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

69: Antonio Negri part III:
On Art: On Beauty

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         'What is beauty,' is the wrong first question because it assumes that we can be taught what to call beautiful. (Q1) Whatever answer you get leads to the dead end of modernity: a limited range of art forms that are imposed on artists and which therefore limit freedom of expression and creativity.(Q2) A better first question to ask is: 'in this materialist abstracted world, where does beauty come from?'
         Beauty comes from an excedence[sic] of being. An excedence of being in relation to life produces in people a powerful charge of emotion that tears us apart as we want to both contemplate and act. Excedence of being draws us to the extremes of positivity or negativity in moral judgments but always in the midst of our poverty and inadequacy of experience. Beauty therefore has a powerful emotional and morally polarizing effect on a person.(Q3)
         Excedence of being holds within it the notion of “power over....” Beauty comes from being's (or an object's) power over a subject. Beauty ought to have a powerful all encompassing physical hold on a person.(Q4)
         Excedence is nearly synonymous with “value” in the sense that both are determined by the accumulated totality of liberated human labour. Whatever we work at best, hardest and/or most joyfully is what we value most therefore the best of the accumulated liberated labour of all people is indicative of the values or excedences of the society.(Q5)
         Now we can ask the question, “what is beauty,” without falling into the limits of the modern judgmental trap. Beauty is the excedence of being.
         The excedence of being is an open concept that is not bound by established rules and practices. It is possible to find an excedence of being in any human activity. As such human activity that moves you emotionally and holds you physically and which reveals your values is beautiful. This postmodern definition of beauty is different from the modern definitions in that the beauty is not in the work itself. Rather what is popularly called a beautiful work of art is the left over result of liberated human labour.(Q6)
         the word “toil” has a negative connotations; “labour” is neutral; “liberated labour” is the ideal. Liberated labour is free of exploitation and alienation; it is a joy of action; it is the child of desire. It is as transcendent as is possible to get in the material world. Art from an other era that seems to speak to you can be explained in two ways. The modern way: good art transcends the narrow confines of its time and speaks to us today. The Postmodern way: liberated labour is the human source of all art and in so far as humanity is present in every age; good art is always and everywhere the expression of liberated labour.(Q7)
         Good art must therefore always be revolutionary in at least a political sense. This does not mean that artists must belong to a political party. Rather artists must be in a unique relationship to being, to life and to ethics. A freedom from the usual constraints of the mind; a liberty to act on it in the creation of their art.(Q8)
         Next time: the event and the body.
         Q1 Can we be taught to know beauty or is it better to say that we know it when we see or hear it? Whether you answer yes or no you fall into a modern trap: in both cases beauty is either taught or experienced as some quality inherent in the work of art or some quality in our perception of the work of art. And so the modern artist looks for and tries to put into their work this thing or quality that is beauty. Many have tried to define beauty as something or some quality: Plato: beauty's eternal form caught in some material object of our world; Aristotle: harmony and symmetry; Thomas Aquinas: that which pleases upon being seen; Immanuel Kant: whatever please immediately apart from all interest; the Utilitarians: whatever is useful for some purpose for example Freud and Darwin would say whatever is useful for getting sex and procreating is beautiful. If you are a modern you may find yourself in agreement with one of these notions. Are you a modern person? I am sure that if we put our minds to it we could find examples of art that do not fit into any of these notions. If you believe this, then do you believe that 'what is beauty' is the wrong first question? Why or why not?
         Q2 By imposing rules of what constitutes art and the artistic one is systematically closing off all avenues of artistic labour that are beyond one's imagination (as well as those that you do not like). The author hints that that is an arrogant, anti-democratic, dictatorial and repressing modern attitude. Do you agree or is it possible to define art based on something in the art? Can pornography be art?
         Q3 Does your understanding of beauty always have an emotional effect on a person? Can you be indifferent in the presence of beauty? The author seems to suggest that something morally evil could be beautiful if it charges us with emotion. How does this idea strike you?
         Q4 Beauty must also be arresting in that the observer disregards everything else. A stereotypical example would be men who trip and fall because they are looking at a beautiful woman instead of where they are going. Have you ever felt compelled to look or listen to a work of art? Would you say that an arresting quality is a part of beauty?
         Q5 As we saw in part one, the author believes that struggle is the most important indicator of value and meaning in people's lives. While we all struggle daily to live we also struggle to create in an artistic sense in areas of our life were the struggle becomes a joy rather than a burden. The presence of our joy in the struggle makes the creation a great work of art. In the aggregate of these works we can see the sense of life and values of a society. Does joy in our struggle create art in your mind? Can pain and heartache ever be joyful for the recipient? Can a productive artist ever not take joy in his or her struggle?
         Q6 The difference between postmodern beauty and all other definitions of beauty is that postmodern beauty is in the person's actions and comes out (is only seen and/or understood) through a work of art. Modern and all others concepts of beauty look for beauty in the work of art. For the postmodern appreciator of art, the beauty of the Mona Lisa is in the work of Leonardo da Vinci not in the painting itself – the painting itself is the material left over evidence of great work. Therefore an exact colour photocopy of the Mona Lisa would not be as beautiful – it would be another degree of separation from the left over beauty that is the actual painting. Do you see any advantages to this distinction? How does this idea make you feel about copies of art works? Does this explain the difference in value between authentic works and forgeries? In painting, a fake is not by the a credited artist; in photography, a fake is not a true representation of the subject: does photoshopping a photo make it more beautiful or less beautiful? Is a photoshopped photo something new – neither photography nor painting?
         Q7 It is not the art that speaks to us; it is the liberated labour. Art is not transcendent; liberated labour has been present since the beginning of humanity. What do we lose by this change in emphasis? What do we gain? Is it a net loss or a net gain for your lived experience with art?
         Q8 Is good art necessarily revolutionary? Do artists really have to be against some aspect of the status quo? Isn't everyone against some aspect of the status quo?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren