. This connects to my thesis that the core business of art is to research the moral limits of our representations, generally. Art inherits its phenomenological specificities from our representations, and adds something to them in making the audience think about these very specifics [the latter meta-attitude is part of the explanation of contemporary developments in art, away from core business towards the limits: artists feel challenged to research each and every aspect of our representing, and this includes art's very power and task of researching these very limits, i.e. art]. Talking of phenomenological characteristics allows recognition of the principle of acquaintance.

A holistic approach

Standard atomistic approaches to the issue of art's value all seem to get stuck due to the assumption that the value of art lies in the appreciative experiences, had by an individual beholder, of individual works of art--maybe, even, it can reduced to such experiences.
I think that, instead, we have to realize:
1. that no individual really needs to experience art to lead his life;
2. That individuals do not necessarily become morally better or worse persons due to some experience of art [this puts a large pressure on the idea of moral evaluation of art].
In short, whatever some individual thinks of some work of art, is a contingent matter.
Instead of the atomistic appraoch of the issue of art's value we need a holistic one: individual works of art may or may not have value for individual beholders; but artistic pratcie as a whole is indispensible for a culture or a people. [Obviously, more needs to be said about this last, positive argument].

An autonomous artistic practice

For any particular culture it is of vital importance (even though there is no necessity for it to be so for any of its singular members) that this particular artistic practice exists, which is morally autonomous, i.e. which holds for individuals the opportunity to think and feel about themselves and the world they live in, in all calm, without feeling the need to act upon these thoughts and feelings. This artistic practice thrives primarily on the requirement addressed at the audience to take on an artistic attitude.


Art's autonomy is met by the requirement that a beholder take on an artistic attitude. Such an attitude entails the willingness to perceive with a restricted perceptive apparatus [e.g. films are viewed visually and auditory only: the other senses are put on hold, as are the data of these two sense which do not stem from the right source (the screen and the speakers next to it)]; to refrain from responding in morally relevant ways [don't storm the stage to rescue the heroin]; lastly, this special type of perception is activated with the aim of artistic empathy.

Notwithstanding the restrictions involved in this artistic attitude, it by no means prevents us from feeling and thinking in normal ways-as the person we are (we are merely to refrain from acting accordingly).
Because it is morally highly significant to require a person not to act according to what he sees is happening in front of him, works of art have to merit that attitudal switching, i.e. they have to merit the autonomy of the artistic practice. The only way to merit the audience's attitudal switch is by being artistically meritorious. It is, therefore, morally great to make great art, but the way to establish whether or not a particular work is meritorious, is not by moral reasoning but by art criticism."It is morally great to make great art

This is my ethical autonomism.

Why this autonomous art practice?

Art practice is the domain where our culture scrutinizes the powers and limitations of our representational capacities. Also, it is scrutinized here, how we can endow insignificant material with an artistic logic, significance; how we can bring it to live. [This can be viewed as a response to a concern (within our culture) about the powers and limits of our means to represent the world. One other such response would be the Biblical ban on depiction, or the iconoclasms that some thought resulted from that ban. (Quod non, as iconoclasm does not merely destroy a picture, but a cultural practice and the society that goes with that. Cf. my 'De representatie van bewustzijn. De drie strategieën van kunst.'.]
A good model to think this through is John Cage's 4'33":
This work consists in these directions for a pianist: bow to the audience, sit at the piano, open it, cross your arms, and after four minutes and thirty three seconds, close the piano, bow to the audience, and leave the stage.

The audience listens to its own noise. The 'work' brings this everyday ordinary noise to live even though these sounds are the lowest of low sounds. Brilliant!
This work of Cage's has led philosophers to think about its impossible ontology; or to use it to problematize our definition of 'music'. I think, the question whether or not it is music, is as wrongheaded as is the effort to define 'art'. I don't think 4'33" is music, but it most certainly is art.

Cage and content

It is one thing to acknowledge that much present-day art (music included) has John Cage's 4'33'' as its model, or paradigm. Yet, this goes to show the lack of content in art as well: if the artist is merely concerned with bringing his materials to life, and with the question of what stuff can act as material, she may have lost sight of her work's contents.

Art works used to be about things, about the world, important events.
Thus, recognizing that one cannot (artistically) successfully tell a story if the material does not come to life, this need not mean that all one has to do is enchant a piece of material.

The present state of art is like that of a child finding and enchanting materials, without providing it with contents that can be shared among great groups of people. We have no idea how to make more art from the enchanted everyday noises Cage brought to life in his 4'33''.

Art practice, art forms, art works

Art is a cultural practice, built around art forms (procedures that are established as productive of great value-even though not everything produced accordingly has to be of great value); of which particular works are instances. Artistic value is attributed to individual works, which, thus, sustain the art status (not of the work in question but) of the procedure they answer to. We do not evaluate art forms (procedures), let alone art practice as a whole. We evaluate singular works of art but whatever the outcome of our judgements, it would be a category mistake to think that it might decide whether or not the work in question is art. Art criticism presupposes art status. Put positively, art criticism of particular works at the most corroborates the fruitfulness of the relevant art form.

