The Work of Art as an Intersection

pagal | 2021 10 09

A work of art is formed by human hands – hands in direct contact with a natural substance, which then takes on an individual form, conveying the vision of the artist into the human world and natural things. The natural thing is individualised by the primordial intersection of Being and pure relationship, and this initial individuality is isolated and heightened by metaphysical experience. The initial individuality of a thing of art, which appears at the intersection of Being and non-Being, remains and must remain throughout, however, the individuality created by the artist appears in the first stage, when separating the natural substance or natural thing from the anonymity of the pragmatic field, in this way enclosing the fading individuality within the palpable of the everyday and the appearance of commonalties. In the first chapter we stated that the painter frames things, humans and colours, the poet frames language, the musician sound, the architect tangible natural substances. Yet another layer of individualisation complements this individualising and isolating framing – the transfer of personal individuality by the artist to the work of art being created. The creation of art is an image prior to metaphysical experience, since already in itself creation is a series of individualised acts, revealing that openness toward a work of art is also, or at least should be, individual. Because a thing of art is distinguished as much by its own exceptional individuality as by that of its creator and observer, we may decidedly deem it a potential Phenomenon of Transcendence. In acquiring the secondary individuality established by the creator or the observer, the work of art somewhat or completely loses the initial individuality of a natural thing, and thus the substantiality of the work of art as a thing is weakened. If the natural thing is a complete substantial individual, where substantiality and individuality harmoniously fuse in the initial intersection, and between which there exists a settled but not hardened, stable yet constantly renewed dynamic balance, then in the object this balance easily and often disappears and tends toward either individuality without substance or substantiality without the individual. It is very difficult for the artist, as for every mortal creating the human world, to balance upon the blades of the ontological chisel; thus the artist always sways toward pure existence of the pure relationship and creates such an object, through which transcendentalism is revealed unilaterally though not as intensely as through the natural object. The perfect balance between existence and pure relationship and between substantialism and individuality is almost equal to the intensity of the main dispute occurring in the natural object, is the most essential characteristic of high or classic art and is attained only rarely. In the form of such a creation, maximal intersect with maximal dynamics; these two opposing elements appear not as two separate, artificially connected, organically not bonded, unrelated elements, which do not penetrate one another but as a continuous union of constancy and change, of peace and turmoil, of stability and the instability of ease.

Only if the artist succeeds in transforming the form of a work into the primordial intersection, that is, more intensely presenting that intersection, then the work of art becomes a valuable duplicate of the natural object and a complete Phenomenon of Transcendence. Then the individuality of the art thing branches into the depth of substantiality, and this depth rises to the surface through the deep or, as is more commonly said, meaningful form. Such a creation becomes foreign to everyday pragmatism with its feelings, interests, its quest for utility, at the same time impenetrable by the instrumental glance. Colour, the sound of a word, the texture of material reach unexpected intensity, radiating from within the depths of the creation; yet at the same time this intensity has depth only because it is constantly individualised to its maximum, and through the perfect form it completely rises to the surface. Only a classical work of art has true beauty – unrefined or disfigured, almost equal to the beauty of natural thing. The disclosure of the intersection, Being flowing into perfect form, each moment rising from the abyss of non-Being, in the classical work of art is almost as intense as in its natural pre-image. However, this „almost“ always remains, as the artist is never successful – and cannot be – in transferring the primary intersection. As is said, the human creation can never compare to Gods creation – the natural thing. The great thinkers and great masters understood this difficulty in artwork and named it mimesis. Great art in fact is only a replica of nature; the classical work of art is a secondary imitation of the natural thing.

