Kant and modern art

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_50x66Rand’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?

kant_50x64In 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.

More on Kant and Modern Art.
Wendy Steiner on Kant and modernism in art.

Worth Reading for January 2008

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.)

1/29 Russ Roberts has a wry post on just how evil Walmart is. Noah Stahl defends the for-profit corporation against the usual slanders.The Prometheus Institute has published its quarterly online magazine (PDF). And British Heritage magazine’s profile of the excellent Margaret Thatcher.

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.

1/27 Courage and technology: Watch these guys fall off a mountain and glide. (Thanks to Eric for the link.) Courage and political revolution: this documentary on Estonia’s “Singing Revolution” sounds moving. As is Tibor Machan’s account of his escape from Communist Hungary as a youth.

1/24 Professor David Mayer has his 2008 Prospects for Liberty essay up at his website. And I recommend his Thomas Jefferson, Man versus Myth essay, now available from Amazon.

1/23 A new tutorial from Michael Newberry on warping negative space. An intriguing hypothesis from novelist Lee Child, creator of the Jack Reacher character, about the origin of the thriller. (Thanks to Bob H. for the link.) And at the Atlasphere, John Enright’s review of Quee Nelson’s The Slightest Philosophy.

1/19 Economist Larry Sechrest has a fine essay on the heyday of entrepreneurial American shipbuilding—and why it ended. (Thanks to Sean for the link.) And economist Craig Depken has a brief item on Atlas shrugging in the railroad industry, circa 1908.

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.)

1/17 The Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship has published the second issue of its newsletter, Kaizen, featuring an interview with New York City artist Michael Newberry, news about the Center’s courses in development, last semester’s student-prize winners, and a teaser about our next issue.

1/15 Some very dangerous mountains. And pictures from early Everest expeditions.

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.”

1/10 The excellent Ayaan Hirsi Ali has a must-read piece in The New York Times. (Via TIA Daily.)

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.”

1/8 Philosophy—I’m in it for the money.

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.”

Worth Reading for March 2006

3/31 Being a Brief Guide to Religious Denominations in America:

A Baptist is a man who got saved.

A Methodist is a Baptist who got shoes.

A Congregationalist is a Methodist who moved to town.

A Presbyterian is a Congregationalist who got rich.

An Episcopalian is a Presbyterian who ran for public office.

(Author unknown.)

3/30 In the Chronicle, Diane Ravitch has a short history of the College Boards and SAT—and a suggestion that we revive the College Boards.

3/29 An extended interview with Chinese democracy activist Wei Jingsheng, who was imprisoned by the communist Chinese for twenty years. And here’s an interesting, briefer interview with Shelby Steele, author of the new classic The Content of Our Character.

3/28 Professor David Mayer argues that political “progressives” are anything but that.

3/27 Do you recall the (now-debunked) claim that 500 scientists had signed a letter opposing evolution and supporting “Intelligent Design”? Here’s a snappy comeback: the Alliance for Science has published a letter with the signatures of 10,000 members of the clergy who support evolution. And here is a troubling item: some public school districts in Arkansas prohibit teachers from mentioning evolution.

3/25 Collectivism and human rights: Disabled newborns are killed in North Korea, says a defector. Here is a musical based on an unlikely theme: North Korean concentration camps. (Thanks to Karen for the link.) A picture that is worth one-hundred-thousand words: North Korea is dark. And R. J. Rummel has this summary overview of the horror that is living in North Korea.

3/24 In Wired, Will Wright, creator of The Sims, argues that video games build “creativity, community, self-esteem, problem-solving” skills. Not to mention that growing up on video games means you can kick tail on the real battlefield.

3/23 Political philosopher Tibor Machan takes the editors of a recent book on business ethics to task for a package-deal besmirching of libertarianism. And economist George Reisman places the blame for higher oil prices on those who help prop up the Middle Eastern cartel—including the U.S. Senate.

3/22 Is it teaching-versus-research in higher education? Professor Jonathan Zimmerman argues that it is time to give teaching more weight. Or is it athletics-versus-education at some state universities? Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carl Wieman is fed up with the University of Colorado. And here is an example of the education bureaucrat mindset in action. (Via John Enright.)

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.

3/20 Fortune magazine has a list of 10 cool colleges for entrepreneurs. I especially like the University of Rochester’s idea of integrating entrepreneurship across the curriculum rather than having it located only in the business department. And Forbes has a great list: The Twenty Most Important Tools Ever. (Thanks to Roger for the link.)

3/19 Art insight: painter Michael Newberry explains and illustrates triangulation of light and color.

3/18 Aesthetics—from beauty to edginess: Donald Pittenger begins a chronicle on the decline and fall of the classical face.

3/17 Professor Margaret Soltan suggests that the professor-as-intellectual is obsolete and asks a dangerous question: Do sabbaticals create more value than they cost?

3/16 Fruits of the Enlightenment: Researchers have restored the vision of mice blinded by brain damage. And scientists have harvested stem cells from menstrual blood.

3/15 Bjørn Stærk requests that we translate Shakespeare into English.

3/14 With March Madness upon us, Neal McCluskey takes on the morality of taxpayer money and public university sports programs. (Via University Diaries.)

3/13 Why are there so many unhappy endings in great literature? And how can we change that? Ben Macintyre shows us how To Cuddle a Mockingbird.

3/11 Has another Michelangelo fresco been authenticated? And here is a site with some good quality images of Leonardo da Vinci sketches.

3/10 FIRE has announced its college speech code of the month.

3/9 When government schools fail, some of them turn to the private sector for help. On the other hand, as Mark Lerner reports, some failing government schools turn to yet more centralized, top-down control.

3/8 Simply excellent: Dr. Wafa Sultan on Al Jazeera television. Joshua Zader also has the link and some key quotations from the talk. And R. J. Rummel has the text of a widely-distributed letter written by Major General Vernon Chong, Command Surgeon, Headquarters U.S. European Command, Stuttgart, Germany. Update: Here is a follow-up article on Waha Sultan and her outstanding interview. (Thanks to Karen for the Sultan links.)

3/7 In the new Cato Unbound, philosopher David Schmidtz asks: When does inequality actually make a difference?

3/6 Breath-taking photographs of aurora phenomena. And is Jupiter developing a new red spot?

3/4 In the Literary Encyclopedia, Ashland University’s John Lewis states that “Ayn Rand wrote the most intellectually challenging fiction of her generation” and provides an introduction to the themes of Rand’s novels. Grant Schulyer opines about the state of the debate about Ayn Rand’s literary and philosophical significance. In a talk to SLIS, doctoral student Robert White gives an overview of Ayn Rand’s thought and significance. And if your German is up to it, check out Kapitalismus-Magazin, Freie Radikale—Das Blog der deutsch- sprachigen Objektivisten, and Objektivismus. Update: George Reisman takes Robert Mayhew to task for altering Ayn Rand’s wording in a newly-published volume of her Q & A.

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.

3/2 In The New York Times, Dr. Brian Day on Canada’s socialized medical system: “This is a country in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week and in which humans can wait two to three years.” Worth reading again is Mark Steyn’s review of a Canadian film, The Barbarian Invasions. And at Division of Labour, Frank Stephenson follows up on the issue of how much high medical bills contribute to personal bankruptcies in the USA.

3/1 At San Francisco’s Exploratorium, a set of science experiments anyone can do. And Australian scientists have grown a prostate gland from stem cells.