Such is the evaluative aspect in our definition of art (the practice).

4. Artistic attitude

In our everyday attitude we are required to act according to our moral standards.
When we take on a representational attitude to demand that we act according to our moral standards, is derivative, indirect: we cannot help those we read about in the papers, or see on television. We are allowed, when we take in a representation of whatever kind, to refrain from direct agency. In fact, the restricted perceptual address is at work with our representations already.
The artistic attitude is an instance of the representational attitude. Our attitude with regard to truth-telling journalistic (and scientific) representations is that of believing the truth and ultimate moral relevance of what we read or see. The typical performative of these representations is: to tell the truth. The artistic attitude does not aim at the truth, it aims at artistic empathy: at endowing material with a life of kinds (which is produced by some artistic logic). "The artistic attitude is an instance of the representational attitude.
The truths conveyed in journalism (etc.) can be conveyed on the basis of testimony. There is no need to visit the Antarctic to be justified to claim that it is cold out there. Testimony is of relative value in art-circles. With regard to art, there is a principle of acquaintance: one has to see for oneself, before one is justified to judge a work of art. This is due to the fact that the experience ensuing upon the taking on of an artistic attitude is not only about the meaning of the conveyed but about the conveying object or event itself, as well. In the jots of paint, the artist realizes his individual style.

Other representational attitudes

Other representational attitudes include our attitude towards pornography, and our attitude towards propaganda. What are the crucial differences between the artistic attitude on the one hand and the pornographic and propagandic attitudes on the other?

With pornography the beholder has an interest in the existence of the represented [think of Kant's analysis of the disinterestedness of the judgement of taste]. With pornography, we respond physically (i.e. morally direct) to what we see represented, fantasizing the reality, and interaction of the represented with oneself.

With propaganda, the audience is disallowed to become fully 'disembodied', fully autonomous amongst the other members of the audience. No viewer of Triumf des Willens, in 1934, even if he were vehemently against Hitlerism, could possibly have ventilated any severe critique towards Nazism for fear of being molested. This is typical of propaganda: propaganda is not meant to enable us to think and feel about some particular story or set of events, but demands the audience to directly act accordingly. [See also Propaganda, and the idea of a moral agency of representations]

From the point of view of the representation

Viewed from the point of view of the representation, instead of that of its beholder, we might distinguish between
1. journalistic (or scientific) reports, which purport to tell the truth and demand a cognitive attitude;
2. pornography and propaganda which purport to satisfy the interests either of those who tell the tale, or of those who take it in; these require an inclusive attitude, one, which includes the audience in the story that is being told;
3. art, characterized by an effort to convey certain experiential dimensions (of objects and events); these require an artistic attitude which aims at an experience in some sort of morally autonomous space and time: to have us think and feel about the 'represented';
4. nature, and other non-representational entities, contexts, and events; these do not require any particular attitude, but are open to something resembling the artistic attitude, let us call it, for lack of the relevant intentionality, an aesthetic attitude.

[In this later point, I divert from the position recently defended by Marcia Eaton, who seems to think of natural aesthetics as prior to artistic aesthetics. As I argue elsewhere in view of Kant's first sentence of the first section of his Kritik der Urteilskraft, the attitude we take on in response to beauty outside the art world resembles in much the artistic attitude less the moral implications. When we enjoy natural beauty we are there, fully embodied, all our senses are addressed, and the nature we are enjoying is the very context that we are in (cf. Allen Carlson's approach)].

Presence and absence

The work is present to its perceiver; its meaning is absent: it is (an) elsewhere. The work addresses the embodied appreciator through its material, not through its subject matter.
A relevant definition of representation would be:
Something is a representation if and only if it in its presence makes present something absent in regulated manner.

5. Artistic material

The case: A psychopath's 'work'

Koen VanMechelen uses chickens; and Günther von Hagens uses human (and recently also, animal) corpses. They endow stuff with an artistic logic. Will any stuff do?

Assume you are a curator of modern art. What would you do when one day a psychopath comes in and hands you a case with sawed off heads still dripping with blood and he asks you to exhibit it as a work of art?

The problem

What could you say to deny his request? Surely, it cannot be a problem that he is not an artist - this may be his first work. Nor can you deny that he is holding an object in his hands that is bound to provide the audience with deep and important feelings. Or that he did something immoral to create his work - many artists have preceded this one, e.g. Wolfgang Flatz, who dropped a bull from a helicopter, or Günther von Hagens who turned real corpses into cubist-like sculptures, or Orlan who had her appearance tampered with for no morally or psychologically relevant reasons other than the desire to make an artwork-like statement about plastic surgery, etc.
Also, you cannot refuse this 'work' by claiming that it is not a work (but something else...), as this was not enough to keep Duchamp's urinal Fountain out of the museums (or out of art history), or so-called Found art (which is not manipulated materially), or Concept art (even though this consists merely of ideas).