Why and how does the intensity of the disclosure of the intersection in a work of art decline, while the revelation of Transcendence does not simultaneously become as intense? This weakening is determined by that which may be called refinement of the intersection or, more simply, stylisation. A glance always sketches, simplifies, unifies and de-individualises the perceptible specific character of the natural thing. The everyday instrumental glance generally reveals only sensible sketches of things to the viewer or perceptive understanding, in whose frames only the unique perceptible common traits are felt, most often flowing into the unseparated or barely separated dough of sensitivity. The individual perceptible specific character of things in the pragmatic field is completely covered and hidden by the cloak of instrumental meanings, generalities and abstractions. The thingness of the pragmatic field in respect to the senses is always amorphic and anonymous. Even metaphysical experience somewhat stylises and sketches out the individuality of things, if minimally. It is understood that such schematisation cannot be avoided by the artist. This schematisation is also called idealisation and is often presented as the highest of goals in art. However when it is said that an artwork must establish a place for the ideal, or for depicting the ideal, as a norm and duty, the natural necessity is implied. Any sensible sketch (as such is a work of art) created by the human is already an ideal in itself. The human can create only the ideal. But if this necessity is in itself interpreted as a norm and a goal, an idealistic understanding of art emerges. The origin of such understanding is obvious. The requirement to depict the idea or the ideal originated from traditional metaphysics, which substantiated Transcendence and separated it from the senses. Idealistic art is applied metaphysics, appearing from the absurd effort to depict Transcendence itself, and this is the greatest controversy, as a pretersensuous object is required to take on a sensuous shape. The great work of art never was, is, nor will be only a perceptible monogram, symbol or allegory of substantiated Transcendence. However, as was said, stylisation is unavoidable. Thus the artist, in mimicking the ongoing dispute between Being and non-Being within the natural thing, always sways toward Being, although, let us again stress, in a creation this tendency is minimal. The dramaticism of the intersection, its tension and tragedy should and does remain in the true work of art. Stylisation however, does that which is impossible to avoid in even the most authentic work of art, art which had strayed from the primary intersection as little as possible. The above-mentioned imitation of the natural object is still a somewhat idealised object, in which pure Being is heightened at the expense of artificially smothered non-Being. The intensity of the intersection is weakened, since in pure Being there is no strife, the foundational antinomy is weakened; the cross becomes a swastika, becoming rounder and rounder until it borders on circular. If the natural thing is marked by a cross, then the classical work of art is classified under the swastika. Do the dynamics of the revelation of Transcendence change? Of course they do; however, this change has more than one meaning. Since the disclosure of the intersection in an art thing is weakened, this thing also not so intensely reveals Transcendence, thus in comparison with the natural thing it is no longer a firsthand and primary Phenomenon of Transcendence. It is self-explanatory that the beauty radiating from an art thing is only a dull reflection of the original beauty emanating from the natural thing. On the other hand, in creating a work of art, the artist simplifies the viewer’s meeting with Transcendence, through establishing a place where Transcendence catches the eye without great effort, which is necessary when Transcendence appears as a frightening unknown, which is unveiled with great difficulty, as the viewer tends to turn away and seek refuge in the more comforting and safe phantoms of the everyday. The work of art establishes a place for the freer and more comfortable revelation of Transcendence. Here Transcendence becomes soothing, more intimate – not foreign and mysterious as in the natural thing. It is more accessible and more quickly visible, but as soon as it becomes easier, it loses its original depth and richness. Its substantial power is weakened, which is fed by the juices of intersection. The Transcendence revealed in an art object is warmer, more soothing and beautiful, only, however because it is more human. The bringing of pleasant Transcendence into a work of art also brings it closer to the person. But when Transcendence loses its distance, its essential mystery no longer remains obvious and is in part hidden, simultaneously dulling the intensity of revelation of Transcendence. Because the stylisation of a work of art refines pure Being and covers the abyss of non-Being, the work of art, as a Phenomenon of Transcendence is first of all a phenomenon of Being, a place and reservoir for the appearance of positive Transcendence. A work of art contains less tension and tragedy than the natural object; it contains less true, original beauty and more refinement and decoration. In visual terms, the work of art is a phenomenon of Transcendence in expensive clothes and jewellery. It has lost the nudity and obstinacy of the natural thing. Also, although it is still a living thing, it is living only a borrowed life, taken from natural substance, that is, remaining in it not as in a work of art but as in an accumulation of natural substance. In the work of art it is crystallised through stylisation, thus it is stiff and lifeless, eternity suffocates the living present, pierced by the uneasy pulse of intersection. The intensity of revelation of Transcendence in an artwork is dulled also by its eloquence (and mostly it just chatters), thus it only indirectly transfers the silence of Transcendence. The work of art at least minimally is always a symbol of human reality, in which the feelings, thoughts, convictions and beliefs of the artist are frozen, in short – the most varied meanings, like a shield covering and hiding Transcendence, in this way fencing it off from the individual. And the more eloquent the work of art, the more symbolism, meaning and allegories it contains, the more it hides Transcendence; the more symbolic a work of art, the less it is a Phenomenon of Transcendence, the more squalid the beauty it reflects. The great work of art is the least symbolic. Silence of Transcendence rules in the classical creation. However there is one exception in the variety of artworks, when the secondary imitation of a natural object reflects Transcendence more intensely than the imitated original. This exception is the human. As stated, the real human is an essentially speaking creature – according to the Greeks, zoon echon. And speech squeezes out Transcendence pushing it into the undefined distance of the symbol. But when the human is transferred into a work of art, speech is removed. In a work of art, the human is a quiet creature, thus the artistic human depiction reveals Transcendence more intensely than the real individual. A portrait transfers Transcendence incomparably more clearly and obviously than the living individual. Even in a written work, e.g., a poem, the silence of the world, it’s soft-spokennes is fateful for the revelation of Transcendence. The poetic word becomes the communicator of Transcendence only when, having entered the space of the poem, it reflects something other than the everyday, since in the poetic space the word loses its instrumental and informative meaning and breaks away from hoministic intention; it becomes a unique object in and of itself, having lost all pragmatic meaning. Thus the written work of art is important not in what it says but in what it does not say. In this respect the poetic word may be called the thick silence of Transcendence. Only in this way may the written work of art, in which there is nothing thingfull in the common understanding of this term, become a Phenomenon of Transcendence.

