Martin Heidegger is considered one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century. Heidegger was a prolific writer, influential in many fields of study, whose main field of interest was ontology and the nature of being. (Bolt, 2011) This post offers a brief introduction to his work, theories and a few key points in relation to my practice.
This text began as a short overview but has gotten more complex as I've engaged with Heidegger's writings more.
Daniel Parker sums up Heidegger's preoccupation as “from beginning to end, Heidegger’s thinking revolved around this one basic question of the meaning of being...When Heidegger investigates art he does not do so to determine its characteristics as a specific and isolated region of human experience, but as a possible clue to decipher the meaning of being” (Palmer, 1998)
In ‘Being and Time’ Heidegger referred to subjects and objects as ‘beings’. Heidegger defines many types of beings in our world, where humans are the only ones who care about the nature of their own being.
Heidegger saw this self-referential thinking as something that marked human beings as separate from the other beings, and as an attempted stand against the flow of time.
This text highlights the important factor of ‘being-in-the-world’ and ‘being-with-others’ (Bolt, 2011) which are both ways of describing an important fact of our being; that we exist in relationship with our surroundings and are formed and informed by those relationships.
This directly challenges the notion of ‘distance’ from theory, as the theory is so inexorably linked to the physical that it cannot be undone. Heidegger views this perspective as an unattainable objective, which would seem to fit with the poststructuralist perspective.
In trying to find an objective distance we are ignoring our ‘thrownness’ which Heidegger explains as a term describing our ‘real’ lives and the experience of living in the world. (Bolt, 2011)
Heidegger uses the term ‘Dasein’ translated as ‘there being’ (Bolt, 2011) and meaning both human beings and the state of being, which he saw as indistinguishable from one another.
Daseins are individual and yet interrelate with one another.
Dasein has a ‘throwness’, in which we are thrown into a world that is mostly uncontrollable, wholey so at first, and we are left to find our way. Our circumstances, especially in early life, but also later, can be described as chance, and the combination of these factors are what Heidegger termed, our ‘facticity’. (Bolt, 2011)
‘Throwness’ is a term that is related to experience with others, and being in these constant relating experiences with others can overtake our own sense of self until ‘I’ becomes ‘they’. (Bolt, 2011)
This sense of ‘they’ is important in understanding human nature and the societies we live in, which are based on assumptions and perspectives of ‘they’.
In art, we often respond to our ‘thrownness’ and we are certainly formed by the ‘facticity’ of our lives. When seen in this way the relationship of this deconstructed, interrelated, narrative to Derrida and Danto’s theories about the nature of the interiority and exteriority of art (that the artwork doesn't exist in separation from its context) seems obvious.
Daesin is an interesting term because of its tendency towards self-fulfilment. A term Heidegger refers to as ‘projection’ (Bolt, 2011) which I've taken as; the ways ‘beings’ (who are in daesin at all times) explore and react to the world around them through a process of ‘being’. Our ‘facticity’ ‘projects’ a daesin’s ‘being’ through in a process of continual ‘thrownness’.
Note - I could be wrong here, Heidegger is dense and subjective, but that's my interpretation of it.
Further note - ‘throwness’ can never be in the future, it is the nature of our present. (Bolt, 2011)
Heidegger saw a distinction between everyday daesin and daesin, which can be seen as the difference between being, and questioning that being. (Bolt, 2011) The act of being in everyday terms obstructs the ontological examination of being. Heidegger sees this as a form of inauthenticity, an objective term that is a fact of life as a being. An authentic experience of daesin is one of contemplation of self.
Heidegger and other philosophers have noted a distinction between human ‘beings’ and other ‘beings’ but many agree that objects have a ‘being’. This reminder serves to note that when Heidegger is speaking about ‘being’ and the reliance upon ‘being-in-the-world', those theories can be applied to other types of ‘being’ (with varying degrees of success) including artworks.
In ‘Being and Time’, Heidegger posits the relationship between caring and being. “I care, therefore I am” (Steiner, 1978: 101). Without a form of caring we wouldn't exist, if we experienced an encompassing apathy we would stop moving, interacting, being.
