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July 11, 2013

Essay on Kant's Theory and Aesthetic Practice

Kant’s first part of Critique of Judgment offers a description of what he calls “judgment of taste of reflection” or “aesthetic judgment of aesthetics” or, for short, “judgments of taste” or “aesthetic judgments.” Kant questions the motive behind the declaration of something being beautiful or sublime? What is it about an object that deserves the use of such claims to describe it? Kant calls this demand for the consent of others on our judgment as “subjective universality”   when it is clear that our judgment has neither the objective claim of theoretical judgments, nor the compulsory force of moral judgment.
In Kant’s aesthetics the actual content of the properly aesthetic judgment is the inner harmony of subjective faculties. And however the success or completion of that judgment occurs only by way of a fundamental misrecognition of that same harmony by the subject. That is, the properly aesthetic judgment occurs in the moment when the subject making the purported judgment misrecognizes its own harmony as something objective; beauty is the name for this harmony misrecognizing itself.
In explaining judgment of taste, Kant isolated two essential and compulsory states for a judgment to be a judgment of taste — subjectivity and universality (Kant 1790). There may be other conditions that also play a part in ascertaining as to what a judgment of taste is, but they are dependent on, or affirmed by, the two primary conditions. In this aspect Kant followed the lead of Hume and other writers in the British sentimentalist tradition (Hume 1757)
In the explanation of the beautiful by Kant, offered at the end of the fourth moment of the Critique of the Power of Judgment, there is an incorporation of the a priori nature of the judgment of taste and the essential character of the pleasure that is taken from a beautiful object. Beautiful is “cognized without a concept as the object of a necessary satisfaction” (Kant 2000, p.240). Yet, since the idea of necessity is theoretical and abstract, the concept of an aesthetic judgment that is essential appears to be contradictory because an aesthetic judgment is always subjective and non-theoretical. Kant stipulates that it is not an illogical occurrence that we find some elements in nature a cause of delight while some others do not. He consequently asserts that this necessity in satisfaction, concerning the pleasure taken from a beautiful object, has to be a feature of the aesthetic judgment. One cannot detach this idea of necessity from the assertion that the beautiful object gives universal delight without a theory. According to Kant, the two signs of a claim that suggests an a priori character are universality and necessity. As he says in the Critique of Pure Reason:

Experience teaches us, to be sure, that something is constituted thus and
so, but not that it could not be otherwise. First, then, if a proposition is
thought along with its necessity, it is an a priori judgment; if it is, moreover,
also not derived from any proposition except one that in turn is valid as a
necessary proposition, then it is absolutely a priori. Second: Experience
never gives its judgments true or strict but only assumed and comparative
universality (through induction), so properly it must be said: as far as we
have yet perceived, there is no exception to this or that rule. Thus if a judgment
is thought in strict universality, i.e., in such a way that no exception
at all is allowed to be possible, then it is not derived from experience, but is
rather valid absolutely a priori. (R, B4)
Since these two criteria mentioned cannot be separated from each other, when we state that the beautiful object is a source of universal pleasure and especially if this statement is not based on an experiment one, our statement will imply that the beautiful object bestows pleasure. The claim that aesthetic judgment is indispensable needs to be substantiated on a solid ground. It is not possible to find epistemic ground to substantiate it as there is not a priori information that says that everyone can obtain aesthetic pleasure from a common object. As  Kant says:
[T]his necessity is of a special kind: not a theoretical objective necessity,
where it can be cognized a priori that everyone will feel this satisfaction in
the object called beautiful by me, nor a practical necessity, where by means
of concepts of a pure will. (Kant 2000, p.237)
As Kant points out, a moral ground for the judgment cannot be specified nor is the aesthetic pleasure based on tour personal principles. Therefore, it can be said that the necessity of an aesthetic judgment cannot be termed as a theoretical necessity, as considered in the judgments of knowledge, or as a practical necessity, as considered in normative judgments. This subjective judgment or the aesthetic judgment is essential no doubt, but it cannot be termed a necessity that is founded on our perceptions. In short, it can be said that this necessity that the aesthetic judgment has is not founded on anything that is external to aesthetic pleasure. We need to look for the principle of aesthetic pleasure by examining the essential association between the beautiful and this feeling of pleasure that we take from a beautiful object. In order to illuminate this necessary association between the beautiful and pleasure, the need to highlight the difference that Kant portrays between the agreeable and the beautiful in order to see the nature of their relations to pleasure is important. While the agreeable is absolutely based on our pragmatic judgments and it entirely depends on our subjective inclinations. Therefore, this leads to the idea that there is only a thin connection between agreeable objects and pleasure. In contrast to this, the beautiful is distinguished by its indispensable relation to pleasure. It is seen that, in aesthetic judgment, the pleasure that one derives from an object becomes a tenet that everyone has to follow. This principle seems to highlight the belief of an obligatory approval in a community since an a priori necessity does not comes from a practical agreement. Moreover, it is known that the aesthetic judgment does not have a necessity that is based on theory.

