From Aesthesis to Poiesis: very rough draft

Poiesis is etymologically derived from the ancient Greek term, which means “to make”.

Aesthetics is to artists as ornithology is to birds. Barnett Newman

… before a much older, a hundred times more demanding, but by no means colder eye which has not become a stranger to the task which this audacious book dared to tackle for the first time: to look at science in the perspective of the artist, but at art in that of life. Friedrich Nietzsche

After the decline of the idealistic systems there is no point in artificially trying to resuscitate aesthetics as a branch of philosophy. A valid, if difficult, approach for a future aesthetics would be to find the right combination of production-oriented experience and philosophical reflection. Such an aesthetics would transcend the level of a phenomenology of art works, linking it to the medium of conceptualization. Theodore Adorno

What is the distinction between aesthesis and poiesis? And what constitutes their difference?

Poiesis is etymologically derived from the ancient Greek term ποιεῖν, which means “to make”. Aesthesis, αἰσθήσεις, on the other hand, refers to anything the ‘senses suffer’, not in the Christian sense of suffering. It refers to any impact on the senses, therefore, on perception, to what is phenomenological, to the way things appear, to the senses as opposed to the mind. So the entire history of art is still predicated on the mind-body distinction; on the distinction between what is sensed and therefore aesthetic, and what is made, produced, the action of the body, and therefore poetic.

As long as art is only aesthetically judged, interpreted, historicized, then, it’s poetic aspects, how it gets made, will never be philosophically, or art historically, significant.

In other words, the idealist tradition of the philosophy of art is only phenomenological, as Adorno comments, and therefore never accounts for the conceptual and material aspects of how art actually gets made, in practice, or, in concept. So, art can never be, philosophically, epistemological, knowledge making. Art, aesthetically conceived, is only that which is sensed, and not that which is made. This aesthetic tradition subtends the entire and long standing influence of Plato, and of Ancient Greece in general; of an idealism that interpreted everything physical as base, on the one hand; and on the other, therefore, as subservient to the ‘medium’ of the mind, language.

For Plato, for example, Praxiteles, the great sculpture of the Parthenon, was literally a slave and devoid of intelligence. He was merely a workman who did what he did through ‘divine inspiration’ but had no concept of what he was doing. He was a mere conduit of the divine. That’s the philosophy of art as imitation Plato recounted in his famous dialogue, ION.

The entire history of western intellectual history has been riven by that distinction: that only those who were literate and were capable of philosophical discourse, in language, in dialogue, in writing, were far superior to those who had to do physical labor. Marx, who was a Greek scholar and wrote his dissertation on Democritus who was the first to pose the theory that matter was made of atoms, was well aware of this class driven division of labor – between those who could use language, and those who physically labored to make things – and that this historical distinction that had marched down the avenues of history, was one origin of his entire philosophical agenda codified in his theory of class distinctions. Theoretical labor was owned by those who controlled language; which dominated the practical labor of those who physically labored to produce the material world.

The Platonic view that considered linguistic labor superior to material labor, is the historical basis for the suppression of the value of making things, of labor in general, of poesis. and this accounts for the dominance of language over non-linguistic culture like art, today. Thus it’s ignorantly thought that everything can be ‘read’. i.e., what i call semiocentrism. ‘Knowledge’ can only be determined by language, including mathematics. Therefore, the unconscious cultural logic is that art cannot produce knowledge, only stuff, only material things.

This dichotomous Platonic idealism shifted a bit during the Renaissance with Michaelangelo, De Vinci, Alberti, and other artists of the time, but not by much. This is why the Renaissance artists, particularly De Vinci as explicitly recounted in his Notebooks, began to organize their work mathematically, because then they could upscale or gentrify their social status as determined by their use of mathematics in their compositions. Their use of mathematics proved that their intelligence was equal to their humanist, language-oriented betters, and indicated their desire to increase their social status beyond being ‘mere artisans’. This is why perspective became so widely used; not because it was, as art historical accounts have it, merely visually innovative. The use of perspective demonstrated that their knowledge was equal to their linguistically, socially dominant peers. It allowed them to be included in the Medici Neo-Platonic Academy with a social status similar to the humanists, particularly to that of Ficino. In other words, art developed it’s mathematical penchant for mathematics for social rather than visual reasons. It was sort of an intelligence race.

However, the attempt of Renaissance artists never got very far, and with Kant and Hegel, their slight progress was suppressed all over again. So artists could not be interpreted as epistemologists. This social and historical climate is why Adorno said it would be so difficult to abandon idealist aesthetics and create a philosophy of art on the basis of not phenomenology, but, art’s conceptual origins.

The only near exception to the Platonic rule of idealism today, is science, and even that is even riven with a division of the labor problem. This takes the form of the division of labor between the ‘theoretical scientist’, and, the ‘applied scientist’ – the same Platonic dominance of ‘theory’ over ‘practice’. It’s the theoretical scientist who is most valued; while the applied scientist is he/she who ‘only’ proves that some scientific theory is true. The latter has less social status than the former, because the latter is merely a worker who has no epistemological thought of his or her own.

In Marx’s terms, theory is bourgeois, and practice is proletarian. Just as art is proletarian, while art historians and art theorists are bourgeois.

So, to replace the idealist tradition of ‘aesthetics’ with ‘poetics’, the theory of language production as it has come to be conceived historically, and therefore of higher social value than aesthetics because it’s allied with language, and to begin to use that as way to ‘theorize’ art production, would be revolutionary…. and, very difficult, because it goes against thousands of years of history…

From Aesthesis to Poiesis: very rough draft

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