Immanuel Kant and Aesthetic
Shouldn't we abolish aesthetics?
Listen!—there never was an artistic period!— There never was an art loving nation—
In the beginning, man went forth each day—some to do battle—some to the chase—others again to dig and to delve in the field—all that they might gain, and live—or lose and die—until there was found among them, one, differing from the rest—whose pursuits attracted him not—and so he staid by the tents, with the women, and traced strange devices, with a burnt stick, upon a gourd.—
This man, who took no joy in the ways of his brethren, who cared not for conquest, and fretted in the field—this designer of quaint patterns—this deviser of the beautiful, who perceived in nature about him, curious carvings,—as faces are seen in the fire—This dreamer apart—was the first artist.—
And when, from the field and from afar, there came back the people, they took the gourd and drank from out of it.
So wrote the avant-garde painter James McNeill Whistler in his famous manifesto 'The Ten O'Clock Lecture'2, employing what Oscar Wilde characterized, with affectionate ridicule, as 'the style of the minor prophets'.3 In his novel The Inheritors, which offers an anthropological version of the Fall of Man, William Golding devises a similar aetiology for the discovery of the aesthetic, an originary moment for art. Golding's Neanderthal men are apparently unfallen, and they have no art, only a single trouvaille, a twisted piece of root which they regard as an image of their
1 Cited Bennett (1990) 165.
2 Thorpe (1994) 82.
3 Jackson (1991) 54. Perhaps, for Wilde, Ruskin is the 'major' prophet.