Orlan, in her 'surgical-performance' Omnipresence (New York, 1993), has plastic surgeons change her facial traits into those found on famous paintings. The eyebrows of Mona Lisa, Boticelli's Venus' forehead, etc. [I am sure I am picking the wrong examples, but who cares...]. She argues that we conceive of our selves by reading our skin (face) and this reading shows a gap between who we are and what we have (i.e. our skin). Her works are meant to change this passive receptivity into direct action, and to map the internal image to the external image.
[I can see how this argument follows from Cartesian dualism of mind and body. If mind and body are essentially distinct substances, and we get to grips with our minds through an interpretation of how our bodies are viewed (Lacan's mirror stage), then the step to adjusting the outer image to an internal image acquired through other means, e.g. introspection, seems logical.
But is this really the argument? Is it really thought through consistently, and is the outcome, the named surgical performance, really adequate to the considerations it comprises? I don't think so. Why would one take recourse to a few famous heads from art history to restore the link between inner and outer? Why not concoct a wholly new face, that, to one's own estimation, captures one's inner life?]
Also, Orlan doesn't want her voice tampered with:
"I have always considered my voice distinctive, and have no wish to change it. Effectively my voice is my security. I know that I can accept any failure, as my voice will alwasy remain with me."
But how, then, can she in the same interview claim to be ready to change identities? Art critically speaking this refusal, too, points to a flaw in her work. Artists should go 'all the way' in their works, or rather, we expect works to be fully consistent internally and to rigidly follow their internal logic. If the meaning of Orlan's work is something like "people are careless enough to allow surgeons to make any available change to their faces, leaning on and borrowing from aesthetic ideals, and not stopping at anything. In my [i.e. Orlan's] work I pick some random aesthetic ideals from art history and have them placed in my face, so as to ridicule these societal developments."--if this is what she is doing in her work, the facial interferences should be more or less arbitrary, as indeed they are, and they should stop at nothing.
I am not saying Orlan, as a person, should do this to herself; what I am saying is that given her choice to take this course of action as an artist, she should have gone all the way: for the sake of the work. I am not requiring this on the basis of some Romanticist ideal of the artist as a genius; instead, this is about artistic merit. The flaw we find in a work is determined not by external rules of art, but by the internal logic of the work's strengths.
Orlan's work is about how people work on the outer appearance of their bodies and how they may also claim possession over its inner aspects (she chooses local anaesthetic so as to be able to follow the surgeon in his voyage through her body's inner, which, referring to Lacan, she calls "a new mirror stage".) The person is a body. The concept of the person as a moral agent is not at stake in this work. In an interview Orlan remarks how she refuses to have her voice changed, and this is presented, and accepted as though it were a mere aside. I argue, instead, that it points to the limits of her work, to its artistic shortcoming.
Orlan's work's effects seem to exceed the great artistic powers of performance art. Where in typical performances the artist as a person is only for the time being of the work transformed into the persona of the work, with Orlan there is no turning back. This time, the person has really become the work. I pity the woman, particularly so in my realizing that the work is artistically a failure.
Philosophically, this is a great sample of a thought provoking art. It is indeed popular amongst philosophers. It is, however, crossing a crucial borderline that we had better guarded, in this case: for the sake of the artist. Like the doctor who saved Abramowicz from dying of asphyxation (Rhythm 5), why didn't anyone try to safe this woman, prevent her from ruining her life--even though she gave it for the sake of art?
Looking inside your body, intriguing though it is, is not looking into your personhood, or is it?
What if either one of her many operations had failed and she had contrived al sorts of infectious diseases producing a body resembling that of the 'elephant man'? That shouldn't have made a single difference with regard to the meaning of the work, as it would merely point out that it is silly to even think one could change profoundly by any of these superficial surgical interferences. They will never straightforwardly bring us what we really desire for: a different, better, happier person.
So why does she refuse to have her voice changed? The short answer? She is concerned, after all, about her powers of expression.
As a work of art, it would have been better if she had had her human traits removed altogether. Why not pick a beautiful Kandinsky as the ideal beauty to realize in your face? Or a beautiful tiger's head? Or a gorgeous tree? A stone? What is there to stop this art? Obviously what stops her is her own (real) personhood, her psychology. The concept of this work is ill-conceived. Unfortunately for Orlan, there is no turning back.

Duchamp's real lesson

What lesson did Duchamp teach us by making his gesture of exhibiting a urinal? I get the impression that he didn't get the message across after all. We use this urinal to test our definitions against: if a definition does not comfort the urinal then it cannot be adequate. Like hell, any definition which includes Fountain in 'art' is bound to make us powerless regarding the psychopath's 'work'.
Fountain told us that not everything which is presented in art historical context's or within Art world institutions merits, for that reason, the epithet 'is art'. Better even: some things and events (such as urinals) do not ever merit to be treated as art.

