Kant, the Artist, and Artistic Freedom

EMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)

Kant, the Artist, and Artistic Freedom

The modern artist of the nineteenth century faced an aesthetic landscape that was quite different compared to that of the previous century. The definition of “art” in the eighteenth century was that, which was sanctioned by the Church, the State or the aristocracy. The definition of the “artist” in the eighteenth century was a trained technician who produced commissioned objects for these powers. The definition of “subject matter” or “content” in a work of art was that which had been approved of by the client or patron. Within these definitions of “art” and “artist” the cultural producer had a certain freedom of interpretation, but, ultimately, most artists were answerable to those who controlled the sites for art. The power behind the system by which art could be exhibited in France was closely linked to the State itself and the display of art and the kinds of content and the modes of styles allowed to be seen were closely monitored by rigorous juries. The tight control of art is hardly a surprised during the first half of the nineteenth century in France, which was roiled by changing rulers. By the nineteenth century, the artist had lost a great deal of the traditional support system and faced a changing definition of the “artist” as a free and independent “genius.” The idea of a genius is a product of the Enlightenment concept of the individual as a free and independent human being who is allowed freedom of speech and expression as “natural rights.” The role of the artist within Kant’s concept of aesthetics is that of a maker who must create new forms. The artist is now free of any external “commands” from patrons or the audience. His/her only role is that of being a “genius,” who gives free range to the imagination. The result of Kantian philosophy is the elevation of the artist to “creator” and the exaltation of artistic originality. There is a new value to artistic experience as such and a new affirmation of emotional aspects of art. The notion of the expressive function of art is not unrelated to the new definition of “sensibility,” as an ability to feel and to express oneself. In addition, there was a new importance attached to the invention of a fiction about the new Romantic artist, who was now the hero, the god, and the genius. The genius is the one with exceptional intellectual and spiritual endowments, the one who breaks the rules and who creates breakthroughs to new possibilities for subsequent artists.

By the nineteenth century, a time fraught with political peril for the unwary, the artist had lost a great deal of the traditional support system from traditional patrons and was expected to work for a volatile combination of the public on one hand and the government on the other hand. The artist was also torn between the needs of the State to use art to educate the people and to teach them how to behave in a revolutionary era and the changing definition of the “artist” as a free and independent “genius.” The idea of a “genius” is a product of the Enlightenment in that it is a concept of the individual as a free and independent human being, who is allowed freedom of speech and expression as “natural rights” to express oneself creatively. The role of the artist within Kant’s concept of aesthetics, seen in the Critique of Judgment (1790) is that of a maker who must create new forms. The artist is apparently or theoretically now free of any external “commands” from patrons or the audience. His/her only role is that of being a “genius,” a rare individual who gives free range to the imagination. The result of Kantian philosophy is the elevation of the artist to “creator” and the exaltation of artistic originality, at least in the collective minds of the producers themselves. Within the artistic community, there is a new value to artistic experience as such and a new affirmation of emotional aspects of art in the sense that the artist should express his feelings. The notion of the expressive function of art is not unrelated to the new definition of “sensibility,” as an ability to feel and to express oneself. Note that women were usually restricted to self-expression in the literary arts, since they were more or less successfully handicapped in the visual arts. In addition, there was a new importance attached to the invention of a fiction about the new Romantic artist, who was now the hero, the god, and the genius, usually gendered as male. The genius is the one with exceptional intellectual and spiritual endowments, the one who breaks the rules and who creates breakthroughs to new possibilities for subsequent artists. Such freedoms were available only to men during the century and women who “expressed themselves” were considered immoral and immodest and condemned to a social death. Only independent and wealthy privileged women such as George Sand were able to even approach “freedom.”

Genius, according to Emmanuel Kant, is that “natural endowment of mental aptitude which gives rule to art.” Fine art is possible only as a “product of genius,” which produces original art. Originality or the ability to be original sets the genius apart from the need to imitate either other works of art or to recreate the real world itself. The artist is allowed to work from Kant’s indispensable ingredient for “genius,” the imagination. The artist or genius also has no need to respond to communal needs or to the demands of the State. Thus art and beauty ceased to be commonly agreed upon or traditional, but instead became ideas, molded by the exceptional individual, who could freely make or break old notions of appropriateness. The exceptionalism of the courage to “give rule to art” alienates the artist from the rest of society, who, according to later theories of the avant-garde, could no longer understand his products. The modern artist is now no longer an integrated member of society and it is the artist himself (rarely herself) who is the real subject of every work of art. There is a price to pay for such freedom and few arttist in real life were willing to be alienated or unrecognized and were not interested in going hungry for an abstract principle.

From the heroic romantic perspective, suddenly, the artist is no longer the artisan working at the beck and call of an autocratic patron, suddenly the artist is no longer the illustrator of the message of the patron, suddenly the artist is no longer and interior decorator. The artist has been recreated as a “genius,” who is required to play. “Play” becomes a major concept within Kantian aesthetics. Play, in art, performs the same role as technology in the Industrial Revolution in that playing produces constant “progress” or change in art. Like technology, art responds to itself and evolves according to its own rules. Progress was part of an Enlightenment creed and became allied to the belief system that history had a goal–teleology. By the mid-twentieth century, art critics and art historians have incorporated the implied notion of teleology—art progresses and evolves towards a goal. Kant’s ideas–implied in his writings–were reinterpreted for another century, a century that developed the concept of evolution and continued to believe in the optimism of the Enlightenment. A true child of Romanticism, the Kantian artist is a rule-breaker, not the rational rule follower of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment ended with the French Revolution, a product of political reason but the end of the faith in rationalism. The sight of mob rule, the experience of government by rabble-rousers, and the blood-soaked Terror was the end of Enlightenment optimism and faith in human nature. But the ideals of the Enlightenment—freedom and individuality—lived on long after the culture’s disillusionment over the failure of reason. If humans could not be rational, as was hoped, then they must be constrained by laws. France became an empire under an Emperor, trading equality, and fraternity for order. The artist becomes the one truly liberated member of nineteenth-century society, detached and free, like a homeless person—ultimately dangerous in an increasingly regulated society.

Aesthetics was split between rule and play. The Critique of Judgment (1790) set in motion an idea of the autonomy of a work of art, an idea that spread beyond philosophy and permeated the artistic community. For artists, Kantian concepts gave them a new reason to make art; for critics, Kantian concepts gave a new way to talk about art. One half of the Critique, that which concerns itself with rules, becomes linked to the Academy, especially in France and England. Following the rules meant following the dictates of ancient art and copying the antique masters. The other half of aesthetics—play—belonged to the independent artist and survived into the Romantic Era and, indeed, characterized the period. Play, like technology, is coupled with progress and evolution, because play leads to innovation and change which results in “progress” for art. The new concept of play and invention was linked to the free play of the artistic imagination, putting the artist in a position of dominance over the demands of the academy. If art was to “progress,” rules would have to be broken by the artist. But for the artist to break the rules, s/he must have artistic freedom. Artistic freedom was not a new idea, for artists had always struggled against the demands of troublesome clients (Michelangelo’s assertion of autonomy over Pope Julius II comes to mind). However, Kantian aesthetic philosophy constructed a set of concepts that articulated the ideas that would form Romantic thinking: genius and artistic freedom. The idea of artistic change, led to multiple art movements and “isms” throughout the nineteenth century and into the next, the Twentieth, until the challenge of Postmodernism.

Much of what is thought of loosely as “Kantian aesthetics” was developed later by those who learned from Kant, argued with him or those who furthered and extended his text and explored his subtexts. One of the most important of these post-Kant philosophers was Friedrich Schiller who famously remarked, “Art is the daughter of freedom.” Schiller’s

Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man, were literally a series of letters written in 1793 to the Danish Prince, Friedrich Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Augustenborg. According to William F. Wertz, some of these letters burned in a fire a year later but Schiller rewrote and published them in a journal he founded. Schiller was writing at a time that seemed only a few years away from Kant’s writing, yet despite the swiftness of the distribution of Kant’s ideas, the entire world had changed since 1790. The French Revolution, once seen as the uplifting expression of freedom had collapsed into mob rule and a bloodthirsty terror. Schiller, then would critique Kant for espousing freedom while at the same time making it a distinctly apolitical quality. Schiller’s mission, therefore, would be to reposition Kant’s suggestions back into the real world.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Kant and Art for Art’s Sake

CONSTRUCTING AN IDEA

Art for Art’s Sake

What was the purpose of art in the modern period? In the minds of late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century philosophers, the role of art could be nothing less that to create beauty. The beautiful, for Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804), is “that which without any concept is cognized as the object of necessary satisfaction.” In other words, the appropriate stance of the spectator, perceiving “beauty” is one of indifference. This indifference does not imply, as it would in the contemporary sense today, that one is uninvolved; it simply means acknowledging that the beauty possessed by the object is necessary and that the agreement as to the beauty would be universal. Paradoxically, taste is always ordered upon the indifferent, but this indifference is also the key to the recognition of the universality of beauty. The status of aesthetic judgment is not empirical but logical, based upon the powers of human reason and rationality, which excludes internal and external purposiveness or “interest.” Kant introduces purposiveness without a purpose, allowing the mind of the one who contemplates art freely thanks to an unrestricted play of the mental faculties. But what, then was the role of the artist, who was supposed to provide this play of the mental faculties?

