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Ovi Symposium; Ninth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2013-09-26 10:24:29
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Drs. Nannery, Paolozzi and Paparella
Ninth Meeting: 26 September 2013




nannery01Dr. Lawrence Nannery has studied at Boston College, Columbia University and at The New School for Social Research where he obtained his Ph.D. He founded The Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal and authored The Esoteric Composition of Kafka’s Corpus. Devising Nihilistic Literature, 2 vols. Mellen Press.


enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.


papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.


Table of Content for the 9th Meeting of the Ovi Symposium (9/26/2013)

Section 1: A Presentation from Dr. Lawrence Nannery: “Picasso’s Guernica as a model.”
Section 2: The Tension between Art and Politics: an Art Historian’s Perspective on Picasso’s Guernica.
                addendum by way of dialogue from an interview with art historian Patricia Failing
Section 3: A Presentation from Dr. Ernesto Paolozzi: “On Translations” as translated from his book
               L’Estetica di Croce.
Section 4: A Presentation from Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella: “The Definition and Nature of Art as a
               Problematic of Aesthetics” from the concluding chapter of the Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of
               Great Western Philosophers.
Section 5: Table of Content of Dr. Paparella’s Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Wester Philosophers
Section 6: “ A Call to a New Humanism for the Renewal of Western Culture” by Dr. Emanuel L.  Paparella



Picasso’s  Guernica as a Model
A Presentation by Lawrence Nannery

Picasso’s Guernica was the greatest painting of the 20th century, and remains unexampled.  This means that almost all of modern painting in the West is unworthy.

It is a hard saying that modern art (i.e., painting) is unworthy, but Guernica shows that it is.  Immediately after the completion of this great work, all the other painters had to run for cover, in effect denying it its due place.  No one ever cared to copy it and therefore 20th century painting ran along paths of irrelevance.  A good example of this is the school of Surrealism, which takes dreams as the source of art, but disables itself by buying into Freud as the genius behind the truth in painting.  Freud was a one-dimensional thinker if there ever was one, everything being reduced to sexual motives, confusing sex with pornography.  This shortcut cut off the possibility of getting at the truth of art, since Freud’s ideas all contradict each other.  The high priest of dreamtime had no business in reality.

Picasso threw himself into this work, all-important to him, so rightly gauged.  He was relevant to the age, which was evil, and he created a gigantic painting that is an indictment of the human race itself.  For that reason alone it will stand against all other painting in the 20th century, not to mention the even more irrelevant 21st century.

While Picasso stood up and told the truth, everyone else stood around wondering what the word “truth” means.

When one views Guernica for the first time, one feels the passion and the weightiness of it.  Even more, its form is adequate to its content; the black and white strips the painting of color, which by itself shows the inadequacy of art to help.  And not only art, but sympathy, rage, and fellow feeling.  It is immediate, overbearingly huge, and goes directly to the only emotion it intends to arouse: anger and indignation.

Picasso was accused of propaganda, but nothing could be further from the truth, for the reason that the Spanish military broadcast over the radio every single day during that time its desire to kill everything, men women and children, and the dogs and pigs and buildings.  At the same time, the head of the German Air Force in Spain gave a speech from behind his desk, on film, claiming credit for killing the most Communists by indiscriminate bombing with pride.

People who would believe the idea that Picasso was a mere propagandist are not worthy of art, and perhaps not even of society.

Since the time of Guernica’s composition art has suffered mightily.  We have witnessed:

Art as decoration;

Art as fun;

Art as irony;

Art as technique;

Art as graphic design;

Art as a game;

Art as madness;

Art as a put on;

Art as advertising;

Art as a way of becoming famous;

Art as propaganda; and, most important

Art as an investment for the rich.

It is a sobering thought, but these tendencies have eaten up art.  The art market is a whirligig, with everyone guessing what will sell for many times its price.  Such an unworthy game is beneath contempt, and beneath comment.

The only proper response to this great work of art is the one I had, despite myself. 

Having heard about the painting and having read about it in magazines, I took myself to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1963, since I was at that time residing at Columbia University.  I had to ask directions to the painting, after having wandered about for an hour or so, and was directed to a certain stairway as the best path to the great work.  As soon as I got to the landing, the painting, which took up more than the entire view from outside the room, lured me.  I put my head down so as not to look directly at it until I could see it whole.  What happened was one of the great events of my life: I was flung backwards despite myself, all the way into the entrance way and beyond, coming within inches of falling down the staircase.

I hold this to be the only adequate reaction to that great work.  The effects would never leave me – God blessed me in this way.  For this is the only real way to be affected by art: as a revelation; as an attempt to set the world aright; as the meaning of life; and as a refutation of all forms of mere sophistications.


Picasso’s Guernica



The Tension between Art and Politics:
by way of dialogue: an Art Historian’s Perspective on Picasso’s Guernica:
Excerpts from an interview with art historian Patricia Failing
(professor of Art History at the University of Washington
and author of Best Loved Art from American Museums)

Brief comments by the Symposium coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella: Upon reading Larry Nannery’s presentation  on Picasso’s Guernica, I was immediately brought back to the debate between Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz on the nature of poetry vis a vis politics. This is a thorny problem of aesthetics in some way illustrated in that wonderful Italian movie Il Postino starring the late Neapolitan actor Massimo Troisi; a movie that properly interpreted is about the nature of poetry and art. The problematic seems to be this: when is the line crossed between art and politics? Should there be a line to begin with? Can art become political propaganda and if so, is it still art? Should it be disseminated as such? Should the two be kept separate and distinct, especially if we concur with Croce’s assertion that art is by its own nature free of all fetters and constraints including that of ethics, as Ernesto Paolozzi has also amply elucidate in his Ovi e-book and in this very symposium? It then occurred to me that here in the US there is an expert in the field of Art History who has been teaching, thinking and writing on the issue for decades now. I refer to Professor Patricia Failing who teaches Art History at the University of Washington. I wish to quote verbatim and without any comment, some of her musings on the conundrum of the relationship of art to politics. I trust that this particular perspective of a professional art historian, together with that of Paolozzi, Nannery and my own will stimulate further reflection and discussion, not only among us at the Ovi symposium but also among the magazine editors and its readers. For indeed free speech and the search for the truth is what Ovi magazine in general and the Ovi symposium are all about.

