Blog: The Artist’s Soul Is Not Transcendental

Christine Alfery

Posted on February 19 2018

Blog: The Artist’s Soul Is Not Transcendental
Douglas Rosenberg, Chair, UW-Madison Art Department quoted Immanuel Kant in his weekly newsletter to the Art Department and to those who subscribe to the newsletter; Rosenberg stated that the philosopher Immanuel Kant called “all knowledge transcendental which is concerned not with objects but with our mode of knowing objects.”

I question if how we know objects is indeed transcendental. For example, there is a bottle of water on my desk, do I know this bottle of water because something mysterious came to me and said bottle and I then knew how to label the bottle of water on my desk? Of course the same questions could be asked with the label water and desk. How do we know there is a bottle of water on my desk? Thought subjective thinking as Kantian theory suggests, or because we have labeled objects, and that label is universally accepted? That is we are concerned with objects, and we should be concerned with how we came to know them.

Simple example yes, so let's jump miles ahead and ask the same question about a painting that is hanging on the wall. Have we come to know the painting through some subjective thought process or through objective labeling? Jumping ahead again, have we come to know the painting as art through a subjective, “transcendental” mysterious thought process that has come to us and allows us to know it is art? Or have we objectively come to know the object as a painting and objectively come to know it as art? Nope. There is were Kantian theory really messes up how we have come to know art – if it is through mystical transcendental thinking that is subjective then how do we formulate the notion of art at all? Art cannot be anything if it is dependent on subjective transcendental thinking. Something can come from a whole bunch of nothing.

I would say how we have come to know an object as art is because a cluster of folks says it is art, be they students, teachers, professors, curators, museum directors or whatever. The cluster of folks does not always agree on what can or cannot be called art. What happens is that they cluster together because they agree. Is this really the criteria we want to determine what art is? A cluster of folks who agree? Or could there possibility be a cluster of folks out there who agree that in order to agree on what art is they need to come up with some objective criteria that is not subject to an individuals own personal likes and dislikes.

As I have suggested in the past some of my favorite criteria for determining is an object is art or not are: 1. Authenticity, 2. Originality, 3, Uniqueness, and 4. Is the artist’s soul, heart, self in the work?
The last one is a bit tricky – but can easily be recognized when you compare two works with similar content say a portrait. When you look at two portraits do you find yourself, anytime in the process saying that looks like? If you do the portrait painting is just that a portrait painting and not art.
Art does not happen every day – and every time someone who calls themselves artist does not create art every time that put paint on paper or mold clay into an object. Making art is hard work. And yes it does challenge the artist to venture into the unknown as Douglas Rosenberg has written, but that unknown is not something the artist transcends into I believe that artists create from tired and worn out realities that

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