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FUNDAMENTALS OF A PHILOSOPHY OF ART

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XII

What is a metaphor that it has this strange ability to create a vision of form in the artist and to connect in one basic vision so many different fields of activity? We have a unique witness to a metaphor becoming form in Kafka’s account of how a line of thinking about a whole complexity of things finally turned into “The Castle.” He was walking along in Prague one day when he saw up above him but separated by a wall of fog a chateau that had once belonged to the old rulers of Bohemia. There before him was literally the abyss between the ruled and the rulers; from there he went on first to that other unbridgeable abyss between the I and myself of a schizophrenic person; and then on to all the unbridgeable abysses that might run through human life in all fields and areas, and especially the abyss of non-understanding between persons--from the abyss that might exist even between those who know each other very well on to the permanent abyss that always exists between people who know each other only slightly, on to the ever-widening abyss of fragmentary glimpses of people passed in the world, and then finally on to the fragmentary people with which he peopled “The Castle”.

We can see with this, first-hand, so to speak, how the metaphor can relate so many fields of human experience at once and on parallel levels, and it gives us an even sharper means to see what difference there really is between the metaphor as the tool of artistic thinking and the symbol as the tool of analytical thinking, between the metaphor as something that not only stands for something else but has meaning in itself and the symbol as something that only stands for something else with no meaning in itself. The action of the symbol is the mere translation of thought; its structure an abstract form or shape; and one of its greatest powers, since everything in the physical world is shaped, is to be able to give through its use in mathematics the relation of those shapes. That means the symbol, when applied to physical things where it rightly belongs, can be a wonderfully powerful tool to handle things with--but it also means that the symbol, when applied to metaphysical things where it has no right to be applied at all, can be a terribly destructive tool. This is the double power of the symbol. It can either be a weapon with which we attack or defend ourselves against things and bring them to function for what we consider a suitable purpose for our world; or--since it also has the terrible power to change beings into things--it can when applied to human beings, when human beings are approached as things, destroy man’s character of being. If we follow the symbol blindly and are not aware that the symbol is the tool of analytical thinking, that it is our tool to handle physical things with, and if we do not limit it to that, then we lose our rule over the symbol and become not the rulers but the victims of our own tool, the victims of the symbol.

The metaphor, on the other hand, serves quite another purpose--but just as the symbol carries with it the danger than when it is not rightly used we can fall prey to scientific thinking, the metaphor also carries a danger with it--and one that has existed for most of the time of human history: the danger of living in myth. The metaphor, as one of the means by which we attack the outside world, has been the tool of myth as well as of art: that means as long as the metaphor and metaphorical thinking were applied as reality (as long as Zeus, Apollon, Dionysos, and so on were projected into reality as real persons living in the world and not as images, as long as it was not recognized that while they had a special world of their own--the personal world of human inwardness--it was not after all the world of reality itself) we were living in myth. We protected ourselves against fear by pretending to know the world, but actually we only changed it into fantasy and believed it to be reality. But once we cease to live in myth--as we have ceased to (though unfortunately we still continue to live in superstition--and the worst kind of superstition these days)--a very strange thing happens: we can look back and see in all myths a metaphorical content that makes those figures of myth live forever in our minds. Once myth and the figures of myth like Prometheus, Odysseus, Sisyphos, Apollon are taken out of their wrong world of outward reality and put back into their proper world of inwardness, they become works of art for us and now live on in us. The power of the metaphor and metaphorical thinking becomes even stranger now and we have to ask: What enables us to create such a thing?

By the tool of the symbol we are able to change things, and to make things--physical things, things that come into existence by themselves-- function for our purposes. By means of the symbol we are able to answer the attack that things make on us by developing a counter-attack of our own, changing those things into our slaves--and, as we have seen, the symbol has even the power when wrongly applied to change beings into things. By the tool of the metaphor, on the other hand, we are able to change things into beings. The metaphor has the strange and wonderful power to change everything into a being--either in the way it was used in myth or in the only way it is used now: in art. A work of art is an image of being and within that work of art things are taken into its context and changed into images of being--as an apple in a Cezanne painting is changed into an image of being. We have never been able in our whole system of aesthetics to anywhere near approach the essence of art because we always supposed along with Plato that on the one hand things were only an imitation (in relation to Plato’s theory of ideas) and yet on the other hand, as Plato also said, that “the artist should not show the reality but the ideas.” But there is no imitation in art at all--or rather art is an imitation of being itself and of nothing else. An image is given but it is an image of being--never one where an imitation of objects is meant.

