the campfire :) So, sit back and enjoy a glass of wine and warmth of the fire ...
Yesterday, Sheila mentioned that we've become like the artists who used to gather for discussions. She reminded me of the 1940's in New York City when "The Artists' Club" used to meet at the Waldorf Cafeteria in Greenwich Village to hash out ideas. These artists included Pollock, Rothko, Hofman, deKooning, etc. I think we ARE the cyber-version of that!
At this point of my existential journey my feet are starting to get tired and there are, as Robert Frost once wrote, "miles to go before I sleep." Undaunted, I shall continue into the 18th Century's period of Enlightenment.
In his book, Williams reveals how the combined effects of the Industrial Revolution, development of the Natural Sciences, and the American and French Revolutions influenced art. In art, there was still an attitude toward classical antiquities but a more scientific approach developed to explain the psychological meanings. Yes, folks, what we have here is the emergence of the "art critic." (curses!) But, not just any old critic, these folks wrote art critiques that rose to an elevated, high literary level. You might say that they had a BIG influence on art.
The most influential critic of the time was a French philosopher and editor named Denis Diderot. He called for more powerful emotional effects in art as well as more serious subject matter, a severe style, and the highest sense of moral purpose. This was radical! It was a demand for a full-scale reform of painting. A lot of artists listened and responded.
But, Diderot had his detractors. For instance, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, a German playwright, wrote an essay in 1766 arguing that the visual arts should concern themselves primarily with beauty and give less attention to narrative. Those that followed Lessing's advice began painting "sublime" landscapes. These were wild and crazy paintings of rugged scenery that typified the "unbeautiful" and became popular. This was really an appeal to break the rules and elude control. As Don pointed out on the last blog, there was reaction against the academies that began in the Renaissance. This is a good example.
But, why limit ourselves to the influence of only two philosophies? Enter Alexander Baumgarten, a German academic who invented the field of "aesthetics." That word derives from the Greek "aesthesis" which means "feeling" in the sense of physical perception. Baumgarten believed that the experience of beauty in nature and art should be seen as a matter of sense perception rather than abstract thought. And, it was his ideas that inspired the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804), who later became known as "The Founder of Modern Thought" and was a huge influence on the development of modern art theory.
Kant wrote about what it means to say something is beautiful. (Margaret, you've been waiting for this part!) He thought that beauty isn't a statement about the object being observed, but rather it's about our pleasurable interaction with the object. So, beauty is really about our own condition. Kant wrote: "The beautiful is that which, without any concept, is cognized as the object of a necessary satistfaction." As Williams' states in his book, Kant believed that because pure aesthetic judgements are conceptless, our experience of art cannot depend upon our awareness of the artist having striven rationally and mechanically to achieve certain effects; art of the highest kind must not be regarded as a product of understanding and science, but of genius." OH! So that's where the "genius" thing came from...
Additionally, Kant made a distinction between "fine art" and "mechanical art." The former is the product of original genius and not subject to rules, and the second is rule-bound and imitative. Now, here's something for an artist to live up to! Wow.
Anyway, Kant's ideas gave rise to a thirty-year period called "Radical Idealism" which established an interdependence of art and thought - art became a kind of philosophy. Hey! This isn't new - this is Renaissance theory! But, the new twist is that art began to engage in politics .. to be an expression of political freedom.
So, what theories from the Enlightenment have influenced my thoughts and work? All of them:
- embuing my art with psychological meaning
- creating a visual voice for the "unbeautiful" as well as the beautiful
- assigning beauty to my interaction with what I perceive and in the act of making art
- fighting the notion of "genius" which was imposed on me early in my training as a necessary condition for art (Kathy's Rebellion)
- And, making political statements in some of my work
BTW - here's an anecdote to give you a little insight into my first year in college as a fine arts student: My 2-D instructor (who shall remain nameless) handed out the course syllabus on the first day and made this announcement to the class: "If you are a woman in this class I have no time for you! You will drop out of college because of one of the 3-M's: Matrimony, Maternity, or Menopause. So, why should I waste my time on you? Additionally, if you are a woman in this class you'll never receive an "A." So ... this was my introduction to studying art in college. And, I received an A-minus for a grade.
Next mile, I'll travel through most of the Nineteenth Century. Someone pass me the Hershey bars, I'd like to make s'mores!