rather than God, as Martin Heidegger once said, it is art that
can save us. After all, artistic creations have always had political,
religious and social meanings that also aimed in some way to
save us. Certainly, they also express beauty, but this depends
very much on the public's aesthetic taste, which varies according
to the cultural environment of each society.
when the political meaning is manifest, aesthetics (our sensations
and taste) lose ground in favour of interpretation (knowledge
and judgment); that is, instead of inviting us to contemplate
its beauty, a work calls us to respond, react and become involved.
As it turns out, art -- as a channel to express reactions to
significant issues -- has sometimes worked better than historical
or factual reconstructions.
Picasso's Guernica is the example we all have in mind:
painted as a response to the Spanish nationalist forces' bombing
of a town in the Basque country, it was used not only to inform
the public but also as a symbol of all the innocent victims
of war. This is probably why aesthetics, a term coined by the
German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten in 1735, refers not
only to the study of art but also to sensory experience coupled
with feelings regardless of the nature of its object. But can
contemporary art, whether through music, conceptual installations
or cinema actually save us from the damned circumstances, atrocities
and injustices we live among?
an ontological discipline, philosophy must always pay attention
to existential claims, whether they come from science, religion
or art. Even though this is now possible, since philosophy (and
aesthetics) has overcome metaphysics, that is, objectivist-representational
nature (which also limited art's creations), not all philosophers
pay attention to the claims these works make.
such distinguished thinkers as Arthur Danto and Gianni Vattimo
have moved beyond aesthetic representationalism and formalism,
it is because of their post-metaphysical positions but also
their interest in art's current existential appeal. Both philosophers
seem to agree that the end of art proclaimed by Hegel is not
simply a matter of art becoming conceptual -- that is, philosophical.
Rather, the radical changes brought about in the advent of global
society mean that the artist today must respond to a wider public
than in the past, one that is concerned with the same global
issues that affect the artist.
the eras of imitation and ideology, when artists were often
commissioned for their work, we have now entered the era of
existential claims, where we, the viewers, are the ones called
to respond. Although this began in 1917 when Marcel Duchamp
revealed his Fountain (to point out how any readymade
could become a work of art if placed within the walls of a museum),
there are some new examples of (as Danto and Vattimo would probably
call them) transfigurations of our common places for existential
claims of truth, that is, art that is determined to save us.
But what here is transfigured and claimed?
one listens to Tom Waits' “The Road to Peace” or
watches Alfredo Jaar's Rwanda Project or Daniele Viccari's
Diaz: Don't Clean up this Mess, it is difficult to
remain simply (aesthetically) satisfied since they involve us
at an existential level. But this is not because they simply
narrate the truth of ongoing events (the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict, the 1994 Rwanda genocide and the brutal police violence
against the 2001 G8 protesters in Genoa) in a more objectivist
way than we are accustomed to, but rather because they demand
that we take a stance in a process of transformation, which
is vital for our future.
than points of arrival for consumers' contemplation of beauty,
they are points of departure to change the world, a world that
needs new interpretations instead of better descriptions. While
some might consider these works excessively politically correct,
it is difficult to ignore their interest in our salvation. But
salvation from what?
there is a transfiguration (in music, photographs, film) of
our commonplaces (conflict, genocide, violence) in these three
works, it does not come only from the creative energy in the
composition but also because these commonplaces have become
much too common. If we have become so accustomed to these events
that we take them for granted, then art is saving us from discrimination,
forgetfulness and annihilation.
should not come as a surprise that Hans-Georg Gadamer's greatest
concern was to emphasize how art, just as science, also manifests
claims of truth. The only difference between them is their requirements:
while science will remain satisfied with propositional truths
(information regarding the state of things), art demands we
enter into dialogue with the work.
is why the German master believed so much in the capacity of
hermeneutic philosophy (concerned with the interpretative nature
of human beings) to stimulate further interest through interpretation.
If being, that is, our existence, were affected only by propositional
truths, not only art would be useless but also the variety of
information networks that are the cornerstone of democratic
Jaar and Viccari call their audiences to respond and also to
intervene practically -- and this, an involvement in the shocking
commonplace atrocities of the world, is necessarily existential.
Wired, Therefore I Exist
Defense of Philosophy