And this is true as well of the modern style of transformation as any other, of course, for while anthropomorphic painting (taking being into nature) has been rejected, images of being are still created in art. The charge so often made against modern art, that it is an art of de-humanization, simply is not true. A Cezanne tree, though not human, is an image of being--and what a being! An artist like Cezanne tries to create a being that has personal qualities, that is a living thing, a being of such magnitude that it is almost a giant or a hero--and yet a being that also at the same time is far removed from any human trends. That may mean, as it certain does, that it is free from any of the sentimentality that crept into so much of the painting of the 19th Century, but it certainly does not mean that it is an art of de-humanization. On the contrary, it is a procedure of de-individualization in order to be able to give better the essence of being. It is an art, as all art is, of personalization; an art that not only never individualizes (as no art does), but actually de-individualizes in order to better be able to go about its purpose of giving the essence of being. Cezanne, when asked once why he painted so many still-lifes answered: “I suppose you have never heard the conversation between apples, a vase and a table.” His apples were entirely de-individualized in human terms, but he made an apple into a being that could talk and influence other beings.

By the means of the metaphor and works of art we are able to transform the dangerous world around us into a world that has our qualities, We are able to change things into beings or at least into images of beings, and so transform by and by the whole world into images of beings, surrounding ourselves with another world of beings only. There are no things, just beings, in the world of works of art. It is a trans-realistic world--this world of art--which means that while we have now come out of the error to apply the metaphor directly to reality, we have not ceased to apply the metaphor to the real world. We now only apply it indirectly by surrounding ourselves with another world of images of beings and by taking the world of the metaphor back into ourselves in order to strengthen and enrich our personal qualities--which means that while an indirect use only of myth is made now, we still are creating myth (and always will).

Now we have seen that the metaphor builds form, but we have to ask: What is form and how is it possible for the metaphor to have this power? The artist applies metaphors that he has created out of his life experience and projects them into the outer world--just as the other way around things of the outer world are projected into him. Form starts where these two things meet--where the realm of inside out, so to speak, meets and crosses the realm of outside in--which means that form starts at that borderline of outward reality and inward reality: the human senses. Art is created by form and form emerges from the mutual transmutation of life, of the being of beings and the being of things. On that borderline of the senses where the two realms meet--the realm of the metaphysical and the realm of the physical--form emerges because form is their identity; form is where both become identical, interchangeable and not to be taken apart. A synthesis occurs--which means that in the realization of metaphorical thinking (the realization of the basic vision) form (which is the very identity of the metaphysical and the physical) makes at least an image of the fulfillment of a great fundamental dream of man: the great dream that there should be no split between the realms of the physical and metaphysical, that existence and essence, being and meaning should be identical. The phenomenon of this image of the fulfillment of man’s dream (the image of the identity of the physical and metaphysical, the image of a world where everything is a being) we call beauty--this phenomenon made possible by form which can give truth to the senses. So through the means of the metaphor (which is the form-building tool that makes term and beauty and thus art possible) we are able to redeem the world in the sense that we are able in a work of art to create a world in which we would want to live.

And this brings us to the question of revelation--for there seems to be a quality of revelation in art in relation to this other world we are able to create. Schelling in his work on myth and revelation answered the question of what revelation is by saying: “Myth changed to revelation when we believed that God spoke directly.” Revelation in this sense (in the sense that God has spoken directly) would mean that another world, an unknown world, has been revealed to us. In art also there is another world--a world that, contrary to the world of religious revelation, we ourselves have created--but then we have to ask: Is it possible that in that world we have created, an unknown world also is revealed to us?