Obviously an object dignified as “beautiful” was rare and exalted, worthy of universal agreement as to its necessary quality. As Kant wrote in the Critique of Judgment, “For judging of beautiful objects as such, taste is requisite; but for beautiful art, i.e. for the production of such objects genius is requisite.” In a very famous statement, he asserted that “Genius is the talent (or natural gift) which gives the rule to art. Since talent, as the innate productive faculty of the artist, belongs itself to nature, we may express the matter thus: Genius is the innate mental disposition (ingenium) through which nature gives rule to art.” Kant completely understood the existence of academic art or “mechanical art,” as he termed it, which was ” a mere art of industry” and he separated the merely trained and skilled artist from the “genius.” “Genius,” he said, “can only furnish rich material for products of beautiful art; its execution and its form require talent cultivated in the schools, in order to make use of this material as will stand examination by the judgment.” Kant also insisted that the “mental powers” that constituted genius were “imagination and understanding,” asserting that “no science can teach and no industry can learn..” In other words, while the imagination must “submit” to understanding, working hard and being industrious is insufficient to produce a work of genius. Genius, Kant seemed to imply, is natural, in that it is a gift from nature fused with training. The idea of “genius” was novel one, which he set on in the section “Analytic of the Sublime,” easily the most significant section of the book.

Kant’s rather difficult book on aesthetics entered into French thought through a variety of paths, all of which greatly simplified his ideas. The phrase “art for art’s sake” is thought to have been coined by Benjamin Constant, a Swiss philosopher, a prodigy who was educated in Germany, where he learned German, before he completed his education in Scotland. Multilingual and a distinguished philosopher in his own right, Constant had the intellectual weight and temerity to cross literary swords with Kant himself on the question of lying and truth. Their discussion, taking place with the French Revolution as a backdrop, had nothing to do with art and everything to do with politics, moral positions and a just society. Oddly, this exchange between the two philosophers, one old and defensive, one young and up and coming seems to have rested upon words not written. As Slavoj Žižek wrote in Cogito and the Unconscious: Sic 2, that the German translation of Des réactions politiques (1797), the book that began the debate, was translated by Franz Cramer who added additional information: “In the German translation, the passage where Constant speaks of a ‘German philosopher’ is accompanied by a footnote in which the publisher states that Constant told him that the ‘German philosopher’ he had in mind was Kant. What is especially interesting about this case is that philosopher states that, in the work of Kant, we do not find the example to which Constant refers. However, Kant immediately replied to Constant with “On a Supposed Right to Lie Because of Philosophical Concerns.” After quoting Constant.., Kant adds a footnote saying he remembers stating somewhere what Constant suggests, but that he does not remember where.”

Constant, compared to Kant, led an active and adventurous life, observing the French Revolution at close hand and enjoying the company of numerous women, most famously Madame Germaine de Staël with whom he had an unacknowledged daughter. He knew Charles-Maurice de Tallyrand (the rumored father of Delacroix), was acquainted with William Godwin, the companion of Mary Woolstonecroft, and, according to his biographer Dennis Wood, he was a guest for dinner “at the home of the widow of the philosophe Condorcet..” and “General Laclos, that is Pierre-Ambroise-François Choderlos Laclos, the author of Les Liaisons dangereuses.” The formidable intellectual couple, on and off again in their relationships, moved in the highest literary and philosophical circles in France, but that did not protect them from the wrath of Napoléon for their dual distrust of tyranny. The new ruler of France promptly expelled Madame de Staël and Constant prudently followed her to exile in Germany. With their affair long since cooled, Constant seems to have planned to leave her once she found safety but the couple arrived in Weimar where the philosopher found himself at home once again. As Wood recounted, the new exile found himself in “an atmosphere of intellectual freedom that had disappeared in France.” “Constant was in his second homeland once again, surrounded by erudition and unflagging intellectual curiosity, his morale boosted by the familiar German atmosphere of unprejudiced tolerance and enlightened attitudes.” Constant met with the major thinkers of the early nineteenth century, Göethe, Schiller, Wieland, and it is during these discussions in Weimar that the phrase “art for art’s sake” emerged, an event that Wood does not discuss but is discussed at great length by Frederick Burwick in Mimesis and Its Romantic Reflections. An Englishman, Henry Crabb Robinson, was studying in Germany and had met with the great Romantic thinkers, Göethe, Schiller, Herder, and studied under Schelling. In 1804 he met Constant and de Staël in Weimar and the two men had a conversation–recorded by both in their journals–on aesthetics. Constant had a conversation with Schiller where he contrasted French poetry to German poetry and he and Robinson seem to have conversed about the idea of art for art’s sake. It seems that Robinson had heard what Constant termed “very clever notions” or “idées très énergiques” from Schelling who had taken Kant’s Ding an sich and posited Kunst an sich, which Robinson, speaking French, translated as l’art pour l’art or perhaps it was Constant who did the translation–certain details are lost. In 1921 Rose Frances Egan quoted the precise passage from Constant’s notes: “J’ai la visite de Schiller…J’ai une conversation avec Robinson, élève de Schelling. Son travail sur l’Esthétique de Kant a des idées très energiques. L’art pour l’art, sans but, car tout but dénature l’art. Mais l’art atteint un but qu’il n’a pas.” Egan also noted that in the journals of Henry Crabb Robinson, dated even earlier in 1801, he wrote of a visit with Winckelmann, who analyzed the excellence of English writers and yet noted that they were “incapable of attaining the highest degree of excellence. A pure poet has no other end than to produce a work of art, a pure philosopher, no other end than to raise a system of elaborate truth.”

The tale of the dissemination of the now famous phrase and the seminal concept remains confused. Burwick determined that the concept but not the phrase found its way from Constant to de Staël in her famous book of 1810, De l’Allemagne, and Gene H. Bell-Villada, in Art for Art’s Sake & Literary Life: How Politics and Markets Helped Shape the Ideology & Culture of Aestheticism, 1790-1990, suggested that her knowledge of Kantian aesthetics was secondhand, gleaned from conversations. However, her book was widely read in France and it was from her writings that the ideas of Kant, Schiller, and the Schlegels arrived in France. Bell-Villada wrote that the French readership was “largely bored with the ‘rules’ of neo-classicism and was in a mood to seek out alternate literary ways.” It seems that few of Kant’s admirers in France had actually read Critique of Judgment and the next intellectual to notice the usefulness of his ideas that freed artists from “tyrannical restrictions,” as de Staël expressed it, was Victor Cousin. Cousin was the right man in France at the right time. As was pointed out, the artists were already bored with the frozen style of Neoclassicism and, as Gene H. Bell-Villada reported, “In post-Napoléonic France the philosophical field was in a sorry state..” and Cousin stepped “into this vacuum.” At the Sorbonne “Professor Cousin..gave a series of lectures based on his minimal reading of Kant–mainly in poor and incomplete Latin translations, deciphered with much clever guesswork on his part.” Even more remarkable, for today’s rigorous scholars, Cousin wrote a book, composed of simplified ideas and catch phrases gleaned from a hodge-podge of German philosophy. Cours de philsophie professée à la faculté des lettres pendant l’année 1818 sure les fondements des idées absolues du vrai, du beau et du bien, in which he said, “Il faut de la religion pour la religion de la morale pour la morale, comme de l’art pour l’art.”

