The Other Half Part I Artwork
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- 1. The Other Half:
An Art Historical Commentary and Visual Companion to Philosophical Aesthetics from Plato to Gadamer
Part I - Artwork
- 2. In this presentation, I will attempt to provide visual evidence and art historical commentaryfor the texts we have seen so far in class.Thinking abstractly about capital-A Art seems to me an enormously difficult task without actual images and artworks to discuss.While we have seen many images in class that try to answer this challenge, there is literally an entire world of artworks which will serve us greatly in understanding how some of these philosophers ideas are actually worked out, and sometimes directly challenged, in the field of (fine) art.
- 3. How will we do this, you ask?
Obviously, I will provide images.It is important to note that the images I will use to talk about certain philosophers will not necessarily be of that authors time.I feel this is appropriate because each author we have seen has made claims about art as a whole; every artist who ever lived made the same claim.Just as each philosophers texts fit in to the larger tradition of aesthetics, so too does each artwork have its own life in the larger tradition of art.So dont be surprised if Plato and Duchamp go head-to-head.If you disagree with this, please offer your rebuttal.
I also intend to bring everyone (who actually takes the time to read this) up to speed on the major issues and themes of art history and art making, i.e. naturalism, proportion, genius, etc.(Prepare to be disappointed, folks.)This will give all of us a common ground on which to evaluate these works in relation to the texts.If anyone has any further questions about some of the ideas which crop up, I will be happy to field them.
- 4. Now that thats out of the way, lets look at some art!Lets set the stage for Western art, shall we?
The oldest known artworks date back to about 30,000 BCE, and it should come as no surprise that the first object early humans chose to depict was the human body.This ivory sculpture of a human body with a feline head is an example of this early image-making.
In this hybridized body, we see a physical manifestation of Hegels geist. Emerging from the materials of uncolonized nature, this human form (which was probably a religious/magical idol) shows us the spiritual/intellectual victory of newborn human self-consciousness over the bestiality from which our species had just escaped.This imposition of the human shape onto the chaos of nature speaks directly to Hegels theory.
- 5. This early stage of art, from the origins of our species up until the beginnings of civilization, is unique in its applications.Because they had no ability to communicate to a larger community, the artistic investigation of prehistoric artworks is primarily concerned with mimesis.Why did our early ancestors copy the images of the world around them?What is gained by this interaction with representations?
Venus of Willendorf, ca. 28,000 BCE
Bison from Altamira Cave, ca. 12,000 BCE
Hall of the Bulls at Lascaux, ca. 15,000 BCE
- 6. It is easy to understand the challenge that prehistoric art presents to the Platonic idea of mimesis.These artworks were not created to perfectly imitate something, but, as Gadamer shows us, in their imitation, they show us something about the essence of those real objects and events.
And to speak of essence in the prehistoric world (or in any age, to my thinking) is to speak of magic, a things existence which is beyond the quantifiable realm of sensibility.Take for instance, this depiction of a deer hunt from atalHyk, which dates to around 5750 BCE.
What we see in this painting is an attempt to express rather than describe.Look at the speed of the hunter at the top left, or the immensity of the buck in the center.We are shown qualities made manifest in form, not static reproductions of anatomically precise beings.The existence, the real-ness of these images is not in their faith to the sensible world, but in their communicative evocations.
- 7. So what happens to art when representation becomes an attempt to see who can reproduce the experiences of life the best?At last, we have come to what I believe is the single greatest issue of art history and art making: naturalism.
Polykleitos,Doryphoros, or Spear Bearer, ca. 450 BCE
Georges Braque, The Portuguese, 1911
Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, 1495-1498
- 8. What do we mean when we talk about naturalism?Naturalism is the attempt by artists to create realistic depictions, to show things as they are in the world.The first and most important thing to learn about naturalism is thatthere is no such thing as a uniform and universal naturalism.There are various ways of describing things in the real world, and it is much more appropriate to think about naturalisms.The majority of Western naturalist conventions are predicated on the need to accurately reproduce the experience of vision and the position of objects in space.For example, look at Raphaels The School of Athens from 1509 1511.