"One reason Guernica is considered a treasure in terms of art history is that it seemed to provide a bridge between what were considered by some to be antithetical poles: the idea of making an effective political statement and an effective artistic statement at the same time. And this is certainly one of the achievements of the Guernica project, that it was a third space between those two antithetical poles.

A lot of artists, who looked up to Picasso as the exemplar of Modernist practice in painting, were interested very much in being Modernists on the one hand, and still very concerned about larger political events and the larger political arena in which they could act as artists. You can find many attempts to bring these two concerns together into the same body of work, to be really expressive and exploratory in formal terms and still be able to make a very heartfelt political statement. And to find that the great master of Modernism was able to accomplish this goal somehow - the mere fact that this kind of resolution might be possible - is what had such an enormous effect on artists in the twentieth century.

Guernica betrays the stereotype of the Modern as the incredibly new and the incredibly, let's say, divorced from tradition, from academic practice. Because it's a painting that you don't necessarily associate with Modernism, and yet it makes an extremely important and extremely evocative Modernist statement at the same time. It did something that an academic painter would have loved to do, which is to take a very traditional theme and make it modern and make it relevant to a new time and a new audience and a new sensibility. That's a pretty big accomplishment.



There was, of course, a great deal of argument about whether or not it was really as effective a political statement as it could have been if it had been more accessible, if it had been more traditional. And also whether it was really the strongest artistic statement it could have been if it weren't so tied up with a specific political agenda.

When the painting was on tour around the world, there was a great deal of interest on the part of Communist Party members and Communist intellectuals about whether or not this painting would be able to communicate with anybody of the proletarian or worker class. And so you find that there was a lot of testimony collected over the years from people of the working class who saw Guernica. And they responded to it very powerfully, found that they were really just awestruck by this particular painting. It did seem to have an effect on people who you wouldn't think very likely to react in a positive way to this kind of elitist painting.

The controversy about whether or not this particular painting could really be an effective political tool never leaves the painting. Picasso himself later on said that painting is not for decorating apartments; it has a much broader social importance. And I think partly the tour was about finding confirmation of that belief." (From an Interview to Professor Patricia Failing of the University of Washington on Art and Politics).



On Translations
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(as translated from his e-book L’Estetica di Benedetto Croce)

As is well known, Croce denies that it is possible to execute a perfect translation of a literary text, and of other kind of texts. It is obvious that such a position is in certain aspects nothing but a necessary corollary of the already demonstrated unity between form and content. In fact, to translate a literary work means in effect to transfer a determined content into a new language, a new form. This is indeed an impossible operation as anyone who has attempted to translate any poet or even a poet who wrote in ancient language in a more modern version. It is not easy to contradict such an experience. It can happen that the translation is beautiful, or as they say, successful, ma it is never adequate to the text that has been translated.

This having been said, it is also true, that there may be particular cases wherein, at least from a psychological point, or as we could affirm, an empirical point of view, the general concept rigorously expressed will not find a uniform application. It would be simpler, for example, to translate from languages that have a certain affinity, from French to Italian rather than from German or Russian. Moreover, it appears to be easier to reproduce the atmosphere of universal works, even in verses, such as a Shakespeare drama, rather than that of a brief lyric poem by Ungaretti or Di Giacomo. Many other examples are possible, but finally it should be noted that it is paradoxical that the aesthetic pleasure we experience in reading or seeing a representation of Oedipus Rex is all due to the merit of its translator, as excellent as he may be as such, and not to the genius of the great Greek poet.

As is also known, they are all issues of an empirical nature which could be presented ad infinitum. In any case, the problem remains: why did Croce declare impossible a perfect translation while admitting the possibility of a re-evocation the poetic in the original as he puts it, understood in its most intimate expressive meaning. It seems to us that, even without an appeal to Croce’s statement, that it is exactly the logical possibility of re-evocation (distinct from a critical judgment or the specific ever-changing conditions within which the interpreter finds himself) that allows for a translation, which, if executed according to its re-evocation, always preserves something of the original, even it meets problems of a practical nature which remain insurmountable.

There is a Crocean paragraph in La Poesia, written almost half a century later than l’Estetica which supports our thesis. After having mentioned the utility of literary translations, some bad others faithful, seems to be attenuating his first radical position on translations. He focuses on those translations which can be branded as poetical, and writes that they “…moving from the re-creation of the original poetry, other sentiments can be added, as residing in those who receive it, which, because of a different historical condition or a different individual personality, are different and give rise to the translation which is the poetical being transferred from an ancient into a new soul.”

Therefore, the aesthetic translation, assumes a re-creation or a re-evocation of the poetic which one intends to translate, to then detach oneself from it because of personal or historic conditions which inevitably condition the activity of the translator. But given that translation assumes a re-evocation, the work of art cannot be completely lost when it is translated. This position needs to be deepened and perhaps the same Croce should have better clarified the issue.


Aesthetics as Science of Expression and General Linguistic
published by Croce in 1902 and translated in English in 2008


The Poetical and the non Poetical published in 1923
by Croce’s publisher Giuseppe Laterza of Bari Italy


Benedetto Croce:The Philosophy of History
and the Duty of Freedom by Ernesto Paolozzi
published as an Ovi e-book in June 2013
and available for free in the Ovi bookstore



The Definition and Nature of Art as a Problematic of Aesthetics
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella
(from the last concluding chapter of the Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers)

Note: by way of a dialogue on the crucial themes of the nexus of art and aesthetics, the freedom of art from ethics, the tension between art and politics, the harmony between the Good, the True and the Beautiful, as discussed so far in the Ovi symposium, I’d like to present for this meeting, in a slightly revised form, the last chapter of my e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers as it appeared in the Ovi bookstore in June 2013. For those readers interested in perusing the book, the table of contents appears after the presentation.

