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FUNDAMENTALS OF A PHILOSOPHY OF ART

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IX(2)

The purpose of philosophy (aside from the academic approach) is to make every man a philosophical man; the purpose of art is by works of art to make every man an artistic man. And just as every man can become a philosophical human being, he can also become by means of art an artistic human being. Man is a very strange being who has the wonderful possibility of becoming (and here becoming in the true sense of the word) more and more a human being and of realizing more and more, by bring them about, certain deep underlying dreams of man (the deep desire of living in a world that has meaning, for example--or the deep desire, which can be fulfilled in a work of art, of the perfect identity of essence and existence, meaning and being)--but first and most of all, man is a questioning being, a being who when faced, for example, with a phenomenon of something absolutely unique (as a work of art is) is put into a state of astonishment and out of this state of astonishment (or marveling as Aristotle says) starts to ask questions. Man starts to ask the question: Why are things at all?-- trying to get to the root of the question of being itself.

Philosophy is the one creative ability of man most concerned with such questions, the one creative ability of man primarily concerned with basic fundamental questions--which is why philosophy is the only creative ability that can explain all the other creative abilities to themselves and why we call philosophy in here to help us in our inquiry into what art might be. Philosophy, for example, can help us bring to light the basic joys that every work of art can give us--basic joys that because they are fundamental are hidden, but which also, because they are fundamental, became self-evident once they are brought to light. This is the strange thing above fundamental things--although they are hidden, they are always perfectly self-evident once they are found.

Now (to go on with our inquiry into what a work of art might be) let’s approach for a moment the question of what a work of art as a whole is--and whether it can be compared, as it often has been, to an organism. Is not a work of art rather an entity--an entity in the real sense of the word where everything in the work of art is ruled by one central over-all vision of form, where each thing is relative to the other and all relative to this one absolute, where every part of the work of art has such a relation to the whole that even a part of it carries the whole with it (in the way, for example, that a remaining portion of a Greek statue can still create for the beholder the feeling of the whole work of art)? How can something like that be compared to an organism? How can any concept of an organism ever give us an insight into a work of art or ever be adequately compared to a work of art--or to any other creative endeavor of man for that matter?

The idea that something like a work of art or a human community (that other favorite choice for comparison with an organism) can possibly be a higher degree of an organism simply does not hold water. A work of art, which finally resembles nothing so much as man himself, can no more be considered simply to be a higher degree of organism than man himself can be, and certainly a human community as a system of human relations based on man-made laws to create a certain human order (in order to make it possible, for example, for human justice to emerge) is a much higher entity than any identification with an organism could imply. Even from the point of view of organization, the comparison simply is not valid--for as far as a work of art is concerned, the artisan part aside, it has nothing to do with organization at all, and while it is perfectly true that a human community is organized, it cannot be considered as an organism even in that sense of the word because free will already enters in.

Now we have said that a work of art, if it can be compared to anything, resembles man himself more than anything else--but how and why? Since we are beings who are born as sketches only of human beings with the possibility of becoming more and more human beings--beings who are not born free, wise or just but only with the possibility of becoming more and more so--we are beings who can only become ourselves, so to speak, at the end of a successful life. But then we might get the feeling from a long life of developing and continuity that everything has been put into a framework of interrelation that gives sense and meaning. We might finally get the feeling that we have become a real living entity--an entity where nothing is senseless, where everything has meaning and falls into place. It is to us--to man in this sense--that a work of art finally can only be compared (and conversely it is the work of art that gives us the greatest assurance of our possibility to become an entity for how can the creator of something have less possibilities than the thing he is able to create). We as creators of art have the possibility to create entities--entities that are the fulfillment of our innermost ideal: the identity of essence and existence, being and meaning--the possibility to assemble everything in ourselves and to bring life into one unity that has sense and meaning. We as the creators of art on the one hand have the possibility to bring about in every work of art the fulfillment of that deep longing of man and as the beholders of art on the other hand are able to sense that fulfillment in every work of art and to be put to rest by it.