Works as actions

Of course, art works may be about moral matters, good or bad. It is just that they may not themselves act morally badly. The sole problem is how to conceive of a work of art as acting (in the moral sense of that word). My ethical autonomism tries to cash in on that problem.

Documentary or fictional represented horrors

Ethical autonomism seems to imply, especially in the light of the criticism of the ontological fallacy that is connected with it, that it should make no difference for the viewer whether the horrors seen on the screen are real or fictional.
This apparent consequence stems from the alleged fact that the crucial switch from reality to represented worlds is made in both cases, and in equal manner, as well. There is no sense in wanting to intervene in either of the types of cases. That there is no difference at all, however, cannot, of course, be right.
We are definitely shocked in a different manner ---more thorough, more real, more personal, perhaps--- when we see real horrors on the screen, such as those which took place in Ruanda, from when we see fictional ones, like in Henry. Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Pat of the solution must lie in the fact that the film crew, in order to produce the film, must have taken up an artistic attitude, and, therefore, must have neglected the moral claims that the situation filmed had upon their agency. We as viewers have part in that 'mistaken response', and feel, perhaps, that it must somehow be compensated.
Secondly, we feel more shocked because we are watching these events in the first place. [But is that a different point from the preceding one?]

Art-internal reasons

No art-internal reasons to deny the psychopath's 'work' art status seem forthcoming. None whatsoever. Art seems to be in real trouble.
One might have already thought this much while reading Stockhausen and Hirst praising the attacks on the WTC as a grand work of art. Typically, I have heard no art-world representatives protesting against their remarks.

Before it is art, it is moral agency

Before something can be art we must allow it in the artistic domain; we, that is: morality. In the present case we shall refuse to consider the skull-filled case as art, because it fails not to be (the outcome of) a moral action. In our society (if we have to put it as seemingly relativistically as this) we think it immoral to treat murder victims as objects that can be put on exhibition. And murderers we think, should go to prison. It is fairly simple.
Similarly, with other so-called art, such as suicide-artists, plastinates presented as art. Make sure to first judge such things and events in moral terms, i.e. before allowing them any kind of art-internal treatment.

Fountain's paradox

Fountain's paradox is that it works as an anti-art object only if it is taken to be a work of art.
In this it resembles "This sentence is false", but how?

The nominal and the real

Even if Fountain is treated as a work of art, it still has no aesthetic properties. It would be wrong to treat the urinal as an object to be appreciated for its perceptual or formal properties (e.g. marvel its crauelée), i.e. such treatment would go against the meaning of the work according to every adequate interpretation.
Fountain is a work of art in a nominal sense only; not really. It complies with certain contextual denominators that function as sufficient condition for something to be a work of art, such as its presence in a museum [captured in Dickie's institutional definitions], but it lacks any of the conditions that are necessary for something to be an instance of some particular form, or genre of art.
Can something be a work of art even though it complies with no art form?

Distinguishing between art and the ethical

Marcia Eaton and the Aesethical

Dear Marcia,

In one sense I defend an aesthetic separatism, but not the formalist one you object to. Like yourself, I think non-formal, inentional, or generally, external considerations can all be relevant to an adequate assessment of a work of art -- as long as they prove pertinent to the work's aesthetic properties.
[I agree with your objections against supervenience, but I am not sure about your definition of aesthetic properties (although I think it is very elegant and convincing). I think aesthetic properties are tertiary qualities; but that is a subsidiary issue]
[I do not think any aesthetic assessment of a work will do, but neither do I hold a strong view on the one singularly true interpretation of a work. But for now that is a subsidiary issue.]

My variety of aesthetic separatism concerns our willingness, or better: abstinence to act according to the relevant moral considerations that come up while considering the work of art. This separatism is restricted to our appreciative experience of art. I think we need vastly distinct theories of aesthetic evaluation in the region of art as opposed to that of everyday life (or ritual contexts for that matter). I analyse this as a switch in attitudes: from the moral attitude of everyday life to the artistic attitude relevant to artistic practice.
I think the art practice is defined in terms of the requirement on people partaking in it to take up an artistic attitude. I think your definition of art is too open and too inclusive.
My separatism pertains exclusively to the impetus to act, or, rather, the lack thereof. As beholders we who have taken up an artistic attitude, are induced to think and feel morally relevant as well as purely formal, etc. thoughts and feelings--there are no restrictions applicable here, at all. As long as the perceiver does not start acting on his moral considerations.

As to the aesthetic appreciation of realities outside art practice, I am all in favour of your integrationism. There is no requirement to take up an artistic attitude here at all, and if we do take one up, it is all our responsibility. (You remember the car accident I talked about in Miami, and its aesthetic beholder). In everyday life there is no real distinction between aesthetic and ethical considerations. The experience of natural beauty is an aesethical event -- Kant thought that those who enjoy nature are bound to be ethical (sittliche) people.