Here, we are shown a two-dimensional object showing three-dimensional space.Using linear perspective and the vanishing point, thegreat innovation of Renaissance art,Raphael tries to trick us into believing he has recreated an actual experience in an actual space.
- 9. Once linear perspective had been rediscovered and reperfected, it was the standard for all painting for the next 400 years.It wasnt until artists like Czanne and Picasso began to treat the canvas as an actual opaque object instead of a transparent window that linear perspective began to lose its grip.Cubism most perfectly obliterated the dependency on linear perspective by acknowledging that objects exist in three dimensions, and in order to paint them correctly, objects must be depicted from as many of their sides as possible.This is shown wonderfully in Jean MetzingersTea Time of 1911.Look at the tea cup at the bottom, which has been split in half to show its profile and its view from slightly above, or the fragmentation for the womans arm and face, each sliver showing a different angle of her body.
Metzinger succeeds in showing us a new kind of naturalism, one which embraces an objects infinitude of perspectives, and by imitating each facet of a thing, hopes to capture the thing itself.
But the question for us is, why does any of this matter?
- 10. At its heart, naturalism, which is to say mimesis, is grounded in a need to communicate using forms and space which are familiar and understandable to the most number of people.This problem did not arise until the beginnings of civilization and codified language, when communication amongst large groups of people became necessary to ensure a successful life.This semiotic need to speak universally begins the first investigations into artwork and its qualities in ancient Greece, where most scholars agree mimesis was taken to its absolute peak.
This image before us, the Doryphoros by Polykleitos, is one of the most famous and celebrated sculptures of ancient Greece.Its acclaim lies in its perfected use of Greek proportion.The sculptor himself wrote a lengthy treatise describing each part of this sculptures body as belonging to an ideal proportion.Here, Platonic form is made physically manifest.Having perfected every inch of the human male, Polykleitos established a type, or eidos, of the body.In a society like Platos, where incredibly lifelike statues like this one were actually painted and (sometimes) clothed , the line between the representation and the original was intentionally blurred, and it was in this society that questions of truth in imitation first began.
- 11. What I hope I have illuminated by talking about mimesis and its context with the rise of civilization is that after art lost its cult value, as Benjamin describes it, its exhibition and display launched it into the realm of common interpretation.Art was no longer meant for spirits or the tribe, but belonged to anyone with eyes that could see.To believe that art can tell a lie, as Plato feared for his guardians and as Benjamin witnessed in the Third Reich, is to recognize art as communication, which is always in danger of being infected with lies.But as we shall soon see, art took matters into its own hands in the late 19th century, and in doing so, forced art into its full maturity, or ensured its ultimate destruction.
ThodoreGricault, Portrait of a Kleptomaniac, 1822
Statuettes of Worshippers, Sumeria, c. 2700 BCE
Art Workers Coalition, Q: And Babies?, A: And Babies., 1969
- 12. What you see before you is the painting that, according to your perspective, saved art or ruined it forever.This painting by James McNeill Whistler from 1875 is called Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket.
When John Ruskin, the most respected art critic of the age first saw it, he mocked it, calling it a pot of paint [flung] in the publics face.Whistler (successfully) sued for libel, and his defense included a radical alteration of the priorities for art, especially painting.Demanding that subject matter be removed from the image and let the image be the only aim of the artist, Whistler changed art in ways he could never have imagined.(More on that later)
- 13. Wait a minute.
We have just demanded that art objects be devoid of any ideas, agendas, politics, religions, philosophies, and biases!
Do we have to believe that crap?!
Well, no.We dont.But we do have to put up with it for about 80 years.So why is this so important?
Simply put, the liberation of images from ideas does two things: it creates the notion of art for arts sake, and it jeopardizes traditional aesthetics, especially Hegels.Fr