In her 1921 book tracing the origin and increasing popularity of the phrase, Rose Frances Egan, pointed to Victor Hugo who was apparently familiar with the words to use them in a casual fashion,as though the idea of art having no purpose other than its own were an accepted thought: “Plutôt cent fois l’art pour l’art! Cette parole, détournée, involontairement sans doute, de son vrai sens pour les besoins de la polemique, a pris plus tard, à la grande surprise de celui dont elle avait été l’interjection, les proportions d’une formule.” These sentences appeared in Hugo’s 1864 Shakespeare, indicating the idea was accepted and widely known. The battle cry against classicism was “art for art’s sake” and, ironically, given that Kant based his aesthetic ideas of beauty upon classicism, the reinterpretations of his work undermined the very notion of universal beauty. As would be seen in the art of Gustave Courbet, artistic freedom opened the door to an expression of the ugly and allowed the ordinary into the precincts of art. The new mood of romantic individualism became a movement among artists and writers in both France and Germany–Romanticism. Théophile Gautier wrote that “Art for art’s sake means for its adepts the pursuit of pure beauty — without any other preoccupation.”

In her book, The Genesis of the Theory of “Art for Art’s Sake” in Germany and in England, Egan who is rarely mentioned by later historians, thought that perhaps, since Robinson was writing in 1845, he was writing from memory, that one should look to Thackery for the earliest use of the phrase in English. In 1839, writing to his mother, the author remarked, “Please God we shall begin again ere long, to love art for art’s sake.” Based on these widespread accounts covering three languages, the idea that art had its own destiny was both attractive and probably necessary. Within the Romantic movement, artists were believed to have the right to exist for the sole purpose of making art and art supposedly existed for the sole purpose of being art. Art for art’s sake is such a powerful (and necessary) concept, so pervasive and entrenched that it is one of the most important motivating forces behind art to this day. the artist and the work of art now had a purpose again—not a social purpose but a purpose that was strictly an art purpose. Confronting the staid and serious Neoclassic was its rival “ism,” Romanticism, which championed the artist as a genius and art as an expression of that genius—concepts that were pure Kant.

Although “Art for art’s sake” is a particular concept developed within the branch of philosophy called Aesthetics, these terms: “art for art’s sake,” “aestheticism” and “aesthetics” are not interchangeable. Also not to be confused with Kantian aesthetic theory is Aestheticism, which was an artistic movement in late nineteenth-century England. English Aestheticism was an attitude on the part of art makers and art appreciators, based upon the desire to make every object “artful” and beautiful, regardless of its utilitarian or use value. While late nineteenth century Aestheticism was a desire to combine art and life and life and beauty, “Art for art’s sake” was an aspect of aesthetics, a Kantian derived concept, completely divorced from any specific work of art or from any particular art movement. The independence of aesthetics from art is best illustrated when we picture Kant, an elderly and retiring philosopher professor who denied himself all sensual pleasures in his pursuit of the intellect. Living in a backwater university town, he never went to museums and did not own any art, and yet he was able to reason his way to the solution of grounding the response to art, which is personal and therefore subjective (based within the viewing subject), in an intellectual framework that is impersonal and objective and, above all, disinterested.

The intellectual framework devised by Kant provided aesthetics as the philosophical grounds for the definition of art in an age when art needed its freedom. Kant set art free from content, subject matter, the client’s wishes, the community’s desires and the needs of religion. The idea of art being given wholly over to aesthetic pleasure and delight was the ultimate freedom of art to exist on its own merits and to be the center of its own world. Art lived and died by its own art rules and justified its own existence in terms of its separate universe. Art was autonomous and free. Kant’s ahistorical or transcendental ideas were conveyed by German expatriates to post-Revolution French intellectuals and artists, who were increasingly alienated from society and adrift without the traditional patrons of Church and State. Suddenly socially “useless” without their historical missions, certain artists found Kant’s concepts very appealing and timely.

The Critique of Judgment (1790) contained the right ideas at the right time: concepts, which were a fortuitous response to an artistic crisis at the beginning of the nineteenth century. What does an artist do? How does an artist make art and why? Why is it that certain objects are universally called “art?” What are the common characteristics of these objects? What is their “art-ness?” Kant’s answers became, by the 20th century, to be commonly called “formalism.” Attention to Form in Kantian philosophy, or art for art’s sake, separates art from its traditional role as purveyor of subject matter on the command of a patron. But there is a difference between what Kant wrote and what his followers made of his ideas. For Kant, formalism is a mode of apprehending and emphasizes direct experience or intuitional awareness, without consideration of practical implications, of a work of art. The cultivation of aesthetic experience as a deliberate value was the work of Kant, who developed a critical criterion for the aptness of a work of art for appreciation, based upon its formal properties, rather than upon practical significance or importance of subject matter. Almost two hundred years later, his aesthetic system was rewritten as formal exploration the intrinsic properties of art itself was the only appropriate mode of art making, but as will be discussed in other posts, this reinterpretation was a misreading of the original concepts in the Critique of Judgment.

Also read: “Kant and Aesthetic Theory” and “Kant and the Critique of Judgment”

and “Kant’s ‘Art-for-Art’s-Sake” and “Kant, the Artist, and Artistic Freedom”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Podcast Episode 15: French Romanticism: Delacroix, Part Two

DELACROIX THE CONSERVATIVE

Part Two

The art of Eugène Delacroix was uniquely suited to his time. In an era of imperialism and colonialism through conquest, his exciting art captured the violence of a turbulent age. Like all artists of the Romantic era, Delacroix was fascinated by the mystery of the Middle East. Although much of the art of his later career was government sponsored, Delacroix also acted as a reporter and visited the French possession of Algeria and captured, first hand, the allure of the Other. After an early career being cast (0r mis-cast) as a Romantic rebel, Delacroix spent the rest of his life doing official commissions—such as murals for the French government.

Also listen to: “The French Romantics: Gros and Girodet, Part One” and “The French Romantics: Gros and Girodet, Part Two” and “French Romanticism, Ingres, Part One,” and “French Romanticism, Ingres, Part Two” and “French Romanticism, Delacroix, Part One”

Also read: “French Romanticism: The Historical Context” and “The French Academy: Painting” and “French Romanticism: Subject Matter and the Artist” and “French Romanticism and the Avant-Garde”

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
[email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone

Remember to download the iBooks app to your iPad or iPhone

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

Kant and the Critique of Judgment

KANT’S SYSTEM of JUDGMENT

Beauty, Taste, and Indifference

In the eighteenth century, art and beauty were considered synonymous. During Kant’s time, the criteria for the “beautiful” was a simple—and specific one—based upon and derived from the supposed Greek ideal of nature perfected. The spell of classicism had long been a part of the Western criteria for art, but the discovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the middle of the century provided the artists and designer with a historically accurate glimpse of the way Romans lived in antique times. The result of this encounter with the past was, at first, expressed in terms of fashion and design from the architectural masterpieces Robert Adam in England to the emergence of the “empire” high waistlines in women’s clothes. But the idea of the classical went beyond passing trends in furniture design and expressed the concept of that which is timeless, transcendent of historical phases because of its perfection that defied change. Among the early articulators of the historical implications of artistic apotheosis was Johann Winckelmann who inspired art theorists of the eighteenth century to believe in the superiority of classical art. It was Winckelmann who developed an early art historical methodology of studying the past and posited the theory that the ancient Greek artists had started from nature and perfected its imperfections, creating, through the medium of art, a sublime, and perfect beauty. The role of art and the artists was to follow the lessons of Greek art, attempt to emulate it, and achieve the Greek standards of “perfection”. According to the first art historian, Johann Winckelmann, “To take the ancients for models is the only way to become great.”

To fully appreciate the impact of Winckelmann’s writings on antiquity in Germany, it is important to note the timing of his writing. His first significant book, the one that allowed him to make his mark, Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and the Art of Sculpture, was published in 1755, during his formative years working in Dresden he was able to visit the paintings, many of which were Italian, of the Dresden Gemäldegallerie. Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works was both so widely read and so controversial, that Winckelmann wrote no less that three follow up books. It was also in 1755 that Winckelmann went to Rome as the librarian of the Cardinal Alessandro Albani, a move from his native Saxony that allowed him to visit the archaeological excavations around Naples. On four visits, he was able to view and critique the excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii and Stabae, through 1764. in his introduction to Johann Joachim Winckelmann on Art, Architecture, and Archaeology, David Carter stated that Winckelmann visited the “best preserved Greek temples in Italy” at Paestum. He wrote four books on ancient architecture based upon these Italian observations. Although Winckelmann’s knowledge of antique art was based upon a combination of belated works of classicism from the seventeenth century, Roman copies of Greek originals and preserved examples of Greek classicism, his 1764 book History of the Art of Antiquity, was enormously influential not just to the discipline of art history and archaeology but also to the gradual formation of modern Germany as a united nation with an indentity tied to Greece. When he stated, “The only way we can achieve greatness and if possible to become inimitable is the imitation of the ancients and what some say of Homer that whoever has learned to understand him learns to admire him. The same can be said of the art of antiquity,” he was writing in German to a German audience, possibly referencing more than art. In his recent 2012 book, Winckelmann’s “Philosophy of Art”: A Prelude to German Classicism, John Harry North discussed the cultural changes in Germany during the eighteenth century:

Politically and socially speaking, there was a slow shift from a strictly hierarchical to a more egalitarian configuration of authority, accompanied by a marked increase and widening of the spread of literacy and of economic power to the professional and free-thinking citizens..The positive reception of Winckelmann’s classicism was partly due to the emphasis placed by him on pagan models of ‘nobility’ and ‘freedom’ that he found in pre-Christian society and which he thought found expression in Hellenistic art.

