The Aesthetic Fallacies

Words, in their way, might help us see the objects of creation, those creations which grow in beauty from the mind of man.  Statues, pictures, et cetera, we understand by words, those vessels of ideas before, beyond the things themselves.  Words contain the universe, a universe which knows itself by the mind of man.  We might assume that God created all things in nature; that, from the nature of man, come statues and pictures, an image of ourselves in creation.  Perhaps you have guessed: neither fish nor fowl, beast nor reptile can know, as do we men, the idea in the form, the universe that lives within the statue.  Perhaps you know, perhaps you have guessed: within the picture exists the human-borne spirit, transcendent, almost angelic, ineffable to all … excepting, of course, the critic, the professor, the know-it-all who reduces the human soul to base political identifications.

John Martin (1789–1854); The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, 1822; Tate

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Plato, Roman copy of a bust by Silanion for the Academia in Athens (c. 370 BC)

Toward understanding, best, perhaps, to promptly put away narrowing political spectacles so that humanely we might see statues and pictures for what they are: sensibly divine creations which grow through the body of man, into time.  To see without prepossession, we might set aside two millennia of fallacies that visit us through critical theory since Aristocles, that too often mistaken philosopher who you know as, “Plato”. 

Raphael (1483 – 1520); The School of Athens, 1509–1511; Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

Plato assumed pictures and statues to be an act of mimesis, a “mimicry”, a “copy” of some object, a chair, a tree, a person, et cetera.  As mentioned, Plato was often mistaken, most especially in his Theory of Forms, a notion which assumes each material object, let us say, “a chair”, to be a copy in physical shape of the one, perfect essence of “chair”. This one, singular chair is the heavenly paragon of all chairs, all the chairs you have known; you might say, in theory, that this one chair is the God of Chairs, of which your kitchen chair is but an imperfect shadow.  Yes, Plato really thought so, and taught it so, and Plato was very much mistaken, a mistake which, in the shadows of relativism, is with us yet. 

Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890); Van Gogh’s Chair, 1888; National Gallery, London

Often, you will hear professors, progressives, modernists, and museum ear-speakers criticize some picture termed by them (the Materialists), “realist”, meaning, a mimicry, a copy of nature imperfectly made, removed from reality by the inaccuracy of eye, mind, skill.  This later, current assumption of mimicry is non-platonic, is singular, a denial of the soul, the immaterial reality of man (and, perhaps, of other God-filled creatures).  Both Platonists and Materialists suppose that pictures and statues are an imitation. The “Platonists”, that a picture is an imitation of an imitation of some far-distant, perfect object. The “Modernist”, that a statue is an imperfect, material copy of a closely-observed material object. Both suppose that the picture of “chair” is some species of Kodak snapshot, a silly notion, blind to the spirit which through human agency exists into the object, which by ineffable language speaks person-to-person, ad infinitum … or to the sun-death … or into and past the Rapture … who can say?  The picture of “chair” is more than it seems.  The picture of the chair is not the chair, the picture of the chair is the picture, it is a thing itself, the picture-chair is no more a copy of a chair than is memory a copy of an event, both are original creations. Easy, let us retire the Materialist Fallacy.

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The next fallacy to be put-away: the “Scientific Fallacy“, a theory, a notion of artistic creation which assumes art to be a commentary on reality, a reality in general, alike a method of science which expounds some species of compounded sense-data leading toward a general, universal law.  Artists, the theory assumes, are lab-coated practitioners of experimental observation, observations which in sum contribute to the advancement of understanding, the betterment of civilization, the progress to perfection.  But, picture painters are not lab-coated scientists, most are not artists, some are idlers, some are hobbyists, some are earning a living, very few observe the aspects of the pictured object, fewer still, the universal principles, and almost none fuse in the picture, essence, observation, and ease, that sprezzatura, the art which conceals the art, gracefully.

Group Painting, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

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William Blake (1757 – 1827); The Ancient of Days, 1794; The British Museum

That was the Empirical-Scientific Fallacy, a Neo-Classical (Aristotelian) theory of pictuary and statuary.  This, the Scientific-Romantic Fallacy: pictures, statues, et cetera, might be an allegory, a “particular representation” of a general principle, or, an artistic creation might be a symbol, a “unique expression” of a universal truth.  The Romantic theories might be accurate if not for the insistence that pictures and statues are, in fact, a branch of science in proof of principles or universal truths.  The bit that Coleridge, Shelley, Schopenhauer, et alia just missed, the important bit: creation is intra-experiential, the preexistent from which art is created.  The Romantic Fallacy is the wrong-end fallacy, a notion of transcendence, a going beyond or above experience. Truth is, experience exists within, deep, the knowledge of God that lives through the life, the divine which from some particular without is confirmed by the universal within. Later, in some future essay, we might discuss duality in its many forms, essentially. 