Kant in speaking of his real concern in philosophy said he was most concerned with those simple, self-evident things that everyone thought he understood but hardly ever did--and art, certainly, seems to have a strange ability in respect to this. We very often hear the remark, “It has been a revelation to me.”--and when applied to art, it is a remark that contains a real grain of truth. When a person says concerning a work of art, “That has been a revelation to me.”, what it really means first is that certain fundamental self-evident matters have been touched and that he is really saying, whether he knows it or not, that he not only has judged a work of art but has been judged in return. Through the metaphorical experience that emerged from the work of art and from that process of interchanging which is the peculiar power of the metaphor, this person suddenly saw, sensed and felt experiences of his own past more intensely than ever before-- and while his own experiences made it possible for him to relate to the basic experience of the work of art, the work of art was also able to throw light backwards on his own experiences. So in that sense we have to ask: Is art revelation--and if so, what does it reveal?

Man is able through the experience of human qualities to create a metaphor--to fuse different things into one metaphor where they all have one indication in common: an experience of a certain definite quality. It is here that revelation starts. Out of that world he has created, an unknown world is revealed to man--a world of which he knows little and a world that can reveal one thing to him that is revealed nowhere else: human qualities. Human qualities are infinite and the only means to reveal those--his own qualities--to man is art because art is the one creative ability of man that is only concerned with those qualities. The artist is only concerned with personal qualities, with beings, and because of this every work of art is able to reveal different new personal qualities to man himself since every work of art is the manifestation of those very human qualities he can realize in himself. It is this that enables man to create the tool of the metaphor and by that to reveal himself to himself in infinity. This gift of Apollon--the gift of being able to create the metaphor--is the one gift that enables man to know himself, that gives him the capacity to create a world of images in his own image that mirrors all of the qualities man values here on earth and that enables him to enhance his own personal qualities.

So man has been able to build and to erect another world on top of this world--a world not apart from this world or against it, but an image of another world in the sense of an Olympos that is set right on top of the real world; a world that man also lives in partly--a world where he gathers new strength of human personal qualities to cope with the real world. The artist is there in that world as a worker--not to enjoy it but to enlarge it--but in general that world is for man what the earth was for Antaeus (the giant who doubled his strength whenever he touched the earth and who was finally only defeated by Heracles when Heracles lifted him off the ground so he could not touch the earth). Man is born to the earth, but he doubles his strength in the world of Olympos because he finds there that his own personal qualities have grown--which means that man thereby relates the world he has made to the one he lives in.

So if once again we go back to the words of Heraclitus--“The lord whose oracle is that at Delphi neither speaks nor conceals but shows.”-- in order to check ourselves, it becomes clear that indeed we can say that the essence of art is the process of self-revelation of man--as it also becomes equally clear that regardless of the fact that in art there can be the revelation of human qualities in the negative as well as in the positive sense, there must also be the total absence of good and evil in art. Since art is not supposed to be taken as real myth, it is entirely out of the realm of good and evil--which means we cannot moralize or apply moral terms to art. No ethical conclusions whatsoever can be drawn out of a work of art or should there be because this world of imagery is a world that is supposed to be an image of a world where there is no difference between things and beings. It is a perfect world--and since we do not have to take this world of art as a mythical world to conform to but rather only as a world to take back into ourselves, it is a world that does not need or want the distinction between good and evil (which is another great difference between art and kitsch, for kitsch wants to make just that distinction). So although art reveals to us negative as well as positive qualities, no ethical conclusions whatsoever are necessary because those qualities can never be applied directly. They first must be put through the filter of our own personality--or to put it in another way: we must first return from Olympos before we can use our regained strength because to try to do it directly by art means to leave the world of art and to start living in myth. Art in that sense can once more be compared to the Greek Oracle for art is the free giving of personal experience to the beholder for his own use--but what that use might be is entirely his own responsibility.

So we see that art is that wonderful capability of man that not only is able to give the image at least of the fulfillment of one of the deepest and most fundamental longings of man--the synthesis of both the metaphysical and physical--but is able to give it in one over-all image of beauty. This would seem to indicate that art indeed has a place of its own right and standing as one of the creative capabilities of man that he cannot possibly do without--and this is a most important point to establish not only for the sake of art itself but for the sake also of the other creative abilities of man because all the creative abilities are inter-related in such an intimate way, reinforcing and enriching each other so much, that there is always the great danger that if one of them (in this case, art) is taken away the other kinds of creative thinking might die too. That is why we should make very sure before dismissing quite so lightly certain creative abilities as no longer so essential or pertinent for us that we are not along with it needlessly crippling ourselves.

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