In writing, “His language is almost entirely German, which is a radical statement in itself, since access to the courts and the German nobility would have been in French and to the learned community mainly in Latin. The language he used and further developed was the basic Saxon version of the German language as used by Luther in his translation of the Bible, a language that was familiar to Winckelmann from his Protestant religious upbringing and from the dialect used in the region of his childhood,” North seems to be suggesting that the art historian was participating in the building of a national identity for the Germany to come. In fact, earlier on the author wrote of the role of Winckelmann in inspiring an ideal of freedom and self-actualization in Germany based upon his misinterpretation of Athenian Greek culture:

Interest in Winckelmann and his œuvre began with his first publication in 1756: ‘Thoughts about the Imitation of Greek works in Painting and Sculpture’.1 This work was of importance among the literary elite of Germany and it continued to be read beyond his death in 1768. Winckelmann was one of the originators of the illusion that there had been in late antiquity democratic government in Greece; a government that fostered the freedom of the individual citizen and of the artist. The idea of such a cultural homeland, i.e. Griechentum, spread through the succeeding generations of German philosophers and historians, resulting in a second illusion: the notion that classical Greece was somehow ancestral to German culture, to Deutschtum. This theory of an imagined German Hellenism persisted for centuries and came to a close only with the end of the Third Reich.

In building a nascent theory of analyzing art, Winckelmann also established the theory that the art of a particular culture rises, peaks and then declines. Today, we understand Winckelmann’s hierarchy for artist phases to be imposed upon what were stylistic evolutions and changes connected to shifts in culture. Contemporary art history examines art, not from a superimposed theory of “rise and fall,” but from an appreciation for each phase as an entity in itself. But two hundred years ago, the fields of art history, art theory, art criticism and aesthetics were in their infancy, and, for these early writers, the starting point of emulation was Greek art. Winkelmann’s books were coded messages, writing to an educated audience in his German homeland, a place that was experiencing the Enlightenment and longing for freedom, while bent under the yokes of princelings. The art historian’s message to be like the Greeks would have had a wider meaning in Germany than in France, where the classical antique would have been more of a recipe for art making than an account of an early democracy where art flourished. The idea of copying the Greeks, the ancients, is also stated by Quatremère de Quincy in “An Essay on the Nature and Means of Imitation in the Fine Arts” (1823). De Quincy wrote that the final perfection of art is to reproduce, not things as seen with all their faults and imperfections, but as objects refashioned into an ideally beautiful nature. In this fashion, nature became art, never experienced in the actual but “corrected” by the Greeks into “superior beauty” which is the goal of all art. The equation of the art of the ancient Greeks with idealized beauty would establish a standard, or a canon, that would be challenged by the later generation. The quarrel between the old generation and the new will be termed the “Quarrel Between the Ancients and the Moderns.” The new generation, the Romantics, would not only reject the ancient as subject matter but would also refute the notion of idealized ‘beauty”.

Whatever the political subtexts of Greek art may have been, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the idea of “beauty” as being an attempt to renew the artistic quest for perfection of the natural, based upon Greek models was firmly entrenched and frozen into academic dictum and practice. However, in practice, as could be seen in any academy, a slavish reproduction of classicism quickly turned sterile. Academic practice had confused great art with great ideas and great subjects with large works of art whose merit began to rest more and more upon the excellence of technique and morals rather than upon inherent greatness. Writing decades after Winckelmann, in the Critique of Judgment in 1790, Kant, a Prussian subject, thought in universal, rather than in Germanic terms. In his book The Idea Of Nationalism: A Study In Its Origins And Background, Hans Kohn wrote that “Kant has sometimes been regarded as a Prussian in a deeper sense than that of a mere subject. Prussian emphasis upon duty and discipline and Kant’s primacy of duty seemed to reveal a certain affinity between their ethical attitudes. In reality, the similarity is purely superficial and is confined to one point; in their origin and enhance the two attitudes, were not only different but opposed. Prussianism centered in the state, for which Kant’s philosophy showed hardly any understanding or love. Prussia was founded upon authority and subjection; Kant’s philosophy, upon equality and autonomy..”

In his appreciation of human freedom, Kant was a typical Enlightenment philosopher. Like Gotthold Ephriam Lessing, a close associate of Winckelmann, who as Kohn noted, “represented a synthesis of the spirit of Enlightenment and of the new humanism.” The author continued, “Kant’s ethics never knew any other horizon than the universal one of mankind..Kant visualized mankind, a universal society of free individuals, as the goal of all human development.Kant thought exclusively in the concepts of a rational order for mankind. The principles of the French Revolution were enthusiastically welcomed by him.” It is in relation to the Enlightenment principles of universality and transcendence that Kant’s final volume can be read. Kant established the grounds for judgment about art on the basis of “disinterest,” writing, “Everyone must admit that a judgment about beauty, in which the least interest mingles, is very partial and is not a pure judgment of taste. We must not be in the least prejudiced in favor of the existence of the things, but be quite indifferent in this respect, in order to play the judge in things of taste.” Kant divided judgments into the categories of “the pleasant, the beautiful, and the good” which “designate then three different relations of representations to the feelings of pleasure and pain, in reference to which we distinguish from one another objects of methods of representing them.” He concluded that “We may say that, of all these three kinds of satisfaction, that of taste in the beautiful alone a disinterested and free satisfaction; for no interest, either of had sense or reason, hence forces our assent..” Therefore, Kant stated, Taste is the faculty of judging an object or a method of representing it by an entirely disinterested satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The object of such satisfaction is called beautiful.”

Conceptually, Kant had to separate worthy subject matter from a worthy work of art, because subject matter or content cannot be timeless. Subject matter that is meaningful in one era may be meaningless in another. The worth of any work of art must be transcendent and universal, allowing the viewer of any time and place to appreciate the work of art in its own inherent terms which, for Kant, were excellence of drawing (line) and design (composition), without consideration of color which was subjective and emotional and content which was extrinsic to form. The role of color was solely to enhance form. The argument over line or color was somewhat related the Quarrel Between the Ancients and the Moderns, as the Ancients, Line and disciplined behavior were linked to strong ruling régimes and color and feelings were related to the new and dangerous ideas of freedom and democracy. From Kant’s perspective, however, color is secondary to preserve the universality of line, which is unchangeable and, supposedly, beyond interpretation.

Kant sought a universal standard for judgment in the realm of art, a set of values that would be independent of personal likes and dislikes, of subject matter which was bound up in its own time, of morality or fashion or passion. Upon what can universal judgments that are timeless and absolute be based? Kant wove certain prevailing ideas into a coherent system, which differentiates the Judgment of aesthetic pleasure from other pleasures. Aesthetic judgments are both subjective, that is, not provable in any scientific way, and also universal, that is, agreed upon by everyone. A thing can be “proved” to be beautiful because it belongs to a certain class of things or characteristics. A phenomenological judgment is the result of a direct aesthetic experience. The subjective aesthetic judgment is the feeling or the response of the subject when the object is apprehended, contemplated, and then judged.

Even though subjective (not empirical), the aesthetic judgment is opposed to a relativistic doctrine in which beauty is dependent upon individual likes and dislikes. Kant was quite opposed to such relativistic judgments, for they are based upon personal responses, which are tied to a particular place and time as well as to the individual. Kant also rejected the concept of “interest” as the basis for determining beauty and art. Interest is desire, a concern for the existence of a thing; it is a utility judgment: this thing is “good” for something, especially sensory pleasure. Kant excluded sensory pleasure: “That taste is still barbaric which needs an added element of charm and emotion in order that there may be satisfaction and still more so if it adopts these as the measure of its approval.” He denied aesthetic pleasure or value to beautiful tones in music and to the beauty of color in art.

