|Beauty, Goodness, Life|
Arts – Rand * ^ °
Beauty – Kovach * ^ °
Esthetics and Life – Schopenhauer
Life is never beautiful, but only its images are, namely in the transfiguring mirror of art or poetry. –Arthur Schopenhauer
The following, too, is from that philosopher, from The World as Will and Presentation (W1 – 1819; W2 – 1844):
The aesthetic satisfaction is essentially one and the same, be it called forth by a work of art or immediately through perception of nature and of life. The work of art is merely a means for facilitating the cognizance in which that satisfaction consists. That Ideas confront us more easily through works of art than immediately through nature and actual reality is due to the fact that the artist, who is cognizant only of Ideas, no longer of actual reality, has also purely replicated only its Idea in his work, separated it out from actual reality, omitting all disturbingly contingent factors. The artist lets us look into the world through his eyes. (W1 §37, 229–30)In this block quotation, Schopenhauer included music as art that replicates Ideas (W1 §36, 217). I do not know why he did not omit music from this list in light of his contrary and elaborate treatment of music at the end of the third book of volume 1. There he argues that music is an art and replicates something, but it does not replicate Ideas (W1 §52, 302–4). We should take his considered thesis to be that all arts save music are replications of Ideas, that is, the arts poetic, dramatic, pictorial, and plastic.
[Art] replicates the eternal Ideas that are apprehended through pure contemplation, that which is essential and enduring in all the world’s phenomena, and depending on the material in which it replicates them, it is plastic or pictorial art, poetry, or music. Its single origin is cognizance of Ideas, its simple goal communication of this cognizance.
While science, following the unresting and insubstantial stream of quadruply configured grounds and consequences [Schopenhauer’s four-fold root of sufficient ground or sufficient reason (1813)], is always, with the achievement of each goal, directed to something else—and can as little find an ultimate goal or full satisfaction as one could reach the point where the clouds touch the horizon by walking—art, to the contrary, is always at its goal. For it tears the object of its contemplation out of the stream of the world’s course and holds it isolated before itself. And the individual thing, which was a vanishingly small part of that stream, becomes for it a representative of the whole, equivalent to infinitely many things in space and time. It stays, therefore, with the individual thing, it stops the wheel of time, relations vanish for it; only that which is essential, the Idea, is an object for it. (W1 §36, 217–18)
Any sort of cognizance, rational as well as merely perceptual . . . proceeds originally from will itself . . . just as means for maintaining the individual and the species as any of the body’s organs. Originally determined for service of its will, for the accomplishment of its purposes, it also remains throughout almost entirely in its service: so it is in all animals and in nearly all human beings. And yet . . . in individual human beings, cognizance is able to withdraw from this subservience, throw off its yoke and stand purely on its own, free from all the purposes involved in willing, as the bare clear mirror of the world from which art proceeds. . . . Finally we will see . . . when this mode of cognition works back on the will, self-nullification of the latter can take place, i.e., resignation, which is the ultimate goal, indeed the innermost essence of all virtue and saintliness, and redemption from the world. (W1 §27, 181)
In true contemplativeness, according to Schopenhauer, a person sustains a regard for things in an entirely disinterested way. The artistic genius is capable of true contemplation of objects, of reaching their Platonic Idea, then representing the object’s Idea more perfectly than is likely in particular occasions in nature. Dropping orientation to his own person, entirely losing sight of his interests, his willing, and his purposes, the artistic genius attains objectivity (W1 §36, 219–20). He makes himself pure subject of cognition. Similarly it goes with the beholder of art receiving esthetic satisfaction, though cognizing the Idea of the object has been made easier for the beholder by the artist (W1 §37, 229–30).
Schopenhauer was in step with the German idealists and their disciples in the general view, after Plotinus, that Idea shining through matter is the cause of esthetic satisfaction (PB 153–54). Schopenhauer’s construction of what this amounts to is integral with his metaphysics and is as distinctive as the distinctiveness of that metaphysics.
It was his predecessor Kant who made popular the idea that disinterestedness is the differentia of esthetic delight from other delight. Kant had the idea before his eyes in the writings of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Kames, Burke, Moses Mendelssohn, and Karl Philipp Moritz (PB 281–82; Cassirer 1981, 326; Guyer 2005, 7–12, 22, 168, 191–92, 307). The related idea that esthetic delight is delightful of and by itself can be found in Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Philo, Plotinus, Augustine, John Scotus Erigena, William of Auvergne, Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, Albert the Great, and Aquinas (PB 282–83).
“The world as presentation” means the world presented to a cognizant subject. In Schopenhauer’s conception, it does not mean the world presented for that cognizing subject. To this general situation, Schopenhauer’s ultra disinterestedness in the esthetic mode of consciousness joins smoothly. But that general situation does not necessitate his radical disinterestedness in esthetic consciousness. His is even more radical than Kant’s 1790 (204–10, 221–26, 242–44, 257–60, 267, 270–73, 292).
