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September 15, 2011

A wee bit of philosophy…

Below is an abstract from a larger body of work that attempts to analyse how a single work of art can create such a wide range in response and how some artworks have the ability to continue evolving long after the work has been completed.

Beginning with the idea…

“Where are my primary causes on which I can take a stand, where are my foundations? Where shall I take them from? I practice thinking and subsequently every primary cause immediately draws another in its wake. One even more primary, and so on add infinitium” – Dostoyersky

It is one thing to form an idea but it is another to see that idea realised. The initial idea is the most exciting, as that is when it is at its purest. By possessing the freedom of possibility and unconcerned with what can be feasibly of physically achieved it can touch new boundaries. When we then attempt to convert the idea into a reality the initial purity will inevitably become altered but this alteration is a necessity to enable the idea to be successfully achieved.


A successful piece of work can be seen as one that allows the important elements that were present in the initial idea to stay more or less in tacked in the finished result. However it is very easy to lose some of these elements without actually realising that they are no longer present as you have unconsciously veered down a completely different path than the one you initially set out on. Which in some instances may turn out to of been a much better route than the first!

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was able to explain how the idea itself, as contained within a piece of work, is what gives that work its existential quality -existential refers to how a piece of work may seem to omit a greater presence than the sum of its material parts. If we think about this with regard to painting for example: the artist seeks to capture what originates from the essence of the idea. The artist is trying to achieve the transformation of that essence into a form that can effectively capture the embodiment of an otherness.

‘Otherness’ refers to capturing something familiar in a new and exciting light. Thus enabling that which has been represented the chance to be interpreted or understood in new ways. By presenting a subject in a state of formation will still allow that which has been presented to be recognisable but is it is never fully rendered or resolved completely. In a sense you are presented with an abstract of something larger as a whole. Abstraction can give a piece of work the ability to be transcendent and allow it to evolve without the restriction on being bound to a specific time or place. It can be understood to exist within a physical world but always manages to stays just beyond reach of any definite reality.

Schopenhauer suggests for us a structure of understanding through which we can see how we are able to perceive solely on the visual. This being due to the artist’s ability to transform base materiality to represent images from the world around us, which can suggest qualities that rise above physical presence, without being bound by fixed concepts. The visual creation of an abstract image or presence can present the opportunity of each individual viewer to consider new possibilities of both self-discovery and the ignition of wonder. This creates power through the suggestion of form that can enable the appropriation of each individual’s perceptive parallels leading to numerous possibilities of interpretation. An open image i.e. one that has no fixed concepts can allow each viewer to experience the artist’s works in an individual way that then allow the viewer to contribute back to the work with all that they receive from it.

‘Finally, we can express the distinction between concept and idea figuratively, by saying that the concept is like a dead receptacle in which whatever has been put actually lies side by side, but from which no more can be taken out (by analytical judgements) than has been put in (by synthetical reflection). The idea, on the other hand, develops in him who has grasped it representations that are new as regards the concept of the same name; it is

like a living organism, developing itself and endowed with generative force, which brings forth that which was not previously put into It.’4


In other words, the visual translation of the idea is pivotal to how people will engage with the work and what that piece of work will have the ability to translate. The idea has to be developed enough so that it has the ability to be grasped by the viewer, but not fully explained to allow it to take on new depths of meaning and transform with time and each individual viewer. Whereas the concept can enhance the work through its information, but is fixed, it cannot take on more than that of itself therefore always remaining static. The idea possess a quality not unlike that of a sketch, being a quick visual realisation of the raw idea without the long deliberation and working that can sometimes render an image lifeless.

Schopenhauer believes that ‘the inspiration cannot last until the painting is completed’5, which is why a sketch can seem more powerful and effective. It has the benefit of being completed when the only thing considered is the initial inspiration of the idea.



                                                     Image: from sketchbook

4  Arthur Schopenhauer, The World As Will and Representation, Vol. 1, chapter 49-50, page 235.

5  Arthur Schopenhauer, The World As Will and Representation, Vol. 2, Chapter XXXIV, p408.

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