The simple all encompassing question “What is the nature and the definition of Art” is accompanied throughout history by corollary questions such as: “Is art synonymous with beauty or does it encompass the ugly and the abhorrent also?” or “Is a literal definition even possible?” or “What makes something a work of art?” or “Do the artist’s intentions make it art?” or “Does the so called artworld make it art?” or “Are judgments about Art objective or are they simply a matter of taste?” or “Is one artistic or aesthetic judgment as good as another?” or closer to our times, this thorny question: “Is contemporary art still art or is it a mere instrument of ideological provocation and propaganda?”

Some of those questions are in conflict with each other because they are derived from different assumptions. Larry Nannery, followed by comments from Art Historian Patricia Failing, has presented us today with an example of such conundrums via Picasso’s Guernica. Indeed, the range of those questions is philosophically wide and deep and great Western philosophers have taken up the challenge of defining (or perhaps refusing to define) art.

Let us first take a brief look at some of those conflicting views. The assertion that the intention of the artist is a crucial element in determining that something is a work of art stands in conflict with the assertion that it is the artworld that determines who is an artist in the first place, and what is a work of art. This authoritative and institutional approach of the artworld seems to be more inclusive than its rival theories since it includes the viewers who also determine how the work is received; it does not depend on mere qualities intrinsic to the work.

Moreover, the assertion that judgments about works of art are simply a matter of taste (Hume) stands in conflict with the assertion that those judgments are objective and based on universal reason (Kant). The case of Impressionism, as indeed all great schools of painting, would suggest that judgments about art cannot be a mere matter of individual taste or preference, in the eye of the beholder, as the saying goes, especially if that eye is defective and cannot distinguish colors. Not many would agree today with the viewers who in 1880 claimed, erroneously by hindsight, that a Monet landscape was poorly executed and therefore not a genuine work of art. The assertion that one aesthetic judgment is as good as any other stands in conflict with the assertion that some individuals are much better qualified than others to make judgments about art.

It is worth mentioning here that the term “aesthetics,” since the times of Immanuel Kant, who coined it in the 18th century, has been used as synonymous for “philosophy of art.” It derives from the Greek word aisthanesthai which means to perceive; practically synonymous with “sensory.” This indicates that philosophers of that time saw our experience of beauty, be it natural or artistic, as primarily a sensory matter. Since then aesthetics has become the accepted characterization of the philosophical study of art. Later, Hegel restricted it to artistic works made by man within human history, thus eliminating natural beauty.

For Hegel, aesthetics is no longer exclusively concerned with beauty per se. That of course begs the question: what exactly are aesthetic properties? That is an important consideration since philosophers such as Heidegger, Danto and Goodman, all agree that art objects have properties that are not present in other things, albeit they don’t all agree as to what those properties are. Which begs the question: don’t we need to agree first that something is a work of art before we attribute such artistic properties to it, or can we attribute those properties to anything at all as long as we choose to view it as art? If I am able to admire the simplicity of my computer’s keyboard, does that make it a work of art independent of its utility as a means of communication? In other words, which is the cart and which is the horse here?

And that brings us to the most thorny issue of all, the question: Is contemporary art still art? Its critics have called it “the rule of surprise novelty and provocation,” having little to do with genuine art. It would be enough to read the fierce controversies in newspapers over public funding of art, to realize why some hostile critics believe that Mapplethorpe’s confrontational photography, Karen Finley performance art, or Nigerian painter Chris Ofili’s Virgin Mary, seem to them to have lost touch with the values realized in earlier art.

Heidegger for one, in his The Origin of the Work of Art reveals an aspiration that art should return to what he considers its authentic mission: the revelation of the historical world that produced it. On the other hand there are other philosophers, such as Danto, Piper, Korsmeyer, who challenge the very idea of art with a mission, redolent of political propaganda, and see in contemporary art possibilities for novel expression. So, the dialogue goes on and it is good that it does. It would appear that art is integral part of man’s historical journey and consequently it changes as the journey takes different routes and the destination of that journey becomes clearer. After all, the jury on the whole of man’s epic journey is still out and so is the jury on the whole of man’s artistic production through time and space.

Having explored some of the conflicting views of art and its definition, we are left with this challenge: How are we to understand art? How are we to interpret the great success of a contemporary play such as Art by Yasmina Reza which raises those very questions? Could it be that ordinary people are just as concerned with the issue as the enlightened intelligentsia? Of course painting and the visual arts in general remain paradigmatic of the quintessential art form. Schopenhauer would not agree, he thought music had that role, but he is the exception not the rule. Dante might think that the privilege belongs to poetry. Yet, the privileging of an art form over another could also be seen as a bias affecting the general applicability of any theory of art presented.

If we survey the various Western philosophers interested in aesthetics we will discover that it is possible to reduce their answers to the question What is the nature of art? To three basic groups: the first group, the most prevalent to be sure, do attempt a definition of art. This is the approach taken by the first philosopher to be interested in art, Plato, who defines it as imitation. This search for a clear definition continues throughout the centuries, even among those who rejected Plato’s definition.

With the advent of analytic philosophy at the turn of the 20th century, a style influenced by mathematical logic, the project seems to have become one of specifying necessary conditions for the application of the concept “art.” It is felt by these philosophers that for the term to be meaningful, there must be criteria by which to tell what is and what is not a work of art. In surveying and assessing the validity of those definitions of art one has to keep well in mind the distinction between what is classificatory and the evaluative sense of the term “art.” Most attempts are classificatory, that is to say, they try to distinguish what is art from what is not. For example, the imitation theory of Plato proposes that only those things that are imitations of “the real world” are works of art. A white canvas on a wall would be excluded from the class of artwork for it imitates nothing.

Sometimes art is not used in this descriptive way, but rather in an evaluating manner, as when we judge that the white canvas on a wall is not art because it isn’t something a knowledgeable art lover should take very seriously, which of course leaves no room for judging a second rate or inferior work of art. Let us take one purported definition, that of art as a communication of emotion between the creator and the audience. Any object, be it a painting, a poem, a symphony, would fail to be art if it failed to achieve that kind of communication. Here too, the possibility of art being done badly is precluded, but in philosophy too the possibility of doing bad philosophy remains open for philosophy to remain philosophy.

