«Thesis presented to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Zurich for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Mark Staff Brandl of USA and ...»
George Dickie has pointed out an important distinction between the descriptive and the evaluative senses of the phrase "a work of art." This is especially important to explain when teaching and discussing art and art history and bears heavily on my theorizing. Eliding the two aspects Dickie mentions leads to many of the problems people have in separating judgments of quality from mere category decisions. In this dissertation, my theory will not directly engage the question of whether or not the creation of what I have subsequently come to call a metaphor(m) or central trope is an element in a descriptive, categorical definition of art itself. This could be a potential area of consideration in the future. Certainly, however, various theories of the ontology of art, and my reactions to them, color my thought, therefore I discuss them below. Nonetheless, I wish to concentrate primarily on the epistemological and evaluative. I am seeking a theory which gives insight into aspects of how great works of art are formed and how they refer to life beyond their formal boundaries.
Whereas Dickie is concerned with the definition of art itself, Monroe C. Beardsley's ontology concerns the definition of the philosophy of art. He asserts that aesthetics equals metacriticism, which in turn suggests new possibilities for theorizing. To me, a useful theory of art must be clearly both creator-based and object-based, while assuming an active perceiver.
Ludwig Wittgenstein (in certain of his so-called "later" ideas) must be acknowledged as a steady influence on my thought. I find two of his interlocked concepts highly useful: that of the game as an important metaphor, and his "family resemblance" concept for categorization.
In Philosophical Investigation, Wittgenstein described his notion simply.
67. I can think of no better expression to characterise these similarities than 'family resemblances'; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, feature, colour of eyes, gait, temperament etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way — And I shall say: 'games' form a family. 41 The notion of the game has clear affinities with my discussion of metaphor development. The family resemblance concept can be used to best describe the divisions of the arts, not to deny art a definition as a whole. That is, it assists in our understanding of how painting, performance art, realistic novels, Dada, Matisse, conceptual statements, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, and Shakespeare can all be parts of one category titled "the arts." Envision each style or movement as a circle overlapping several other circles, but not all of them. Extend this three-dimensionally in order to include genres and disciplines such as the novel, the romance, abstraction, installation, and the epic. Each resultant sphere has close partners with which it shares certain qualities; there is a progression from any point on our constellation of intersecting spheres to any other, yet the spots farthest apart do not actually have any shared characteristics. I would not, however, like to extend this to the point of canceling the possibility of any definition of art. There may not be one shared quality that determines what is included in "the arts," yet perhaps there is some other unifying idea behind that category. For instance, there might be a function, action or cultural position in which all manifestations of art participate. In our time, I believe art's task consists largely of encouraging the activity of interpretation through trope-making, which increasingly subsists in the transgressive questioning of culturally-given tropes. In practice, whatever the definition of art may be in an abstract sense, individual works in the arts are conjoined through family resemblance.
The mere fact of its social "framing" has been declaimed recently as the defining quality of art, perhaps in order to oppose the anti-categorical prodigality suggested by Wittgenstein's notion. The philosopher and art critic Danto, who was mentioned above, has given rise to a new theory of the ontology of art, which is currently the most wide-spread and influential one.
This is called the "institutional theory of art" and is the creation of George Dickie, who was inspired to develop it after reading Danto's works. Danto may be responsible for the notion, but he has continuously worked to distance himself from it. Dickie's assertion is that an object becomes art through being accepted by those with power in the artworld. Thus, to generalize, art is defined by institutional acceptance, hence the name of the theory. There is, for Dickie, no essential quality which defines art as a whole. In a very watered-down and sociological form this belief has come to dominate much of the visual artworld, and has trickled into other fields, such as literature. Making works which illustrate this point has engendered some very mechanically vacuous art and criticism, which is probably the cause for Danto's distrust of this seemingly logical outcome of his own endeavors.
Danto has other ideas and purposes as well. One discerning perception he has made is that art, at least since Duchamp, has tried to become the philosophy of itself. Most of contemporary literature and art has indeed become, or at least integrated, its philosophy of itself. I am guilty of this too, in my paintings, writings, and to an extent in the theory I am developing here. Yet, I assert that this can work in other directions than those that now
predominate. Unfortunately, many admirers of the institutional theory do not realize that this incorporation of philosophy into works of literature and art does not limit them to doubting their own existence. Philip Ursprung has effectively revealed an anticipation of this problem in his book Grenzen der Kunst.42 He discusses how the artists Allan Kaprow and Robert Smithson, each in his own fashion, altered the dominant question "what is art?" to "where is art?", thereby challenging not only art production but also art history writing to transform ontology into a unique form of epistemology. Yet this entails a new set of epistemological questions, not the traditional one of "can we learn from art, and if so what?", rather "does art serve as a tool of understanding?", "is art a model of ever-expanding and inclusive interpretation?" and others. There are indeed many major questions and fields of philosophy besides ontology, and even within ontology there are many potential responses beyond cynicism. The popular, simplified institutional theory has been a kind of fuel refined from cynicism thrown on the bonfire of sophistry built by critics enamored of literary theorists. By basing my conjecture on interpretation through trope as thought process, I believe I can discover a vital function of art which includes as one element, but not solely, "framing" — as seen in the institution of the artworld. The social or cultural situation in which literature or visual art is disseminated is one of many elements which can be utilized in the making of art.
According to Danto in The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, aesthetics must be separated from art in order to re-enfranchise both. This, he feels, is the necessary activity to be conducted now that we have experienced "the end of art history." This end, though, is not the end of art, as it is often misinterpreted.43 It is the death of the western-Eurocentric master narrative, that single simple march-of-history idea, which was taken for granted until recently.
