FUNDAMENTALS OF A PHILOSOPHY OF ART
ON THE UNDERSTANDING OF ARTISTIC EXPERIENCE(Printer Friendly Version | Back to Transcript)
One of the greatest difficulties in gaining an understanding of what the metaphor as the tool of art might really be is that in two of the arts-- poetry and literature--the metaphor seems unbreakably tied up with an idea. So to make matters a little easier for us we have to ask first: How does the metaphor apply to those two arts, painting and music, where it does not seem unbreakably bound to an idea? And then: Is the metaphor bound up with an idea at all? But first let’s go back for a moment to certain basic distinctions between the way things are used in art and the way they are used in science and once again to the distinctions between the metaphor and the symbol.
In art, as well as in everything else, the abstract and the concrete exist only in relation to each other. Even to be able to think of the abstract we must have an idea of the concrete, and to think of the concrete an idea of the abstract (which is one reason why so-called abstract art is not possible)--or as Juan Gris formulated it so well for painting: “Without the concrete what do I have to control the abstract with and without the abstract what do I have to control the concrete with?”--but this does not mean that abstraction in the scientific sense is used in art or the metaphor. Here again we have our basic distinction between science as the creative ability of man which deals entirely with the physical and art as the creative ability of man which can change things into beings and between the symbol as the tool of science and the metaphor as the tool of art--which means, since abstraction is a scientific term and ability, that what is usually taken for abstraction in art must be something different. Perhaps the best way to understand this is to approach it by the way of a power shared both by the symbol and the metaphor: the power of association.
If we go back to Kafka’s experience of the abyss which finally culminated in “The Castle,” taking that as an example of an artist’s experience with a metaphor, we see that the symbol as well as the metaphor has the power to associate to the abyss--the abyss here as a personal human experience for the artist--but with one great difference: one is passive, the other active--passive and active in the sense that in the case of the metaphor the association is really not even association but attraction, not passive but active with the quality of being able to attract and to assemble around it other experiences relating in essence to that one basic experience of the abyss. Everything the artist has ever experienced in life to give him the feeling of the abyss goes into that metaphor, on every level of life basic experience is given:--which means that the metaphoric abyss--since a metaphor has a definite meaning encompassing a whole group of metaphors with the same essence or same basic experience--is not an abstraction but a generality; that its ability to grasp other things and experiences is not an ability of abstraction, as the symbol’s is, but an ability of generalization.
This constant marking of the distinctions between science and art as perhaps the two most contrasting of all man’s creative abilities and the symbol and metaphor as the tools of each ability is not a matter of splitting hairs, but something most essential to our purpose--not only because there has been such a tendency not to make the distinctions but also because the basic essential differences are so sharp that it gives us an excellent means to see more clearly what the special qualities of art might be. One of the sharpest, and perhaps the key distinction, between science and art (and thus between the symbol and the metaphor) is the part played by the human will in science and the part played by the human will in art. Human will, of course, is manifested in both science and art--but in entirely opposite ways. In science the human will is manifested by abolishing this will in order to give things a chance to impress themselves on the scientist (which is a means of being impressed that only the human being has because while an animal also can be impressed, it can never receive the outer world through the means of abolishing its will). In art, on the other hand, human will is manifested in exactly the opposite manner. Art through the means of the metaphor has the possibility to show the boundlessness of human will by being able to take everything that relates to one basic metaphor and to assimilate and make a whole out of it regardless of what the individual experiences in themselves might have meant--and this is the ability that gives the metaphor its tremendous power.
Now what about time and space as they are approached in science and time and space as they are approached in art--time and space as natural phenomena and time and space metaphysically speaking? In science we create symbols which by enabling us to disregard our personal time and space completely make it possible for us to receive the most pure physical time and space by receiving only the physical; in art--though it differs in the different arts (In poetic art, for example, where time and space are never related directly to physical time and space as they are in pictorial art and music, there is only the indication that it is a conception of general experience. Elements of time and space may be taken in, as in lyrical poetry with rhythm and sound or in dramatic poetry, but it is indirect time and space only and never directly given.)--the relation-ship of art in general to time and space is quite a different one, the purpose quite a different one. Art, since it also deals with metaphysical time and space can give man the feeling of having space, not merely being in space, of having tine, not merely being in time--which means that time and space as found in art carry with them, as physical time and space can never do, a very real relation to eternity.
