Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A possible theory of art inspired by Plato's Ion

Could Plato have been suggesting the following theory of art in his Ion?  What follows is a possible theory of art inspired by Plato, although not necessarily his own.

For something to be art (in, for example, the Kantian sense of "fine art" which is to say, art of genius) it must be:

1.  Inspired. 
2.  Contain something god-like as the source of inspiration.  [The source of inspiration might not be an actual god but rather some person or thing, for example other art, that takes one out of oneself, that causes ecstasy.  This thing may be god-like not only in this but in that it has created a world.]
3.  The artist must be taken out of himself, must create in ecstasy.
4.  The artist enters into a fictional world (as Ion, a rhapsode, enters into the world of Homer) and, for example, feels emotions appropriate to that world. [This is part of what is meant by being out of one's senses.]
5.  The artist, in entering into another world, sees our world (or aspects of it) in a transformed way:  i.e. he/she takes elements from our world and gives them heightened significance (for example, the poet sees water as milk and honey).  In this way or sense the artist him or herself is "holy," i.e. god-like. 
6.   The artist breaks down the gap between human existence and the natural world in some way.  For example in seeing the creek as milk and honey the artist humanizes it, i.e. makes it more intimate.
7.  The artist recognizes the limitations of his/her self knowledge:  i.e. achieves a kind of Socratic wisdom.  This would involve recognition of those realms in which he or she does not have expertise, for example being a charioteer.  [This condition is not stated or even implied by Socrates.  Socrates, as a character makes a very strict distinction between knowledge based art and the arts of inspiration.  But Plato as the writer of this drama may be suggesting this in the end.]
8.   The artist does have a field of expertise.  For example Ion is able to imitate characters in Homer and knows how to influence audiences just as a doctor is able to influence a patient. [Socrates probably would not have subscribed to this.  But it makes sense.  Surely Plato was not unaware of this possibility, much as he disapproved of the actual influence of artists.]

for more on Ion see here

Monday, January 22, 2018

JAAC Special Issue on the seventy-fifth anniversary part 1

I had originally titled this blog "Aesthetics Today" with the idea that I would make comments on up-to-date material, and in reality it became a place for me to try out any ideas I had in aesthetics.  But today I want to comment on something quite up to date -- the special issue of the The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism titled "Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Issue."  There will be nothing terribly organized about these comments and I will not try to summarize the claims made by the various authors since these are readily available in the abstracts they have provided.  I will begin by saying that this issue is well worth reading.   I will proceed article by article. 

Kathleen Marie Higgins writes in "Global Aesthetics -What Can We Do?" on something very dear to me -  the idea that aesthetics should not just be limited to Western aesthetics but should include in a systematic way aesthetic theories from throughout the world.  Last year I taught a Philosophy of Art class for the first time with this emphasis.  Higgins had already been an influence on me by way of a textbook she put together several years ago called Perspectives on Aesthetics.  It was partly an interest in global aesthetics that led me to think more and more in the late 80s and early 90s about everyday aesthetics.  For instance, I early wrote a paper on gardens as art which was in response to a paper by Mara Miller (who later wrote an important book on gardens as art), and Miller is also a specialist in Japanese Aesthetics.  Yuriko Saito's work has also long had a very strong influence on my own not only in her interest in Japanese aesthetics and everyday aesthetics but also in her work on the aesthetic of the natural environment.  In my World Aesthetics class I also incorporated many articles on various aesthetic traditions form the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics.  I will close with one quote from Higgins:  "We might take our expanded horizons as points of departure for new theories that relate to similarities and differences....If 'aesthetics' is interpreted as being global in scope, new theoretical discussions are likely to proliferate..."  (346)  Global Aesthetics, as described so well by Higgins, can only enhance aesthetics generally speaking.  Ultimately aesthetics should be global, and we are right now making baby steps in that direction.

