Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

67: Antonio Negri part I:
On Art: the Abstract and the Truth

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         Among the concerns of the philosophy of art is the nature of representation. Artists in their work represent something about the world and in turn their work influences the world; back and forth in a spiral of abstraction and representation. In this sense art can narrate an explanation of the world. (Q1)
         When we narrate the history of art we often look for similarities and differences between various works. However, there are an infinite number of possible narrations. The categories upon which any narrations depend can range on a continuum from one category for all art to one category for each work of art (since each is so unique, each could be conceived as having no relevant similarities with other works). The problem with this approach is that the division lines are arbitrary. Therefore, instead of looking at the art itself consider that all human activity (including artistic activity) exists within a mode of production which encourages and discourages; builds and destroys many particular human activities (including artistic activity). To find the greatest philosophical depth in art look at the world (in particular the mode of production) in which the art was created to determine the categories for the narration of art history. In particular to find the most important categories look at the struggles of the multitude concerning production(Q2). We will first look at our struggle to come to term with the changed nature of truth in art.
         The traditional truth of art in the eternal immutable transcendent sense is dead. It got sick at the beginning of modernity and finally died just recently at about 1968 (Q3). All that is left is a new truth; the truth of the factitious (that is the truth of the human-made or created as opposed to the natural or nature made). As truth got sick and died art became abstracted more and more in a growing spiral of abstraction. This abstraction revealed a new type of existence: the multitude of singularities working together as a single whole. As the world became abstract everyone laboured to create a new world both literally and figuratively (Q4). All of nature and the old pre-modern world has been washed away; replaced by an abstract work of art: a new modern human-made artificial work of art abstracted from the formerly divine and natural world. In the sense that we are continually taking this abstracted world and modifying it; stylizing it to our tastes and preferences we are all artists all the time.
         The death of transcendent truth (the death of God, as Nietzsche would say) forced us to become materialists. This is the cause of the modern struggle: the death of transcendent truth has left the modern individual searching for truth and meaning in the world; the postmodern individual, by contrast, accepts that there is no truth or meaning to be found; rather they must be added, re-created or re-abstracted (Q5).
         Another way to look at two possible strategies for dealing with the death of truth: The modern continually presents itself as the result of an essence; not the result of a process. Modernization's goal is to achieve its essence; for it claims there can be no other option. Modernity does not claim to create or negotiate itself or its becoming. Therefore the modern cannot understand life as a self creation or a self determination – life can only be understood as a self-discovery given to you from out of the power relation that is modernity. Postmodernity is modernity without the modernization; the recognition (but not the mere acceptance) of the truth of the artificial abstracted world. This recognition of the truth of the factitious, which modernity cannot accept, is the first tool to understanding the nature of the modern and postmodern struggle and consequently their art (Q6)(Q7).
         Q1 What do you understand by the terms “philosophy of art” and “representation”?
         Q2 Is struggle really the most important thing in our lives OR are the struggles we engage in really indicators of what is the most important in our lives? There are cliché which say that we all have some thing such as love, family, money etc. that is most important in our lives. However, the author suggests that the end goal is not as important to us because it only serves as a justification or rationalization whereas the means or the struggle would still exist if we were to change the object of struggle. If struggle is the foundation of art then the causes of the struggle are more important than the ends or goals of the struggle. Are our struggles really the best indicator of what is meaningful for people and their art or could there be other indicators? Is there really a significant difference between goals and struggles? Do you believe that focusing in on the causes and means will produce a better understanding of art and the world than focusing on ends or goals? What are some of the results of emphasizing one side over the other?
         Q3 In the middle ages the arts of painting, music and sculpture that were dedicated to the outer-worldly transcendent God were considered high or true art. The theory was that our world was just a shadow of the real world: heaven. Human “artistic” activity that did not reveal the eternal was not art but vulgar human pretensions (drama, philosophy). Is a theory of art based on other-worldliness or (Plato's) ideal forms in which this material world is a poor substitute for reality really dead? Where do artists get their inspiration? Often artist (especially writers) will speak of their muse – does anyone speak seriously about their muse or is it only a figure of speech? Is the real material world the ideal or standard on which your judgments on art are based OR is your standard of judgment based on some ideal that cannot possibly exist in material form (e.g. divinity, infinity, goodness, treeness etc.)?
         Q4 Figuratively, we have gone from one true eternal god-revealed catholic religion to a giant collection of human made ideologies. Literally, In most people's lives there is nothing that is truly natural – untouched by humans. Even forests are managed and trails cut through them. In our world where nothing is natural or divine we have abstracted from the “natural” and then abstract again from the abstraction over and over again to the point where the divine is unbelievable and the truly natural is terrifying to us (consider walking through a nearby forest today verses 500 years ago). Does it make sense to say we have created the world figuratively and literally? How do you feel about this idea that we have created our world in thought and deed?
         Q5 The struggle to find meaningful truth in the material world and the struggle to create meaningful truth from the material world are struggles of the modern and postmodern world respectively. How does this notion strike you? In your artistic activities do you lean more to finding or creating meaningful truth? Is there really a significant difference between “finding” and “creating” truth in the artistic sense?
         Q6 The author presents the struggle to deal with the abstracted world and the loss of eternal truth as having two paths the modern and the postmodern. In actuality they are an accident of history because there is always the possibility of many more responses to the loss (consider an artist who never dreamed of eternal truth: such an artist would never need to respond to the loss of truth). Furthermore, there is the fact that we can actually respond with varying commitment to each path in different cases. Can you imagine an alternative way to deal with the loss of eternal truth? Which way is more appealing to you and what do you think are the consequences of that appeal (ie what are you gaining and/or losing)?
         Q7 Consider some famous works of art: the bible, a cubist painting by Picasso, the Afghan girl on the cover of National Geographic, a recent music video (e.g. Gangnam Style). Based on the modern/postmodern notions the author presents, how would you look at each of these works differently?

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren