What would Hegel think about hyperrealism as an art form?

The short answer is that Hegel would find hyperrealism too conceptual, too ironic, and too grotesque to convey the truth about the wholeness and unity of human life. A longer answer follows.

There are various ways to unify and reconcile what seems contrary, contradictory, or out of place. Unification takes place in philosophy, which understands the process as an act of thought. It takes place in religion, where unification is accomplished by the universal love of God. And it takes place as art, which exhibits unity in the form of sensuous objects produced by creative activity. The ideal work exhibits beauty, and its ultimate expression is the individual human being in his or her integrity, agency, and self-confidence.

This is best seen in classical art.

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Why is there no 21st-century avant-garde?

Renato Poggioli’s Theory of the Avant-Garde (1968) identifies the ideological and mythic building blocks of the avant-garde more or less as follows.

An avant-garde is a movement, one that has identified an enemy – the public, popular culture, the old, tradition, institutions – and is dedicated to destroying it and bringing about an improved future, usually indicated by an “ism” of some kind and explained in a manifesto. It acts with a spirit of adventure, but it also suffers for the cause, which the public inevitably fails to appreciate. Avant-gardes are alienated from all aspects of society, culture, popular taste, and style. They condemn and denounce, using images of revolution, subversion, violence, and destruction. They shamelessly proselytize and promote themselves, advocating experimentation in technique and form and tending towards hermeticism, obscurantism, exhibitionism, and shock.

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Wallace Stevens and the Cognitive Value of Form

There’s a tendency to find the cognitive value of art in its content rather than its form. This can focus the discussion on theme, which is one reason for skepticism about the cognitive value of art. When we paraphrase the theme of a poem, for example, it often looks rather thin. It may be cognitive, but it’s of little value.

Wallace Stevens’s poetry has cognitive content, but the cognitive value of his poetry is not only a matter of content. Stevens is interested, you might say, in the form of thinking.

Stevens is often accused of being emotionally cold, as if his attention to thinking came at the expense of feeling. But there’s a way of understanding what can seem like coldness as a device for encouraging us to reflect on an important mode of cognition, namely the experience of imaginative identification.

Much poetry solicits imaginative identification by means of empathy and sympathy. In empathy the reader is invited to share the point of view of the speaker, and in sympathy the reader is invited to share the goals of the speaker. Consider a classic of Romantic poetry: Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.”

The poem provides many details about the speaker, which individuate him and invite us to imagine his point of view. We know that it’s been five years since he was at the river Wye, we know the impression the region made on him (“steep and lofty cliffs”), what it meant to him (“thoughts of deep seclusion”), and that it sustained him (“in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din/Of towns and cities”) over years of suffering. Having aroused our concern about what caused the speaker to suffer, we are led through the rest of the poem and finally see his point of view, that of a widower addressing his lost beloved.

Contrast this with Stevens’s poetry. In it, we typically learn virtually nothing of the speaker’s personal history, there is little effort to arouse our curiosity about him, and the feelings aroused or named are harder to get at compared with the drama of love, grief, and healing. The effect is to de-emphasize sympathy, empathy, and identification. Continue reading

The Concept of Art

Is there a universal way to define the word “art”?

If by “universal” you mean a way to define art that captures everything that is a work of art and excludes everything that is not a work of art, as opposed to a definition of art that is universally accepted, the answer is yes.

At least, there are ways of trying to define art universally, although none has been conspicuously successful or satisfying to all. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something by making the attempt and by reflecting on attempts made. There was quite a lot of that in the last half of the twentieth century, though in the last couple of decades the focus has shifted to artistic value – why art matters – and issues involving aesthetic properties. Beauty, especially, has gotten a good deal of (in my view) needed attention.

There are other ways to form a conception of something than by defining it, especially if you think of a definition as a statement of individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions. In the last century, however, George Dickie seemed to have found one. He said, roughly speaking, that something counted as an artwork just in case it was offered as a candidate for appreciation by someone institutionally authorized to do so. The institution in question was usually thought of as the “art world,” a rather loose but not utterly incoherent arrangement of practices, beliefs, values, authorities and other things we associate with an ongoing and purposive social activity. Continue reading

What is Martin Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art”?

“The Origin of the Work of Art” (Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes) is an essay by Martin Heidegger, written and published in various versions from 1935 to 1960. It was drawn from lectures he gave during the same period.
It’s a rich, layered, and complex essay, and it has something to say about virtually everything pertaining to the philosophy of art and aesthetics – and much more.

One important theme is that art is not limited to aesthetic interests. Artworks are about something. They have what philosophers call intentional content. For Heidegger, that means that they are a source of truth, a way in which the world reveals itself. In fact, they exhibit the nature of truth itself, namely that it is “disclosure.” You might say that works of art disclose disclosure. In other words, they are reflexive: not only are they about something, they are about themselves.

Although Heidegger does discuss works of art such as paintings and poems, his main focus in the essay is on buildings that play an important role in the life of a community: the ancient Greek temples to Apollo, Athena, and Hera at Paestum; the Bamberg Cathedral. These works disclose, in an especially vivid, concrete, and immediate way, the understanding of Being shared by the members of their communities. The Greek temples crystalized the meanings of divinity, mortality, victory, and defeat; the Bamberg Cathedral illuminated the meanings of grace and sin.

Heidegger points out that the Greek temples no longer “work” – function – as they did in the past, because we don’t share the understanding of Being in terms of which they made sense. Ancient Greek artworks such as the Aegina sculptures in Munich have been “withdrawn” from their world, and we experience them aesthetically, not as disclosers of disclosure.

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What did Friedrich Schiller mean by “aesthetic education” and how can that form of education be put in practice?

“Aesthetic education” is the education of feelings, which had been sidelined by the Enlightenment, resulting in the corruption of moral sensibility and sensitivity. The instrument of aesthetic education is art, and artists, Schiller says, should devote themselves to creating “symbols of perfection.” If such symbols become ubiquitous, and constitute a people’s main cultural diet, so to speak, they will be inspired to raise themselves to art’s implied standards of integrity, harmony, and wholeness.

The implied standards are captured in a theory of human nature, which is to be deduced from the nature of the human mind. Human beings are constituted by two seemingly opposed principles, namely personal autonomy and freedom on the one hand, and its determining conditions on the other; in more familiar terms, mind and body or reason and appetite. The growth to maturity of any individual consists of bringing the two elements into a harmonious relationship with one another.

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