Final Project Statement
“It is very unhappy, but too late to be helped, the discovery we have made, that we exist. That discovery is called the Fall of Man. Ever afterwards, we suspect our instruments. We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Experience”)
My current project concentrates on the structural distortions and illusions inherent in art. The errors necessary for aesthetic representation teach us about our own constitution of the world through perception. Art shapes what we think is real at the level of our subjective apprehension of the world. Art does not merely imitate life. Life imitates art as well. Art teaches us about our subjectivity through which the world shows itself. We not only create art but imitate art as well, and this involvement in aesthetic creation and assimilation, while fictional, is necessary for self-understanding.
Art as a Way of Knowing
Within any representation (whether scientific or aesthetic) are structurally necessary distortions and illusions. In other words, elements of nonsense, (inconsistencies and incoherence), function within any given representation as built into the overall system of its meaning, considered as a whole or a universal. In information theory, this nonsense can be denoted as “noise”, allowing for randomness and indeterminacy in the subjective act of interpretation. According to Immanuel Kant, (considered to be one of the greatest philosophers of the Western canon), contradictions are inherent in reason’s activity of trying to develop a metaphysical system of the world as it would be in-itself apart from our subjectivity, (going beyond our immediate representations of experience). In contemporary scientific discourse, this nonsense, or error, must be eliminated, because one of the main operationally goals of science is logical consistency and empirical accuracy, which together is assumed to be an objective presentation of reality. Therefore, within scientific practice, there is an even more basic goal of objectivity, removing the subjective characteristics of knowledge from any given model of information. But, the actual practice of doing science, necessarily involves the subject and his representations. These representations are not innocent, being the production of concept and intuition, themselves at odds with each other. I will not be developing this particular argument further, as my mentor and friend, Dr. Timothy Schoettle, has spent his entire life devoting himself to this project.
I will briefly discuss Hegelian philosophy, due to its pertinence for understanding art and aesthetics. G.W.F. Hegel’s dialectical logic is a lengthy explication of logic as essentially involving the purposive nature of error. The classical system of logic, originally from Aristotle and developed further into symbolic logic in the modern age, has been a logic which sets up a separation between form and content. What this essentially means is that the subjective act of presentation and deliberation (whether with symbols or not) is thought as essentially meaningless and arbitrary. What matters according to classical logic is the objective matter, what is being asserted and not how it is being asserted or understood. I take Hegel as disrupting this entire tradition, oﬀering a new logic: dialectic. Hegel’s dialectical logic essentially starts with the clean separation between act and content, only then to repeatedly problematize it, through showing its inner limitations as an epistemology. According to Hegel, the classical laws of thought, (for instance, the principle of non-contradiction) are themselves legitimate if thought were entirely abstracted away from the content of experience, and never to be applied to anything except its own principles. In this way, Hegel essentially says that classical logic is tautological, being necessarily true as an abstraction but equally meaningless. In order then to learn and develop a meaningful system of knowledge, the subject must apply his logical thought to the content of the world around him. When he does this, the result, as Kant could have guessed, are necessary contradictions. Hegel believes their is an implicit teleological development of these errors in our knowledge. He calls this dialectic.
Art, which will be the focus of this paper, is peculiar because it not only has constitutive error for its meaningful presentation of a universal concept, (error in the content), but it has error also at the level of the disparity between form and content, making art necessarily subjective. It doesn’t even pretend to be otherwise. Art cannot tell the truth of the world outside of its subjectivity, and this very idea is the truth it paradoxically can reveal. It can show us the structurally necessary distortions and illusions inherent in ourselves as subjects. With the advent of Brunelleschi’s linear perspective system in the early Renaissance, the artist is given privileged access to a remarkable truth. Realism (the presentation of believable content) and naturalism (the way something is depicted as imitating nature) both were understood as organized, intricate, and complex illusions. Brunelleschi discovered linear perspective through creating a mathematical technology which rendered a believable content. All that was needed for his audience was to suspend their disbelief, that is, to simply receive the presentation in the way intended by him. Built into Brunelleschi’s art object was a conscious understanding and appropriation of his audience’s subjective gaze. An ideological system, thus, came to exist in the modern world, that, through a mathematical method, consciously organized the sight of the subject. And what did the subject see but what he thought was a perfect presentation of reality? But as art historically changed and unfolded, the artist came to consciously appropriate the role of his own sight into his work. It was not as if the artist suddenly put himself into a painting, like Botticelli’s Adoration, in a way not done before. The diﬀerence, here, is that the artist truly became part of his art work in a self-conscious way. The positive feed back loop, in the theoretical work of cybernetics, describes in an uncanny way the structure of this phenomenon in art. A produces more of B which in turn produces more of A, and so on. The artist creates a work of art. The art contains the appropriated sight of the audience, which in turn produces a self-conscious realization of the artist’s own sight as implicit in the art work.