6. Culture as dedication to the ritual

Three conceptions of culture

Culture can be conceived of as

  1. a set of products (works of art, our cultural heritage)
  2. a set of processes (sports, art policy), or, lastly,
  3. as an activity.

The sequence of these three conceptions is conform our common sense views. In reality the activity founds the processes, and these produce the products. By analysing the activity we should find a way to educate culture, as well as as a means to take in so-called 'other cultures'.

Culture is dedication to the ritual

Culture is dedication to the ritual. This is the activity and its purpose.

Will any ritual do? Yes, why not? Any ritual can serve as the purpose for dedicated behaviour. Dedication provides us with the norms of good and bad. But these norms are internal to the rituals.

Full-fledged rituals help us entertain meanings and sustain relations. Next to these we seem to have developed a habit to call every action we seem prone on repeating on a daily basis a ritual. The rituals of coffee drinking etc. are rituals figuratively speaking only. They function to allow us to control reality and to farm out memories.
Treating them as communicative and as installing and sustaining relations, like post-structuralist Cultural Studies tends to do, is distinction-bashing. Spreading the scope of the word "ritual" to include all human agency and artefact paralyzes the concept.

Cultural education (Cultuureducatie)

Cultural education consists in showing the measure and means of dedication involved in certain cultural events or products: sport, art, architecture, you name it. It means from the very start: introducing people to the value of the ritual, not primarily to the value of the product.

Culture as a product

Culture as a product (comprised of sets of products), e.g. Western culture, or Islamic culture, is at once a classification of products singled out on account of intra-cultural ritualistic values of dedication, and a merely regulative ideal.
Like Ghandi is supposed to have said: "Western culture? Seems like a good idea." Of course, he was cynical about the value of 'our' culture, assuming that our culture was lacking (and his wasn't?). He compared two non-existants.
I am not being cynical. I am merely hesitant about substantialising the activities that go into the processes of our rituals, so as to conclude that what is in our museums is the summit of our culture.
What is in our museums is in a sense, the summit of our culture, but it is not easy to recognize the value in it. We do not automatically recognize the high value in so-called high art by visiting the exhibitions showing the masters, Vermeer or Rembrandt, or whoever, and checking in our catalogues what it is that we are looking at.

No Rembrandt self-portrait is a value in itself: its value is the high measure of dedication of the painter (to his paint and the canvas) that went into it; that value must be retreived from it. That is no easy thing, and not everyone is going to be capable of it, and certainly no one is automatically capable of it.

Culture as a theoretical entity

Cultures are theoretical entities, which, because politics works with them, assume a certain responsibility on behalf of the theoretician.
My views of culture are broadly Kantian. Art is the feasting of commmunicability (not of communication, pace Savile), as Kant argues in sections 9, 21, and 39 of his Critique of Judgement, and as pointing to a regulative ideal of a sensus communis.

High and low culture

Is it problematic to distinguish the High from the Low arts (mass culture)? I don't think so. Check out what is on MTV and you will easily find distinctions at work there, between good and bad video clips. Teach yourself to see the differences and you are culturally educating yourself. No set of cultural products should be immune to this process of dedicated observing. The observing is part of the ritual.

Mass culture

I view Madonna as dedicated to a vastly different ritual from, say, dr. Dre, or Linkin Park. I do not refer to the particular subcultures these musicians seem to belong to, but to their dedication to the music. Madona is not dedicated to the music, but to star status. In her latest video she shows how even at an old age she can still do ballet moves, and she is still very slim and youngish. In the process she seems to forget to sing. Colleagues of mine, from Amsterdam, wrote a dissertation on Madonna a couple of years ago, doing this new thing that is called Cultural Studies. They argued that Madonna has liberated women. I fail to see how showing off your physical fitness and youth at a later age frees women. What of exactly?

Cultural Studies

The mistake involved in so-called "Cultural Studies" is the mistake of relativist postmodernism: take any two cultural events or products, and find regularities between them; these regularities comprise these events' meanings. Through these regularities things are communicated between people. Since, any two regularities will do, no set of cultural products or events is going to be any better than any other.

This is a naturalist fallacy: anything that is, is there for the good.

Cultural Studies fails to recognize the evaluative norms inherent in the rituals involved. It is these norms, though, that should instruct our analysis.

The transitive transparency of communication

Suddenly it dawned on me how it is that, in Kafka's stories people do not communicate--we already realized they do not communicate: in fact, it is the impossibility of communication that makes for the alienated sphere. The characters talk to one another, though, but this talking is never transmitted to those who are absent to the conversation. The other cannot be trusted upon to convey meassages to third parties, or to be speaking in their name.
Normally, communication is transitive. You not only convey a message to someone else--which is the traditional account of communication, but you also realize---as in: have a clear grasp of---what effects the things you convey will have on others. The same goes for the influence that those other, third parties have on you through the person whom you are talking to.
The best account of communication I know is due to Richard Wollheim. Wollheim thinks that something cannot be communication if the utterer does not have a prior grasp of the other's mindset, or background knowledge. I.e., the communicator knows how the other will take whatever it is he is communicating; he is not merely getting a message accross.
This argument provides a complication of the traditional sender-receiver model, but the question is, though, whether even this more complex account is complex enough to explain the gist and workings of communication. In particular, whether it takes into account in sufficient manner the named transitive transparency.
What is needed, is a socially complicated reconstruction of the transitive transparency. Maybe, Fridlund's approach to expression can help out.