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Being scientists, in a manner that Jesus Christ could not comprehend, likely you have been waiting for the Psychiatric theory, the Psychiatric Fallacy, a literary metaphor Freud-born, the notion of the picture or the statue being the manifestation of a dream, a relationship between the “artist” and “the work”.  Here, according to the psychiatrist, the artist steps from the foggy cave of the deeply-disturbed mind to manifest itself in the deeply-disturbed object; id est, the artist is the art, the statue, the picture, the statement, the, well, it is all a mumbo-jumbo…”the artist is the art“, is “a political action“, is “the performance”.  Yes, that was quick-stepping.  To know the Psychiatric Fallacy, recognize the favor of feeling over reason, the—good-gosh, never thought I would employ this word—the “privileging” of emotion, alike the privilege of the child, the insane, the unskilled, the shyster over, let us say, Jacques Louis David.

Jaques Louis David (1748 – 1825); The Death of Socrates, 1787; The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973); Guernica, 1937; Museo Rina Sofia

Here, also, the interest in anecdote, alike biography, yet prurient, often titillating, sexual, suited to those persons easily seduced by error, by the gossip of personal relationship, by the complicated relationship between artist and work.  Too, and in this the psychoanalyst is most gleeful, the relationship between the statue or picture and the viewer.  This psychiatric, gossipy fallacy removes the work from the artist, from itself, to place the work (picture, statue, et cetera) in the opinion of the viewer, for good, or ill, or indifference.  If good, a prescription of self-help; if ill, an ineffective pill; if indifferent, some unimportance judged by the opinion of the viewer.  The “opinion of the viewer” is the concept you know as, “the the eye of the beholder, a commercial belief, the transactional assessment of art now current in art galleries, art museums, and other institutions that profit by investment or taxation.

Mel Bochner (b. 1940); Nothing 2003; Simon Lee Gallery

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Pierre-Jean David d’Angers (1788 – 1856); Thomas Jefferson, 1834; United States Capitol Building

The final fallacy in our consideration, the current, common fallacy, is the insistence that the statue or picture is an object in the species of archeological Artifact.  These artifacts, these statues and pictures are stamped and catalogued, assigned to some historical, geographic, theoretical classification, some ideological family whose DNA is corrupt or virtuous, whose history is evil or good.  Here, as you recognize, history and geography can, for the most part, be objectively confirmed; here, you recognize the artifactual classification to be subjective, a vagary of opinion.  For instance, you might be of the opinion that Thomas Jefferson was an architect, the founder of a university, a political philosopher, a president, a slave owner, a farmer, a, well, choose one…but only one…the artifactual classification becomes the identity of the work-of-art, titled, footnoted, filed…the historical, geographic, theoretical classification is the thing itself.  Yes, of course, the Artifactual Fallacy is banal, suited to sophomores and nincompoops, and most every progressive politician. 

Michael Curtis (b. 1956); General Eisenhower (detail), 2006; Alexandria, Virginia

I expect you know that I have created statues, pictures, buildings, poems, ideas, each by the will of God (most likely).  I expect you will understand how I experience statues and pictures.  I experience statues and pictures through my body, through my mind, through study, through interpretation, through the vicissitudes of my ever-changing opinion—God save us from settled opinions.  I experience as you experience, with this singular exception: I experience pictures and statues in that exquisite drudgery of creation, an agony, an ecstasy.  Humbly, I know, in small measure, generation from the spirit through the word, from the body into the universe, and I can tell you: pictures and statues are more than artifacts, pictures and statues are ideas manifested supra categorical.  

Dilating upon the theoretical, Artifactual Fallacy, you will notice that this current, popular fallacy is not contemplative but active, active not in consideration, not in appreciation, not in cultivation, but in destruction.  Id est, the object is a subject, a theme subordinate to democratic opinion, to democratic judgement, to sentencing, as Socrates was by the envious, ill-tempered mob, sentenced to destruction, to execution, to murder. 

You might remember Platon’s [Plato’s] cousin, Critias, and Critias’ law against reasoning.  Perhaps you notice the parallel to current events. 

artist unknown; Confederate Soldiers Monument (known as, “The Boys Who Wore Gray”), 1924 (destroyed, 2017); Durham County Courthouse, Durham, North Carolina

As Socrates was murdered, so too are statues murdered, if in the statue’s catalog of identifiers is a description ill-favored by the cudgel-bearing, peripatetic aesthetician. 

Many fallacies have wormed into the body politic, have sickened us.  The cure?  Sunshine, harmony, balance, knowing the cause of sickness, that in future, sickness might be avoided.

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Next time, Aesthetics, a Theology of Beauty.  Afterwards, a brief consideration of those few statues and pictures which have survived the tens of millennia. 

Touching upon the subject, The Classical Architecture and Monuments of Washington, D.C.

This from the book’s description: Classical design formed our nation’s capital. The soaring Washington Monument, the columns of the Lincoln Memorial and the spectacular dome of the Capitol Building speak to the founders’ comprehensive vision of our federal city. Learn about the L’Enfant and McMillan plans for Washington, D.C., and how those designs are reflected in two hundred years of monuments, museums and representative government. View the statues of our Founding Fathers with the eye of a sculptor and gain insight into the criticism and controversies of modern additions to Washington’s monumental structure. Author Michael Curtis guides this tour of the heart of the District of Columbia.

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