And that brings us to the problem of the beholder and the work of art--to the questions: What happens to the beholder? How does the work of art work on him and how does it come about? What is the relation of the beholder to the work of art? What is the way he faces the work of art? The medieval mystic’s way of facing God was to see truth--to see God and to behold Him. Then he was in felicity with no questions left, no effort required. He knew who he was and he was what he knew. The beholder’s main problem is much the same: to be able to give himself up entirely to the experience of the work of art. But how does this come about? How does the work of art start to work on the beholder? One means, of course, is through the senses, but leaving that aside for the moment, how does the work of art work on the beholder otherwise? What is done to the beholder by the work of art?

To answer that let’s go back once more to the Greeks--to Heraclitus this time and to a concept of his which is particularly pertinent to our problem. Heraclitus within his whole philosophical system conceived of the world as the playing of Zeus--the great world-child Zeus playing the infinite play of change, constant change that moves by itself, infinite change that is process itself (which is quite a different proposition from Hegel’s concept of change). This concept of God conceived by the man who founded the scientific method itself by his concept of change and by his position that the laws of nature were limited laws that could be discovered by man is one of the harshest and cruelest concepts of God to be found--but nevertheless we find in the idea of Zeus’ play very much the same kind of experience that a work of art puts us into. The play of a god is creative play; the play a work of art can put us into is also creative play--creative play in the sense that art can set our senses into play in the two fundamental aspects of time and space (since a work of art as formed lives in time and space) in such a way that what is a task for us in the world is turned into joy, into play.

We as human beings in the world are not only concerned passively with time and space, but we are also concerned actively with them. We have a task with them; we work with them. Insofar as time and space are physical (as they are in science) our relation to them can be conceived of only as passive (space is considered as objective space, space as given in the physical world, time as physical time), but there are also metaphysical time and space and there our relation to the phenomena of time and space can only be conceived of as active. Our relation to metaphysical tine and space involves, for example, time and space perceptions--which are actions, something we do actively (as Caesar said when asked about warfare: “The eyes are the first to be defeated.”). By space and time perceptions we space ourselves and time ourselves (which means we are not only in time and space but we also have time and space) and unconsciously we all do this. In the blind man, for example, other senses have to be developed to replace his eyes so he can space himself--touch, smell, hearing have to be developed in order to replace to a certain extent the loss of sight. In moments of extreme danger, as in cases of dizziness in climbing or drowning, we must space ourselves consciously. We must actively assemble space phenomena around us in order to orient ourselves again.

In art this ability of ours becomes play. One of the basic wonderments of art is the great miracle that when we see a painting we are suddenly made beholders of space entirely mastered by us. We are the location itself and everything is related to us and our location. This space becomes alive to us, opens up only to us and takes us into it. We are not only masters of space but we understand for the first time space in its meaning and it becomes meaningful. Space in the world can only be objective. We live in space and can work with space, but it does not convey meaning. Space can be abstracted into mathematical formulas by us, but they only make sense--they do not convey meaning to us. We time and we space in the world, but as a nuisance, as a task--but through art this is turned into a joy, into play: we enjoy it. Our ability to space and to time are actively turned into something transcendent and we are made masters of time and space--masters of space in painting and masters of time in music--and of tine and space that becomes meaningful.

Just as painting gives us mastery over space, music gives us mastery over time--complete mastery because music is entirely in time. In music we are put before a phenomenon of eternity that is the same kind of a phenomenon in time that we can have in space: namely, the phenomenon of eternity that when it deals with finite space it can nevertheless be infinite because it is closed in itself. In music we have this kind of eternity in time--an extension of time given as a whole. We are forced by the work of art to go back and forth--we are before it and sometimes behind it and by a constant going back and forth are set above time. We have a sense of duration of ourselves that spreads all over the extension of time--which means we have time in music in the same sense we have space in painting: in a way that transforms our ability to space and time our-selves (and thus to have space and time as well as be in space and time) from a task in the world to creative play, to something that brings us joy. A work of art by activating our senses in a creative concept to produce joy is able to give us an ability of creative play that is exactly the same as that of the world-child Zeus in Heraclitus.