Rand confines the end-in-itself contemplation of art to rest from, and emotional fuel for, achievement of one’s ongoing purposeful struggle of life. Schopenhauer takes end-in-itself contemplation of art to have more thorough disconnection from those strivings of life. In art we stop all looking at things in their temporal, causal, and useful relations. We see the eternal Ideas of things, which is to say their eternal Ideas are present to us (Schopenhauer 1813, 41–42; W1 §17, 114).
I mentioned earlier that esthetic attention in Rand’s esthetics should include a turning away from not only utilitarian, moral, and other non-esthetic functions insofar as they interfere with the esthetic interest; one should set aside also Rand’s ultimate function of art, its provision of regeneration for pursuing one’s life projects. What remains not set aside then, within Rand’s structure, is the means to that ultimate function, namely the more immediate psychological function of art, which by her is end-in-itself engagement with concretized value-metaphysics. This remainder is the specifically Randian character of Kovach’s general form of esthetic attention, the Randian specific form of the cognitive openness with interest “in whatever the esthetic object has to offer the rational mind,” a deliberate set of mind to recognize the beauty of the object “as fully as possible and thereby, to enjoy it as much as possible” (PB 297).
My own view, as I stated earlier, is that beauty is particularly suited to winning end-in-itself contemplation of an artwork, leaving open the possibility of other appetitive preconditions besides anticipation of beauty joining the precondition esthetic attention,. That apparent difference from Kovach’s frame makes no difference to the feature I am bringing forth just now, which is specification of esthetic attention in Rand and in Schopenhauer.
The parallel in Schopenhauer of what I said paragraph before last for Rand is as follows. Among disinterests for the sake of esthetic attention would be Schopenhauer’s ultimate function of art (aside from music), rest from the strivings of will, from concern with one’s situation and struggles. What remains in esthetic interest is interest in Idea with its eternity. Being fully absorbed in perception of the art object so as to be pure mirror of Idea presented in that concrete object, this is the mode of esthetic attention for Schopenhauer. “Rid of the suffering self, we become utterly one with those objects as pure subject of cognition, and as foreign as our hardship is to them, so foreign is it in such moments to ourselves. The world as presentation alone is then still there, and the world as will has vanished” (W1 §38, 234).
Rand observed “there are many different aspects from which one may enjoy a work of art—other than sense-of-life affinity” (1966, 39). Even if one does not enjoy it at all, and finds its theme and style aberrant, one can yet discern the artist’s technical mastery and how well he has projected sense of life and metaphysical value-judgments (39). One can discern how well the artist has concretized a fundamental human consciousness and conveys a certain way of looking at existence (Rand 1971, 1009). Then Randian esthetic attention and its appetition, readiness for end-in-itself engagement with concretized value-metaphysics, can include anticipation of delight in “many different aspects” of the artwork, including delight in skill and the delight that is beauty. Notice that “visual harmony is a sensory experience and is determined primarily by physiological causes” (1044).
In his metaphysically based analysis of art, Schopenhauer did not overlook adjuncts of art’s interest and operation.
Although . . . the real purpose of painting, as of art in general, is to facilitate our apprehension of the (Platonic) Ideas pertaining to the beings of this world, whereby we are simultaneously put into the state of pure, i.e., will-less cognition, it is additionally characterized by an independent and self-sufficient beauty, which is produced by mere harmony of colors, pleasing groupings, favorable distribution of light and shade, and the tone of the picture as a whole. This adjunct, subordinate kind of beauty promotes the state of pure cognition, and is in painting what diction, meter, and rhyme are in poetry; both, namely, are not what is essential, but what is initially and immediately effectual. (W2 §36, 480)For Kovach, in contrast to Schopenhauer and Rand, it is the taking up of beauty to the intellect that is the core, not an adjunct, of esthetic experience in art. Where I have placed sheltered openness for end-in-itself perception of concretized value-metaphysics and will-free perception of embodied Idea as the basic readiness proper to esthetic attention in the esthetics of Rand and Schopenhauer, Kovach would place readiness for intuition of and for delight in beauty as the basic readiness. I think Kovach has the better phenomenology, though I should generalize beauty to some genus of which it is paragon species (cf. PB 29–30) and though I should allow that the cores proposed by Rand and Schopenhauer should inform the formula of that genus.