Kant advocated disinterest and indifference to content or subject matter and appreciated only design and composition. Purity in tone or color make form more definite and clear and easily intuitable. Form, clearly and purely delineated, sustains attention to the object itself. Thus, Kant puts forward the concept of “free beauty,” or pure aesthetic beauty, which has its own internal or inherent or intrinsic purposiveness: “The beautiful is that which pleases apart from a concept.” For the judgment of the beautiful to be universally valid, it must be detached from individual and personal feelings. For this aesthetic judgment to claim to be correct, it must not be singular or unique to a particular object. “Art” must rest upon the principle of disinterestedness. This judgment, from a universal standpoint, assumes the existence of common sense, which is universally communicable.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]


Kant and Aesthetic Theory

KANT AND AESTHETICS

While Kant was writing the Critique of Judgment, 1790, the answer of the role of the artist in society was increasingly unclear, and the social and cultural situation was increasingly unstable. The artist was looking at an abyss, gazing into the unknown of a new era, when Kant solved the problem of art and shaped its definition for the next two centuries. Kant began with assumptions common to his time: we can recognize “art” and we know what “art” is and that “art” is something we can see. He also assumes “beauty” and hence assumed its existence as an unquestionable quality universally agreed upon. Kant never dealt with specific works of art and thus was removed from the current taste and vogue for classical art. Neo-classicism was the new art in Kant’s time, and it was, briefly, a revolutionary art movement denoting (Greek) freedom and democracy and the promise of individuality, along with (Roman) gravitas and stability. But Neoclassicism was quickly co-opted by post-Revolutionary Academicism. A once-revolutionary movement became a forced and regulated status quo. The Neo-Classical ideal of beauty, before the ideals became rules, was associated with the art of ancient Athens, considered eternal and transcendent. As the poet John Keats best expressed it, in Ode on a Grecian Urn:

….

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

John Keats (1795 – 1821)

“Aesthetics” was that which is sensuous or the perception of sense data. Aesthetics has evolved into a more inclusionary definition that is applied to the arts but in the middle of the Eighteenth Century when A. G. Baumgarten founded a “new science” and published Aesthetica in 1750, aesthetics connected art to life. Although Emmanuel Kant did not invent aesthetics, he formalized the philosophical concept and elaborated aesthetics into a new notion of art that turned out to be uniquely suited to the new century. Although Emmanuel Kant did not invent aesthetics, he formalized the philosophical concept and elaborated aesthetics into a new notion of art that turned out to be uniquely suited to the new century. For the first time “art” became a distinctive value in life and was considered the result of a mode of knowledge, called aesthetics or feelings registered by the subject/viewer in response to the stimulus of an art object. Regardless of the intent of the client or of the artist, the art object is a unique object in that it is contemplated for insight and delight. Alexander Baumgarten widened the field of aesthetics from art to human conduct, opening possibilities for another philosopher, Friedrich Schiller, who would build upon Kantian aesthetics to create theories of art as participating actively in life itself. For all of the eighteenth century pioneer writers, “Aesthetics” is a middle ground, existing somewhere between reason and morality. Aesthetics concerned itself with that which was material or sensuous or plastic—physical life. Like other aspects of human experience, aesthetics needed to be brought into the Kantian epistemological system and subjected to the rigors of reason.

Aesthetics is a dualistic concept, a philosophical play between the artist and the art critic or philosopher. Aesthetics as a branch of philosophy, is not concerned with particular works of art but is more concerned with the question of “art” itself. Obviously, the contemporary meaning of the word, “aesthetics” as a particular quality or style of the art or intent of the artist is superficial and limited and incorrect. Fundamentally, Aesthetics, like any other branch of philosophy, attempts to determine the grounds of “art,” its ontology, and the system of knowledge that produces and constructs the mode of judgment or contemplation of art, its epistemology. Once art had been justified as an activity legitimated by its role in society as teacher and instructor and educator, working for the benefit of the community. In Giotto’s time, his profession was ancillary to the needs of the religious institution that contracted for his services. As Michael Baxendall pointed out in Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, the artist or artisan or skilled workman, was a contract worker, doing what he was told. However, four hundred years later, in the modern period, art needed two things. First, a reason for being: ontology, and second, a definition: epistemology. Although it was not Kant’s precise intention to create a new meaning and purpose for art, the effects of his philosophy was to link art to personal expressiveness and individual freedom. It was Kant who ushered in Romanticism by devising a theory of aesthetics that perfectly suited the times.

Given that aesthetics is a branch of philosophy, Kant proceeded by putting art into his transcendental system. As is characteristic of his system, the idea of art was divided into two parts that correspond to self and object, that is, contemplation by the viewer of the work of art itself. The ontology of a work of art is not the object, not even the artist, but the recognition of “art” which is a perceptual and conceptual act. Too see is to judge/contemplate. Art vision, like any vision, is never raw; it is always tempered and educated and acts according to (Kantian) rules. Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790) was the third in his trilogy of epistemology. In his first two Critiques, Kant established new ground for reason and morality and the third Critique had to establish a universal and transcendent basis for making a judgment. What did one have the occasion to judge? One judges all the time and one judges emotionally, often based upon a physical reaction or a sensation to a perception or a sight of an object considered “beautiful” or “ugly” and so on. Depending upon the extent of the reaction, one could judge the man as more or less beautiful or the house as more or less ugly. These reactions are personal and localized and are dependent upon individual taste. In other words, Kant could have selected any category of experience in which humans exercise judgment, such as the law which weighs the fate of human beings, but he selected art, a surprising choice.

To select the judgment of art as the centerpiece of this critique was a very modern move on the part of a man who had little experience of art himself. Kant was born in, lived in, worked in, wrote in, and died in one place, Königsberg, and, as far as we know, knew of art only through reading about it. In an age before color printing, he might have seen engravings of famous works; in a time before photography, he would have had only an approximate idea of what any work of art looked like. One can surmise that perhaps he selected art as the center of his Critique on judgment because he had no strong feelings about the topic. We know, for example, that Kant had a strong reaction to the French Revolution, which erupted a year before this last book was published. Surely, the judgment of the revolutionaries upon the hapless aristocrats would have provided a dramatic case study, but Kant selected areas far less topical and far more eternal and universal: nature, the sublime and art, which involved volatile taste, a troublesome reaction that needed to be brought under control. Unlike the sentencing of criminals, art was not amenable to judgment under a system of laws from the state and did not fall within the sphere of morality, nor did art traffic with reason. Simply by removing art from the rule of law or morality was to free works of art and artists from age-old tutelage at the hands of the powerful or the religious. Like the rest of society, art had become secular, and, in becoming secular, it had lost its place in society. Coincidentally, Kant was writing at the precise time the artist was losing the class that had been the traditional patrons, the aristocrats, to the guillotine in France. In the Nineteenth Century, the purpose of art and the role of artists were questions, and, regardless of his intentions, Kant’s aesthetics proved to be the new answers.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]


Podcast Episode 14: French Romanticism: Delacroix, Part One

DELACROIX THE ROMANTIC

Part One

A member of the famous Bohemian crowd of French avant-garde art, Delacroix was considered the rebellious leader of French Romanticism. Like all artists of his generation, he had missed out on Napoléonic glory but found excitement in the clash of civilizations between the Europeans and the Muslims with the war between the Turks and the rebellious Greeks. The paintings of Delacroix followed the struggle for democracy among the Greeks abroad and the lower classes at home. The painting of Liberty Leading the People was so stirring that it was decades before it was permitted by the French state to be displayed in a public museum. However, Delacroix was a conservative, who feared revolution and preferred peace and quiet in order to make art. His greatest battles were fought in the Salon with his supreme rival, Ingres.

Also listen to: “The French Romantics: Gros and Girodet, Part One” and “The French Romantics: Gros and Girodet, Part Two” and “French Romanticism, Ingres, Part Two” and “French Romanticism, Delacroix, Part Two”

Also read: “French Romanticism: The Historical Context” and “The French Academy: Painting” and “French Romanticism: Subject Matter and the Artist” and “French Romanticism and the Avant-Garde”

 

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
[email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone

Remember to download the iBooks app to your iPad or iPhone

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

Kant and Aesthetics

Kant and Aesthetics

The Creation of Artistic Freedom and Art-for-Art’s Sake

France became the titular home of the Enlightenment because of the necessity of opposing the decadence of the ancien régime, but it must be recalled that there were numerous important philosophers in England as well—the Earl of Shaftesbury, John Locke, David Hume–who were operating in a more “enlightened” society where royal power had long since been effectively curbed. England had had its revolution, endured the rule of the middle class, the Puritans, and had gladly restored the monarchy in 1688. The English, wary of religious extremism, endured in Cromwell, established a careful balance of power between the Crown and the People and Religion.In the next century, while they were building their colonial empire, the British learned the hard way about the power of the people when the American colonies rebelled and fought their way to freedom, using the ideas of the Enlightenment that were developed in Europe. The American Revolution was a philosophical affair, a grand experiment in democracy. To the amazement and alarm of Europeans, the Americans were turning philosophical systems into a Constitution, a government, and a way of life. And yet, it was in what we can only call “the Germanies,” not yet a modern nation, but a collection of principalities, that philosophers synthesized Enlightenment philosophy and extended it to a world now called “modern.”

