Wittgenstein

Research - Heidegger by Ally McGinn

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.

Ally McGinn (2017)  Enframed . found objects, emulsion paint, gold frame and canvas, 250 x 120 x 50 cm approximately.

Ally McGinn (2017) Enframed. found objects, emulsion paint, gold frame and canvas, 250 x 120 x 50 cm approximately.

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)

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

Ally McGinn (2017)  Plinth painting . Paintings. 40 x 40 x 60 cm.

Ally McGinn (2017) Plinth painting. Paintings. 40 x 40 x 60 cm.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Reflection

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.

Bibliography

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].

Research - Meaning/Taste - Family Resemblance and Beetles in Boxes by Ally McGinn

In researching taste, aesthetics and attempting to understand what art is, i've come upon the term ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’ a few times. These are the conditions for determining a definition. If both can be defined with regards to a certain subject (A for example) then through the exploration of necessary and sufficient conditions we will be able to find all the things that are ‘A’ by excluding the things that aren't ‘A’. (Philosophy Bites, 2017)

Wittgenstein disagreed with this rigid stance. Using the example of games he shows that there are always things that don't fit the definition. We recognise what games are not through the definition of them, or at least not always, but through the experience of hearing the ways other people use the word, which leads us to an understanding of what Wittgenstein called a ‘family resemblance’. (Janaway, 2006)

Wittgenstein saw language as a living thing, and therefore as subject to the ‘change in variation’. Meaning, according to Wittgenstein, is reliant on use, in that whatever meaning we use is one that is ‘right’. Meaning can be local, we share meaning with those close to us, and have our own meanings for those words based on our own lives. (Janaway, 2006)

Wittgenstein suggests a thought experiment, an extension of the ‘private language argument’. In it he asks us to pretend that we each have a box, we all describe the thing inside the box as a beetle, and yet we cannot ever know what is inside other people's boxes. Whether the thing inside the box actually is what we think of as a beetle or is something else the word ‘beetle’, in this instance, becomes both a word to describe what is inside the box and the implication of a small creature with six legs. (Floyd, 2006)

In this experiment the box can be seen as a metaphor for our brains. A pertinent example of this would be our interpretation of colour. We all, mostly, agree on the standard definitions of colour, but the argument becomes more obvious when colours get specific. Working in an art institution for nearly five years I've regularly heard disagreements about colours, and we have no real way of knowing that what we see as green is what someone else is seeing. Pain is another obvious example, while there are obviously degrees of pain we have no reliable way of comparing our pain to that of another.

Words, or more accurately their meaning, operate in the same way. How often have any of us said something that someone has taken the wrong way. It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that we all have.

It isn't that much more of a leap to suggest that images are the same. As much of the research on this blog has shown, images, and by extension other artworks, have meaning that is integral to their existence. That meaning only exists when interpreted by a human, and those interpretations come through the reading of information. That information can be digital, visual, auditory, tactile or any number of sensory inputs. To define art as simply something beautiful or enjoyable on a basic level denies our own intelligence, and our capability to interpret information.

Art, it could therefore be argued, contains, disseminates, and encourages the transfer of information. While there are many artworks whose information revolves around beauty, or the weirder sensory experience, there are many others that require a form of data processing, or interaction, from the viewer. If nothing else it's clear that is more information to be explored than we realise.

I would argue that one of the purposes of art is to highlight that processing potential in regards to the world around us, and other areas of daily life.

The reading of art encourages a creative thinking process, which can be applied to the world beyond the art gallery.

There is a reason we can nominate the everyday as art, I would argue that this is because these objects have an element of inherent meaning attached to them. The nomination of them as ‘Art’ is a common activity, but maybe it is enough to think of them as art, or see them as art, at an individual level. We bring the meaning to the work, so can we bring it to other things just by imagining it.

If I think that something I'm experiencing is Art, but never say it, is it any less Art than the painting on the wall? Does it matter that I'm an artist? Whose to say where the artwork lies?

