Philosophy and Art, a Bad Romance?

When I think of all my bad relationships, I tend to blame it on incompatibility. When I think of the relationship between Art and Philosophy, I also think of incompatibility. This is why I still have fun with this discipline; I can always test my arguments on real life examples. Let me explain, my morning session at the APA Conference today was on Aesthetics. Precisely, about the relationship between Art and Philosophy. More specifically, a drag. Not because these should not work together, but rather due to the way these were forcefully joined. Carlos Garcia from Buffalo State University (NY) was attempting to link art and philosophy by giving us a philosophical interpretation of the art of Carlos Estevez, a Cuban artist. He first provided a definition of art that was in nature essentialist through two conditions: 1) art has to be an artifact, and 2) art has to generate an aesthetic experience. This definition is at a first glance already flawed, because it wouldn’t be able to include much of conceptual art. But beyond this, because nobody cares about defining art except for philosophers. But what is interesting about his project is what is at risk in this relationship.

That is, why are we even trying to constrain the artwork to the cognitive claims of philosophy? Because, I argue, we still want to problematically hold on to the concept of autonomy in art. Garcia, claims that art is not reducible to philosophy, and yet by giving us a “philosophical” interpretation of the work of Estevez, he constrains the ontology of the work to the realm of logic and perception, reducing art to philosophy. What is at risk? For the sake of keeping the autonomy, at the level of philosophical definition, the historical dimension of the work is dissolved. So here we have another form of Iconoclasm in Aesthetics: The more philosophy we put into the work of art, the more distant we get from experiencing the work in its ontological completeness. That is, the less we get to bring in the historical dimension, which allows us to bring in the ethical dimension of the work. Clearly by looking at these artworks, if an installation by a Cuban exile who addresses violence and suffering is not political, historical, if it does not have an ethical dimension, then what is it? If it is not ontologically complete then it’s not art, it’s just philosophy. Talk about a one sided relationship over here.

Then again, to give philosophy a break, I went to the artist’s website to further explore his works, and this is what his statement of purpose said:

“In my art I answer the question, what is a human? What is happiness? What is freedom?”

So now, finally enough, we have an artist who believes that his art can answer philosophical questions. It can solve the problem of personal identity, free-will and also somehow give us a universal definition of what happiness is.

Not only are philosophers playing artists, but now artists are playing philosophers. Garcia’s project is just another example of scholarly work where art and philosophy have to compete for first prize by dissolving each other in the process. After sitting through this panel, all I can say is that Philosophy and Art needs to establish a better theoretical relationship. They are both pretty neurotic disciplines, but they need each other, because what is of the philosophy of art without art? And how can art answer philosophical questions without philosophy? Can’t join them together, can’t separate them.

Basically, another story of all my bad relationships, another bad romance. Maybe this is why I like Aesthetics.

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