“Dare to reason—have the courage to use your own minds—is the motto of the Enlightenment.” This powerful statement, defining the Enlightenment, was written by Emmanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) in 1784 in Germany, a singularly un-Enlightened disunited land. In his essay, “What is Enlightenment?” Kant defined the Enlightenment briefly and cogently as the foundation of a new conception of the essential qualities of the state and of history. “History” exists as a concept, according to Kant, only in relation to a series of events moving towards an ideal unity or an immanent end. Writing belatedly at the end of the Enlightenment period, Kant coupled history with a teleological purpose. The question, for the Enlightenment philosopher, is that of the goals of history. The contemplators of past events–the historians–are no longer standing in the midst of a simple series of discrete events, but are philosophers observing a series of actions that include the idea of individual freedom. History was a process of self-liberation, a process from natural bondage towards a sense of individual becoming in a spiritual sense. Ending with a tribute to his ruler, Frederick the Great, Kant asked and answered a simple question:

If we are asked , “Do we now live in an enlightened age?” the answer is, “No,” but we do live in an age of enlightenment. As things now stand, much is lacking which prevents men from being, or easily becoming, capable of correctly using their own reason in religious matters with assurance and free from outside direction. But on the other hand, we have clear indications that the field has now been opened wherein men may freely dea1 with these things and that the obstacles to general enlightenment or the release from self-imposed tutelage are gradually being reduced. In this respect, this is the age of enlightenment, or the century of Frederick.

In place of irrational belief systems, the Enlightenment has created a doctrine of rational faith (perhaps a contradiction in terms)—faith in the powers of human reason. Kant has been called the First Modernist, probably because he was among the most significant late-Enlightenment philosophers. Kant sought to solve the problems put forward or suggested by the early Enlightenment philosophers and sought to establish an epistemology of knowledge based upon the deductive powers of human reason. He had to establish a system of modern morality and ethics for human behavior, without God, based upon “practical reason.” He had to establish a universal means of arriving at a judgment recognized universally as being valid. Ultimately, Kant had to create an architectural structure for the new individual in an Age of Enlightenment and to do that he wrote three foundational books upon which modern philosophy would rest and develop.

The Enlightenment is deeply concerned with politics: how people can rule and/or be ruled without God or King and the divine right of aristocracy. The issue of freedom must be balanced against morals and truths and social controls. Society and culture are in a state of change and flux and doubt under pressure from the rising aspirations of the lower classes and the growing power of the middle class. Enlightenment philosophy both witnesses these changes and seeks to contain an unprecedented social situation that upends prevailing traditions. Art is but one casualty of a culture, which goes into shock from experiencing modernity in the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. The old grounds for judging “art” as worthy of being “art” began to deteriorate. In more stable time, “art” had been that which the Church ordered, what the King demanded, or what the patron wanted, or what the Academy dictated. Thus “art”and its definition was based upon elements external to “art,”such as desire and interest. The ordering of art had worked for centuries but, in Kant’s time, that authoritarian class was in the process of being wiped out where the definite of “art” was formed–France. It was time to establish an epistemology for “art,” and in doing so, Kant was joining a small number of philosophers who were writing the new discourse called “aesthetics,” or the definition of art.

One of the pioneer philosophers to contribute to the new discourse on aesthetics, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714-1762) who coined the word “aesthetics,” which he drew from the Greek term, aisthanomai or perception, the conditions of sensuous perception, which was the same as the Latin word, sentio. Baurgarten realized that he was venturing into a new area of philosophy, that which engaged the senses in a fashion that was both physical and emotional (not based in reason) when the human engaged with art or reacted to nature. The results of such encounters were subjective, judgments that could not be grounded in the objective. As Baumgarten said, “Things known are to be known by the superior faculty as the object of logic; things perceived [are to be known by the inferior faculty, as the object] of the science of perception, or aesthetic.” Aesthetica (1750/1758) was written in Latin which perhaps accounts for the slow acceptance of the new word. In 1835 in Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik, Georg Hegel succinctly defined aesthetics and placed it firmly within philosophy: “..the real name of our science is the philosophy of art and more specically the philosophy of fine art..” By the end of the nineteenth century, aesthetics had entered into the common parlance, mainly because the ground for judging art, an oxymoron, had become more and more necessary over the century. Notice that with Kant and Hegel, the idea of aesthetics or a philosophy of art was limited to “fine art.” According to Lars-Olof Åhlberg, “..it is with D’Alembert’s introduction, the Discours préliminaire, to the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751) that..the modern system of the arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, music) is set forth in its inal form.”

Thus Kant’s aesthetic philosophy became the right philosophy for the right time—his aesthetic ideas restored the order and purpose of art, ironically by injecting art with the disorder of originality and stripping it of all purpose but its own. Kantian aesthetics developed out of a sense of crisis in the arts, which were unanchored without traditional purpose or patronage, bereft of subject matter and content, once dictated, and validated by Church and State. Already, the artists in France had discovered the vagaries of the middle class public, the new audience to which they were subjected in public salons. Equally depressing was the rise of yet another new enemy, the art critic who freely gave his (unlearned) influential opinion of the endeavors of the artists. How should art be judged? Who had the right to judge? The jurors? The teachers? The artists? The critics? The patrons? or the public? The goal of Kant was to put judgment on a universal basis and, because art fell neatly into the realm of subjectivity, he used art as his model in his discussion of aesthetics for the role of judgment and how the human mind could reach universal judgments from a disinterested perspective. There is a disjuncture between perception and a resulting sensation and noesis or knowledge and the Enlightenment had pushed out the subjective and the impact of emotions or psychology upon human thinking. It is important to note that this dichotomy which Kant would attempt to solve in his last Critique was of less interest to his nineteenth century leaders than his new definitions of artist and art.

The Critique of Judgment was published in Prussia in 1790 and it established aesthetics as a new branch of philosophy. Kant based his third and final volume of his philosophical trio upon certain assumptions that we do not believe today but which, for him, were accepted as “true” to the point of blindness. For Kant, something called “art” existed and the grounds of art was beauty. Understanding art required judgment and the judgment, like those of reason and science, had to be, of necessity, universal. We as humans, possess the capacity to judge (Urteilskraft) and this power allows us to make individual judgments (Urteile). In many ways, one feels that Kant was compelled to take up the slippery area of judgment. In the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), he established the grounds of a priori reason within the architectonic structures of the human mind; in the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), Kant was able to define morality as that which exists simply as a value in itself, independent of and indifferent to any reward. One does good because it is good, now because one will receive approval for being moral. In both cases, judgment haunted the Critiques like an uninvited guest, refusing to leave and demanding to be dealt with. A judgment was defined by its subjective state and by its dire need to be placed on an objective basis–because we “judge” all the time. We judge science as being true or not, based upon empirical testing; we judge certain kinds of behavior as good, based upon the outcome. But how does one judge art and beauty? Kant was particularly concerned about the role of taste in judgment, that is, individual likes and dislikes—interests and desires, which had to be purged for any judgment to be valid.

Although Kant was concerned with beauty in art and with the operation of the (judging) mind when faced with the sublime, it is taste which must be tamed by critique. The issue is neatly summarized in the two necessary words: subjective and universal–taste is subjective but judgment has to be universal. It is one thing to be stirred by the awesome beauty of nature or being moved by nature’s more modest offerings, it is another operation to judge an objective made by a human being. When judging fine art, one operates with “taste” which is a response to beauty. Later, Marcel Duchamp will criticize mainstream art directly on this basis, that “taste” is a subjective and sensuous and physical reaction to a object that is stimulating to the retina. In order to forestall such a superficial reaction, Kant searched for the ends or the purpose of the object as well as the result of the work of the artist, which were, of course, intertwined. If the artist and the art were cause and effect, then the artist was manifested through the art. But what should the end of art be? Or to ask the question in another fashion, how could art be rescued from the blandishments of the client or from the personal feelings of the spectator? For Kant, purpose and intention (Absicht) seem to be co-extensive, meaning that he was obligated to investigate the artist as well as the grounds for art. If the artist was at the beck and call of a patron, then the intention of art was not art’s intention, begging the question, how could it be properly called “art” in the universal sense? The problem is clear–the purpose of art will be conditioned by the telos or end–the will of the patron, and that cannot stand.