Art and Sport

Does the idea that all culture is the dedication to the ritual enable us to distinguish between sport and art? Sport, too, can be described in terms of rituals. It is defined by rigid rules that must be complied to at all costs. And those who partake in it try their best to achieve the highes aims available within these narrow limits.
Yes, and a similar description could be provided of the arts. Art, too, is a ritual practice. The crucial difference between sport and art, though is in what holds them together: in sport it is the dedication to the body, in art it is dedication to our means of representation.

Culture and art

Culture is groupwise dedications (to the group's rituals), art is something completely different. Art is principally not limited to certain groups, but is a practice, in itself, that in principle everyone can partake in if only he knows of the basic rules and knows how to keep them.
Where art as a whole separates itself from the moral world of everyday agency, groups' cultures must be understood as complexes of agency with a moral weight, and as a delimiting or embedding with regard to other groups.

Cultures must be assessed morally---we simply cannot allow whichever groups to dedicate themselves to whichever rituals. (Nazi's, group rapists and criminals share cultures too).
Art in contrast can only be assessed morally as a whole. Whatever takes place within art practice can only be assessed with art-internal critical norms.

The Ritual of Representation

In "Kunst: representatie of ritueel? Multimedialiteit en fenomenologie" I addressed the semantics of art: how best to conceive of the mechanisms with which works mean what they mean. That discussion taught me that works represent (if they represent) on the basis of the ritual engagement with their ever beholders. [Definitions are provided to clarify the issue.]
I later got to describe this ritual process in terms of the artistic attitude, and this attitude, and its being required by art practice, as the core of the autonomy of that art practice. (In "Ethical Autonomism. The Work of Art as a Moral Agent." and see above: attitude (artistic).)

Art's context and autonomy

In our effort to conceive of art, it might be instructive to look at concrete examples from the past of successful introductions of a new art. Let us take the example of photography, which didn't start out as an art.
One interesting consideration seems to have been: Is the context of exhibiting photographs adequately set off from more everyday circumstances.
[We can keep neutral, the phenomenology of photographs. Apparently, photos are appreciated in ways known from other arts, such as painting. Cf. Levinson's Historical Definition of art.]
It seems easier to distinguish the everday as opposed to artistic contexts of paintings. We do not normally find ourselves surrounded by paintings in our everyday circumstances. Its exhibition in museums and galleries can be easily recognized.
We are often unsure about accepting a new art form exactly because we are uncertain whether its art context can be set off sufficiently from the everyday. And we need to be able, at least in principle, to do just that if we are to argue that the new form has a right to the autonomy that comes with art practice.
Television's largest obstruction to enter art, consists in its ready availability at home.
If this argument fits, then we can futher argue that, apparently, that obstruction has nothing to do with art being elitist.

Benjamin and Scruton and Photography

Is it possible to interpret Walter Benjamin in light of Scruton's argument as follows: due to their inherently pornographic nature (a.k.a. huggingly their power to prove) photos remove our desire to experience the thing by acquaintance, i.e. through its ever existing aura. Thus, i.e. indirectly, photos remove aura from art (where this removal is most pertinent because art's aura is regulated culturally---works derive their existential rights from their aura, something which does not hold for trees, stones and other everyday things.)

Ethical experimenting. How to be relevant in isolation.

Yet, there may be another angle to all this. Autonomous art is over-isolated. People who have lost track of its development, are often baffled when they visit a museum or gallery of modern art: they'll find stuff of all kinds in all places and, often, no visible craftsmanship. They encounter situations rather than objects.
Given the present state of isolation, it is no wonder, that artists, in an effort to move their audiences, over and over again resort to testing the autonomy of art practice. Art practice has become a laboratory of ethical experimenting.
Mass art, in contrast, is not isolated, it is over-exposed. It doesn't need ethical experiments to reach its audience.
Now, in a museum, one might get away with putting goldfish in a food blender, but massively popular gangstarappers that go about raping their 'bitches' and killing their competitors, are not excused.
The very distinction between high art and mass art stems from the isolation of the relevant practices of art and the everyday.
Mass art photography shares with high art photography the phenomenological specifics, but both types of photography function in different contexts. In our effort to argue that mass art photography cal be as interesting or as important as high art photography, we forget to keep these two qualities apart sufficiently, which explains why both of them got occupied with questions that are in fact pertinent to only one of them. Issues from High art seep through in mass art.