Paul Guyer "Seven-Five Years of Kant....and Counting"

Guyer's work in aesthetics, especially on Kant, is very high quality.  I have been reading his history of modern aesthetics which has been a rich source for me of instruction and insight.  In this work Guyer explores the history of Kant scholarship within the JAAC.  Guyer, I believe rightly, places considerable emphasis on Kant's notion of "aesthetic ideas."  In this regard, it is interesting to think that there is a metaphysical dimension to Kant's analysis connected with Kant's thought that the beautiful is the symbol of the morally good because, as Guyer puts it, "of analogies between the experience of beauty and moral experience, above all the analogy between freedom of the imagination and freedom of the will." (360)  I find something intriguing about this.  Perhaps there is a deep tie between the two in terms of the notion of freedom:  it seems that when we are truly creative in art, or feel fully engaged in the experience of art, or of nature, we experience ourselves as free.  I do not quite understand the relationship between this freedom and moral duty, but I suspect that behaving morally is a matter of treating one's life as an other-centered art, the "art of living" as Liu Yuedi puts it.  

I am not happy however with Guyer's second point, which basically advocates an idea of Kant's that the naturally beautiful provides a  sign that nature "has our own interests at heart."  This, it seems to me, is precisely the kind of metaphysics Kant tried to overcome in the Critique of Pure Reason.  Whereas Guyer thinks that "perhaps in is...natural for us to make such reflections" i.e. reflections that there is a God-like being who has our best interests at heart, I think that we need to avoid this illusion (as Freud rightly called it).  Nature does not care about us.  There is no evidence that it cares about anything.  At best the only thing we can say is that we cannot avoid thinking of the world as possibly guided by goodness and that this may somehow be an overlay on our feelings of freedom associated with creative activity and in the art of living.  Only the later can provide any grounds for self-improvement.

Guyer's overall thesis, however, is well taken: as he concludes the paper:  "Kant's aesthetic theory ...combines logical and linguistic analysis, psychology and phenomenology, and metaphysics in both the older and the newer sense."  I would only argue that the metaphysics in the older sense problematic.  However, there is great value in Kant's metaphysics in the newer sense.      

Friday, January 12, 2018

Seeing as, seeing in, seeing plus

Here's a hypothesis.  I have been reading Paul Guyer's A History of Modern Aesthetics vol. 3, 20th century.  (Cambridge U. Press, 2014.)  Great book.  I can't wait to read the first two volumes.  There is a lot of talk about Wittgenstein's idea of "seeing as" and Wollheim's idea of "seeing in."  It strikes me that these may be both subcategories of something that is even more essential for aesthetics:  an umbrella concept for aesthetic seeing, one might say.  I will call this umbrella concept "seeing plus."  Seeing plus happens when you not only see an object but see it as with what I have called, adapting the word from Walter Benjamin (but not the concept), aura.  Seeing plus happens when you experience something with heightened significance.  Seeing plus can happen through seeing as and it can also happen through seeing in.  But neither seeing as or seeing in are required for seeing plus.  Nor is either sufficient for seeing plus.  So, you can see plus an item of everyday life even though you do not imagine that thing as something else or see something in it.  Seeing plus is very much like what the Buddhists call mindful seeing, and yet Buddhists do not tend to accommodate the aesthetic dimension of mindfulness.  Seeing plus might also be described as truly seeing the object.  There is of course hearing plus, smelling plus and tasting plus.  Seeing plus and its cognates are always attended by pleasure.  Wollheim was famous for spending hours looking at one painting.  What is the value of this?  Perhaps at a certain point he no longer sees in but also sees plus.  Seeing plus must also be involved with seeing as it is in itself, or at least seeing something as if you were seeing it as a thing in itself.  Seeing plus might be seen as seeing something not living as if alive.  But when we see the our beloved when in love we also see her plus.  Seeing plus is like seeing as in that it adds something.  But in this case what is added cannot be described:  we have more, but it seems that we have more of the same thing, of the thing itself.  Some Buddhists talk as though we do not really see thing until we have achieved enlightenment:  perhaps seeing plus is an intimation of enlightenment, a small fragment of heaven.  I have sometimes spoken of everyday aesthetics as having a high point.  This would be experiencing the world by way of seeing plus. Seeing plus is not limited to the everyday:   seeing something sublime in nature is seeing plus.   Seeing something beautiful, when you see it as beautiful, is seeing plus.  Pater thought that the goal of life was to have as many moments of aesthetic ecstasy as possible:  perhaps this is a matter of maximizing experience plus.  Dewey thought that great art should give us an integral experience.  Perhaps "integral" is just another word of seeing plus.   Seeing plus might be related to imagination except that an specific image is not required.