The tendency is to think about art objects in abstraction from anything else, as analytical philosophy tends to do, but even a white canvas can be art only because it is situated in a complex set of relationships. Other elements include the artist as creator of the work as well as the audience experiencing it, plus the conventions governing the art form and art as a whole, modes of artistic training, etc. Here philosophers differ as to which elements are crucial. As we have seen in another meeting, some, such as Collingwood, focus on the artist even excluding the work itself. Even more counter-intuitively the French literary theorist Roland Barthes thinks of the audience as the real site of artistic meaning. Others, such as Martin Heidegger, view the whole complex of relationships as crucial. So when one wishes to define the nature of art, one must decide for oneself which relationship is most important or you must conclude with Heidegger that the whole should be the object of the definition rather than any of its aspects.

The second approach to the central question of the philosophy of art, what makes something a work of art?, is skepticism about the very possibility of a definition. This is how the skeptic argues: art is itself a phenomenon which by its very nature defeats all attempts to define it. Given that originality is a central value, at least in contemporary art, the artist (be he a painter, or composer, or writer) is constantly trying to break the boundaries of what is considered art. Certainly Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain did so. Duchamp took a mass produced urinal, signed it with the name “R. Mutt,” gave it the title Fountain, and then submitted it for exhibition. Now, if the mere act of naming, signing, and displaying a mass-produced urinal could result in a work of art, how can we specify in advance what sorts of things can be so defined? After all, isn’t art precisely the sort of phenomenon that breaks conventions and challenges the previous convictions about what are is? And if that is so, doesn’t its very nature dictate the impossibility of definition?

These doubts about the possibility to define art were raised in the later part of the 20th century. Within the British analytic tradition we have Morris Weitz while within the continental European tradition we have Jacques Derrida. To be sure, while they have radically different conceptions of what is the function of philosophy, they nevertheless agree that the philosophical tradition was mistaken in assuming that the appropriate goal for the philosophy of art was defining art’s nature. They both, in their own way, see art as defying the theorist’s ability to conceptualize it.

This approach to the definition of art is an instance of the broader strategy of anti-essentialism, a philosophic position going all the way back to Aristotle proposing that a variety of different particulars can all be referred to by the same word, or fall under the same concept—only if there is a common essence or nature that they all share. For example, the reason each of us can be called a person is that there is an essence to personhood which we all possess. Entities lacking the essence, such as stones and sticks are not persons. While sometimes the boundary may not be very clear (computers with rational properties, or extra intelligent animals like dolphins, for example), most of the times it is possible to distinguish between things that do and things that do not possess this essence.

This will to define art’s nature is an instance of essentialism. It assumes that art has an essence that can be identified theoretically. Finding this essence allows us to determine whether any given object is or is not art. But it is exactly this essentialism that has come under fire in the 20th century. What is at issue is the adequacy of the Aristotelian account of how our conceptual schemes, or our language, work. It is no longer taken as logical that recourse to essences is necessary to explain our ability to refer to a class of objects by a common term. The bases of the traditional account of essences has been exposed as inadequate. For example, the Aristotelian adage that man is a rational animal, privileges rationality which according to the same Aristotle men possess in abundance and women conspicuously lack, while ignoring imagination, intuition, emotions, characteristics in which women excel. In other words, this search for essences may hide unacknowledged political agendas which identify certain characteristics as essential to a given type, and stigmatize other characteristics as defects.

Descartes did something like that with his debunking of fairy tales and literary works of imagination which he considered suitable for children but not worthy of people with a full-fledged rationality, a rationality robbed of intuition, imagination and feelings. The 19th century partially corrected that blind spot with Rousseau’s famous slogan “I feel, therefore I am,” but Vico had already pointed out the fallacy in the previous century in his magnum opus The New Science (1725), not to speak of Croce’s speculation on the subject as elucidated by Ernesto Paolozzi.

In a similar way, when it comes to defining art, attempts at a definition have been used both to legitimize certain types of art and denigrate others. For example, Clive Bell’s “significant form” champions post-impressionist painting and excludes the naturalistic world. African artists such as Jegede and Appiah  point out the bias of Eurocentric art based on abstract principles of universality against Afrocentric art based on the particularity of individual cultures. Indeed, the issue is far from resolved. In the absence of necessary and sufficient conditions which the essentialist project privileges, how should we understand the functioning of general terms such as “art”? If anything and everything can be art, then logically, nothing is art.

The third approach to a definition of art is the contextual approach as championed by the thought of Hegel. He treated art as a form of philosophical, and ultimately timeless, truth, but he also characterizes it as a series of stages of development realized in different historically and culturally specific contexts. Vico had already postulated three cyclical developments of history (corsi and ricorsi: a spiral moving forward toward an ultimate telos or goal) in the 18th century, but he was largely ignored. Subsequent philosophers, although not as confident as Hegel in the ultimate progression of art toward Truth (a sort of inevitable progress or manifest destiny), nevertheless took from him the idea that the nature of art could be understood properly only as expression of those contexts. Rather than trying to develop a single abstract definition of art these modern theorists (such as Walter Benjamin, Douglas Davis) have focused on art’s changing social role; they don’t treat art as a unitary phenomenon, but, without dismissing the possibility of a definition, they emphasize the socially conditioned transformations in its nature.

There are various reasons why these philosophers, many of them influenced by Karl Marx’s philosophy, Adorno and Benjamin jump to mind, are not interested in defining art. They think that those definitions are too abstract and arrive at too high a level of generality. As far as they are concerned, it is more important to understand the actual or concrete functioning of art in particular historical and social contexts than it is to devise a definition that will apply to all contexts. They are suspicious of the universalizing totalizing tendencies of Western philosophy. They follow Marx’s claims about the nature of society and operate within a framework that treats economic and material issues as basic. For them all that is generally called “culture,” including art, is part of the superstructure. They are convinced that the developments of the material base are decisive in the understanding cultural changes in the superstructure. Consequently, to understand art it is important to take note of the changes in the general material structure of society. For example, fundamental changes in the social organization of production and exchange associated with the rise of the bourgeoisie, is as important as understanding changes in the mode of artistic production.