However, even if a work of art is minimally eloquent, it is still a speaking object, never fully breaking from that which is human, especially human. Although the narcissistic theory of art speaks that the true and sole art object is the human (and this is obviously trivial and inaccurate) it cannot be denied that even the most authentic works of art have human-like components and thus do not reveal Transcendence as intensely as natural things. The tiresome purification of Transcendence in an artwork takes away from it its substantial depth. Even the deepest works of art have less depth than natural things; even the highest beauty, reflected from an art thing is no match for the beauty of the natural thing. True beauty in nature is unsurpassingly more abundant than in the human and human creations. Although this thought is unpleasant and may stir anger in sanctimonious humanist devotees, as it contradicts narcissism – does not idealise the human self-defence instincts as a biological creature, the illusions of hoministic solipsism cannot deny its justice, based on obvious experience of Transcendence. On the pyramid of Phenomena of Transcendence, humans and their highest creations are not at its top. Art is only a mimetic shadow of nature. We must admit that the ancient masters were completely correct. The wisdom of Transcendence itself was revealed through the theory of mimesis.

But there are theories which state that the mimetic understanding of art is hopelessly outdated and naive. According to the theories of the modern epoch, art is not the mimicking of nature but the creation of a „new“ reality. According to this schizophrenic thought, drenched with godlike pretensions, classical art is also outdated. These theories in themselves do not concern us. But they are like symptoms, showing in detail and depth the true place of the work of art in the hierarchy of Phenomena of Transcendence. Even the possibility of stating that art is outdated, reveals something very important. Art grows older; nature remains young. No one has yet stated that nature is old. Transferring this idea to our context, we will say this: each natural thing is a potential Phenomenon of Transcendence, but that is not the case with every thing of art. It is by no accident that we spoke of the classical art thing as a place for revelation of Transcendence. Such a creation reveals Transcendence only because in its sensible surface remain sharp remnants of the foundational strife between Being and non-Being. But, as we have said, even in such an artwork we see the tendency to purify Being, though this may not be altogether apparent. Not all works of art may pretend to classical greatness, foundational reality or authenticity, however. In the entire immense tract of art objects there are actually very few great art masterpieces. Average works dominate, which are generally called art and art creations, however these do not possess the only and most important characteristic of a true work of art – depth and the silence of Transcendence. If we call the true art work classical, pseudo-artistic objects may be called the recently emerged (this is also symptomatic) but expressive word – kitsch. How and why does a kitsch or kitsch object appear as a pseudo-artistic object and Phenomenon of pseudo-Transcendence? The answer is not difficult to find. In meeting with the great antinomy of being and attempting to „depict“ it or substantiate it in an artwork, the artist balances on the blade of the ontological chisel, having to maintain that balance at all cost, so that he/she does not fall into the abyss of pure Being or pure non-Being. But maintaining this balance is not only extremely difficult; often enough, even most often, the effort to remain on the intersection exceeds the powers of the mortal. In this the human differs from the inhuman natural thing – the human is a possible disturber of this balance. The supernatural in the human is not only a mandatory but a fatal flaw. In separating himself from nature, the human becomes and may become an ontological coward: in the presence of the great strife of all being, the human experiences a unique shock. The tragic antinomy of being hurdles the human into fear and trepidation and this degenerate half-god shamefully flees from the hardship within the depths of the foundational strife. Fear as an ontological sense first of all is the fear of the intersection; the fear to carry the heavy cross of the great strife. This shameful fear is depicted in two famous sayings. The first is better to not have been born, and the second want to be immortal. It is truly easiest never to have experienced birth or death. Pure Being and pure non-Being are that which is the easiest. It is difficult to be born and to live, each minute knowing that one is mortal and doomed to balance between Being and non-Being. This is why humans are always tempted by lightness, lying in the archipelagos of pure Being and pure non-Being. Pure Being or pure non-Being appears before a human not only as a threat or danger but also as temptation. It is much simpler, having fled from the field of tension of the intersection, to become lost in the mirages of pure Being, to take pleasure in the unwithering air castles and mystic eternity. The longing for