For Part 1 of this blog click here
For Part 2 click here
In Feet too Big, (in Royal Academy catalogue for the 2007 exhibition; Baselitz) Richard Schiff attempts to reconcile the experiences of irritation and beauty he finds in Georg Baselitz’s paintings. He considers a dialectical approach, but quickly discards this, because of the method’s ‘logical irony.’ He settles on a description of the marks and gestures that make up the painting’s surface.
Yet a description can only account for the artwork’s surface, not the perceived qualities of irritation and beauty. These are essentially aesthetic in origin, this is not aesthetic in the Kantian sense of sense-data that we receive through sensations. In this model the viewer and the artwork are independent of each other, the former relying on information from what is being observed, which is then inspected in the viewing subject’s sensorium. This model, by necessity, separates Schiff’s experience of the artwork from its description, which would constitute a kind of scientific report on the feelings the artwork gives him.
The idea of the aesthetic that I am calling on, is its original sense, as outlined by Martin Heidegger in Basic Concepts of Aristotleian Philosophy, as the “… “perceiving” of beings in the natural mode” (21). It is a perception derived from the immediate seeing of what is there, without qualification. This unqualified seeing is accessed through the senses, giving a perception that is always true in the Greek sense of truth as aletheia, i.e. unconcealed.
The experience of the aesthetic, aisthesis, allows us to see things as unconcealed. Prior to our aesthetic encounter, things are concealed, hidden from view. In our everyday engagement with the world we notice nothing, the world, in its immediacy, is obscured. Our surrounding world, and the beings in it, are so self-evidently there that they require no further qualification. This is reflected in our natural way of speaking, that which we speak about, in customary everyday speaking, is hidden, ‘enclosed within itself’. To see how things truly are, we need to be distanced from them, they need to stand out in their being-there, as both present and complete. This is expressed in terminological speech, speaking that brings the object out of itself, making it present, setting it into its limit as complete. This leads Heidegger to reject the translation of aisthesis as ‘sensation’, preferring instead ‘perceiving’, he says; Aisthesis … simply means the “perceiving” of the world, the mode of having-it-there (37).
When we communicate our experience of the aesthetic, rather than a description, we create a definition. The seeing of the unconcealed, given in aisthesis, is communicated in the terminological language of the definition, orismos. Heidegger, following Aristotle, calls orismos a logos ousias, ‘a “self expression” about being-there as being’ (ousia). Logos is speaking, through which both that which is spoken about and the speaker themselves are made visible. In speaking we express ourselves. Therefore the unconcealed body of the artwork, seen through aisthesis and its expression in the viewing speaker’s definition (orismos), are intimately connected. The act of communication gives both that which is spoken about and the speaker themselves.
Heidegger translates orismos as ‘limitation’ – the definition is terminological because it defines a thing’s limit, its terminus. I will address some implications of this thinking for figurative painting in my next blog in this series.