But let’s go back now to our question of whether the metaphor is bound unbreakably to an idea and to the question of how the metaphor works in the different arts--especially in music and painting where the contact with an idea is the least. The most direct connection of the metaphor to an idea seems, of course, to be in the novel where a use is made out of the metaphor that has along with the other qualities of the metaphor a direct idea relation, content that has to be taken in. Poetry already seems much less bound to an idea because poetry can start with mere sound which immediately carries a metaphor--but since it is also working with language, the metaphor in poetry too seems to have a certain relation to an idea. Nevertheless, the metaphor in prose and poetry, and especially when it is strictly used, is not as unbreakably bound to an idea as it would seem at first glance because artistic prose, as well as poetry (although it is easier in poetry because it is more closely related to sound) has the deep need to get rid of language as a means of communication and to be able by arousing direct sensual impressions to bring the beholder into participation.
The metaphor as it is used in music (that creative ability that relates to the self-feeling of man) carries, of course, no such implication of an idea but before we go more deeply into the form of the metaphor in music, we have to stop for a moment with music itself because music has one indication that none of the other arts has: an indication of tyranny. Music is the only art that can dominate man--the only art that can put man into a mood he may not even want (as military music can) or that can be put to such uses as music has been put in primitive societies (re-enforcing, for example, the power of ritual). In all the other arts there is a certain screen, so to speak, between the work of art and the beholder that allows or even sets a certain distance between the work of art and the sense perceptions of the beholder, but in music, and especially in certain kinds of music, there is the possibility of a sense perception so direct that the beholder can be completely overwhelmed. This is possible because music has the strange ability to work by vibration and rhythm not only on one sense, the sense of hearing, but also to work on a second inner sense, the sense of the vegetative nervous system located in the solar plexus, and to work on it in two ways--either indirectly, so to speak, through the ears or directly hitting this sense. It is the possibility of music to hit this sense directly that gives music its terrible power because this is the sense that translates psychological shocks into physical ones and the sense that is the exact location, corporeally speaking, of inner feeling.
If music works on this sense only indirectly, so to speak, as music that is real art does, it makes possible for the beholder a synthesis of a stream of feeling and a line of thought, bringing him by that into a real artistic experience--which means that music as art does not exert its full power of tyranny. Music as art does not exert the possibility of music to speak directly to this inner sense and by that to overwhelm, blot out all the beholder’s possible controls over the piece of music; the possibility to utilize to the full the physical character of immediateness that this inner sense gives music; the possibility to utilize to the full this special means that only music has on the human body--a means that not only makes it impossible physically to resist it, but one that can even change the bodily disposition of a man. This terrible possibility of music to leave no freedom at all for the beholder if he is really subjected to it is what Nietzsche meant when in “Birth of Tragedy” he spoke of the Dionysian principle in music--when he spoke of Dionysos as that wild god of life and death who had a terrible means in his hands to make of people what he wanted: the means of music. Music has either the power (when a line of feeling is synthesized in the beholder with a line of thought) to bring the beholder into a procedure of participation or music has the power (when the stream of feeling is not counterbalanced by a line of thought) to overwhelm, to tyrannize, to bring the beholder into a state where he just delivers himself to it.
And now to go back to the question of what the special form of the metaphor in music might be and of how it might be used. In science we relate by means of the symbol things that are into things that stand for things; in art we relate by means of the metaphor things as they are perceived into things of us, into things that have an implication of our own being. But in music, which relates, of course, to time, the symbol and the phrase (the nuclear form of the metaphor in music) are very near each other. If we count one-two-three-four, this is a symbolic performance, but if we make an abstraction from all things and utter the sound mmm mmm mmm, we relate now only to human will itself. This uttering is an abstraction from the time that things have and are into an uttering that is a time uttering of metaphysical time (time that is within us, that we are). Now if we change the mmm mmm mmm to mmm mmmn mmm mmmn mm mm mm, we are still within the concrete of our own time, but we get rhythm. The phrase is the magic means we have in music to be able by the measure to superimpose on physical time our mastership over our metaphysical time and by that to make a synthesis of metaphysical time with physical time, a synthesis of the will of time with the time of no will. This makes musical form and the means, of course, is the phrase which can produce all elements of music--rhythmical, melodic, etc.--and which, as the special form of the metaphor in music, is the unification of human will and human experience into time.
And now we come to the form of the metaphor in painting--the ornament-- which is not only the special means in painting but which also must have been the start of pictorial art itself. Cave drawing and painting, for example, show such a highly developed style that it is inconceivable that they were the first pictorial efforts of man--which would seem to indicate that art starts with its so-called abstract elements: pottery, decoration, and the ornament itself, of course. The ornament (which could be said to be an art in itself) as the metaphor in painting is concerned only with the innermost movements of a space expression and a time expression of a certain style period, with giving only essences of specific style forms-- and like the phrase in music also is very near to the symbol.