I fail to see this as a cause for despondency as so many people do, although their disquiet is understandable. History has ended only as a singularity. It has a new beginning as a plurality (although not truly pluralism, I argue), which again brings us to an expanded image of the "text" as a braided cable or rope of many strands. 44 Perhaps, this is a situation for rejoicing as we are finally beginning to see beyond our self-imposed limitations. Any such tale of dominance cannot end soon enough. It is simply the long, drawn-out result of post-colonial depression by once-and-not-future kings. This is the inevitable result of the pressure of realizing the existence of the rest of the world, including other peoples, other cultures, other continents, other sexes, other classes, other levels (i.e. "low" popular art), in short, the pressure of accepting others. Re-enfranchisement is important, but it must be "worked through" to come into existence; it cannot be merely announced or accomplished in gestures.
We now have a conceptual consciousness which offers the opportunity for an antithetical misprision of the intellectuality and expansion of art Duchamp gave us against his own will.
What we have experienced is the death of one major foundational metaphor. Let us try to replace it with more inclusive and charitable ones.
Philip Ursprung, Grenzen der Kunst: Allan Kaprow und das Happening, Robert Smithson und die Land Art (Munich: Verlag Silke Schreiber, 2003).
Arthur C. Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986). In "The End of Art" chapter of this book, Danto clearly describes the end of history, rather than art itself: "When one direction is as good as another...." He feels that art will now be too free, as the institutions to which it is subservient "wither away" (both page 115).
The idea of conceiving of and teaching art history as a braided rope rather than a (time) line in the usual fashion is a project critic John Perrault and I have both been working on for some time, both independently and in collaboration. I develop this in Chapter Nine below.
Wandering and Surveying 39 In his essay "Refining Art Historically," Jerrold Levinson has proposed a logical, historical widening of the Dickie/Danto institutional theory into an interpretive one emphasizing conscious tradition. He sums his theory up in one sentence. "In short, it is [the view] that an artwork is a thing (item, object, entity) that has been seriously intended for regard-as-a-work-of-art, i.e., regard in any way preexisting artworks are or were correctly regarded." 45 This is a promising re-reading of the institutional theory, subsuming it into a wider and yet more personally delineated field. I would add that part of the definition of art is to explore this "regard" through tropes, that art seeks to defy previous definitions and redefine itself. Art has a metaphoric, agonistic ontology, which is procedural and functional: things made to be regarded and interpreted as art-as-before and not as-art-as-before.
By contrast with the institutional theory's literally circumstantial explanation of art, philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer offers an epistemological, process-oriented rendition.
Gadamer has more bearing on metaphor, and thus on my theory, than one would at first imagine. He hardly discusses metaphor in his major works. Yet his ideas, especially the remarkable one of the "circle of understanding," have extensive implications for analyzing how our understanding operates through tropes. Joel Weinsheimer, in his book Philosophical Hermeneutics and Literary Theory, maintains that metaphor is implicit in Gadamer's thinking.
I began my discussion of Gadamer by deriving the metaphoricity of understanding from his twin theses that language is fundamentally metaphorical and that language makes understanding possible. Clearly, Gadamer's emphasis on language owes much to Heidegger, but in this respect Gadamer is indebted to the later Heidegger of Unterwegs zur Sprache — not Sein und Zeit. Unlike [Gadamer's] Truth and Method, Being and Time situates the as-structure of understanding prior to language. For just this reason, it clarifies the thesis being considered here: namely that understanding is metaphorical. Beginning with Aristotle, metaphor has been assigned to the domain of rhetoric, and as a result, we have come to conceive it as a specific figure of speech, an identifiable form of language to be discriminated from other, nonmetaphorical forms. Being and Time, however, suggests that the as-structure of understanding operates in advance of language and therefore that the metaphoricity of understanding can be neither confirmed nor denied by the presence or absence of any particular figure of speech. 46 Gadamer's explication of the fundamental metaphoricity of understanding itself is valuable, both in his works and those of Weinsheimer, who has translated Gadamer and developed his ideas as they apply to literary theory. This is what later led me indirectly to cognitive metaphor theory. Gadamer's chief work is Truth and Method,47 Weinsheimer's are Gadamer's Hermeneutics48 and Philosophical Hermeneutics and Literary Theory. These books have had profound implications on my thought. Gadamer terms his approach "philosophical hermeneutics." It carries on the tradition of hermeneutics founded in authors such as Schleiermacher, Heidegger and Ricœur. It can be seen as related, in a way, to the earlier religious hermeneutics through Luther heading all the way back to the origin of the
word in Greek usage, meaning "things for interpreting." Yet Gadamer's version of this practice is overwhelmingly philosophical. It is a detailed, epistemological exploration of how understanding itself comes into being, not just an excavation of symbol-laden texts as one often pictures hermeneutics. I find Gadamer's ideas extremely important for correctly conceiving of the artistic process.
The two elements of Gadamer's philosophy which have the most relevance to my understanding of art are his assertion of the "limits of method" and his exposition of the "circle of understanding," with its component "the fusion of horizons." Gadamer accepts the fact that methodology, as specific strategies of interaction, is unavoidable, especially for science. Nevertheless, much in the same spirit that feminists harbor concerns about theorizing in the abstract, he points out that we must be self-consciously aware of the methods we use, for they foreclose potential avenues of perception as much as they open them. Most methodologies, such as that of the natural sciences as well as those of many artistic directions, claim to be the unique road to truth. Method is not transparent; it is opaque with prejudices — which word Gadamer uses to mean "pre-judgments" or "ideas-before-hand," not racial discrimination.