Main Trends in Aesthetics and the Sciences of Art

By Mikel Dufrenne | Go to book overview

SECTION TWO: THE PHILOSOPHICAL SCENE

In introducing the conceptual machinery employed today in the study of forms of literary and artistic expression we make a distinction between philosophy and science. It would take too long to explain our reasons for doing so. We will merely say that alongside the objectifying thought which takes art as its subject, in the same way as science does in any other sphere which it selects and determines to explore, there is another thought, less determining, less legislatorial, more deeply associated with life, which might be called, according to the exactness of its formulation and perhaps also to the value attached to it, Weltanschauung, ideology or philosophy. This thought may of course inspire the scientific study of art as well, being in the first place close enough to that study to give rise to it or penetrate it; for it holds its own in praxis as well as in reflexion. Hence if we now refer to the philosophies in which it is expressed today this is not just because when their aims are epistemological, they orientate research in the study of artistic and literary expression, but because they conspire with this expression to the extent of sometimes laying claim to it in their own right. They say in their fashion, which sometimes verges on the poetic, what the arts say. They evoke the same thought. There is of course no question here of elaborating that thought: we are mainly concerned to recall briefly the fascination which art has for it, how it is in league with art, even when it is not setting out to establish an aesthetic, and how in exchange it can lead art into certain adventures. As for the countries where philosophy is not currently practised, it is precisely art which no doubt has the mission of expressing their particular Weltanschauung.

The philosophies to which we refer are therefore the ones nearest to us and most alive in our midst. But amongst these must also be included some old doctrines which seem to have taken on new life. To quote just one, Thomism, not because it still holds sway in established religion, but because the works of Maritain and Gilson have made it applicable to our contemporary situation. It is a notable fact, moreover, that Maritain and Gilson have drawn from it two very different philosophies of art, although both philosophies are in accordance with decisive aspects of contemporary art. The former defines art as a spiritual adventure akin to mystic experience, 1. and sometimes a prelude or a substitute for it. The latter defines art as 'doing' as opposed to 'knowing' and thus justifies both the formal analysis of works and the abandoning of figurative art. 2. Let us now turn to the more provocative forms of current thought.

____________________
1.
J. MARITAIN, "Art et scolastique" ( 1927) (English translation, Art and Scholasticism, 1930); Frontières de la poésie ( 1935); "Situation de la poésie" (in collaboration with Raïssa MARITAIN, 1938) (English translation, The Situation of Poetry, 1955); Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry ( 1953).
2.
GILSON, "Painting and Reality" (lectures, 1955, publ. in 1957, 1958; French version, Peinture et réalité, 1958); Introduction aux arts du beau ( 1963) (English trans

-49-

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