If judgment is teleological, and it is, for Kant, then the beginning must rest within the artist and it is here that Kant began to solve his problem of purpose: the artist was a “genius,” a new concept which separated the “artist” from a maker or a copyist or from someone dutifully following orders. Obviously, the modern artist cannot live within an academy or and art school or be ruled by a jury. The modern artist is the creator who plays with forms in order to create new forms; the modern artist is an inventor, an innovator. These new concepts will be discussed in the next posts.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Podcast 13 Romanticism: Ingres, Part Two

INGRES, THE NUDES, AND CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION

Part Two

By the middle of his artistic life, Ingres had reached the pinnacle of his career as the ruler of the Academy in France. Although the artist claimed to uphold the principles of classical art, his approach to the favorite subject of the day—the female nude—was idiosyncratic to say the least. After the Salon of 1824, Ingres made classical content less important to his oeuvre and his artistic content was divided between escapist fantasies and the fashions of the day. Ingres represented the French taste for the exotic in his dreams of the Orient, while at the same time reflecting the new imperialism in the Middle East. Closer to home, the fashion-obsessed painter scrupulously crafted the conspicuous consumption of High Capitalism in mid-century France. The master of Academic art and the ruler of the Academy, Ingres was also one of the great portrait artists of the nineteenth century. It is through is paintings of the rich and powerful that we can glimpse the beginning of the era of “conspicuous consumption.”

Also listen to: “The French Romantics: Gros and Girodet, Part One” and “The French Romantics: Gros and Girodet, Part Two” and “French Romanticism, Ingres, Part One” and “French Romanticism, Delacroix, Part One” and “French Romanticism, Delacroix, Part Two”

Also read: “French Romanticism: The Historical Context” and “The French Academy: Painting” and “French Romanticism: Subject Matter and the Artist” and “French Romanticism and the Avant-Garde”

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
[email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone

Remember to download the iBooks app to your iPad or iPhone

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

Kant and Reason

KANT AND CRITICAL REASON

The eighteenth century British philosopher, David Hume, suggested that we believe that there is a connection between cause and effect. For example. fire causes flame and results in an effect of smoke. Were it not for this belief system, we would be surprised every time we lit a match, saw fire, and witnessed the fire burn an object. Kant replaced Hume’s charge that cause and effect were mere metaphysical constructs with the idea of the a priori: mental structures possessed by human beings that allowed people to logically order empirical experiences in a rational fashion. We understand that “smoke” means “fire” not because one observes the effect of a lit match upon a dry leaf, but because one carries a preconceived concept of cause and effect in the mind a priori or before the fact. Thus Kant replaced Descartes’s blind faith that God would not delude him with human reason and the powers of rational thinking and removed God from the philosophical equation. In his critique of Western philosophy, Kant realized that much of the writings of his predecessors had rested upon this ultimate appeal to God–metaphysics–placing philosophy in the precarious position of having its efficacy based solely upon a belief in God.

The preconceived concept or preexisting idea is the a priori, or a structure in the mind that organizes the perceptions of experiences into an order that allows us to make sense of the world. The procedure of critique is nothing less than a Copernican Revolution, a call to reason rather than to faith, a demand for self-knowledge rather than for dogma, an ability to deduce according to the laws of logic, rather than upon the grounds of experience alone. As discussed in the preceding post, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781) was concerned with epistemology, establishing the grounds of knowledge, and with refuting untenable metaphysics. God does not give us the world that we see and experience. We understand and organize the world through reason. Knowledge is a cooperative affair—the mind organizes sense data actively and imposes reality upon the world, this inversion is Kant’s Copernican Revolution: the mind precedes the data it perceives. We, as humans, blinded by our necessary and a priori cognitive operations, can never hope to “see” “reality” or the “thing-in-itself.” We construct reality with our minds, which are organized at the most basic and abstract level to structure the most basic experiences, our perceptions of time and space.

There are two kinds of judgment: a priori and a posteriori. The a priori judgment is pure and transcendent and self-evident. The judgment is absolutely valid and strictly necessary. This judgment is independent of experience and is expressed in a statement in which the subject is defined by its predicate: ”The rose is a flower,” which is an analytic statement. For Kant, the real problem for philosophy is a posteriori statements that were synthetic, that is, statements in which the predicate is not contained in the subject. Cause and effect would come under the concept of a synthetic statement: there was no necessary connection between cause and effect. Kant had to make an argument for cause and effect being a synthetic a priori judgment, that is a judgment that is absolute and necessary without being self-evident. Kant argued that the mind imposes patterns and that the patterns themselves are necessary for judgment. Because the patterns are necessary, they are also transcendental. This Aesthetic is immediate and non-discursive and sensuous, but it can be ordered and constructed by the mind. For example, the mind has an intuition, immediate and sensuous, an apprehension of space that is sensuous or aesthetic.

This intuition must be, must exist, a priori to account for our knowledge of objects. Thus Space is an a priori representation that underlies all outer intuitions and validates all claims of geometry, which is a science of space. “Space” is the way the mind organizes experience. “Space does not represent any property of things in themselves; it is, therefore, solely from the human standpoint…” and is inner and outer. Time, like space, is another “pure form of intuition” and is the temporal ordering of experience into before and after and simultaneous. But time is only “inner space” and is part of a spatiotemporal ordering of contents: a synthetic ordering due to the active mind’s cognition of physical objects. This is what Kant called transcendental logic, the “putting together” (synthetic) of perceptions. This synthetic operation makes experiences of objects possible.

In a typically Enlightenment fashion, Kant conceptually “built” an architectonic structure that would contain philosophy within a model. Based upon reason, knowledge comes from thinking, which comes from judging. All effective knowledge is the result of experiences of concrete sense data ordered by conceptual thinking. According to Kant, “…thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind…” Kant was the first philosopher to distinguish between precepts and concepts, after the Cartesian duality of mind and body had proved to be untenable. Kant then set out to establish categories of judgments, based upon Aristotelian logic. Each form of judgment is an a priori conceptual category and the categories correspond to types of judgments. Kant calls his arrangements the metaphysical deduction of the categories: each judgment presupposes one or another twelve synthetical (putting things together) categories or operations (such as cause and effect). There are three sets of four, the headings of quantity, quality, relation, and modality. Relation as a concept, for example, makes it possible for us to understand that every effect experienced has a cause, that cause and effect are “related.” As discussed in a previous post, cause and effect or relation exist a priori.

Andrew Stephenson’s Diagram of the Critique of Pure Reason

The categories are transcendental because they are rules. These “rules” are not empirically observable but are necessary, because they make synthesis possible. In other words, successive messages of data must be organized or held together into an experience or a unity of consciousness, which is the unity of self. Experience is a combination of the self that experiences objects as a result of a priori acts of synthesis. The human experience of objects consists of unified representations, producing objects of representation. All knowledge demands a concept and the form of the concept must be universal and must serve as a rule. Self and object are reciprocal. Kant asked, “What conditions make experiences possible?” and stated that experience is a combination of a priori concepts and empirical concepts. The necessary conditions for “experience” is the object—sense experiences, put together into unity—and self—a collection of desires, memories, expectations, feelings, attitudes that unifies the data. The self is also an object. The putting together is a transcendental synthesis: objects-for-a-self. The object is a synthesis of data of outer sense/space and the self is the synthesis of inner sense/space. But how do we apprehend and organize? The key is the human imagination. The imagination is the active component for judgment–we perceive and then we organize and then we conclude and act, based upon the powers of the imaginative faculties. The imagination gathers the diversity of information and presents it or displays it so that it matches a concept. The concept is that which has been abstracted or has become abstract like a category. The concept is made possible by a corresponding a priori intuition and we can now reach an a priori synthetic judgment by combining a concept, the abstract with an intuition or the particulars from which the concept was abstracted.

