Main Trends in Aesthetics and the Sciences of Art

By Mikel Dufrenne | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

At the outset of this double chapter, and in order to justify the choices implicit in its ordering, we must refer to the difficulties which awaited us and to the recommendations which were made to us by the group of experts convened by Unesco in July 1967 to launch the Second Part of the Study on Trends in Research. The difficulties were due both to the ambiguity of the concept of art and to the diversity of current studies on art: we could hardly make a balance-sheet of these studies without asking ourselves what their purpose was, especially as more often than not, they too raise this very question.

The semantic field of art is in fact very uncertain: How can it be delimited? On the one hand, it so happens that art does not have, always and everywhere, the same status, content and function. This is true even today. Our work should take account of this vital fact, which is determining in both artistic production and in the study of that production: the diversity of political, social and ideological backgrounds results in very considerable differences in the situation and meaning of art from one society to another. On the other hand, quite apart from any socio-cultural presupposition, it so happens that today the word 'art' is highly suspect and that the extent of the concept is very vague: between masterpiece and rough sketch, between a mature artist's drawing and that of a child, between song and shout, sound and noise, dance and gesticulation, object and happening, art and non-art, where does one set the boundary, and are boundaries necessary? For it is not only the 'theories' of art which hesitate to determine its essence; it is also the practice of artists, who continually give the lie to any definition. Throughout this study it will be seen that we have been careful not to put forward any definition of art which might run counter to the spirit of self-questioning and invention which prevails and which wrests it from any firm grip.

And if art, strictly speaking, is elusive in this way, what is the position with the arts, with each particular art? Here again the boundaries are shifting: where does one place a paraph, a mobile, a piece of sculpture designed for living with, a kinetic work? But it is hard to discredit entirely the traditional classifications of the arts and the choice of material and praxis on which these classifications are based: the idea of a particular art cannot be discounted altogether and we have given it its due in the second chapter. A decision had still to be made concerning literature: should it be included with the other arts or given a separate position from the start? The latter solution was tempting, for the twofold reason that literature has by right a specific relationship with language and that its study can therefore benefit from the remarkable current development of linguistics. Nevertheless we have not assigned a special status to literature, except in the second chapter. For this again there are two reasons: the first is that certain general problems arise in the same way in literature as in the arts: these problems involve what might be called the 'phases' of the aesthetic phenomenon: creation, dissemination, reception and appraisal of the works. We have devoted the

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