What to think of the Kiki Lamers verdict?

Apparently, France-based Dutch artist, Kiki Lamers, is presently convicted conditionally to a stay in prison of eight months and the payment of a sum of money, on account of her harming children. Of course, if she did harm any children in a relevant manner, some sentence is wanted, but I am not sure whether she did, nor whether this was the real argument.
Is the French court capable to sufficiently distinguish art practice, where paintings of any subject are principally unproblematic, from the everyday, where pictures of naked children are bound to get distributed amongst pedophile networks with all criminal offences ensuing from that, in its wake?
Did they so distinguish these two contexts, should they, can they?


No aesthetic difference

It has been argued (by Alfred Lessing, a.o.) that it makes no difference for a work's aesthetic value --and for our aesthetic experience of that-- if a work is a forgery instead of its original indistinguishable counterpart. What we cannot perceive cannot make an aesthetic difference.
Next, it is argued, it will make no aesthetic difference either if we get to know which of the two is the fake, which the original. Again, what we cannot perceive cannot make an aesthetic difference.
One consequence of this argument is that, though forgery is a misdemeanor against artistic practice, it is not relevant with regard to individual works' aesthetic merit. It is another thing to establish what the misdemeanor boils down to and whose rights and duties are tampered with.

Thick and thin definitions of art

Thick and thin

In our thinking on Social Sciences and Humanities research we distinguish between thin and thick descriptions of events and objects.
A thin description might refer to a man in a white dress putting a lamb in a fire whilst surrounded by other people; whereas a thick description would describe this as the high priest of the so-and-so ritual who, in the name of this-or-that God sacrifices the first born lamb to request a good harvest, in front of the congregation.
Thin descriptions pretend to only present what is objectively there, but that is not the point of the distinction between thin and thick. The need for thick descriptions stems for the recognition that cultural processes can be understood only when they are related to the whole of the cultural practice. One does not describe what is happening when one does not include the meaning the actions of the man have for the practice in which they take place.

Externalist and internalist definitions

Wollheim, in his Painting as an Art, distinguishes between an externalist definition of art, such as George Dickie's institutional conception of art, which argues that we cannot provide an essential definition which states all and only necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be art, and hence decides to merely classify works: "The definition of 'art' that I proposed goes as follows (slightly altered) : 'A work of art in the classificatory sense is (1) an artefact (2) upon which some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the Artworld) have conferred the status of candidate for appreciation." (Dickie 1973, p. 25).
Wollheim, in contrast, argues that we need an internalist conception of art, one which explains why we are interested in art, and in artistic expression. He argues that works realise the artist's intentions, and secondly, that it is the psychological reality of these realisations in a work, i.e. the individual style in the work, that motivates people to be aesthetically interested.

Thick and internalist

An internalist conception such as that of Wollheim's relates what happens in a work to the practice in which it is appreciated, art practice. Not, like Dickie did, by merely pointing to the adherence of certain people to that practice, but by explaining just what it means to partake in it.
Wollheim provides a thick description of art practice.
BTW, Benjamin Tilghman, too, argued that is be necessary to see art in terms of the/an/our art practice, in his But is it Art?
[Judging from his article on pictorial space he, perhaps, found it in the moral aspects of the represented space, which relates to the peculiar things that David Hockney found in Carravaggio's paintings.]

Art's autonomy a category mistake?

What is the morale of this argument? Quod licet Jovi non licet bovi. What is allowed in the context of (High) art is not allowed in that of mass art. Also: it is their ready availability that explains the difference between the two contexts.
Mass art is not art at all, but, perhaps, communication, or what? (Even though its phenomenologies are no different from those of art-proper). Art, reversely, is not communication. It is about communication.
Art's autonomy is bound up with its isolation. Saying that art is autonomous equals causing its isolation (because only in isolation can it really be autonomous, as in "ethically non-committal").
Maybe, apart from certain philosophers and art critics or those who fight for the freedom of expression, there are no real fans of this autonomy (seeing that nobody seems to like the isolation: mass-artists choose not to go that alley, whereas 'high' artists choose to challenge art's irrelevance.)

Don't get me wrong. I am one of those who defend art's autonomy in my ethical autonomism. I am just puzzled to the bone.

Art should never have been turned into an autonomous cultural practice

We are so much Hegelians with regard to art. I can bring this out by arguing that our interest in art is little more than a category mistake. Sure, people sometimes make interesting, or beautiful pictures. So what? Why put them in a museum? We could rightly ask this rhetorical question with regard to old times' portraiture: these portraits were meant for the portrayed (and their kin and colleagues). Why put them where all sorts of people, including totally irrelevant ones can observe them? As soon as we found that these pictures could also be presented to an anonymous audience, that became a truism and a value. This fact brought Gadamer to the thought that works of art are, in principle, to be perceived by everyone: their experiences are all 'contemporaneous'. So now the mere fact of being observable meritoriously by the many becomes a value in itself.