Descartes posited ‘I think therefore I am’ beginning a philosophical stance that pronounces the thought as the only truly ‘knowable’ fact.
Heidegger highlights the impossibility of this statement, we cannot detach ourselves from reality enough to make this distinction. We are in the world and therefore our experience of it, and thoughts about it, are inextricably linked to it, as are all other ‘beings’, artworks included. (Bolt, 2011) This is a stance that resonates deeply with me, and a perspective I have long had without necessarily being able to articulate it.
In ‘The Essence of Truth’ he proposed the idea of caring as a catalyst for truth. (Stanford, 2015) (the word caring, as above, is seen as an interest of some kind) To Heidegger, you must care about something before you can know the truth about it, another resonating thought. Our being exists in the universe, with numerous external influences happening constantly, our interest is drawn, which leads to the uncovering of truth.
Truth is rarely something easily seen and is more often read or interpreted. In this way caring can also be described as an effort, I think, in that we must first engage with something to comprehend the truth of it, which takes an effort of some kind.
The overwhelming amount of ‘things’ to care about, even in daily life, leads Heidegger to compare being alive “to be[ing] surrounded by the hidden.” (Stanford, 2015)
I like this perspective on truth, as it acknowledges an element of autonomy in truth, that it can objectively exist, to some extent, external to the human perceiving it, and it therefore re can be discovered in some way.
Heidegger wrote extensively on the notion of the hidden, and in relation to art - which he saw as a process of revealing the hidden. (Stanford, 2015)
In his essay ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ published in 1950, Heidegger rejected earlier views of aesthetics, and art, as imitation or reflection, aligning it instead with ideas of truth and beauty. This essay shows once more Heidegger's view art objects can be seen as objectifications of truth, a way to reveal “that which is”. (Heidegger, 2008)
Heidegger describes the relationship between artist and artwork as a dynamic, which can be compared to Derrida’s description of the frame. "The artist is the origin of the work. The work is the origin of the artist. Neither is without the other. Nevertheless, neither is the sole support of the other." (Heidegger, 2008)
Art is separate from the two again, Heidegger saw art as the source for both artwork and artist. In this way, art becomes both the origin of and the goal for the artist and artwork, a cyclical dynamic relationship. A view I find particularly interesting, and something that has inspired a great deal of thinking.
This separation of artwork(object), artist(subject) and art(process) has been discussed further by the modern understanding of visual culture, and the semiotic interpretation of it. That meaning is external to the work as well as internal (or both as Derrida argued) is widely accepted, Heidegger seems to advocate the necessity of understanding the separation and the reliance of each upon the others.
Viewing art as both origin and goal leads to a confusing cyclical thought process about which came first, and how the relationship works exactly. Trying to find the essence of artwork and artist would seem to be a route to finding the essence of art. Heidegger chooses to try for the artwork first, as it is seemingly more concrete than their human counterparts. (Stanford, 2015)
According to Heidegger, and others, artworks can be defined through a set of traits but must be a ‘thing’ in themselves. The definition of a ‘thing’ seems to vary massively. (Stanford, 2015)
This appears to relate to Wittgenstein's ‘family resemblance’ theory.
Being an artist i am primarily interested in Heidegger's theories of aesthetics. Heidegger saw art as something with an inherent value, as an activity, in addition to the value found in the experience of art. He argued that art has a purpose in terms of history, and a form of marking ‘being’ and truth in culture. (Stanford, 2015)
In simple terms he saw the value of art as more than an appreciation of aesthetics, and that by reducing art to a form of sensory entertainment we are missing much of its true value, and purpose in the development of consciousness and understanding of beings.
Artworks are more than simple memesis, they are steps in the meaning of what it is to exist.
It could be described as; Art is the science of the senses. The -ology of the senses, using the senses.
“modern aesthetics is born of the aspiration to be “in the field of sensuousness what logic is in the domain of thinking” (Stanford, 2015)
Heidegger related art and philosophy to ‘movement’, as both a need to be aware of habitual behaviours and a deeper exploration of the ways beings create and interact with art and philosophy. (Bolt, 2011)
This is a thought I plan to return to as it is an exploration of these behaviours where I find my process sits.
