Main Trends in Aesthetics and the Sciences of Art

By Mikel Dufrenne | Go to book overview

SECTION FOUR: THE STUDY OF GENERAL PROBLEMS

INTRODUCTION

Of these problems, we have selected three which seem to us to be impossible to ignore: the problem of the creation of the work of art, the problem of its reception, and the problem of its evaluation. The selection is doubtless limited, but not, we think, arbitrary. In the first place, because aesthetics has traditionally been concerned with these problems, long before resorting to the positive sciences to which it has bequeathed them; and next, because these problems arose also before art claimed its independence, before artists were distinguished from craftsmen and claimed for their works the special status of aesthetic objects. It is sufficient for an object to be produced which appeals to our taste, that is to say, which does not serve any exclusively practical or conceptual purpose, for us to ask ourselves in what circumstances and with what intention it was produced, and what reception is expected for it and is received. Depending on time and place, various ideologies may distort the sense of these questions, and that is something to be borne in mind in a history of cultures. The fact remains that such questions cannot be dismissed on that account, and they still call for an answer from those who think about these matters today. We shall now see what is being done to answer them.


A. ARTISTIC CREATION, by Mikel Dufrenne

At the outset of this section, we must warn the reader that the account we shall try to give of the research done on the creation of works of art will be somewhat fragmentary. Many aestheticians, particularly those concerned with aesthetics in France — Alain, Valéry, Bayer, Gilson, E. Souriau — do, indeed, and rightly so, stress the creative activity of art. Such a study cannot be burked, but it may be incorporated in a formal study of the completed work, and it may be concerned more with the craft than with the psychological and social circumstances of its practice. It is in his canvas that Van Gogh's touch can be identified, and it can be studied within the framework of a system of pictorial writing without our knowing anything of the artist's intentions or motivations. This is the direction in which the most recent research is mainly directed and it is more appropriate for a constructive approach. Moreover, though many articles are written on writers or artists, the authors are usually philosophers rather than scientists. Again, it is through their work that philosophers investigate creative artists; they are less concerned with trying to discover the strange secret of creation than with understanding its impersonal sense, less concerned with knowing a man's destiny than with 'poetic destiny'. 1.

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1.
BLANCHOT, 'La folie par excellence' ( 1953), quoted by DERRIDA in L'écriture et la différence ( 1967).

-202-

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