Thus, for Kant, empiricism is rehabilitated, cause and effect becomes a rule, and the function of concepts is to order the manifold of sense into meaningful and stable patterns. The organization principle must be time: the effect follows the cause in time. The key to knowledge is order and rule that makes experience possible. Order, in other words, must be presupposed (a priori) to make experience possible. The world as experienced reflects patterns or categories. Two important categories are substance and causality for human experience would not be human experience without an order that is indifferent. We never experience these substances or the necessary connections; we experience only succession (synthesis). Kant attributed our understanding of objects to a priori concepts through which our minds order experience with a notion of permanence and regular sequence. His conclusions are an advance on the fallback position of Descartes that is that God “implanted” helpful innate ideas that give us reality.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]


Kant and the Critique of Philosophy

CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON (1789)

Kant’s Copernican Revolution

This concept of critique was central to Enlightenment philosophy, coming from the Greek word “krinein”, meaning to “separate” or to “discern”, which is the origin of the word “crisis.” Whereas the Greeks took the concept of critique and applied it to texts, Emmanuel Kant (1724-1824) used “critique” to re-conceptualize Western philosophy at a time of crisis. The Enlightenment had been caught between the demystification or disenchantment of a once sacred world and the secularizing of a thoroughly modern and material world, based upon scientific analysis. For the Enlightenment philosophers, “critique” and “reason” were indivisible, and Kant began a search for the conditions, which governed reasoned criticism. A form of analysis and deduction, critique, a concept central to Kantian thought, is an internal analysis of a concept in its own terms. A critique, by definition, cannot be conducted from the outside, looking in; an exercise, which would be more precisely called “criticism.” A proper critique, in contrast, must always examine given concepts from the interior and not impose ideas, alien to the argument, from the outside. The examination or interrogation of an idea–a critique–is rational and based upon the process of logical deduction. The result is the creation of an architectonic structure, an argument that is “built” systematically. Contemporary audiences are probably more familiar with the use of “critique” by the American art critic, Clement Greenberg who “interrogated” or critiqued painting, seeking its intrinsic qualities. Through a logical analysis of what was “irreducible” to painting, that which was absolutely necessary to painting, Greenberg deduced that for painting to be pure it must be purged of alien or outside elements. Painting, stripped of extrinsic elements, could be revealed in its basic structure, or definition, as a flat surface covered with pigment arranged in a design. As the nineteenth century progressed, the question shifted from how to use critique to question the nature of art to a new investigation into which art is worthy of critique. A critique of philosophy is nothing less than a search for the fundamentals of how humans create knowledge.

Immanuel Kant

Living a quiet and retiring life of a college professor in Königsberg, Kant was, by his own account, awakened from his academic “slumber” by a challenge to Reason from an unexpected quarter. An English philosopher, the ultimate empiricist, David Hume, who in his Treatise of Human Reason and Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1738) pointed out that reason, like religion, is only another instrument for establishing relations among ideas, based upon experience. Reason, as an independent mental entity, therefore, can tell us nothing about the world. To prove his point, Hume began with an account of the behavior or billiard balls. In privileging particular events consisting of the operations of cause and effect–a billiard game–Hume observed that, given the myriad outcomes, “Why then should we give the preference to one, which is no more consistent or conceivable than the rest? All our reasonings a priori will never be able to show us any foundation for this preference. In a word, then, even effect is a distinct event from its cause.” There is no evidence that the “order” of reason is necessary and this order and “pattern” actually has no rationale in nature, which is only an object upon which we have imposed our needs. “Cause and effect” were a belief system that we lived by but could not prove. If reason is only a concept and not an intrinsic quality of human thinking, if cause and effect are unexamined assumptions then we are back to metaphysics. As Hume wrote, not foreseeing that he would challenge Kant: “Hence we may discover the reason why no philosopher, who is relational and modest, has ever pretended to assign the ultimate cause of any natural operation, or to show distinctly the action of that power, which produces any single effect in the universe.”

As Roy Strong in The Creation of the Modern World. The Untold Story of the British Enlightenment (2000) expressed it,

The concept of causation was doubtless the basis of all knowledge, but causality was not itself a demonstrable fact. Experience showed the succession of events, but did not reveal any necessity in that succession—it was habit, which created the expectation that one event would invariably follow another. Custom was not knowledge, however, and did not strictly justify projections from the past to the future, from the known to the unknown. Causality was thus not a principle definitively derived from the order of things but a mental postulate.

Hume’s arguments were immediately recognized by Kant as a destructive attack on reason. When Hume attacked the concept of cause and effect by pointing out that “cause and effect” were only a concept, not a reality, the Enlightenment was effectively over. Rational thinking alone could not make it so. As a believer in the powers of reason, Kant realized that he had to restore reason to its rightful place. To refute Hume, he had to create a system for reason that was universal, useful for experience, but not, as with Hume, bound by and to experience. Kant shifted the grounds of the argument away from the empirical to cognition, the actual judgmental structures of the human mind–that which makes reason possible. What were the epistemological grounds for reason? First, reason cannot be part of idealism–an unprovable belief system. We can use reason–logic–to reach irrational and unreasonable conclusions, but Kant proposed limits to reason. We should limit ourself to that which we can know and simply eliminate that which we cannot know. For example, we can use our imagination to create a God out of our ability to reason, but this is an illegitimate mode of thinking. Reason should be deployed within the limits of the empirical real world and is the mainspring of scientific thought. Hume’s emphasis of the actions of the billiard balls as a series of multiple instances of cause and effect–I strike the ball with a cue stick and it rolls–is limited to a particular instance. For Kant, reason had to be universal, in other words, reason must always function and the cause of this universality or transcendence could not be unprovable “idealism.” In order to explain his “critique” of reason, Kant turned to science. Interestingly, he did not discuss Galileo, who scientific conclusions were based on observations or experiences. Galileo’s findings were rejected by the Church, not because he did not see what he saw through his telescope but because his discoveries contradicted Church doctrines. Kant, however, was interested in a scientific analysis of what could not be seen but in what had to be deduced.

DBP_-_250_Jahre_Immanuel_Kant_-_90_Pfennig_-_1974

West German Stamp commemorating the 250 Anniversary of Kant’s date of birth

In his Critique of Pure Reason (1789), Kant discussed what he called “The Copernican Revolution” in which critique was shifted from an external focus on dogmas to a focus on the inner workings of understanding. The scientist, Nicolas Copernicus, questioned the assumption, which was the received wisdom, that the sun revolved around the earth. One could see this “truth” with one’s own eyes: the sun rises in the morning and then journeys around the earth, bringing the afternoon and then the evening, and finally night. There was no discernable reason to disbelieve what seemed plain to all who saw the sun rise and set and rise again in relation to the earth. The very reasonable conclusion, reached by the actions of reason itself, was based on empirical experience. In 1530, in De Revolutionibus, Copernicus revolutionized scientific (and philosophical) thinking by putting forward the revolutionary hypothesis that the earth revolved around the sun. This extraordinary theory, inverting general knowledge, was based upon pure abstract reasoning or deductive thinking, based upon a hypothesis that was tested and provided proof of accuracy. The mathematics of planetary movements made sense only if one threw out the belief that the sun revolved around the earth and substituted another theory that the earth and the planets revolved around the sun. Seeing may be believing, but any belief has to be tested and proven. Scientific reasoning is based upon theory: one formulates a hypothesis that functions as a theory that is never proved and is always provisional. Any theory will stand until it is disproved.

As for Copernicus, his new theory was far too dangerous to publicize—he would be under instant interdiction from religious authorities, and he was the kind of person who sought perfection and could never release his theory. Although in the time of Kant, two centuries later, De Revolutionibus was still on the list of books forbidden by the Catholic Church, the ideas of Copernicus were not only accepted but were “proved.” The “revolution” in thinking about the sun and the earth was the disregard of Copernicus of empirical evidence, which suggested that the sun revolved around the earth, and his faith in a hypothesis was based upon reasoned considerations. Like Copernicus, Kant proposed that raw observation of raw experience was insufficient as an explanation of the world and argued that the human mind was capable of ordering perception through a priori conceptions. The rejection of the notion of the passive receptive mind was Kant’s version of the Copernican Revolution: the mind ordered the world, not vice versa. In other words, it was the mind that understood the principle of cause and effect, a priori, and without this cognitive ability, experience in and of itself would never come to the conclusion that each effect had a cause. For example, if one puts a flaming match to a piece of paper, the cause, the paper will burst in to flame, the effect. It is understood that cause and effect is at work, and the judgment could not take place without the a priori in place. Without the cognitive ability to conceive of cause and effect, each time a flaming match touched paper, you would be surprised and shocked, unable to comprehend the relationship between the lit match and the burning paper. Empirical experience, in other words, would never be enough to order experience into what we call knowledge. This discussion continues in the next post.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]