In “The Age of the World Picture,” (1938) Heidegger postulates the possible implications of relegating art solely to aesthetic concerns. When “art gets pushed into the horizon of aesthetics,” he suggests that it pushes the artwork into an objectification of experience, which counts as an expression of human life. (Stanford, 2015)
I would argue that it also gives art a finite purpose, in the experience of the moment and for the gain of the subject, which, while often true is not always the case.
One of the most critical terms I have come across while researching Heidegger is ‘poiesis’ which can be defined as the work existing in a place of balance between the poetic and the enframed.
The enframed comes from the word ‘Gestell’ meaning framing. (Bolt, 2011) Which, much like Derrida's ‘Parergon’, is a literal or metaphysical construct that shapes the way we view or experience something, in this case, an artwork. Bolt compares the ‘gestell’ to a window frame or skeleton, so as something that supports and underpins the ‘subject’ but remains distinct from it, or hidden in light of the true ‘subject’.
Many artists would consider this contextualising, however, it also includes elements of practice, emotion, location etc.
The poetic state of practice is the fluid and flowing creative status an artist reaches, while working, which allows the revealing of hidden truths in the work, or in its process, that potentially lead to the ‘final’ ‘artwork’.
To Heidegger, this state is what an artist is aiming for, and can be described as the pinnacle of artistic achievement. (Bolt, 2011)
The important factor is that art sits in the Venn space between the two and that the artists practice winds on a route between the two.
This is something that I've been edging around recently, it has come up in lectures, tutorials and studio practice, as the idea of what practice is.
This is a very important point for my practice and an articulate description of the way I work in the studio.
Without getting too bogged down by other concerns it's something to note that there is a great deal of controversy over his Nazi affiliations. Last year new evidence came to light that leaves no doubt that Heidegger was not only a sympathiser but a true believer. (Rothman, 2014) (Zielinski, 2016)
The debate about the impact of his anti-semitism on the validity of his philosophical works seems to be ongoing, and not something I'm going to discuss here, however, it is certainly something to bear in mind, especially given how affirming I have found reading his works to be. Personally, I like to think that the work someone does can exist, to an extent, in separation from the person they were/are.
The idea, and whether it resonates, is more important than the speaker.
Interesting term - ‘Praxial’
Comes from the word ‘praxis’ which is defined by Aristotle as process/practice distinguished from and yet intertwined with, theory.
The Cambridge dictionary defines it as “ the process of using a theory or something that you have learned in a practical way”.
An important term in art. Art, certainly in my practice, is an act of praxis.
Researching Heidegger has shown an interesting perspective on the production and interpretation of art. I began this research after hearing about the idea of the space between the enframed and poetic. However, the research has led to something more.
Heidegger not only explored ‘being’ but embraced the reality of it. His theories around ‘being’ rely and impress on us that we are already ‘being’. Practice and theory combined.
The main thing that this research, and the writing of this text, has shown me is that there is a lot more research to be done. Heidegger, and reading through the rest of ‘Heidegger Reframed’ forms part of my ongoing research plans.
Bolt, B (2011) Heidegger reframed. London: I.B. Tauris.
Heidegger, M; trans. David Farrell Krell (2008). "The Origin of the Work of Art". Martin Heidegger: The Basic Writings. New York: HarperCollins.
Palmer, D. (1998) ‘Heidegger and the ontological significance of the work of art’, British Journal of Aesthetics, vol. 38 no.4, pp. 394-412.
Rothman, J. (2014) Is Heidegger contaminated by nazism? [Online] The New Yorker. Available from: https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/is-heidegger-contaminated-by-nazism [Accessed - 21.11.17].
Stanford (2015) Heidegger’s Aesthetics. [Online] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available from : https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger-aesthetics/ [Accessed - 02.11.17].
Steiner, G (1978) Martin Heidegger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Stulberg, R (1973) Heidegger and the Origin of the Work of Art: An Explication, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol 32 no.2, pp, 257-265.
Zielinski, L (2016) In His Own Words [Online] The Paris Review. Avaliable from: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/10/18/in-his-own-words/ [Accessed - 21.11.17].