Art turning itself loose from representation

Next development: those works of art which zoom in on the very interactive processes they embark in with this anonymous audience. Found art enters the arena, as does the performance, installation art, what not? These new art forms are then said to be 'in crisis', as they have lost their logical connection with their meaning, or content.
In Kant, we don't yet find these high hopes for art. He addressed the issue of our aesthetic experiences and aesthetic values in se, i.e. as something that explains certain experiences, not as something that legitimates a whole cultural practice. The idea that art is an autonomous cultural practice can be defended with arguments developed by Kant, but is not itself an argument defended by Kant.
It was, though, defended by Hegel: art is an important cultural practice wherein people express their self-conscious insights in a sui generis way: the ideal is presented here in sensuous form, and we cannot take away any of its sensuous elements without in the same move changing the thought. Art, then is no longer representation. That, one might say, is Hegel's thesis of the end of art. So the avenue of looking at art as a vehicle of representation, is cut off now. And we have little alternative but to zoomm in on whatever sui generis works of art present us with. Art, thus, becomes important for the mere fact of its presenting our self-consciousness (as such, one might add).

Art as a category mistake

So, all of that is a category mistake, a run-away extrapolation of the crucial phenomenology of representations. Kant made it available though: he pointed out, in the very first sentence of his analytic of the judgement of taste that when we experience the beauty of something we refer its presentation to our own feelings. I have argued elsewhere how the way to read this is: in judging something's beauty we hold it before us as though it were a representation, we approach it with an attitude known from the phenomenology of representations. Beauty has an added-on nature, it is not the essence (of art).
It is nice and interesting to analyse the nature with which we portray people and the world at large (I consciously refrain from naming this 'art'), like we still do in art history, semiotics or cultural studies. Kant made room for such analyses in his infamous section 17 on the ideal of beauty, but his views on art do not extend beyond that.

At present, representations of all kinds and types are predominant in (Western) culture. We are troubled about what is represented in the many ways we are confronted with. And we seem little disposed to single out a selection of representations to exhibitions in museums. And when we do single out non-art representations to museum exhibitions, we do so apologizingly.
Art should never have been turned into an autonomous cultural practice.

Who made which mistake, then?

The mistake, apparently, was in identifying artistic merit with aesthetic value (i.e. beauty).
Kant was troubled by that identification, hence his vehement protests against Baumgarten's identification of beauty with sensuous success (the perfection of sense knowledge, Aesthetica, §13). Kant, also, distinguished between real aesthetic success (or: pure beauty) and dependent aesthetic success (beauty dependent somehow on concepts); he most certainly relegated artistic merit to the latter aesthetic category!
No, as I said already, it was Hegel who turned artistic merit into aesthetic value (i.e. beauty), or reversely, aesthetic value into artistic merit: the idea of beauty is the successful sensuous presentation of Geist. So, he didn't think of art as representational, but took it to be presentational, but, ever since: who cared?

My philosophy of art, in a nut shell

Art is intimacy

Art is vulnerable because it consists in the intimacy of the artist towards her material, towards her own self, towards her audiences.

Art is process

Art is not the product of this intimacy, or if it seems to be such a product, as in a film, or a painting, or a piece of music, what the audience perceives in it is: the intimacy of the artist with her materials, her own self, and with her audience through all this. Hence the audience's intimacy with the work, with the artist who shimmers through in it, and with oneself, all forms part of the process of art.

Art is performance

In all, all art is performance.

Art is agency

The artist acts towards his material, the art act towards his audience. Artistic merit is a moral category. In fact it is a moral category whose application does not depend on moral rules, but on art-internal ones. Art's agency is in art's intimacy.

Process and content

If a work has some particular thing to say to its audience, it speaks on account of its intimacy or it does not speak at all. Persons can speak without intimacy, art cannot. Newspapers can, though.

Art and ritual

Art's intimacy is its ritual. Sharing the intimacy is the ritual that structures art practice. Art, therefore, is not just a ritual: it is a particular ritual.


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» aesthetic approach
» aesthetics of nature
» aesthetic separatism (Eaton)
» art and sport
» art as a practice
» art as representation
» artistic material
» atomistic approach
» attitude (artistic)
» autism (and art)
» autonomy, and context, a category mistake?
» Cage, John (4'33'')
» communication
» core business (art's)
» Cultural Studies
» culture (three conceptions)culture and artcultural education
» Davies, Stephen
» defining art
» Dickie, George
» documentary, and fiction
» Duchamp, MarcelFountain
» ethical autonomism
» ethical experimenting
» fiction, and documentary
» forgery
» Hagens, Günther von
» High and low art, and culture
» holistic approach
» imagination
» isolation
» Lamers, Kiki
» limits of art
» mass art
» Orlan
» perception
» pornography
» practice, form, work (distinction)
» presence and absence
» propaganda
» representation (types)
» representational capacities
» ritual
» thick and thin definitions
» Weitz, Morris

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