Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Aesthetic realism and the self, cont.

In the Republic, a case is made for the desirability of a harmonious soul, or self. The soul is described as being comprised, in broad strokes, of three different kinds of drives: a love of immediate pleasures of various kinds - this is called "appetite" - a love of honor, or righteousness, which is called "spiritedness" or "courage," and a love of the True, the Beautiful and, ultimately, the Good, which is called "reason" or "wisdom." The claim that the character of Socrates makes is that it is the part of the soul that is responsive to the Good that is capable of maintaining harmony within the person. The name that is given to the virtue of being willing to be directed by that part, rather than by either of the others, is "moderation."

Now, anyone who has ever had to battle it out with themselves over anything will understand that it all hinges on this, on whether one can find a way to be willing to be governed by the requirements of the sweet spot (see post #2, March 10, 08). Most of the time the battle with oneself is a drag. Always one wants what one wants. But - and this is the point - one thing about doing any kind of art, even badly, that is so deeply satisfying is that it is a moment of reprieve in this regard. When you do art, moderation is effortless. The self is entirely subject, in the aesthetic context, to what I'll call the laws of truth and beauty (or to the object, we could say) -- yet somehow it's fine. In most other settings, one can only beg for this to be so. But somehow with art one is granted moderation as a freebie.

But maybe there are people who experience aesthetic activity as a kind of voluntaristic assertion of self, not involving this kind of deference at all. Are there?


littlejoke said...

Well, I've known a fair number of painters who regarded the creation of the work as a loving battle with the canvas. I've known more who lose themselves in the making, which is the only way I can create a painting or a poem: loss of "the ordinary self" in a psychological condition that is neither mystical experience nor trance but is not exactly waking consciousness either. "Getting it right" seems to depend on the internalization of rules of form that are learned by example, not by abstract instruction.

t-ruth said...

Hey! A person who isn't me! This thing works!

Well, that's interesting. A "loving battle with the canvas" suggests that there is something outside of oneself with which one is fighting, albeit lovingly. But I guess it also suggests that the point is to prevail. It's just that it so much seems as though you can't just pick to have it be that you have indeed "got it right" -- or decree that it's so. Are we sure that the rules of form are conventional? I'm not sure how to think about it. I mean: patently, they change, and there is room for disagreement, perhaps even contradictory judgments. But it just doesn't seem as though it's all convention. You can see why the form-as-real types are often attracted to mathematical relationships and entities, which they also think of as exiting objectively in some sense. The work here is being done by the "some" of course.

Anonymous said...

Reading this and the previous posts, I realize that I have never formed really solid opinions on these matters; therefore I shall only throw in a few sketchy ideas and questions. Actually I think I have already learned, thanks to your posts and the comments by the jcs, a partial answer to a question that has puzzled me for a long while: What are the differences between mathematics and art? And the answer I believe to have gleaned at last, is that in art the execution and the work, opus, or artefact, whatever you call it, are inseparable. That is why, even if what you say about the sweet spot is true, the work of art bears the mark of its creator. The work of art carries in its shape the brushstroke, the chisel scar, the metaphor the author was most partial to. Make a change in the creative process and you change the work. On the other hand, in mathematics the execution and the result, that is, the proof and the theorem, can be divorced. While the proof has properties that can be, and actually are by many, considered as aesthetic, the theorem itself lacks any of them. Reading a valid proof by an accomplished mathematician can be a veritable pleasure. Reading another valid proof of the same theorem by another person can be an excruciating ordeal. The theorem itself remains invariable; all it needs to be is that there be at least one valid proof of it. This holds independently of whether one believes mathematical objects to exist objectively or not.
Recently I saw an interview with some sculptor who said that all he did was to hew his figures out of the marble block in which the lay already formed waiting only for him to uncover them. Like your clay ceasing to shape shift. I have done so little artistic work myself that I wouldn’t presume to really know what I am talking about, but the previous descriptions of experience do seem to be quite similar to what I feel when I find that my work on a poem is at last completed. And yet I wonder whether it can be true that the artists fingerprint, even more his essence (think of what you said about portrait in your first post), is not all over his work. Maybe the artist does not need, maybe should consciously avoid, placing his self into the work, but then it should contain something of his (I realize I’m writing to a lady, I don’t mean any disrespect or exclusion by my use of the masculine gender) nature at the outset, something to resonate with his artistic intention. How could it be otherwise that two different artists will hew two completely different but equally great sculptures out of the same slab of stone? I am reminded of Sviatoslav Richter who believed that the interpreter should not add anything to the composer’s intentions, but then why do his renderings sound so distinctly as his own.
I’m overstaying my welcome already so just one more question in regard to beauty goodness and moderation, what do you think of what someone called the “problem of the evil artist” i.e. Stefan George or Ernst J√ľnger?
Are these maybe instances of what you refer to in your last question? I really don’t have a clue.