The poet John Enright has a post entitled “Kant and Abstract Art,” in which he takes up the claim Rand made in The Romantic Manifesto that “the father of modern art is Immanuel Kant (see his Critique of Judgment).” Rand does not elaborate, and Enright notes that some people scoff at the claim.
Rand’s claim is a strong one, in part because it makes intellectual-causal connection across centuries. How does one establish a fatherly connection between an uptight eighteenth-century philosopher and a sprawling twentieth-century movement? And in part Rand’s claim is hard to wrap one’s mind around because Kant’s philosophy is known to be turgid, arid, and highly rationalistic while modern art is known to be wild, weird, and wacky. How on earth could the Prussian lead to Pollock?
Is Rand right, and if so what is the connection?
I’ve been working on and off toward an essay on the topic of Kant’s influence on modern and postmodern art. Huge topic, so let me here give only some preliminary scholarly props to Enright’s post in the form of a few quotations from recent thinkers.
What have scholars after Rand said about the connection between Kant and modern art?
In a scholarly collection of essays on Kant’s philosophy, Eva Shaper writes that Kant is “the father of modern aesthetics” (“Taste, Sublimity, and Genius: the Aesthetics of Nature and Art,” in Paul Guyer, ed.,The Cambridge Companion to Kant, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 368).
Harold Osborne, longtime editor of the scholarly British Journal of Aesthetics, writes of “Kant, who is rightly regarded as the founder of modern aesthetics” (Aesthetics and Art Theory: An Historical Introduction, E. P. Dutton, 1970, p. 153). And further Osborne claims of Kant’s analysis: “This theory is the most important anticipation of the modern aesthetic outlook in any philosopher before the twentieth century” (p.191).
Without the first part of Critique of Judgment, writes philosopher Roger Scruton, “aesthetics would not exist in its modern form” (Kant, Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 79).
Philosopher Arthur Danto agrees with influential modernist art critic Clement Greenburg on the centrality of Kant’s work to the modernist project:
‘“The essence of Modernism,” [Clement Greenberg in “Modernist Painting” (1960)] wrote, “lies, as I see it, in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.” Interestingly, Greenberg took as his model of modernist thought the philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Because he was the first to criticize the means itself of criticism, I conceive of Kant as the first real Modernist.” […] I suppose the corresponding view of painting would have been not to represent the appearances of things so much as answering the question of how painting was possible”’ (After the End of Art, Princeton University Press, 1998, p. 7).
Kant scholars Ted Cohen and Paul Guyer note that in the Critique of Judgment Kant “is entrenching the assumption of the subjective character of aesthetic judgment so strongly that by our own time it has become virtually an (unargued) commonplace” (Essays in Kant’s Aesthetics, University of Chicago Press, 1985, p. 11).
And more sweepingly, Professor Denis Dutton, philosopher and author of The Art Instinct, writes that Kant’s Critique of Judgment is “the greatest work of philosophical aesthetics ever written” (Dutton’s website).
Enright notes that scholar Roger Kimball makes a point of connecting Kant and modernist art in an essay on Schiller.
So from Kant’s Critique to Christo — an interesting fill-in-the-blanks intellectual-history project awaits.
1/31 A good post from Robert Bruner, Dean of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. A key quotation: “Artists in business are visionaries, inventors, entrepreneurs, and general managers, people who create something larger out of the assembly of resources, 2+2=5. They are quick learners; they recognize problems and opportunities ahead of the crowd; they shape large visions and enlist others in support; they communicate well and are socially-aware (in the ‘macro’ sense of understanding big issues in the world and in the ‘micro’ sense of reading a room full of people to understand their issues); they serve with integrity; and leaders have a bias for action.”
(Via Mark Lerner.)
1/28 I contributed a blurb to the back cover of Professor Jerry Kirkpatrick’s new book: Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism. I recommend it to anyone interested in the important connections between philosophy and educational policy and practice.