As Marx quips in the first volume of Das Kapital, to illustrate this point, Don Quixote suffered for not realizing that knight errantry was incompatible with all economic structures; this explains why photographically reproduced art and the development of computer-related graphics’ technology interest these philosophers. Indeed, from their point of view, the very nature of art is fundamentally altered by such material or technological developments. With the development of technologies of reproductions—first the photograph and the copying machine, now the computer, it appears that art objects, or at least replicas of them can be endlessly disseminated. Instead of having to travel to Paris to see the Mona Lisa, we can now call up and infinite number of images of the original while sitting at our terminal. We can even “enhance” those images at our heart’s content. Indeed, for all those theorists that operate in this third paradigm, the focus now shifts to this crucial question “How do such developments in the mode of artistic production and dissemination affect art’s very being?” There is wide agreement that these developments are important and decisive, not so on the nature of their effects.

Another fundamental issue for those theorists within the third paradigm is the role that art plays in society. There is a general consensus for the view, which dates back to Kant, that art as requiring our disinterested contemplation, that is to say, an awareness untainted by specific interests, desires, or concerns is simply inadequate to the understanding of the function of art. The question, then shifts to art’s relation to social structures, be they economic, gender, racial or sexual.

On the one hand, the arts are often seen as challenging prevailing social norms. The artist is conceived as a rebel who stands apart from society to condemn it. Think of Manet’s Lunch on the grass. Here art celebrates the potential of the human species and condemns society for suppressing it. As Habermas has aptly put it: “Art satisfies an emancipatory interest, the desire to be free of unnecessary and oppressive social constraints.” But on the other hand, it is hard to ignore the role that some art, especially popular art, plays in society. Adorno’s phrase “the Culture Industry” indicates how art has been assimilated into the same structures that dominate the production of material goods. We can all recall films that more than genuine works of art, are cultural products that serve to strengthen or solidify the status quo and potentially oppressive social relationships. They may be executed artistically and be aesthetically pleasing, but they are also propaganda. “Triumph of the Will” by Leni Riefenstahl is a case in point; it is considered the archetype of propaganda films depicting the apotheosis of the yearly Nazi meetings and all the more effective because it is aesthetically pleasing. Philosophers concerned with those social functions of art will continue to ask whether the arts in our time function to challenge or support these relationships. They will undoubtedly continue to investigate how changes in the production and dissemination of artworks affect their meaning.

All of the above begs this question: Has art’s cultural authority been undermined by technological and social development? How does art function to support the dominant social order? Has the culture industry succeeded in bypassing and even cashing in on gestures of artistic transgression? Or does art continue to play a socially and culturally subversive role?

Philosophers have puzzled over art as long as philosophy has existed. The development of the arts of the 20th century, especially in painting, have only deepened the puzzlement. Originally, it seemed evident that art generally strove to accurately represent what it depicted. That theory was left behind once in the late 19th century and 20th century of schools of painting that eschewed accuracy of representation. It is enough to think of post-impressionist painters such as Van Gogh and Munch whose paintings seem more concerned with depicting the artist’s anguish than representing anything. With the advent of abstract and conceptual art, all the traditional approaches to understanding art were discarded.

These historical developments explain why the 20th century has provided such rich and lively discussions in the philosophy of art. As Collingwood points out, art as we understand it was not distinguished from its earlier meaning of an activity requiring specialized skills. Hence, not until the 19th century did the philosophy of art come into its own as a distinct philosophic discipline. But even 19th century reflections on art do not reveal the intensity of puzzlement and perplexity that clearly marks 20th century discussions, such as the ones we are currently having in the Ovi symposium.

The artwork displayed in museums of contemporary art bear only a faint resemblance to the works in museums dedicated to the art of earlier ages. To return to the play Art, mentioned above the three protagonists of that play almost dissolve their friendship because of a deep disagreement over the nature of art. Indeed, the French take their artistic allegiances very seriously. Most of us do not go that far, nevertheless we do share the same perplexities and anxieties about contemporary works of art. Indeed, our post-modern world has been called “the age of anxiety.” The ongoing dialogue among philosophers on the nature of art may not put to rest those perplexities and anxieties of ours but it may help us in two ways: not to reinvent the wheel, and to better understand the arts’ troubling presence in our contemporary world, for as Kant has well taught us in his Critique of Judgment, without understanding no true judgment is possible either. 


Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790)
lays the foundations for modern aesthetics


A reprint of the Library of Liberal Arts edition of 1965. Croce’s
Guide to Aesthetics presents one of the clearest and strongest defenses
of the intuitive nature of art in Western philosophical thought
(originally published in 1913)


L’Estetica di Benedetto Croce (2002)
by Ernesto Paolozzi


Aesthetics Theories of  Great Western Philosophers
Ovi e-book by Emanuel L. Paparella published in
June 2013 and available for free in the Ovi Bookshop



Table of Content of Paparella’s Ovi e-book Aesthetic Theories of the Great Western Philosophers

Preface…………………………………………………………….........................…….p. 3

Plato and Aristotle : Aesthetic as “Representation” and “Poetics”…p. 8

Vico: Aesthetic as Fantasia…………………………................………………….p.10

Kant: Aesthetic as Beauty………………………………………..............…..    p. 12

Schopenhauer: Aesthetic as Revelation………………….........…………   p. 15

Nietzsche: Aesthetic as Redemption………..........……………………….    p. 17

Hegel: Aesthetic as Ideal and Historical……………........………………    p. 19

Croce: Aesthetic as Intuition……………………………………….............     p. 22

Adorno: Aesthetic as Lighthearted and Liberatory………………....…   p. 26

Benjamin: Aesthetic as Auratic……………..........……………………….. .   p. 29

 Barthes: Aesthetic as Text…………………………............………………..    p. 31

Weitz and Derrida: Aesthetic as Indefinable and Deconstructable…p. 34

 Heidegger: Aesthetic as Truth……………………............…………………….p. 38

 Davis: Aesthetic as Digital Reproduction……......……………………...   p. 41

 Collingwood: Aesthetic as Expression……………........…………………   p. 45

 Goodman: Aesthetic as Symbolical……………….........…………………….p. 48

 Walton: Aesthetic as Make-Believe………………….........……………….   p. 50

 Beardsley: Aesthetic as Production………………….........………………….p. 53

 Freud: Aesthetic as Symptom of the Unconscious……...………………p. 56

 Dewey: Aesthetic as Experience………………………………........……......p. 59

 Hume: Aesthetic as Relativism……………..………………..........……………p. 62

 Conclusion: Art as a Problematic of Aesthetic………....……………….  p. 65 



William Blake’s God Creating the Universe



A Call to a New Humanism for the Renewal of Western Culture
By Emanuel L. Paparella