But this very nearness to the symbol, on the other hand, serves also to point up the essential differences--and one of the best examples for this is Egyptian art where the relation seems very close indeed. Hegel, for example, thought Egyptian art was symbolic because mathematics was made an expression of art. This is not quite the case, but Hegel’s statement contained the insight of the role played by mathematics in Egyptian art. In Egyptian art mathematical symbols were taken in for art creation. The very ornamental intentions themselves had mathematical intentions (which was only true with the Egyptians). But while there has never been an art style where the artists were under such a yoke as the Egyptian artists were-- where artists had such a difficult superimposed inartistic shape to conform to--there still was no use of real mathematical symbols in my sense of the symbol. The Egyptians were able to take the mathematical symbol into their art, but it was only possible for it to enter into the metaphor in Egyptian art because of the fact that mathematics, which they idealized, was also mythical with them. It was the mythical implications of the mathematical symbol that made it possible for the Egyptians to use the triangle in the pyramid, for example, or the cylinder in the statue and by the slightest deviation from the mathematical role get into the expressive ornament (and when we look at all other expressions of the ornament, it becomes very apparent that the Egyptian performance did result in a real ornament).
But while Egyptian art used mathematical elements in a way no other art has used them, we find in all art the same means as in mathematics: the symbol, the plane, the line, the curve, etc. But here again, we find the same essential difference between things used in science and things used in art even though they are the same means. If an artist, for example, draws a straight line--one as absolutely straight as one drawn with a ruler--it still not only is used for a different purpose but it has an entirely different quality: the quality given by having been done with feeling and free will. Lines drawn automatically have the implication of still being in the concrete as to things in the sense of still abstracting from things, but drawing lines free hand with an ornamental purpose is related to voluntary human will and to inner space--not to analyzing and following space but to making space and relating inner space with outer space.
The first expression of this ability of man must have been done in relation to an abstract purpose, but regardless of whether pictorial art started with the ornament as an abstract art conception or not, the ornament is the special form of the metaphor in painting and as such has all the power of the metaphor: the power of relating the physical to the meta-physical and the metaphysical to the physical, the power of making given shapes conform, so to speak, to a general ornamental vision and by that transforming them, and bringing about that identity of the given and the meaningful.
So what Juan Gris said in relation to the concrete and abstract can very well be paraphrased in relation to the ornament (and still carry his meaning in a way): If I do not have the ornament, how can I transform shapes or if I do not have shapes given how can I control whether the ornament is working in space. In other words, if we do not have the ornament how can we create form itself in painting because to create form in painting means to create the identification of the given (shapes) with the meaningful by transforming the given by means of the ornament that comes from within and creates its own space (as the specific form in music is created by the phrase which makes it possible for physical time to be interpreted in terms of metaphysical time and metaphysical time to be interpreted in terms of physical time bringing about that identity of physical and metaphysical time).
This means, of course, that the metaphor in art (in whatever form) in order to be able to bring about this relation between the physical and metaphysical (whatever relation it might be) is bound in some way to the concrete--which in painting means to given shapes. The basic ornamental vision differs in each painting in the sense that it relies on the vision of experience given in each work of art, but it still has to keep fairly near to the given shape no matter how it might do it. This interplay of ornamental vision and concrete shape--that is, what the relation of the ornament is to the given shapes that are used in the creative procedure of transforming the physical and metaphysical into one world where they are identical--is the means by which we can control the intentions of all styles developed in art.
Each of the three great over-all style periods of art--the first one which included all art (with the exception of Chinese art) up to the Greeks with another appearance again in the time of Byzantine art; the second one which started with Greek art and developed a continuity as to style up to Cezanne; and the third one (which is our style) which started with Cezanne--have had a distinguishing style as to the transformation of given shapes as the concrete element and ornamental vision as the abstract one, given shapes as the physical element and the ornament as the metaphysical element.