1/18 Freak show round-up: David Thompson reports on the extraordinary leftist bias of recent French school textbooks: “Economic growth imposes a hectic form of life, producing overwork, stress, nervous depression, cardiovascular disease and, according to some, even the development of cancer,” asserts the three-volume Histoire du XXe siècle, a set of texts memorized by countless French high school students as they prepare for entrance exams to… prestigious French universities. The past 20 years have ‘doubled wealth, doubled unemployment, poverty, and exclusion, whose ill effects constitute the background for a profound social malaise,’ the text continues. Because the 21st century begins with ‘an awareness of the limits to growth and the risks posed to humanity [by economic growth],’ any future prosperity ‘depends on the regulation of capitalism on a planetary scale.’ Capitalism itself is described at various points in the text as ‘brutal,’ ‘savage,’ ‘neoliberal,’ and ‘American.’ This agitprop was published in 2005, not in 1972. “… And just in case they missed it in history class, students are reminded that ‘cultural globalization’ leads to violence and armed resistance, ultimately necessitating a new system of global governance.” A recent extreme anti-humanist manifesto published by Oxford University Press—David Benatar’s Better Never To Have Been: The Harm Of Coming Into Existence: “Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence—rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should—they presume that they do them no harm. Better Never to Have Been challenges these assumptions. David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. Although the good things in one’s life make one’s life go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence. Drawing on the relevant psychological literature, the author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought into existence. The author then argues for the ‘anti-natal’ view—that it is always wrong to have children—and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a ‘pro-death’ view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.” And here is Carlin Romano’s fine take-down of John Gray in the Chronicle. (Thanks to Bob H. for the link.)
1/13 Munira Mirza asks: Is modern art a left-wing conspiracy?And here’s a fascinating piece on How Curators Saved Afghanistan’s Treasures. A key quotation: “In 1988, they secretly moved the highlights of the collection to a vault in the Central Bank at the presidential palace. Seven men had keys to the vault. All seven keys were needed to open it, so by spreading them around and keeping their locations secret (in case of death, a key reverted to the keeper’s eldest son), they were able to preserve the treasures.” (Via ArtCyclopedia.com.)
1/11 Ronald Radosh reviews Jonah Goldberg’s new book Liberal Fascism. A key historical quotation: “the very term ‘liberal fascism’ came from the pen of H. G. Wells, the famed socialist author who delivered a speech at Oxford University in 1932 that included hosannas to both Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. ‘I am asking,’ Wells told the students, ‘for a Liberal Fascisti, for enlightened Nazis.’ Democracy, he argued, had to be replaced with new forms of government that would save mankind, producing a ‘Phoenix Rebirth of liberalism’ that would be called ‘Liberal Fascism.’ Like the activism, experimentation, and discipline that made the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany new dynamic societies, the West too could reach such a plateau by adopting the new soft fascism that suited it best.”
1/9 Historian Paul Johnson draws lessons on leadership from several key twentieth-century events. And some things haven’t changed: then- ambassadors Thomas Jefferson and John Adams report to Congress what they heard in their meeting with the Tripolitan ambassador. A key quotation:“… it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their [Qur’an], that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every [Muslim] who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
Maybe I should re-think my strategy. And here’s a humorous dialogue on the metaphysics and epistemology of the Identity Principle:
(Thanks (?) to Jules for the link.)
1/7 I’m back from a break over Christmas. Some art links to start the new year off: Lester Hunt reflects on the enduring significance of the cave painters.
An unknown Michelangelo sketch has been identified. Meanwhile, Donald Pittenger reflects on James Elkins’s Why Art Cannot be Taught and offers this saddening observation: “art students reflect their own times (and influences) to such a degree that, after a period of years, one student’s work seems indistinguishable from all the others. And this is likely to be true for all the presumed inventiveness of today’s art school; in 50 years the probability is that the stuff will look pretty similar. Moreover, almost no student currently enrolled is likely to ever be self-supporting by art sales, and even fewer will be ‘known’ even locally. Nevertheless, cohorts of students continue to pass through the educational system and faculty members congregate time and again to conduct critiques that, in the long run, are likely to be meaningless in the history of art.”
3/21 Fascinating: a study released in 2005 by Shanghai Jiao Tong University: The Top 100 Universities in the World. The global-distribution patterns are striking: Of the top 10 in the world—8 are in North America, and 2 are in Europe. Of the top 30 universities—23 are in North America, 5 are in Europe, and 2 are in Asia. Of the top 50 universities—39 are in North America, 9 are in Europe, and 2 are in Asia.
3/3 For researchers and admirers of the Enlightenment: Electronic Enlightenment, a developing site with texts and correspondence of over 3,800 eighteenth-century figures. Check out also the Voltaire Foundation, the force behind Electronic Enlightenment.