Reflection

This section was added in addition to my initial post on taste. The information here is mostly from two short sources, that inspried more thinking. Later parts of this text slip into assumptive writing, so this post is more - thoughts inspired by research.

Bibliography

Floyd, R. (2006) Wittgenstein : The Private Language Argument [Online] Philosophy Now. Available from: https://philosophynow.org/issues/58/The_Private_Language_Argument  [Accessed 03.11.17].

Janaway, C. (2006) Reading Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art: Selected texts with interactive commentary. Pondicherry: Blackwell Publishing.

Philosophy Bites (2017) ‘Elisabeth Schellekens Dammann on Disagreement About Taste’, Aesthetics Bites. [Podcast] Avaliable from: http://philosophybites.com/2017/04/elisabeth-schellekens-dammann-on-disagreement-about-taste.html [Accessed 01.11.17].

Research - 'Strange Tools' - Chapter 2 by Ally McGinn

Noe, A (2016) ‘Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature.’ Narrated by Tom Perkins. Avaliable at: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Arts-Entertainment/Strange-Tools-Audiobook/B01994KQQA (Downloaded: 24/10/17).

I'm finding I'm writing more notes listening, as opposed to when I read a text. When reading I make annotations (occasionally long ones) and highlight but while listening my thought have been going a bit deeper. When reading this tends to only happen in reflections on the text or when trying to apply that knowledge elsewhere - to this blog for example.

Of course it could simply be that I am finding this text very aligned with my interests in the function of art, although it discusses that function from the perspective of it's process, rather than the function of the art object. This text is one that fits very well with what I am thinking about at the moment.

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Notes from chapter 2

In this chapter the author continues to compare aspects of art to other activities, in a very interesting way. This time, dancing and choreography. Where the artist is the choreographer.

  • we act out of habit but we are often unaware of those habitual activities.

  • The exploration of dancing as an organised activity is interesting for me after a visit to the museum in Exeter two weeks ago where I saw an unexpected traditional gypsy dance, which was unchoreographed and more akin to a conversation than a predictable routine the dancers followed.

  • “If you can read you will read, the sign almost reads you” interesting in term of semiotics. A literal statement that I cannot deny, and I doubt anyone else would. When we see language we read it, and our minds often create words when there are none (number plates that look like other words or names are a good example of this) so desperate is the act of reading when seeing. Once a language is learned it becomes, at some basic level, an automatic activity.

  • If we take the metaphor for art, that the author has encouraged, then he suggests here that art is an organised activity that we participate in but do not create. This would seem to align with Barthes, Derrida and Danto (to varying degrees). Artists nominate and show art, they explore it's possibilities and represent it.

  • A staged activity - one undertaken for a purpose that is supposed to be read, interpreted or enjoyed. An exhibit.

  • The artist's desires and intentions are not the same as the intentions of the activity of art. (The choreographer and someone dancing in a club, have different aims)

  • We are artists, it is an organised activity of which we all undertake. Artists expose that activity and use it to communicate some idea or emotion.

  • We are unknowing artists by nature. Art gives us the opportunity to examine further the depth of art and the implications on the way we use it.

  • Natural/cultural

  • Re-organisational practices.

  • Art is philosophy, revealing something Heidegger called something concealed hidden, implicit or left in the background.

  • Plato - recollection - the author sees this not as a sign that we once knew more than we know now, but a reorganisation of what we already know, including things we don't know we know.

  • Wittgenstein suggested that philosophy is a question saying, “I don't know where I am” basically, “I'm lost”.

  • Different neighbourhoods of consciousness - a nice way to describe the relationship between art, philosophy and other organised activities.

  • Choreographing is the philosophy of movement…..this would imply that art is the philosophy of...something.

    • Not that the two are related, but they are similar activities in purpose and method (to an extent)

  • “They are practices, not activities, methods of research”

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