The first great style was one where the transformation of given shapes took on the significance of deformation. The given world was raped, so to speak, in a tyrannical way by the ornament. In order to bring forth the real underlying significance of that style of art--in order to bring forth the representation of that real other world that had to be brought forth--the ornament was used in a tyrannical way. The second great style was one where the transformation of given shapes took on the significance of reformation because in a world where physical shapes contained meaning in themselves (either because they were part of a meaningful cosmos or because they were given meaning by God) it was a question of re-forming, so to speak, forms in nature that already contained meaning. The third great style--the style of transformation itself--came into being with Cezanne when he realized that meaning could no longer be considered to be in given shapes but only in man and in metaphysical things, and that in order to establish the interplay between the concrete and abstract, the physical and metaphysical, given shapes and the metaphor of painting, both had to be transformed from the procedure of art into the very means of art itself.
Now the ornament as the form of the metaphor in art plays a most complicated role--not only is every great over-all style determined by the specific interplay between ornamental vision and given shapes but every style has a basic fundamental ornament which indicates the basic will that underlies the whole style. Cezanne without painting so-called ornaments transformed this ability of interplay between the concrete and abstract, so to speak (which the ornament always has as to the interplay between given shapes as the concrete element and ornamental vision as the abstract one, given shapes as the physical element and the ornament as the metaphysical element), into the means of expressing the fundamental basic will underlying the whole style of transformation. Underlying all his pictures is expressed something that is constantly disturbed but which nevertheless constantly comes back into balance. By his use of ornamental design--by his use of color and the visible brushstroke--he achieved not only a unity but more: he achieved a tensional effect where everything forms before our very eyes into the concrete form of the shape of figures and being--giving the very procedure of art an expression of art itself. Cezanne by his discovery of this new creative ornamental element--which at first glance seems to have no symmetry but which has at once a perfect equilibrium of contrasting forces--was able to give us an over-all vision of the world that corresponded to scientific discoveries made later, and although he knew nothing of them, to certain metaphysical propositions put forward by Nietzsche.
First of all, by means of this Cezanne was able to give the new space of the modern style. Because of the tension created by this structural equilibrium, so to speak, of contrasting forces that stay together in a dynamic way, of forces working against each other and by that being forced to work with each other (which is the working tension of the whole modern style) space is created--a new space which reflects scientific discoveries made later about the relation of space to the observer. It was found that the observer cannot be kept out of natural space, that it changes with him, that space is bound to the specific observation conditions of the observer. This new vision of space Cezanne gave us--and with it the entirely new kind of perspective that necessarily related to it: a perspective now that cannot be perspective in the old sense but which must be considered from the point of view that every human being himself is perspective and throws his own perspective into the world.
Secondly, Cezanne by means of this ornamental element, which is also able to give the movement, the action, so to speak, of particles arranged in an equilibrium of contrasting forces--and by that to be able to give the possibility of tension and the over-all expression of action--was able to show us matter as being in constant action, to make us see the activity of things, the doing of things, to show us being of all kind in the procedure of being, interwoven into an active density, so to speak, and by that to give us an experience of the same thing that scientists later discovered in nature as fields of activities (fields that regardless of what type of activity--electrical, magnetic, etc., are always activity of some kind) and that Nietzsche expressed as the “will to power.”
Nietzsche in attempting to overcome Hegel’s identification of the physical and metaphysical presented a vision of the universe where he tried to prove--by ascribing to everything in nature the quality of human will, by making of everything the will to power, by making in his vision of the universe a universe full of purpose and intention--that although the process of continual change was not a process that could be described as a process of becoming in the way Hegel tried to do it (a process which physically existed but which, contrary to Hegel, was neither a process in which man was involved nor a process of either becoming or going away but merely one of change) that it was nevertheless really a process of becoming--which meant that Nietzsche presented a vision of the world that corresponded exactly to the one painted by Cezanne (although it was one that Nietzsche as a philosopher, contrary to Cezanne as an artist, was not en-titled to present). As Nietzsche wanted to ascribe to everything a will to power (by which he really meant the utmost exertion of strength of every particle in being to stand its own ground and to influence others) and ended up by giving only effect, Cezanne, who was concerned only with one thing--how to put meaning back into things and to unify them--saw that nature could only be described in quantities of effect, that all life could only be described now in terms of action and that whatever unity there was must be unity of action.
This basic concern of Cezanne to show in all his pictures being in action explains a great deal about Cezanne’s work--not only in terms of the over-all impact visually of being presented with an energetic and dynamic world picture where being is only measured in terms of dynamics of effect, but also in terms of his specific use of the visible brushstroke and especially color--which he thought best expressed that intensity and action of being he wanted to give and which he used as the means to unify all his pictures. Cezanne once said, “I paint and by painting I draw.” And he was right--he only drew by painting. He gave graphic structure by structural organization--a structural organization brought about by color and united by color.