Unreal Nature

October 23, 2018

In the Place of Reality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… How can we participate in this purpose?

This is from The Social History of Art, volume IV by Arnold Hauser (1962; 1951):

… ‘L’art pour l’art’ is, in fact, partly the expression of the division of labor which advances hand in hand with industrialization, partly the bulwark of art against the danger of being swallowed up by industrialized and mechanized life. It signifies, on the one hand, the rationalization, disenchantment and contraction of art, but simultaneously the attempt to preserve its individual quality and spontaneity, in spite of the universal mechanization of life.

‘L’art pour l’art’ indubitably represents the most involved problem in the whole field of aesthetics. Nothing expresses so acutely the dualistic, spiritually divided nature of the artistic outlook. Is art its own end or only the means to an end? This question will be answered differently, not only according to the particular historical and social situation in which one happens to find oneself, but also according to which element in the complex structure of art one concentrates on.

[line break added] The work of art has been compared to a window through which life can be seen without the necessity of accounting for the structure, transparency and color of the window-pane itself. According to this analogy, the work of art appears to be a mere vehicle of observation and knowledge, that is, a pane of glass or an eye-glass of no consequence in itself and merely serving as a means to an end.

[line break added] But just as one can concentrate one’s attention on the structure of the window-pane, without paying any attention to the picture displayed on the other side of the window, so the work of art can be thought of as an independent formal structure existing for its own sake, as a coherent and significant entity, complete and perfect in itself, and in which all transgressing interpretations, all ‘looking through the window,’ prejudices the appreciation of its spiritual coherence.

[line break added] The purpose of the work of art constantly wavers between these two points of view, between an immanent being, detached from all reality beyond the work itself, and a function determined by life, society and practical necessity. From the standpoint of the direct aesthetic experience, autonomy and self-sufficiency appear to be the essence of the work of art, for only by cutting itself off from reality and putting itself completely in the place of reality, only by forming a total, self-contained cosmos, is it able to produce a perfect illusion.

[line break added] But this illusion is in no way the whole content of art and often has no share in the effect it produces. The greatest works of art forego the deceptive illusionism of a self-contained aesthetic world and point beyond themselves. They stand in an immediate relationship to the great problems of their age and are always searching for an answer to the questions: How can a purpose be gained from human life? and : How can we participate in this purpose?




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