【艺术讲座】Anthony May | Philosophy of Art

2020-11-04伦艺北京办公室访问次数:
[BACA Talks]
Anthony May | Philosophy of Art
 
Date:2020.10.31, Saturday
Time:14:00-16:00
Language: English

 
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Raphael, The School of Athens
c. 1509-1511 (Online image)
 
What is art?
What is its purpose?
Do we need art?
 
The Ancient Greeks were continuously occupied with addressing the truth of the world and our experiences of it. How do we know that the world out there is really there? How can we confidently claim that there is a world existing independently of us? Can we trust our senses and experiences?
 
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Silanion, Sculpture of Plato
c. 370 BCE (Online image)
 
The Greek philosopher Plato sought the address the nature of the human experience in this world and to ask whether our claims about truth are justified. His philosophy was sceptical of our claims to know the outside world. Plato placed the idea that the world and even all man-made objects such as tables, chairs and candles have an original essence belonging to an eternal world of Forms (a perfect world separate from ourselves), leading to his conclusion that our lives are not based in a true reality.   
 
For Plato, art seeks to interpret the world we experience. However, if the world we see is just an illusion or a shadow of another world, then how can art claim to be representative of the ‘real’ world? Art, for Plato, is merely an imitation of an imitation. In this view, art acts more as a deception. It is a way of leading us away from seeking the truth about the world of Forms and into the dead end of self-delusion.
 
Plato famously wanted to ‘throw all poets out of the Republic.’ His often scathing attacks on art and artists stemmed from a philosophical outlook that viewed our understanding of the world according the principal that what we see is merely a representation of another reality.
 
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Edvard Munch, Portrait of Fredrick Nietzsche
1906 (Online image)

 
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche provides a rebuttal to the critical views laid down by Plato. Nietzsche’s argument does not simply take issue with the Platonic view of art, but the entire approach to philosophy. For Nietzsche, the pursuit of absolute truths is a dead end. His famous remark that ‘God is dead,’ means that the goal of philosophy has shifted and should seek instead to create new truths. Philosophy in this sense should be something that provides us with the means with which to look at ourselves internally and reassess what it means to be a human in this world.        
 
Philosophy in this sense turns away from the pursuit of the external world and finds new ground in the minds of every individual. And likewise, art becomes ‘internalized.’  Art takes on a central role in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Nietzsche goes even further in his defence of art, arguing that art is an essential part in one’s personality and character. Without art, one cannot understand one’s strengths as well as one’s weaknesses. It is pivotal that we have art to find out who we are and what we are capable of. As Nietzsche stated, ‘without music, life would be a mistake.’
 
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Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
1944 (Online image
 
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Max Ernst, Europe after the Rain II, 1940-42 
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, USA. (Online image)
 
Artists such as Max Ernst and Francis Bacon sought to find the root of their individual experiences in their art. In Ernst’s case, the deep lasting trauma of being a soldier in the First World War lead him to experiment and create alternative worlds of fantasy as a means of helping him come to terms with the horrors he witnessed. It appeared to be art more as a form of psychology rather than as a means to interpret the external world. An internalised art form. Art in this sense becomes a method with which to express inner thoughts and feelings as opposed to seeking to interpret the outside world. Such works are arguably the inner worlds of the individual artists themselves.
 
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Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998 (Online image)
 
How one views the purpose of art is ultimately a matter for one’s own internal thoughts. Disagreements as well as agreements will always play their part in attempting to understand what art is actually for and what it can achieve. And it is this that continues to drive philosophers of art today.
 
 
Anthony May | 梅安东

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Anthony May is an educator living and working in Beijing. He holds a MA in Philosophy and Political Science. He has always had a deep interest in art as well as the psychology of the artists themselves. His research interests include Friedrich Nietzsche, epistemology and the history of philosophy.    
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