Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher and, perhaps, theologian from the 19th century. I'm going to present a view of art contained in one of his works, "Either/Or". While this view may or may not actually represent Kierkegaard's own view, it is interesting in its own right, and I believe that it can stand on its own, regardless of whether or not its author would actually endorse such a position. Note that, using the Hongs' translation, what I refer to here shall occur within pages 47 and 134. I would cite everything, but I'll be using so many references that it would plague readability; however, I can back up any specifics as requested. So, here goes.
One can refer to the form of art and the subject of art, and neither of these should be overemphasized (as is often done, be believes). Furthermore, the form can permeate the subject matter, and the subject matter can permeate the form. Aesthetically, for a work to be a classic, the form of work must be the same as the subject of that work. What does this mean? When we talk about a work of art, we can talk about its form (such as that of a poem) and its subject (not only the content of the poem, but what is actually communicated about in the poem). In order for a work to be a "classic" its form must be the same as its subject. As an example, Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" is pointed to. The subject matter of "Don Giovanni" is an individual who lives as if his spirit existed in a state of pure immediacy, which is the form of the music-- the movement of the spirit through immediacy, as music cannot be abstracted outside of the performance or the moment it is heard/imagined/etcetera (entailing immediacy), and yet it serves as a language, which qualifies it in the realm of spirit.
Another distinction made in this work is the relationship between media (the plural of "medium") and ideas. The more abstract an idea is, the more impoverished it becomes. However, such abstraction is inversely correlated with the likelihood of its being repeated. One might talk of abstraction and concreteness as opposites. Keeping in mind the distinction between media and ideas, in some forms of art, the medium has a high degree of abstraction but a high concreteness in terms of idea, such as in architecture. Homer's use of a concrete idea (history) and a concrete form/medium (natural language) thus created an epic (considering the coherency between the two) that could often be repeated (due to the use of a concrete medium and a concrete idea).
According to this account, sculpture, architecture, painting, and music have abstract media (with sculpture being the most abstract), whereas language is the most concrete of media. Mozart, with "Don Giovanni", managed to find a subject matter that was as abstract as his medium, allowing him to generate an epic.
One can thus speak of the "theme proper" of a medium; for an abstract medium one's "theme proper" is an abstract idea, and one's work cannot be truly great-- cannot be a "classic"-- unless one's medium correlates to one's idea in terms of abstraction/concreteness. Sculpture, the most abstract medium, would thus be inadequate for creating a truly great work about language, the most concrete idea.
So, what do you think? Is there merit to this account? Immediately apparent problems? There's obviously a bit more to it, but hopefully this'll work as an introductory post.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009