I think Schopenhauer’s rendition of end-in-itself contemplation is too restrictive by way of leaving out the sort in Rand’s rendition. And vice versa: Rand’s is too restrictive by leaving out the sort in Schopenhauer’s rendition. I do not mean to credit Platonic Ideas expressed in art, but to credit schematized conceptions of what is, expressed in art, where esthetic cognizance of what is is sufficient unto itself. (On schemata in Kant, see W1 App. 532–35; in development, CQ 2; as kin of condensation: a, b.)
By esthetic cognizance of what is, I mean in the particular esthetic subject. Rand included the nature of reality in its intelligibility and affordance of valuable action as within the scope of sense of life and metaphysical value-judgments concretized in art. Those pleasures and self-satisfactions can be there, I say, yet another one too: concrete expression of some schemata of what is the individual subject, stressing some of its specific identity and some of its particular identity. That might be all there is to the subject. It need not be amalgamated as a subsidiary of Rand’s sense-of-life questions or her metaphysical-value questions. It can stand alone as an esthetic subject, and when it is joined with expressions of answers to those questions, it need not get its interest from their presence alone.
Consciousness is in a living being, but at least in the human case, consciousness can set itself to take in the world or to re-imagine the world simply because it is interesting. Some of our interests are seeded by the merely interesting (cf. Kant 1790, 224, 271–73; Allison 2001, 92–97, 221–35; Crowther 2007, 68–69, 83; Crowther 2010, 70–72, 117–23, 128–35, 170–71; Guyer 1997, 148–83; Stroud 2011).
Whether scope of art subject is rightly confined to the scope Rand gave it or rightly expanded with my addition, particular subjects of an artwork need to be objects of consciousness, but need not be only those objects. Subjects can be consciousness itself with respect to objects. That is, subjects can stress elements of particular and specific identification. Baumgarten was not out of court to say that art perfects perception. It would be an error, however, to conclude the earlier view that art perfects objects is not also true. Both of those views can be found in Rand’s writings on esthetics, including Fountainhead. (Another connection between Rand and Baumgarten is noticed in Bissell 2001, 305–6.)
The Ideas Schopenhauer sees expressed in art are like Platonic Ideas, but importantly different. Plato sometimes conflates Ideas with concepts, according to Schopenhauer, and that is a serious mistake. Ideas, in Schopenhauer’s sense, are like concepts in that they represent a multitude of individual things. Unlike concepts, Ideas are not expressible in words, and they have no definition exhausting their meaning. Ideas are determinate completely and perceptible only (cf. Baumgarten in Guyer 2005, 268–69). They do not receive their unity by abstraction from plurality, as do concepts, but are a unity “broken up into plurality by virtue of temporal and spatial forms of our intuitive apprehension” (W1 §49, 277). In addition, in Schopenhauer’s view, Ideas are fecund, unlike concepts.
In Schopenhauer’s understanding, concepts are useful for life and science, but they are unfruitful for art. Apprehended Idea is the source of art. By the true artist, Idea is “drawn in its primal force only from life itself, from nature, from the world . . . . Precisely because the Idea is and remains perceptual, the artist is not conscious in abstracto of the intention and goal of his work; he has not a concept, but rather an Idea in mind” (W1 §49, 278). Idea in this role is parallel the role of sense of life in Rand’s theory of art.
Twenty-five years later, Schopenhauer wrote a second volume to The World as Will and Presentation. Here one finds him moving a bit closer to what would become Rand’s view in the next century.
Once a mind ever “devotes itself to regarding the world purely objectively, a striving has been aroused, as concealed and unconscious as it may be, to grasp the true essence of things, of life, of existence . . . . The result of every purely objective, thus also of every artistic apprehension of things, is an expression . . . of the essence of life and existence, . . . an answer to the question ‘What is life?’” (W2 §34, 461–62). Art says in a perceptual image “Look here, this is life!” So thought Schopenhauer and this too: It remains for philosophy to address the question in reflection, in abstraction, in concepts. Art and philosophy have the same root (462).
Schopenhauer had also clarified in W2, closer to Rand, that the artist is indeed thinking of the arrangement of his work. The thought content, the stimulating force, was perceived before its enlistment of thought for its embodiment (W2 §34, 465). However, to arbitrarily play with the means of art, “without true cognizance of its end, is in every art the fundamental characteristic of dilettantism. That sort of thing shows itself in the nonbearing columns, purposeless volutes, arches and jutties of bad architecture, in the meaningless runs and figures, along with the purposeless noise, of bad music, in the jingle-jangle rhythms of poems destitute of meaning, etc.” (464).
It might seem Schopenhauer has gotten his view around to Rand’s limits on what makes art, specified by what can make a sense of life or a metaphysical value-judgment. This is incorrect. What is life in terms of the fundamental ingredients of being, according to Schopenhauer, and his dissolution of individual personality of the artist in accessing Idea are in much contrast to Rand’s conception of life in the cosmos and to her conception of creative cognition in human life.