Now we have said that in a work of art, though the basic joys are hidden at first because they are fundamental, there is nothing that pretends to be hidden. This makes it possible for us to trust the work of art and to give ourselves to it--and since we approach a work of art through the senses, it means that with a work of art we do something we never do except as children or in love: we trust our senses and trust them absolutely. As children we trust our parents through the senses and later when we face our beloved we take the tremendous risk of trusting our senses--but it is only with a work of art that we feel we run no risk. We do the fantastic and courageous thing of trusting our senses--giving them up fully to the experience, letting the work of art work on us to the full--and the reward is tremendous. That is why when we try to make works or art understandable to people who do not understand them that it cannot be done by intellectual means but only through the senses. A work of art educates our senses and we are able to trust our senses in a way we can do with nothing else because we feel there is or can be no harm in a work of art. Why? Why are we able to put such trust in a work of art? Because we sense the fact that a work of art has one absolute incapability--and one that cannot be said of anything else: the absolute incapability of hiding any possible harm to us. So we are able to let ourselves go into the experience of the senses-- and then something very strange starts to happen: our senses seem to think. But then we have to ask: What kind of thinking? Are there different kinds of thinking, and if so what can they be?

There are three different kinds of creative thinking: fundamental thinking, which we have in philosophy; analytical thinking, which we have in science; and synthetical thinking which we have in art--not synthetic in the scientific sense of synthesis but rather in the sense of metaphorical thinking where the work of art not only makes us think but to associate too--and here, once again, not associate in the scientific sense, but in a creative way. In psychoanalysis there is certain process of association which, because it is involuntary and cannot be controlled, is physical in my meaning of the word (as dreams are physical in that sense too). In art, on the other hand, we have a creative procedure of association. The medium is the same--the human mind--but a creative procedure of association in the mind of the beholder is brought about by the form of the work of art itself--which is a crystallization of experiences expressed multi-metaphorically.

This phenomenon of the crystallization of human experience (once we are brought through the means of the senses into the work of art) causes us to speculate by touching experiences of our own corresponding to those already expressed in the work of art--setting in motion a procedure of creative association (which is one reason why a work of art can be interpreted indefinitely). We are able to remobilize forgotten experiences-- touching them again and adding by that to the work of art itself. We are working (working really rather than interpreting) on the work of art our-selves. We are in the middle of a great inner dialogue with the work of art--in a line of metaphorical thinking, adding to the work of art and interpreting it for ourselves in different stages of our life.

And--because it is a metaphorical crystallization of life experience-- a work of art can do even more: it can become a mirror of our experiences too where the deeper we look into the work of art the deeper it throws us back into ourselves--which is an experience given to man nowhere else but in art. Genuine artistic experience is the key that opens our own inwardness to us (and in this sense can become in a way our judge too). This is the living relation that art brings about for us as beholders. We are led back into ourselves by the work of art through enlightenment and in such a way that it has the possibility to reinforce our own capabilities-- to reinforce, for example, our ability to love. Beholding a work of art is a sense experience and as such takes on inwardly the color of sensuous feelings relating back to experiences and insights of certain moments of our own life. By beholding a work of art we are able to become ourselves more and more, to unify ourselves more and more--and here as beholders, we have an advantage that the artist who created the work of art never has: we become men who have the possibility of living metaphorical thinking and experience without the necessity of ever getting out of the real creative process--which the artist has to do. We, as beholders, have the possibility of an entirely creative experience--while the artist has one uncreative side to him: in order to be able finally to create the work of art he has to get out of the creative process--or rather he has to try to put himself above the creative process.

But this is an extremely complicated question and one we will have to come back to because for one thing there is a great difference between the artist trying to put himself above the creative process in order to create a work of art and the other danger that can happen to an artist: the danger to be thrown entirely out of the creative process. The artist mostly does not know (or cannot at least consciously think about) what he is doing in the creative process itself of producing a work of art--and Plato who was a great lover of art and artistic himself (although Plato as a philosopher bitterly attacked art--but this was for quite another reason[3]) was one of the first to show us that there must be a cleavage between the artist’s learning and his art, that the artist must rule knowledge out of art because as soon as he brings analytical conscious thinking into his work he throws himself out of the creative process. But if this should be truer we are faced then immediately with the question: Does this also mean on the other hand that the artist really is only, as Plato thought he was, “the mouthpiece of Apollon,” who as soon as the gift of Apollon is given to him speaks in beauty of the truth but does not know what he is doing?--which means that in order really to inquire into this problem we have to inquire into such questions as: What is the creative process and what else, if anything, is necessary to produce a work of art? Is the creative process one that only possesses the artist, so to speak, or is it a free activity? Is the artist only “the mouthpiece of Apollon” or do other things enter in too?

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