Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Art consists of experiencing abstractions of (double)experience


On point 5 of his well-known 1975 essay, The Artist as Anthropologist, artist and critic Joseph Kosuth writes the following:
Perhaps art consists of experiencing abstractions of experience.(º)
When I read this sentence I could not stop thinking: What's so special about the experience of art that is different from, say, the experience of cooking? Kosuth doesn't help much on this front, though one can find some hints to go by. In the mid 1970's the conceptual artist was interested in anthropology and took classes with Bob Scholte & Stanley Diamond at the New School of Social Research.

Scholte's revisionist anthropology advocates a midway between perspectivism and naive objectivism, what he calls a reflexive, critical anthropology, which is aware of its inherent ideological biases.* Moving beyond perspectivism and ideology will allow anthropology to become emancipatory, more fine-tuned to the negotiations between self-understanding, self reflection and (partial) self-emancipation. Kosuth cites Scholte:  
If scientism also considers itself empirical and problem-oriented, it usually assumes that facts are facts, that objective methods simply select relevant data without affecting them and that these units of analysis can be processed to yield lawful predictions and functional norms. (p. 109).
With his insistence on "praxis" -though he doesn't define what that means-, perhaps what Kosuth has in mind by "experience" is a pragmatic late-Wittgenstein version of sprachspiel.** In other words, our experience is mediated by our interests.

I'd like to point out that reading Kosuth's essays of this period are a refreshing experience. The writing reflects a specific moment and attitude in the history of art in America between 1968-1978, which marks the ideological shift from Modern to Post-Modern. As a bonus, one gets to meet the main protagonists of the conceptual revolt in the New York of the early 1970s. Kosuth's style is the collage: He quotes famous people and their opinions to build a sort of ideological/chronological accretion. Then he interjects with his own comments, as if moving the whole argument along. This essay includes the voices of distinguished anthropologists, such as Edward Sapir, Diamond and Scholte, and other famous characters, such as Goethe, Einstein, Michael Polanyi, William Leiss, Martin Jay, etc: All the disparate echoes reverberate around the basic ART question at hand. 

Now, let's come back to (º): "Perhaps art consists of experiencing abstractions of experience." But so does cooking and playing tennis. When I cook, I'm not only experiencing my mixing of ingredients in the salad bowl, but also measuring, tasting, and reflecting on previous experiences, which have been abstracted as "recipes." What's unique about the experience of art other than its obvious experiencing it? 

In the final section entitled "Epilogue," Kosuth makes this assertion:
Abstraction means a generalization of our experiential world. This superstructural connective is what constitute culture. Culture consists of an abstraction from experience. (p. 122).
I can see why abstractions are generalizations of our experiential world, but then Kosuth turns this set of generalizations onto a proto-marxian "superstructural connective" that he labels "culture." Then, he defines culture as an abstraction from experience (?). But art already consisted in (º) of "experiencing abstractions of experience." If you plug this onto the paragraph in red above, you get the following platitude:

Art consists of experiencing generalizations of experience [of experience].

(Other than the trivial generalization) I don't get it. Do you?

All Kosuth quotes taken from Art after Philosophy and After: Collected writings 1966-1990 (MIT Press, 1991). *See Scholte's important 1972 paper, "Toward a Reflective and Critical Anthropology." **Kosuth is fond of late-Wittgenstein's philosophy.


Anonymous said...

I’m agree it sound trivial, redundant... tautological. I guess “culture” is every thing that human made in order to construct or deconstruct the world...
From Judith G.

Anonymous said...

Kosuth was trying to say that art is a double experience but got lost defining it in relationship with culture. I'll check the book out at FIU.


Anonymous said...

artists dont know how to talk about their works. thats why they make art. dont expect to find reasons is more like mumbojumbo.

miamibourbaki said...

Thanks, Judith.

Sheim: Do that, he's fun to read.

Kosuth is pretty fluid in his talk, but I guess too near to art as well.

Sam said...

Go figure this one: "Artists work with meaning, not shapes, colors or materials."

Anonymous said...

"Art consists of experiencing generalizations of experience"

This really says a lot, but Art itself has so many levels that now we are waking up to see just the beginning of another level and, since we are still on the 'age of reason' we define it to try to understand it.

Art is creation, it's a mirror between the artist and the world that perceives it. Even cooking, if I as a "magician" can mold the elements around to create something that identifies me, the world, or the connection between us, it is considered art. Like God is a global concept for religion, Art (creation) is the global concept for humanity.

Through the creative process, one can sense the experience of art. If I'm playing tennis, I may not be aware of how artistically I project myself, but a receiver might. If I were the receiver (spiritually) I would recognize myself or the creative experience as a work of art, and viceversa.

However, if everything is art, then nothing is art. "Wrong"? ;)