Phenomenology of the Visual Arts (Even the Frame)

Phenomenology of the Visual Arts (Even the Frame)

Phenomenology of the Visual Arts (Even the Frame)

Phenomenology of the Visual Arts (Even the Frame)

Synopsis

Why are the visual arts so important and what is it that makes their forms significant? Countering recent interpretations of meaning that understand visual artworks on the model of literary texts, Crowther formulates a theory of the visual arts based on what their creation achieves both cognitively and aesthetically. He develops a phenomenology that emphasizes how visual art gives unique aesthetic expression to factors that are basic to perception. At the same time, he shows how various artistic media embody these factors in distinctive ways. Attentive to both the creation and reception of all major visual art forms (picturing, sculpture, architecture, and photography), Phenomenology of the Visual Arts also addresses complex idioms, including abstract, conceptual, and digital art.

Excerpt

This book discusses a realm of complex meanings which gives the visual arts a distinctive character. Key questions of method arise at the very outset.

In this respect, it is striking that the influence of poststructuralist thinkers (such as Derrida, Foucault, and Lacan) has led many art historians and theorists to reinterpret their task in terms of histories of representation and visual culture. The idea of art as a unique form of meaning has been subjected to sustained critique.

This critique, however, has its own shortcomings. In Chapter 1 of this book, I will clarify the limitations of reductionist approaches to art (which are especially influenced by poststructuralism). These approaches tend to assimilate meaning in the visual arts to the socio-historical context in which the works were produced or to models derived from literary analysis; and to neglect the distinctively visual dimension. Detailed descriptions of the artwork's aesthetic and phenomenal structure are marginalized—if they are offered at all.

The analytic tradition of aesthetics fares little better. It has the great merit of offering lucid argumentative techniques which do not fall into the error of taking obscurity and elliptical expression for signs of profundity, per se.

Unfortunately, it also has significant shortcomings in terms of engaging with the concrete artwork. Characteristically, its descriptive strategies fixate, somewhat, on the general logical character of the work (e.g. the type/token relation, or the referential structure of pictorial representation).

Indeed, the main orientation in this tradition is towards how aesthetic and artistic terms are used. Analytic approaches employ notions such as 'aesthetic' and 'expressive' qualities but mainly without explaining what makes those qualities so significant over and above the mere fact of being aesthetic or expressive. Description stops just where the significance of the aesthetic (and cognate terms) becomes a question.

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