immortality pushes one into the paradise of pure Being, disregarding the goal of stability and ontological security. But the abyss of pure non-Being is tempting with an ease of another sorts. In diving into non-Being, the mortal flees from suffering, having rid oneself of individuality and in this way also falling out of the great antinomy. It is truly simpler not to exist than to exist, if existence is inseparable from individuality and the sufferings rising from it, in their turn also dependent on the hurling into the intersection. The unconquerable need for ease even tempts the mortal to consciously sell oneself to the illusions of pure Being or pure non-Being, to flee from the intersection and turn at one of two roads leading to the blessed islands of lightness. The artist also is only mortal with all of the flaws, fears and temptations of the degenerate half-god. It is natural that the artist is also ruled by the great temptation of ease. This temptation is still strengthened by the possibility of its being substantiated and from the empty possibility becoming a tangible reality. And if only the artist sells himself to the temptation of ease, the hands of the artist will bear the crystal of kitsch, the pseudo-creation and pseudo-thing. If one falls off of the intersection into pure Being, the classicist*1 art thing appears, in which the individual without substantive depth is dominant, or, as is commonly said, the form without content. Such a falling from the intersection in the classicist pseudo-creation appears as a mannerism or formality. Classicist kitsch purifies Being and in this way cuts the roots which connect the object to substantial depth. Classicism is surface, having lost its depth, since pure Being is only an imitation of Being or a decorative like-Being. The classicist pseudo-artistic creation is an ornament, hung on nothing. In this way ideological pseudo-art or artistic ideology appears, with the word having the widest meaning (not only sociological but ontological as well). Pure Being itself is an ideological phantom, only an idea, an image, which depicts nothing, and in itself is simply a pseudo-reality. In this way classicist kitsch eliminates Transcendence, in its place leaving the „ideal“ – pseudo-Transcendence. The complete loss of Transcendence makes the classicist kitsch creation a Phenomenon of pseudo-Transcendence for the well-known paradox – pure Being is equal to pure non-Being. If the opposite side is taken – falling into the abyss of the pure relationship, the Rococo art object appears, in which substantiality without individuality dominates. The non-individualised expression of substance is formless and chaotic. Rococo kitsch purifies non-Being, in this way nullifying the thing itself. In this way it is as if depth loses its surface, and itself becomes trivial and shallow. Rococo super-kitsch in its essence does not differ from classicist kitsch, since in both the crossing structure is destroyed. The rococo creation is as trivial as the classicist. This is a Phenomenon of non-Being, openly demonstrating its nothingness. It is also ideological, as it deforms the true structure of Being; pure non-Being is also only an idea, a negative ideal, pure Being with a minus sign. Classicist statics and Rococo dynamics are also only fragments of the constant Phenomenon of Transcendence, aspiring to totality. For this reason the Rococo pseudo-artistic work is a Phenomenon of pseudo- Transcendence, demonstrating the negative side of Transcendence and drowning out the positive. Rococo kitsch is also simply an imitation of the true art thing. The decoration of pure non-Being declares and reveals nothing more than the decoration of pure Being. Behind both expand fruitless deserts of lowly nothingness. In one way or another, in either case the kitsch creation does not reveal Transcendence, but fences it off, placing the human face to face with his own created phantoms, that is, with only one’s self. In the kingdom of kitsch panhoministic solipsism is revealed in all its might. Human chatter drowns out the quiet language of Transcendence. And narcissism celebrates its illusionary victory.

Arvydas Šliogeris

First publication in the exhibition catalogue „For Beauty“: 3rd Exhibition of the Soros Center for Contemporary Arts – Lithuania. Vilnius, 1995. 2

Translated by Karla Gruodis, Audra Mockus, Laimutė Zabulienė3

 

  1. * The terms „classicist“ and „rococo“ are used conditionally, with no allusions to history or art history. Kitsch of both forms is an eternal and absolutely dominant phenomenon. The classical art object is a rare exception, from time to time appearing from beneath the kitsch bulk. – Author’s note.
  2. There is a note in the catalogue that this text is an extract from the book „Paskutiniai filosofijos klausimai“ (Final Questions of Philosophy) manuscript. However, there is no such published book in Arvydas Šliogeris’ bibliography. In 1996, a book entitled „Transcendencijos tyla: pamatiniai filosofijos klausimai“ (The Silence of Transcendence: Fundamental Questions of Philosophy) was published. – Editor’s note.
  3. The catalogue contains several texts, but does not specify which translator translated which text. – Editor’s note.

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