Julie’s Paper – #1

The concept of Modernity is something that can be applied to all physical objects and all mental concepts that are thought out in this world. Art is a superior physical and even mental example of the evolution of the concept of modernity. History of art is all categorized into time period of when certain art with a certain style is created. There is the Renaissance Era, the Impressionist Era, The Cubist Era, and so on. With each style created, the question of “what is art?” is revisited. Modernity can be applied to art the same way it can be applied to life. The question of “what is?” is always revisited when a person or society is approached by the impending time of the future.

Ernst Cassier said that, “Modern philosophy began with the principle that the evidence of our own being is impregnable and unassailable. But the advance of psychological knowledge has hardly confirmed this Cartesian principle (Cassier, 1).” The knowledge we may have of the world is different than what people in the past have believed and what people in the future will believe. A parallel can be made to art in this matter. The knowledge of art and the definition of art are always changing. Some works of art today would not be considered art in the eighteenth century. What we see as individuals in this society may not be the same thing others in a more historical society saw. Not one idea is truly infinite in its same form that was thought of in the beginning. Is it truly possible to define an object or an idea in a way that will be eternal in the eyes of future societies?

Art is a form of human thought; it is merely a sliver of what we humans can develop in our complex minds. Art is not just a physical object; it is a thought of the mind that is simply expressed in a physical way. Many people view art as a channel from the experience and emotion of life into a physical thing that can be viewed, interpreted and touched. The human experience is constant with all people throughout history and the future. “Introspection reveals to us only that small sector of human life which is accessible to our individual experience; it can never cover the whole field of human phenomena. Even if we should succeed in collecting and combining all the data, we should still have a very meager and fragmentary picture-a mere torso- of human nature (Cassier, 2).” Art can stem from introspection, I feel as though again, there is another parallel that can be made believing in the soul and inner thoughts creates the mode that is needed to create art. The thoughts and self-experience cannot ever be the constant in this world, because it is true that life is finite. No human phenomenon is constant without the infinite guarantee of life, which does not exist. If modernity is a stem from the thoughts and experiences of individuals, than modernity itself is not infinite, at least in the definition that it is currently in. So is there is a “modern” period in art, is it truly modern?

In 1917, there was an artist by the name of Marcel Duchamp, who created a piece of art titled “Fountain,” although this art looked nothing like a fountain. Duchamp had taken an old porcelain urinal and signed it with the signature “R. Mutt.” This piece of art was thought to be a remarkably unusual style of art since no other artist had taken an object and manipulated it in a way like Duchamp had. The piece was rejected by many art commissions and was thought be useless and was not considered art. What Duchamp had really done though was move the definition of art from a more physical definition to a more mental definition. Modern art has become an idea. At least it has become an idea in what we today refer to as “modern art.”

The same thing can be said for Duchamp’s rendition of the Mona Lisa. Duchamp slapped a mustache on the Mona Lisa and called it “L.H.O.O.Q.” These types of art make you think about what art really is. The same can go for what Cassier was saying when he criticized Diderot on his thought on the evolution of science. Cassier said this of Diderot, “He began to doubt the obsolute right of these ideals. He expects the ride of a new form of science- a science of a more concrete character, based on the observation of facts than on the assumption of general principals (Cassier, 17).” But there was one problem with Diderot’s theory, the facts even just a hundred or so years later were being overshadowed by newer facts that proved the earlier facts wrong. History is sued to develop those new thoughts that may shape out interpretation of modernity, but there is no stopping the new interpretations and idea that may arise. “Our Problem is simply to collect the empirical evidence which the general theory of evolution has put at out disposal in a rich and abundant measure (Cassier, 18).”

Theory is the driving force into modernity. Thought and interpretation of experiences shapes new forms of what we consider to be “normal.” It shapes new pieces of art and new ideas of art, such like the “Fountain.”  “But what became more important for the general history of our ideas and for the development of philosophical thought was not the empirical facts of evolution but the theoretical interpretation of these facts (Cassier, 18).” These facts can be paintings and sculpture, concrete things that are already interpreted. Interpretation of what we already see is the basis for the creation of things and ideas that may exist in the future. New pieces of art are formed by what we see from our eyes in our time, in our modern thought process, But what may be seen by future generations is something that we cannot come up with, but it must be thought of by future societies, based upon what we have given them.

One thought on “Julie’s Paper – #1

  1. Julie,

    This is a decent enough attempt to wrestle with Cassirer, although I think you could have the text a bit more in places. I liked the inclusion of the Duchamp pieces as concrete examples.

    Art and philosophy seem to be the only two human activities which involve self-interrogation as part of that activity. In other words, philosophers and artists, as they do philosophy and art, are asking what they are doing. “What is philosophy” and “what is art” are foundational questions which most fields do not ask, and they certainly do not ask them as part of the field. So the comparison is a thoughtful one.

    One of things that may happen in modern art (as in Duchamp’s case) is a critique of what Heidegger has called the metaphysics of presence. I have mentioned this a bit in class so I won’t go over it again here, but basically the point is to call into question our reflective understanding of things. It is interesting that one of the things that happens to both modern mathematics and modern art is a departure from the world of experience. I distinctly remember–a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (i.e., May 2000 in the Centre Pompidou in Paris)–being unable to interpret various pieces of modern art on my own. I literally had to have an art history student explain them to me to have any grip on them at all. I think that, for both philosophy and art, this can become a problem. Socrates didn’t just talk to Parmenides; he could talk, and did talk, to everyone. One of the things that has happened to art and philosophy in the 20th and 21st centuries, I think, is that most of it has become almost incomprehensible to anyone who is not a specialist. Need I suggest that this is not necessarily because art or philosophy is better or deeper now than in ancient Greece…?

    A quibble about Diderot: I think Cassirer is saying that Diderot is a critic of the emerging scientific paradigm. In other words, he is a critic of part of the Enlightenment even in the midst of it. I don’t think Cassirer is suggesting that Diderot is upholding the scientific paradigm.

    There are some spelling and grammatical mistakes; be sure to proofread.


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