Thursday, May 4, 2017

Why Goodman’s exemplification theory of art is not enough, and neither is Danto’s artworld theory, why they need to be combined and also enhanced by the Confucian concept of li. And by the way, you will also find my current definition of art here.

This may seem really antique to some.  But I still teach this stuff from the 60s and the 70s.  And I do think that Danto’s and Goodman’s theories from this period can provide a jumping off point for theoretical advance.   I will promote here something like Goodman’s exemplification and Danto’s is of artistic identification, but in both cases, I believe there needs to be an enhancement.  The basic question to ask is “why should anyone care whether something has the is of artistic identification and why should anyone care that something exemplifies in an artistic way?”  Why should we seek to see something through the atmosphere of artistic theory?  What is the point of seeing a Franz Klein expressionist work in such a way that we can place it in Danto’s style matrix, for example?  And, in response to Goodman, why should we care to focus on properties of line, color, texture, size, etc. of an intransparent work of art made out of a common rock displayed in a museum?   It could be said in both cases that this is your big chance to notice these properties.  But we could notice them outside the museum and in completely non-art contexts (at least the properties Goodman is stressing, maybe not the ones Danto stresses).  Maybe what is happening is that the properties have become subjects of entertainment once the object entered the museum.  There is something strangely Plato-like in Goodman’s theory.  Sure, he rejects Platonism strictly speaking, but, like Plato, the focus is on words, or rather concepts, and so when we see an red abstract painting, on his view, we are aware of the ways in which the redness of red is exemplified, which means that there is indirect reference to all other things that are red.  But classifying things under the term “red” is not really of any interest unless you are some sort of obsessive collector of red things.

Here is my suggested solution to the problem, one that Goodman would not be happy with, but Danto might be.   The idea is inspired by Crispin Sartwell’s book Six Names of Beauty.  Sartwell, in his last chapter reminds us of the way in which the philosophy of Confucius evolved through Chu Hsi and Wang-Yang-Ming to stress the importance of li, which, when found in the Analects, is generally translated as “ritual.” (143-146) Later in Chinese philosophy it is taken to mean the essence of things, not simply their Platonic essence but the way in which they partake in the community and the cosmos.  Then, with Wang Yang-Ming, a pragmatist tendency intervenes so that “li” comes to depend on the interaction of the live creature, as Dewey would put it, with the environment.   Wang Yang Ming also introduces a love element to this theory, which both Sartwell and I like largely because we are both enamored by Plato’s theory of beauty and love in the Symposium. 

So let’s hypothesize, in a comparative philosophy way, that the reason why we care about arthood in Danto’s sense or in Goodman’s sense, or, better, in a combination of Goodman and Danto (since Goodman covers the cognitive dimension of our bodily encounter with exemplification, and Danto covers the cultural/historical aspect, each complementing the other, Goodman covering the way in which art involves certain ways the world is and Danto ways in which art and artworld interact) is that what emerges is “li” or, if we want to put it this way, the ritual-emergent essence, ritual being the way in which a complex whole is imbued with meaning that has reference to individual, community and cosmos, all together.   Art ultimately gets as essences in the way ritual does.  Art is our contemporary way of doing ritual (or maybe just one contemporary way).
We who love art care about art because of something that normal people with normal vision cannot see.  Something emerges because of atmosphere, but not just the atmosphere of the artworld, or simply because there are a lot of predicates missing from the style matrix (and we are somehow aware of all of these missing things, e.g. the non-imitation and non-expression of purist art) on Danto’s account. 

Something emerges, something is there which is exhibited only to those who know how to see, and what is exhibited is the li.   Now the li is socially-historically constructed:  I am not using this term to indicate anything that science can discover or describe.  Li is complex multi-layered aura of significance; an aura of possibility, but also an actual aura as-experienced.  This aura is emergent upon relations with self, community, culture, world and universe.  (Again, we are not positing the relation to the actual universe but rather to the universe as a concept, as something experienced, as something that is part of our consciousness, as even what Kant would call an a priori concept.) 

What Danto misses is that blob of paint we see as Icarus in the Bruegel painting is not just something imagined as Icarus but rather something with heightened significance based on its relations with every other aspect of the painting: and it is also perceived as a window, in a way, to the culture at large, to our own inner selves and also to our world as much as to the world of 16th century Flanders.  It is not the atmosphere of theory or even art history so much as all of that plus all of the other appropriate atmospheres, the atmosphere of European history for example, and more.  See it through the atmosphere of what it is to be human, and of course the atmosphere of the theory of what it is to be human, as it evolves in our culture, too. 

And, speaking of Goodman, it is not that we need to simply notice all of the syntactic and semantic density of the work as symbol plus its repleteness, exemplification and complexity.  Take the print by Hokusai as his reference.  Rather there musts be something much more, something which would include not only what the Dantoian aesthete would see, but also a recognition that the curved line in the Hokusai would not have any meaning at all without its organic relations to the entire painting, and then pushing beyond that to the various organic relations that can emerge in study or contemplation between this work, self, world, etc.  It is only when the Hokusai line emerges with the aura of li that we get it, i.e. that we appreciate the painting is the best and fullest way.  Otherwise, the difference between perceiving a Hokusai and perceiving a cure in a stock market chart (when it goes up it is good for us financially) is just a matter of degree.  I think that Goodman was moving in this direction when he included a sixth symptom of the aesthetic. 
Sartwell’s thought that in loving beauty we love the entire world can be translated into the notion that the beauty of a Hokusai connects to the world not simply in terms of multiple reference (Goodman in the end is just too mechanical:  multiple reference just means more labels applied, whether metaphorically or not…and the issue is not one of application of labels). 

Something is art if it has Danto’s “is” of artistic identification, exhibits some of Goodman’s symptoms, and expresses “li.”  (This may be the first time I have ever attempted a definition of art!)

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