The abstract art challenges the edges of any framework that is traditionally set between the observer and the work of art. Does this mean that the observer is pushed over the edge and invited to step into the shoes of the artist and his primeordial inspiration that was an initial call for the creation of the artistic work?
I found this question stimulating and it sparked my never quenched interest for modern aesthetics because it unlocks the line of other questions relevant for redefining Ethics in a much more integral way. I would like to share the article by Dr. Jim Walsh and his excellent essay, in which he analysis the aesthetic transformation that takes place when one moves form observing the representational to abstract, expressionist visual art.
In this article the work of an American painter, Clyfford Still (1904 – 1980), has been analyzed through the context of modern aesthetics and abstract art critics (Donald Kuspit, E. C. Goosen) to open a venue for an intriguing comparison between the anthropological studies of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl about native cultures, “pre-logic” thinking, and indigenous peoples’ ability to live in the unity with nature, in which nature appears as an internalized mystery of the pre-given unity, rather than an object of knowledge in which all things are separated from the observers through the system of taxonomy given by the rational and epistemic framework of knowledge. This rational framework is based on the subject and object differentiation enforced through the institutionalized structures of the complex society and their expert based powers functioning in the framework of the public sphere and its discourse, which the fine line is the separation between the cultural experts and their protagonists from the observers. Although the mass culture traits and modern digital revolution is crushing the barriers of the expert boarders and their strict, institutionalized domains, today the power of the structural divides still exist and it’s not yet transformed into a new ethical and more integral world in which the humanity, nature, and culture complement each other to achieve an accord of the unity and help a human being to flourish and fulfills the best potentials.
Can the abstract and expressionists paintings be the teaching model based on the aesthetic experience that transports the mere observer, and pushes one into the world where “It’s intolerable to be stopped by a frame’s edge,” as Clyfford Still wrote once about his paintings.
Is the abstract work of art the way to tap back into the lifeworld, where one’s subjectivity crosses the border of a mere observer’s solipsism into an experience of “living together,” as the Phenomenologist philosopher, Edmund Husserl, described in his famous philosophical work The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (1936) “in living together, we have the world pre-given in this together, belong, the world as world for all, pre-given with this ontic meaning…” With the abstract art and their “primal” forms, are we called to discover the new plain, called by the French anthropologist, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, the “prelogical,” “symbolic” way of understanding the world that stands before us in its inseparable unity and allures us to go beyond boarders in the accepting of the mystic participation,”participation mystique”?
The original article by Dr. Jim Walsh, “Lévy-Bruhl and Difference” via Conway Hall blog:
“The perceptual enquiring gaze of the disinterested observer remarking upon their object of study in order to ‘establish’ and pursue ‘new knowledge,’ becomes questionable as the sole method for encountering the world.”
More about Dr. Jim Walsh and his association with Conway Hall: