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FUNDAMENTALS OF A PHILOSOPHY OF ART

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XI

In life experience the artist, as compared to other human beings, shifts ground, avoiding self-reflection and objectivity and instead of experiencing his own experiences personally, so to speak, he experiences rather an experience of man, an experience of an experience. He is not entirely in the experience in the sense that the situation interests him more than the emotional impact of it. This action on the part of the artist, contrary to the involuntary withdrawal of a shy or neurotic person, is a voluntary action, a voluntary action of having withdrawn. The neurotic cannot be hurt because he has escaped behind a wall of withdrawal. The artist cannot be hurt either in a way, but only because he is not interested in his involvement any more--or rather, the artist can be hurt but by voluntary withdrawal refuses to be involved personally and shifts his interest voluntarily to the experience of an experience of man.

Between this voluntary shifting of ground by the artist and the involuntary withdrawal of the neurotic is a vast difference--and one that should be sharply marked because to apply, as it has been applied, the term “subconscious,” which involves irresponsibility, to this action of the artist in the same way as it is applied to the neurotic means to ignore the fact that in the action of the artist is involved intention and will. To act voluntarily, as the artist does, means to act with responsibility; to act involuntarily as the neurotic does, implies irresponsibility because involved in this is a certain responsibility coming not from the person as such, but from other acts. There are many theories floating around today regarding involuntary action and mental processes, but however one might feel about them, one thing is sure: the voluntary action of the artist and the involuntary action of the neurotic, the day-dreamer or compulsive thinker are as far apart as the ends of a stick--and that distinction must not be forgotten if we are ever to understand what art, the artist, and artistic activity might be. It is difficult enough these days, it seems, to make the simplest distinctions (as for instance a distinction I would make concerning the neurotic: so long as a man only hurts others he is not a neurotic man but merely a mean one; a man is only neurotic when he hurts himself too), so we must be doubly careful when we are dealing with a question as complicated as this one is.

Now we have seen the vast difference that lies between the voluntary shifting of ground of the artist and the involuntary withdrawal of the neurotic--but then we have to ask: Can the same distinctions be made between the activities themselves of the artist and the neurotic? And if so, how are the creative activities of the artist distinguished from the mental activities of the neurotic? Can a distinction be made, for example, between what seems to be daydreaming in the artist and the daydreaming of the neurotic? Can a distinction be made between metaphorical thinking with its associative power of the metaphor and the mental process of the neurotic which also involves association? Is there a difference between thinking and a mental process? Is there the same basic distinction to be found in the activities themselves engaged in by the artist and the neurotic as we have found in their general life experiences--or in other words, is there the same sharp distinction of voluntary action to be found in the actual creative procedure itself engaged in by the artist as we find in his general relation to experience?

The long procedure that the artist engages in to produce a work of art might seem at first glance to be subconscious and not to carry this distinction, but a closer look will show us that this too is absolutely voluntary. The artist who is engaged in this procedure seems to be a daydreamer, but once again we find a vast difference between the so-called daydreaming of the artist and the daydreaming of the neurotic (which, intellectually speaking, is simply reflective). For one thing, while the process of daydreaming of the neurotic stops the same day as to one situation, the procedure that is going on in the artist--which is not daydreaming at all but rather a procedure of metaphorical comparison-- does not stop. The artist has had a certain kind of vision; he has experienced, so to speak, the experience of an experience, and now he is obsessed by a coming general metaphor that will cover that situation. He does not let go--and even if he does, it will return again. This is artistic procedure--involving a voluntary procedure as something the artist does and not an involuntary process that is something that does him, so to speak.

Now this procedure bound to the metaphor we have called artistic procedure and, as such, is a specific kind of thinking and one that, as we have found, is distinguished from all other kinds of thinking by the fact that activity becomes thinking and doing as well--the thought becomes doing, the doing becomes thought and both are identified not only in the procedure of thinking but in the work of art as well. The speed of transition is so terrific that it is hard to see what is going on, but still it is going on--which brings us once again to the distinction between the activities of the artist and the neurotic:--here in terms first of what might be the difference between the procedure the artist is engaged in and the process the neurotic is caught up in and second, the differences to be found in the associative power of the metaphor and the involuntary association found in mental processes.

The activity the artist is engaged in producing a work of art is one of thinking--which means first of all that he is engaged in a procedure and not a process since thinking itself is a procedure rather than a process. The activity the neurotic is involved in, on the other hand, is not thinking but a mental process where by the means of involuntary associations not the man thinks but the brains thinks--which is quite a different proposition. This phenomenon we find not only in the mental processes of the neurotic or insane man, but also in dreams--where we do not think but rather the brain functions in relation to sense sensations plus other mobilized images. Thus dreams, as well as all other involuntary processes of association (a process of association, for example, caused by “a wound of the soul” which brings about a mobilizing of the brain) must be considered to be physical in my sense of the word because they are “given” in the sense that we do not bring them about--as we bring about thoughts, for instance.

Now although the metaphor, as we have seen, is the tool of artistic thinking (as the symbol is of scientific or analytical thinking and the concept of philosophical or fundamental thinking), it has not been re-cognized to be so and we have to ask: Why has it been so especially difficult to discover the role of the metaphor in art--or even for that matter to discover what the metaphor actually is? The metaphor, though it is basically the tool of art, can also be used by other kinds of thinking (and has been used) but the difficulty of recognizing the metaphor as the tool of art does not lie in this fact, but rather in the one that the metaphor is usually used in a symbolic sense. It is the actual confusion itself of the metaphor with the symbol that has caused the difficulty of recognition-- for while a metaphor can very well be used by philosophy, for example, it still can only be used as a genuine metaphor and not a symbol. Even though the metaphor as used in philosophy has to be controlled to the point where all the other possible assemblages of other metaphors are not allowed to come in, nevertheless it still must hold water, speak in itself, and stand by itself. (Plato, for example, used metaphors in this sense, applying them only to one specific thought--but they still held meaning when isolated.)

What is this strange power the metaphor has? Goethe (who along with Leonardo da Vinci was one of the few artists who had a mind that was philosophically productive and who also like da Vinci had the gift of analytical thinking) gave us a hint when he spoke of “the coined form that develops organically”--though he was not speaking of art but of nature. But while this concept could not be true in relation to the thing he applied it to (nature), it is most valuable for us viewed from another point of view:--from the point of view of the experience of man that made it possible to project this into nature--and Goethe himself certainly had such an experience: the experience as an artist of experiencing the “becoming” of every work of art within himself which started with one “coined vision,” one basic form that developed organically, so to speak--a basic form that had the ability to work as a catalyzer. So although Goethe’s “Metamorphosis of Plants”--in which he applied the term “coined form”--may be nonsense scientifically, it is wonderful for philosophy of art because “coined form” expresses so very well the basic fundamental idea that is a form in the artist’s mind and is the basic vision that leads to the work of art. The same procedure in the artist has to set in that Goethe ascribes to plants--a procedure that utilizes and adjusts everything to it by a procedure of constant adjusting and readjusting according to basic forms. We can get a real lead to a concept of the metaphor by following through this hint of Goethe’s and relating the metaphor to a procedure of metamorphosis--by conceiving of the metaphor as being metamorphical, but now metamorphical only in a special way: not as a changing of forms but a becoming of forms (because, contrary to what Hegel thought, change is not also becoming). So we could say the metaphor is the means by which the artist is able to bring about this procedure of becoming that leads to a work of art.

Now with this further insight into the metaphor, let’s once again go back to the question: What is metaphorical thinking? is it possessed thinking or is it thinking that can be controlled? is the artist involved in a subconscious process or in a real procedure of thinking? Metaphorical thinking can only be considered to be subconscious in that it seemingly is not self-controlled, but fundamentally it is entirely self-controlled because every thought is related to the intended content and to nothing else--which means that while seemingly uncontrolled, it is self-controlled in a very funny way: it is really self-controlled by a basic vision and a “coined form.” This vision does not become conscious to the artist because he does not reflect upon it--but that does not mean that it is a subconscious process. Actually, it is a procedure that lies somewhere in the middle between being entirely consciously controlled by the artist on the one hand and completely controlling the artist on the other. The controlling factor of the basic vision is the inspiration of the artist--who while still controlling the productive part is controlled by the basic vision. This is not a subconscious process but a very hidden procedure--or to put it in old terms: the artist is not being directly inspired by Apollon himself but is inspired by Apollon through the medium of the “coined form.” There-fore, the metaphorical procedure can be described as being the conscious control of all metaphors, controlled by one basic vision--one basic vision that is the rowboat we were talking about on the stream of creative activity.

But, once again, we have to ask: What is a metaphor and what empowers it to be a controlling force? where do we have that strange ability from of creating something that is self-living and how can it touch upon count-less correspondences in other experiences? And, what is the experience of the beholder in relation to all this? is the beholder by the work of art also brought into a creative artistic procedure and controlled by one basic vision?

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