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Analytic aesthetics: Wittgenstein and conceptual art – Nelson Goodman: when is there art?

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Wittgenstein and conceptual art

Wittgenstein House (Haus Wittgenstein)(The Wittgenstein House (Haus Wittgenstein), Vienna, designed by Ludwig Wittgenstein himself and the architect Paul Engelmann, a pupil of Adolf Loos.)

Ludwig Wittgenstein can be considered one of the founders of analytic aesthetics, his predecessors within analytic philosophy having left research on art aside. Indeed, Frege reduces poetry to a simple ornament in his philosophical writings. Frege seeks to demonstrate that logic and poetry are mutually exclusive, only the first can be endowed with an unambiguous meaning and capable of receiving a denotation. As for G. E. Moore and Russell, and after them the Vienna Circle, they did not question this reduction of artistic and poetic language to a language without a cognitive role.

Wittgenstein excludes aesthetic language, which he associates with ethics, from the field of what can be formulated logically in the Tractatus logico-philosophicus. He writes :

“It is clear that ethics cannot be stated. Ethics is transcendental. (Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.)”

In “Lessons on Aesthetics“, he is concerned with ways of speaking about art, including judgment and appreciation. It is from the Philosophical Investigations that Wittgenstein opens his logical theory of meaning and includes both ordinary language and aesthetic language. Wittgenstein also practiced architecture with Paul Engelmann, a pupil of the architect Adolf Loos known in Vienna for his anti-ornamentalism opinions. Wittgenstein and Engelmann built the Wittgenstein House in 1927-1928 for the philosopher’s sister, Margarethe Stonborough.

On the other hand, the Tractatus itself is paradoxically a manifesto of a conceptual art aesthetic of Joseph Kosuth and others: an object is art when its meanings will function as art and not, for example, as a tool or a decorative object. The objective is thus to found a tautological art, which refers to nothing other than itself, exactly like logic in the Tractatus. The field of analytic truths meaningless and true in any case is tautological. Wittgenstein’s philosophy thus influenced artists and theorists of conceptual art and pop art: notably Eduardo Paolozzi (Wittgenstein in New York, 1965), Joseph Kosuth (Wittgenstein’s Color, 1989).

Joseph Kosuth theorizes his art in the article Art After Philosophy in 1969. Kosuth separates art from aesthetics. Art critic Ghislain Mollet-Viéville writes:

“Kosuth thus observes that painting is doomed because it is frozen in aesthetic considerations (of colors and shapes) completely foreign to the definition of art which is in the domain of ideas.”

In 1966-1967, Joseph Kosuth produced a series of works entitled Art as Idea as Idea, which represented definitions from dictionaries such as “definition”, “water” or “specific”, which refers to the tautological nature of art . Art “becomes its own object of demonstration” according to Ghislain Mollet-Viéville, and it is continually redefined by itself. Kosuth is inspired by the artistic approach of Ad Reinhardt, who evoked “art-as-art”. In reference to Wittgenstein, Kosuth speaks of an “artistic proposition” which is a “verification of art by itself”, instead of a work of art. Kosuth finally removes subjectivity in art and seeks a form of neutrality.

Nelson Goodman: when is there art?

One of the important questions of analytic aesthetics is the question “when is art?”, to use Nelson Goodman’s formulation in Ways of Worldmaking. In other words, art is no longer studied from a perspective that could be called “kallistic”, but from a functional or better, cognitive perspective. Analytical philosophers of art and conceptual artists have in common to refuse the theorization and the search for beauty as an idea or norm, to instead pose a definition of art as a symbolic function always to be deciphered from itself and of its own language, without applying an a priori essence to it.

This way, we could schematically oppose the Kallististic aesthetic of Platonic inspiration, which analyzes artistic work from the ideal of Beauty as a unitary essence, and whose main representatives are Plato (beauty is an absolute intelligible idea), Aristotle (beauty is mathematical order and symmetry), Cicero (beauty is proportion and beautiful colors), Plotinus (beauty is the intelligible simplicity that beckons towards the One), or even Marsile Ficino (Of love), and analytical aesthetics, which analyzes the artistic work from the elaboration of symbols immanent to the work and interpretable according to descriptive procedures, or “depiction”. In this sense, art is no longer something sacred or divine, and there are no longer works in themselves that would be opposable to vulgar objects: any object can claim to function as art under specific conditions, and conversely any work of art can function like other types of objects. Analytical aesthetics therefore makes it possible to think of ready-mades.

(Includes texts from Wikipedia translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu)

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