What is art for you? What do artist do? What is the purpose of art?
“Art is a way of knowing.”
Art is the production of subjective knowledge, that is, knowledge grounded in subjectivity and essentially involving subjective experience. Art is not objective knowledge, the kind deployed in scientific discourse, concerned with abstracting away from subjective experience to maintain a universal system of verification. Art takes seriously the perspectival nature of subjectivity in the creation of meaning.
“Appearance is essential to existence.”
“Truth has the structure of a fiction.”
“It is very unhappy, but too late to be helped, the discovery we have made that we exist. That discovery is called the Fall of Man. Ever afterwards we suspect our instruments. We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Artistic knowledge is knowledge of appearance – the appearance which is not merely opposed to reality (as if appearance can be bracketed from the thing as it is in-itself) but appearance which is our very lens, albeit a distorted lens, through which we see reality. Art gives us an awareness of how the world appears to us, and in so doing, gives us knowledge of what constitutes itself as “real” within our system of representations. Art is a fictional creation, structuring our fundamental beliefs about what is most real. The ontological truth of being is not immediately, or unproblematically, given, and even if it were to be condensed into an objective content of information, (like some form of fortune cookie), it would be utterly meaningless without the proper subjective experience which offers the key to unlocking its secret. Art is the key and the secret, or, in Saltz’s words, “Art is a bridge to a vision and art is the vision.”
The message of this essay was both poignant and cryptic, opening up a space of reflection within myself yet not revealing its secret. I found truth in the author’s words, although not as either in the form of a scientific discourse or a religious sermon. Instead, the truth therein was so entirely obvious that it wouldn’t need any expounders or proselytizers. It resembled the kind of truth latent in a child’s question, which, precisely because of its refusal to be fully articulated in the categories and cadence of the “adult” world, manages to cut through layers of self-deception, wounding and yet liberating the soul.
The author concedes that “there are no photographs of miracles”. But perhaps the idea of capturing what must remain impossible within a documented image is what is the most nonsensical. But the “impossible” does indeed have a place in the Real, although one often unnoticed. It is not the impossible of the horizon, perhaps as an abstraction of deity, perpetually beyond our grasp. But the “impossible” in the Real is you and I. Every attempt to locate ourselves in our perceptual field is thwarted, because the eye which sees cannot see itself. And so we assume we can then fully and successfully identify with some description of ourselves in language, but inevitably we find this too misleading and dissatisfying, for we can never quite capture who exactly we are in language. This comes as a surprise for all of us. For before we learned to speak, someone, somewhere, was naming us, as if to make definite what otherwise is necessarily amorphous and limitless. We all experienced the trauma of initiation into the symbolic universe of language. Or as Fyodor Dostoevsky put it, “Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.” In this seemingly infinite, self-referential, and self-enclosed network of meaning, we experience ourselves as a mere node of communication. But we are exceedingly more than this, and yet what this “more” is only appears for us as a lack within symbolic communication – a felt sense of loss and emptiness.
The “impossible” is in the Real for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. There is something incredible, miraculous, and awe-inspiring about each one of us in our natural state. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson: Love enters the world with each and every child, beckoning it to return to its innocence.
The specific inscription would be a Hebrew literary bible interpretation by David Rosenberg of Isaiah 53:
Hello! My name is Daniel Beers. I am from Pennsylvania, (USA), where I earned my Bachelor of Arts Philosophy degree from Messiah College. My academic work hitherto has focused on paradoxes involving mind-and-world. I am highly interested in German Idealism, Psychoanalysis, and Aesthetics, and desire to fashion a shared space for them in art work, while studying at the Siena Art Institute. More specifically, I am interested in the emergence and position of symbolic thought represented in speech within Nature, and the direct impact this has for the formation of the human condition. I am committed to utilizing this inter-subjective, symbolic space of discourse for understanding socio-political systems, and engaging in critical pedagogy. My current project has been designing and teaching a course, entitled African American Thought, at the Lemoyne Community Center.