In his 1924 book on The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, Edwin Arthur Burtt wrote this perceptive passage: “An adequate cosmology will only begin to be written when an adequate philosophy of mind has appeared, and such a philosophy of mind must provide full satisfaction both for the motives of the behaviorists who wish to make mind material for experimental manipulation and exact measurement, and for the motives of idealists who wish to see the startling difference between a universe without mind and a universe organized into a living and sensitive unity through mind properly accounted for. I hope some readers of these pages will catch glimmerings of how this seemingly impossible reconciliation is to be brought about. For myself I must admit that, as yet, it is beyond me” (p. 324).

We are now in the 21st century but despite Whitehead’s process philosophy and cosmology, and Sagan’s and Hawking scientific cosmological schemes the above mentioned reconciliation has yet to fully appear. To be sure there are some encouraging signs on the horizon. I am thinking here of scientists at the cutting edge of quantum physics already lying the foundations for a new revolutionary cosmology. See The Quantum Self by Danah Zohar (1990) and The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot (1991). I would like to suggest that the bridge between the extremes of scientism and idealism may well prove to be Vico’s philosophy of history, correctly understood.

As we have already intimated, for Vico the historical course of civilizations within a providential order is that “Men first feel necessity, then look for utility, next attend to comfort, still later amuse themselves with pleasure, thence grow dissolute in luxury, and finally go mad and waste their substance” (SN 241). Thereafter, when a society at the last stage of development in its “barbarism of reflection” fails to heal itself by taking responsibility for its history, the Vichian ricorso takes place, i.e., the return to primitivism and barbarism which restores simplicity, religion and poetic wisdom (SN, 1106). It is that ricorso which saves Man by preserving his humanity.

Here we need to return to Vico’s concept of Providence, the centerpiece of his speculation. Anselm and Aquinas have taught us that God is the prototype of the thinker in as much as he creates being by thinking it. Vico too, as we have seen, points out that thinking and making are one and the same for God. Therefore, in as much as God has granted his own Logos to both being and the organs of knowledge, “created being” is “thought being” that bears traces of the divine intellect. Vico patterns this convertibility of thinking and making to man’s artifacts and shows that Man is capable of truly knowing only what he himself has made. He will never comprehend fully either nature or its Maker, at least here within time and space.

And here lies the root of contemporary Man’s cultural malaise: in the presumptuous conviction that the human mind can and in fact will in the future encompass God’s mind. At that point Man will be a god of sorts. As we have pointed out above, Vico describes thus the last stage of deterioration of a whole civilization: “And finally they go mad.” What brings about the madness is the delusion of being a god which is nothing else but the worshipping of one’s cleverness and its derivations; what the Bible calls idolatry. This is the real original sin: the stubborn refusal to be a creature and the arrogant attempt to become a god. This is the secret wish of Adam surfacing in Hawking who boldly declares that “then we shall know the mind of God.” In other words, then we shall narcissistically worship ourselves as the creators of the eighth day of creation.

Surveying ancient history we see a Roman Empire at the summit of its splendor and organizational genius, when unaided human power could go no further, producing a Caligula, perhaps the most representative of the Roman emperors and a civilization on the brink of its own self-destruction gone mad with the worship of its own achievements. Rome becomes a goddess too. Caligula proudly leads the Roman army to the shores of Northern Gaul and commands his generals to collect shells on the beach for him. A god need not give justifications for his whims.

Closer to us, we still have on German soil an American army wonderfully equipped with all kinds of technologically sophisticated weapons (smart bombs, computer guided tomahawk missiles, stealth bombers, and so on). They are there as part of Nato to protect the Western Europeans (now known as the EU) against a Soviet Union no longer in existence. The Germans on the other hand not too long ago were still paying the salaries of the Russian soldiers still on former East German soil. Nobody envisaged or expected the new threat to the West which arrived on 9/11. This confusion is typical of a civilization which in its technological hubris has perfected the means and neglected the goals. A civilization that by idolatrous self-adoration of its own cleverness ends up discarding the living God.

As Carl Sagan puts it at the end of the introduction to Hawking’s A Brief History of Time(1988): “Hawking is attempting, as he explicitly states, to understand the mind of God. And this makes all the more unexpected the conclusion of the effort, at least so far: a universe with no edge in space, no beginning or end in time, and nothing for a Creator to do” (p. x). This is the Cartesian mind-set at work: first God is made the underpinning of one theory of knowledge. Eventually He is discarded as superfluous. For indeed, in our consumer-produced society, having nothing to produce is the equivalent of being superfluous. Once God has been made superfluous, then anything is possible and allowed. As Dostoyevsky points out in his The Brothers Karamozov, if there is no God authority itself loses it legitimacy. Then the world will be governed by Machiavellian “virtù” and “fortuna” with man asserting himself in the world as amoral energy. Inevitably the “will to power” will tend to replace the “will to truth.” The gulags and the lagers become not only thinkable but possible. This is the “sickness unto death,” a “self-forgetfulness” of one’s nature, the final dehumanization of Man.

