Poiesis is etymologically derived from the ancient Greek term, which means “to make”.
Aesthetics is to artists as ornithology is to birds.
… 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.
below: Shezad Dawood [shezaddawood.com]
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.
Then there is the paradox… of an eternal avant-garde which in spite of its enormous diversity and originality constantly produces something generally accepted as art. As a rule historians try to develop analytical tools covering the broadest array of art styles, but as innovation further fragments the art impulse, and new and contradictory styles of art arise, historians are forced to adopt a variety of approaches. Not to many critics and scholars seem to be worried by this situation, although they should be. It indicates that all their efforts are directed toward explaining physical evidences of the art impulse, rather than the conceptual conditions which make art objects possible under vastly different circumstances.
The following is a draft table of contents for my proposed book. I intend to look at art works that have deep philosophical and cultural, historical origins OUTSIDE the art market. My book proposes to tell a very different, factual tale of extraordinary other genealogical art formations still unexamined in philosophical terms, that emerge within the intersections of art, science, technology, and history. No one, has attempted this, of late, since the brilliant, structuralist inspired books of Jack Burnham in the late 60s and early 70s. So, it’s time a poststructuralist updated his art theoretical claims. While it might seem strange for a poststructuralist such as myself, to give such a prominent position to Burnham, with whom I have many disagreements, it shouldn’t be. Though I have no intention of pursuing his program to ascertain universal characteristics of all art forms; and in fact completely oppose such attempts; nonetheless, his search for “conceptual conditions”, rather than those only of “physical evidences”, is critical, and sets him aside from the way art history typically proceeds. It is his philosophical and anthropological approach to art that, despite it’s flaws, remains highly significant. I admire his work, even though ultimately, I take a very different philosophical position, than he did. Many of his general questions remain important, such as – how does “the paradox… of an eternal avant-garde which in spite of its enormous diversity and originality constantly produces something generally accepted as art – continue to produce art that is generally accepted as such? And not as something else: social work, scientific illustration, psychology, history, geology, biology in merely visual forms, as visualizations of the history of science? What makes it ‘art’? According the canons of most art history, it isn’t art because it doesn’t conform to the physical evidence art history generally dwells upon; and therefore, the art with which I’m concerned here, falls into obscurity. Thus, Burnham is a very important pivot point around which to reexamine his structuralist account, through a poststructural reassessment.
This book, therefore, is not about art history, which, in general, I find often lacking, for political and philosophical and historical, cultural reasons, for similar reasons that Burnham did. I’m not the first to question, by a long shot, the narratives of art historical canonization. Instead, I take a very different stance: let’s face it; the art market is like all other neoliberal markets. And art historians of the ‘contemporary’ are rarely willing to take this on. The art markets can only function by limiting its pool of labor. So the art market is by definition an economic model, blind to all else, that functions only insofar as it excludes others from participation in it. My book is small force of resistance to that, but stepping out of not only the privatized versions of art history, that of canons, but it’s also personal, about decades of observation and dialogue with artists who are serious and more important now than they ever were. I’ve either done a great deal of archival research on them, or been an eye-witness to their development, to their circumstances, to their fates in the inclusion-exclusion mechanisms of the art market. In this way, I have pursued my anthropological training in cultural history and philosophy, and my cultural training in philosophy. So this book is the first of its kind, in recent years, in that register. It is a book about the philosophy of art as it is practiced, not, how it is theorized. Thus, my title is polemic, and is a response to Adorno’s suggestion, and at least an initial response to Newman. And, it proposes with Nietzsche, “to look at science in the perspective of the artist, but at art in that of life.”
The artist included here, are those who have consciously engaged with this panoply of philosophical contradictions for their entire careers. And need to be reinscribed within a philosophical register specific to them: within poiesis rather than within aesthesis.
below: Shezad Dawood
From Aesthesis to Poiesis
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 as subordinated to aesthetics 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. And it is the neoliberal art market, and the academy’s service to it and to aesthetics, that fiercely reinforces the suppression of poesis.
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. The poetic significance of a Russian Constructivist like Naum Gabo, for example, has yet to be properly interpreted. This aesthetic tradition, therefore, 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.