Kant believes that the aesthetic judgment, which has a kind of necessity, contains universality as an exemplary. He says:
[A] necessity that is thought in an aesthetic judgment, it can only be called
exemplary, i.e., a necessity of the assent of all to a judgment that is regarded
as an example of a universal rule that one cannot produce. (Kant 2000, p.237)
And as Kant takes nature to be the paradigm case of beauty (Kant 2000, p.238) which has the necessity of aesthetic judgment for people in general, therefore in the Critique of Judgment Kant identifies creative genius as ‘the innate [angebornes] mental predisposition [Gemütsanlage] (ingenium) through which nature gives the rule to art.’ Though it is not clear what such enigmatic comments mean, it is obvious that Kant is implying association between the creative powers traditionally related with artistic genius and the principles that nature instinctively follows. It also implies that Kant perceives such a connection as important.
So if art is to be judged beautiful and fine art to be possible, then it must conform to the ‘natural’ in some way. Kant wishes a formation of artistic genius that can produce such art objects that are on one hand a result of artistic purpose however on the other hand mask this purpose by emerging as an essential product of natural mechanism. This dilemma can be understood in terms of the equivocal connection between the strange affinity between the free artistic creativity and judgments of taste, both of which Kant perceives as a necessity for the making of fine art. In both conditions, there is a strain between the creative force that goes beyond our theoretical capabilities and a requirement that art is understandable to an audience.
Kant's authority on the progress of art criticism is world renowned, and the fact that the addition of art in the domain of beauty depends on the feasibility of his theory of genius, it is important that one interpret as clear a statement as possible about Kant's concept of art and artistic creativity.
The difficulty is that how in the light that conscious intention plays an undeniable part in the conception of art; pure judgments of taste about art can be probable. As Kant has argued that it is the free play of imagination and rationalization that gives rise to the understanding of beauty. In short it can be said that when we see a beautiful scenery, our mind alone falls short in comprehending the scene. We are unable to understand what is causing it but we are able to sense the pleasure that comes from it. This feeling of pleasure is because of the contact between the scenery itself and the understanding mind. The sensation of unity that we have is beauty and according to Kant, we all share it. Thus this understanding of beauty is something worldwide, and it has the ability to excel us to a profounder level of acceptance.
Thus Kant gave the theory of genius as an effort to give a solution to the dual responsibility of art as an intended work yet that is to be judged through pure judgment. Kant in his book says ‘[A]rt can be called fine [schön] art only if we are conscious that it is art while yet it looks to us like nature.’(Kant 2000, p. 255) Art is at the same time an opus of the artist and an effectus of natural fecundity (Fruchtbarkeit).( Kant 2000, p. 255) The particular relationship between the genius and nature is here made clear by highlighting the fact  that on Kant’s model of aesthetic appreciation, nature is the standard case of beauty, so that if art can be termed beautiful at all it is only because it comes into view as a natural product.( Kant 2000, p. 239) Without this, it would have been impossible to distinguish between fine art (Schöne Kunst) and craft (Handwerke) or mercenary art (Lohnkunst).( Kant 2000, p.256)
As Kant has remarked in Critique of Judgment that only natural beauty can stimulate a direct moral concern, it seems that Kant endeavored to find a way to make clear art as in some way natural. Paul Guyer(1996) in the book Kant and the Experience of Freedom provides one of the best defenses to the concept that nature is his basic standard case of beauty.
            Among the artists it is observed that Friedrich’s work symbolizes Kant idea about sublime and artistic genius, as he was able to articulate in paint feelings and sensations which could not be manifested in words. However, they were understandable for everyone. Friedrich’s paintings are thus more than simple depiction of a beautiful view. He uses symbols to discover the sublime: a state that can move the observer to a different level of truth and brings him or her together with the divine self. Friedrich’s attention to the sublime also alludes to Kant’s theories. According to Kant in contrast to beauty in nature, which is perceived by its beautiful appearance, the sublime also depicts ideas, as we have to use our mind to really take hold of what is basically formless and frenzied in nature. Same is the case with works of art. Kant makes it obvious that beauty in nature is different from beauty in art. Most of all, works of art do not just come into being, but they are especially conceived with some idea in mind. This purpose is not taken from rules or principles; rather it originates from the fact that art reproduces nature.
Therefore, it is said that a true judgment of beauty is unbiased; it is not founded on any recognized notion, rather it is simply a feeling of unimpeded, completely disconnected pleasure. In the same way, a beautiful object is with a purpose, it contains the characteristic or value of purposefulness, without in fact having a tangible purpose. As Cynthia Freeland sums up the concept, in the book “But is it art?”, by saying that Kant thinks that “we respond to the object’s rightness of design, which satisfies our imagination and intellect, even though we are not evaluating the object’s purpose”( Freeland 2001, p.14).

            According to this theory Kant would say that the pleasure we derive from viewing “Starry Night”, by Vincent Van Gogh, is because of the harmony and “free play” of our feelings and understanding that is activated by the purposiveness of its shapes. There is something aesthetically gratifying about the display of shapes and combination of colors that gives us pleasure without directly using a solid or acknowledged perception that we may have for how churches should look, or how the stars should be arranged in the sky. According to Kant, the reason for liking “Starry Night” is not because it has our desired color of blue, or takes us back us to the security and affection of our hometown. These, according to him, are subjects of taste and “agreeableness” rather than judgment and true beauty, and they only work to defile the disinterestedness that should come with our admiration of the aesthetic.
 Even though it is true that many works of art are undoubtedly planned to communicate a social or political idea, like “Guernica” by Picasso, but some others for example Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” are simply pleasing to behold. Kant’s input to the field of aesthetic criticism is important, in spite of of the incapability of his theory to include everything that we now define as “art”. As Freeland(2001) mentions, “Kant’s view of beauty had ramifications well into the twentieth century, as critics emphasized the aesthetic in urging audiences to appreciate new and challenging artists like Cezanne, Picasso, and Pollock”( Freeland 2001, p.15), and his emphasis on noteworthy form goes on to shape the way art is viewed and justified.

Freeland, Cynthia.(2001). But is it art? New York: Oxford University Press.
Guyer, Paul. (1996). Kant and the Experience of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 
Kant, Immanuel.(2000) Critique of Judgment. Trans. Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis:
Hackett Publishing.


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