This is the dead-end on which Man is presently embarked in a closed world utterly immanent and deprived of any transcendent principle. When Man in his freedom wills such a world God respects that freedom and simply leaves it alone. He becomes the absent God. As J. Ellul renders it: “The silence of God entails the disappearance of the very meaning of western history. The paradox that is the West exists no longer…The West is dying because it has won over God” (The Betrayal of the West). Those are powerful words. Perhaps more than any other contemporary thinker, Ellul has pointed out that we are the heir of Cartesian world, both in theory and in practice. That is the logic behind a dehumanized world emphasizing technological progress at the expense of Man’s humanity. Ellul calls it the world of “efficient ordering” implying the transformation of all the spheres of human activity, be they productive, political, and even psychological, into systems of order arrived at through technology. All spheres of life are ultimately converted into procedures and structures. Humanistic thought rooted in imagination and intuition is simply excluded from this kind of efficient ordering (See J. Ellul’s The Technological Society, 1964). What lies behind this modern phenomenon is the Cartesian scientific mind-set.

Way back in the seventeenth century, the Cartesian mind-set envisioned the machine as a tool to systematically order human experience through a rationalistic division and conversion into procedures of all the processes of the human world. Vico intuited that in that kind of technological world little room is left for works of humanistic imagination (e.g., literature, the arts, history, philosophy, ethics); i.e. the very modes of thought and sentiment through which Man may attempt to understand himself. It is this inability to associate humanistic thought with truth that lies at the root of contemporary technocratic mentality and its sheer inability to provide a unifying vision of the whole of human knowledge.

As Gilkey has pointed out, in that kind of world human beings become the servants rather than the masters of the very organizations they have created. The worth of an individual will not be conceived as intrinsic to his humanity any longer but as related to his contribution to an effective, efficient part of a social scheme. Any sort of transcendence over the social system, any inwardness and creativity are not only not appreciated but more often than not they are discouraged. The individual is seen as a mere cog in the system: a producing and consuming machine devoid of any inwardness. Robocop will be seen as a better law enforcement agent than a human being who has fears and emotions and more liable to make a mistake.

What is highly ironic is that this cultural disaster and impoverishment has come to pass in the “Christian” West which has always valued, at least in principle, the transcendent dignity of the individual. After all, the inalienable rights enshrined in the US Constitution were not invented by Thomas Jefferson one fine day. They were already intrinsic part of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Christianity has always conceived them as rights that inhere to the reality of the human spirit; what used to be called soul but is today called “software.” One cannot be too far from the truth in asserting that this degeneration of the concept of human spirit is directly related to our civilization’s present state of dehumanization. Indeed, to live by bread alone, for one’s belly, is to have sold one’s soul for a bowl of lentils, and ultimately to die spiritually.

Spiritual destitution lies at the root of our external problems such as the ecological devastation wrought on nature and threatening to swallow both nature and civilization. The prophetic warnings of 1984 and Brave New World ring even truer today. We live in a world preoccupied with economic issues and oblivious of social justice, integrity and compassion. As the world gets more efficiently orderly, it seems to become less free, less dynamic and innovative, even less affluent, at least for the majority given the widening gap between rich and poor. Presidents talk of a “gentler kinder nations” and “compassionate conservatism” but the sad reality is the sense of being at the threshold of a new Dark Age, when the “barbarians of the intellect” are already inside the citadel of civilization as we know it.

So the pressing question seems to be this: how could a culture issuing from a dynamic, creative civilization extolling Man’s dignity and grandeur such as the Italian Renaissance have stooped so low? How did we end with “thought police” inside the very citadel of thought and free speech? The answer cannot be given by science. Only speculative philosophy or theology can attempt one. Gilkey has already intimated one when he declared that “technology by itself, or technical-manipulative reason when made the exclusive form of reason and of creativity possesses a built-in element that leads to its own destruction and eventual destruction of all it manipulates.”

Now, if our very cleverness has brought us to this impasse, what hope is there left?

I would suggest that in order to recover hope, humanity needs to recover its sense of a transcendent power beyond reason (which is not to say irrational, far from it), able to temper this built-in evil which seems to be present in what we, who live in an “enlightened” culture, presently consider normal and even good. There is undoubtedly a vast gulf in our present civilization between that for which and toward which man is oriented and the wretched reality in which he finds himself. Dante, as well as the Bible, call this gulf "sin." This reality can hardly be understood in a society where sin and guilt are either excused as neurosis or exorcised by one’s analyst.

Indeed, modern man finds himself at the crossroads. He needs to make a choice between a dangerous delusion of being capable of his own redemption and salvation, that a few more technological wonders will do the trick, or to live in the apathy of a “quiet desperation,” or to muster the courage for a genuine concern for the meaning of his humanity. Only that concern can arrest the process of dehumanization. But in order to make this crucial choice he needs a concept of what it means to be human and how nature, history and humanity are part of a larger spiritual whole. In theological circles this goes by the name of “creation spirituality.” In more traditional and simpler words, Man must know himself.

We like to envision Jonathan Edwards and the Calvinists as men obsessed by the concept of original sin but a proper understanding of original sin would make Man conscious of the fact that he cannot justify and redeem himself through technology. But then, how does Man express this unity with nature in the light of the modern post-Kantian consciousness of human freedom and the autonomy of the human conscience? The German theologian Bonhoffer pointed out that modern scientific man has done away even with a working hypothesis of God because he is convinced that everything works just as well without Him. This seems to be modern man’s dilemma, how to avoid, on one hand, the pitfall of subjugation to nature, and on the other hand, that of abusing nature for his own “superior” goals. To overcome this dilemma man must be confident of being capable of transcending nature without destroying it.

At this juncture of mankind’s journey the rediscovery of Vico appears to me providential. It may be one of the best alternatives available within Western culture between two extremes: Cartesian technocratic man on one hand, and Nietzschean charismatic man on the other. As we have seen, Vico’s truth—while aiming for the transcendent— remains at all times open to existence and its contradictions. His historicism may be evolutionary but it is never deterministic as a Fontanelle’s or a Nietzsche’s. Vico insists throughout his speculation that the historian must not anticipate but rather interpret reality. He must always begin with the certum in order to understand the verum.

After Croce’s discovery and popularization of Vico in Italy in the 20th century, modern scholars began to understand, although confusedly at first, that (1) Vico is indeed very modern in his insistence on a pragmatic approach to thinking; in his insight that thought must be incarnate in life and experience and specifically the nature of history; (2) a mode of thinking that jettisons outright from the flux of reality the pole of the particular and concrete with its inherent contradictions, is a mere game of intellect and cannot possibly constitute thinking; (3) Vico’s merit is that of salvaging the particular from an abstract rationalism without falling into the trap, very common among positivists, of a purely materialistic dimension of reality; (4) Vico’s “ideal eternal history” is not idealistic; it is rather the conclusion of a long speculative process beginning with experience and the particular and always returning to origins; a far cry from Descartes’ scientism setting up the deductive demonstrations of geometry as the only criteria of certitude and reducing philosophical speculation to mere calculation, and the whole of experience to the observation of mere physical materialistic phenomena.

As an antidote for rampant Cartesian rationalism, Vico, way back in 1725, proposed his New Science. He correctly perceived that the whole of reality operates on two paradoxically related and complementary poles; for example, particular/universal, form/content, transcendence/immanence, free will/providence, barbarism/civilization, objective/subjective, passion/virtue, intuition/reason, spontaneity/reflection, matter/spirit, body/soul, poetic wisdom/reflective wisdom, tradition/progress, life/thought, and so on. This complementarity issues not from a rationalistic pseudo-unity of intellectual categories but rather from an organic unity derived from the phenomenon at its very origins.

Unfortunately, Vico was not accorded an attentive hearing in the 18th century. In philosophy textbooks he is usually relegated to a footnote, if even mentioned. Even in today’s courses on myth, language and history, academics at best accord Vico a passing nod or a tip of the hat. In his autobiography, Vico mentions that his own colleagues would cross the street so they would not have to acknowledge and/or discuss the publication of his book. Indeed, academics are a strange lot. Paul Ricoeur, who has offered us some brilliant insights into the relationship between history and language, in his Time and Narrative (University of Chicago Press, 1985) dedicates the whole of chapter 10 to the hermeneutics of historical consciousness but does not bother to as much as to mention its progenitor. Vico is found in a footnote (n. 33, p. 310), in passing, within the context of Hayden White’s Tropics of Discourse, and Kenneth Burke’s Grammar of Motives. Moreover, a brilliant philosopher of science such as E.A. Burtt, already mentioned above, former professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago and Cornell University, investigates in depth the scientific thinking of Copernicus, Galileo and Newton in his classical The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (1924), points out the fallacies of modern scientific thinking, repeatedly mentions precursors from the Italian Renaissance who greatly influenced the development of scientific thinking (Tartaglia, Bruno, Campanella, Leonardo, Ficinus, Nicholas of Cusa, Patrizzi, Torricelli), and utterly ignores Vico’s New Science. Indeed, academics have never been overly kind to Vico’s scholarly fortunes. Various reasons have been proffered for this sad neglect, among which the fact that Vico was not a systematic thinker and could not therefore be easily pigeonholed. This intriguing phenomenon of Vico’s neglect in academic circles, which begins when he was still teaching at the University of Naples (where he never rose beyond the rank of Assistant Professor), and continues even today remains to be examined and studied carefully.

Be that as it may, the cultural malaise took its tragic course in the 18th and 19th century, till Nietzsche proposes the abandonment of rationalism on rational grounds, pronounces God dead and the Enlightenment dead with Him, and in order to revitalize a sick civilization proposes the creation of immanent values as discoverable at the very core of human nature. Nietzsche correctly perceives that these values spring from a primordial religious impulse in Man. The cultural disaster seems to occur when the pole of transcendence is abandoned and the will to power replaces the classical Platonic-Aristotelian will to truth. Nowhere is this more apparent than in modern academia where truth is piously professed but power is cavalierly practiced.

The disaster need not have occurred had Vico’s alternative been given a more serious and attentive consideration. Today, Vico is much better known than in his own century, however, he continues to be subsumed under idealism or romanticism and even under the Nietzschean rediscovery of the sacred. That is a mistake and a disservice to Vico’s thought. Vico’s signal contribution and importance consists in the fact that he is still today the most valid alternative between Cartesian rationalism ushering in technocratic man ready to efficiently order the world, and Nietzschean anti-rationalism ushering in charismatic overman devoid of transcendence and ready to transvaluate values and impose them on a world locked in a deterministic eternal return.

Let me end with an intriguing comment made recently by the philosopher Daniel C. Dennet on the dichotomy science/humanities which remains to be bridged by a third humanistic culture in between the two antagonistic ones of science on one side and that of the liberal arts on the other still opposing each other: “It's a two way-street. When scientists decide to ‘settle’ the hard questions of ethics and meaning, for instance, they usually manage to make fools of themselves, for a simple reason: They are smart but ignorant. The reason philosophers spend so much of their time and energy raking over the history of the field is that the history of philosophy consists, in large measure, of very tempting mistakes, and the only way to avoid making them again and again is to study how the great thinkers of the past got snared by them. Scientists who think their up-to-date scientific knowledge renders them immune to the illusions that lured Aristotle and Hume and Kant and the others into such difficulties are in for a rude awakening.”

Plenty of food for thought in that brief statement! Perhaps we in the Symposium ought to pause there and revisit the problem of C.P. Snow’s two cultures. In any case, it seems to me that the final question of this essay ought to be this: Will our over-rationalistic culture finally opt to change its current paradigm of reality and recover humanistic imaginative poetic modes of thinking as exemplified by the poetic philosophy of Vico or, more recently, by the philosophical ethical challenge of a Levinas? For, at this juncture of our historical journey, our very humanity may be at the crossroads and Vico may be the guide we desperately need in order to choose wisely and continue the journey on the right road to its final destination. Dante needed a wise guide to begin his arduous imaginative inner journey to his salvation. Can we afford to do any less?



Frontispiece of G. Vico’s New Science (1725)


 End of 9th Ovi Symposium Meeting (9/26/2013)


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