...by an æsthetic idea I mean that representation of the imagination which induces much thought, yet without the possibility of any definite thought whatever, ie. concept, being adequate to it, and which language, consequently, can never quite get on level terms with or render completely intelligible.
Immanuel Kant Critique of Judgement sec. 49.
My intention in this paper is to present a schema for understanding æsthetic transactions. (By 'æsthetic transactions' I mean to refer to the artist's creation of a work of art and the audience's appreciation of it). For Kant a schema was a rule or principle that enables the under- standing to apply its categories. I am using this term in a narrower sense but in the same spirit : The schema to be considered is to serve as a principle which will allow us to grasp in a definitive fashion the special character of æsthetic transactions.
Apart from any theoretical satisfaction which such a schema may provide, it has an immediate practical result which seems to me at least to provide some proof for this particular pudding : One of the rather frustrating aspects of our experiences of æsthetic responses is our general inability to articulate these responses adequately. We often find it difficult to get beyond those familiar ejaculations which do no more than tell our fellows that we have been moved æsthetically. It seemed to me, then, very satisfying to find that by employing the schema, natural lines of articulation opened up through which I was able to get beyond the mere statement that X was æsthetically satisfying, and was able to say something specific about this particular response which went some way towards capturing its singular character. After I have explained the schema I shall offer a few examples of its practical application.
The schema which I wish to introduce rests heavily on the idea that æsthetic transactions are determined by the fact that works of art exist within worlds which are in various respects non-standard compared to the world of everyday experience. These worlds may be ontologically non-standard or epistemologically non-standard, or both, and as a consequence, they are all conceptually non-standard. Let me begin by illustrating what I mean by an ontologically non-standard world. To understand what such a world is like we need a clear idea of the standard ontological framework which defines the world of everyday experience. What then are the criteria which determine the ontological status of the three classes of ordinary things which make up the everyday world, viz : physical objects, people, and states of consciousness? Now when we set out to determine the ontological status of a thing-namely, the kind of being it enjoys-it is useful to begin, (à la Strawson in his book Individuals (1), by considering whether a given item can be reidentified, ie., identified on a given occasion as the same thing which has been encountered on a previous occasion. If we focus on the capacity of a thing to exist from one time to the next, ie., to continue to be during a period of time when it is not being observed (so that it can be identified as the same thing from one occasion of experiencing it to the next) we gain the concept of a thing existing independently of an observer, and therefore, of its having an ontological status which accounts for its capacity to be reidentified. If then, a thing is thought of as reidentifiable, it must be regarded as having a place to exist which is different from the 'place' in which it exists in virtue of its being part of our experience. In the case of ordinary physical objects, books, chairs, etc., this place is the space-time continuum.
This lack of a place to be while unobserved explains why states of consciousness themselves are not reidentifiable in a numerical sense. Thus, when I speak of having the same pain in my arm today as I had two weeks ago, I do not mean the very same pain but another pain of the same character. But why is it that we do not say it is the very same feeling, ie. the numerically identical feeling reappearing, as it were? The reason is that in such cases we have no conception of a 'place' in which that feeling could have persisted-maintained its being as a feeling-within our consciousness. From an ontological point of view, ie. from the point of view of what kind of being or thinghood we can assign to an item, states of consciousness have only one dimension of being which is defined by and confined to our consciousness of the present moment. States of consciousness obey Berkeley's rubric: they exist only insofar as they are perceived. Our consciousness defines the 'place' in which things like feelings can exist, and states of consciousness which are not in this present moment simply cease to exist by definition. We have no conception of a 'place' for then to persist while we are not conscious of them, hence they are not possible candidates for reidentification.
Where then do we imagine that objects which are experienced as being in space and time exist when we are not perceiving them? We assume that such things, chairs, tables, etc. stay right where they are, or, in other words, that the space - time continuum that we experience them as being in, exists as an independent framework which provides a place for things to continue to exist unperceived. We think of such 'physical objects' as tracing continuous paths through the four-dimensional space-time framework from one occasion of our perception of them to the next, and that in theory, if not in practice, this path could be continuously monitored, so as to prove that, eg., the pen that I write with now is the very same pen as that which I wrote with yesterday. I regard a pen as a physical object, a reidentifiable thing, because of the 4-D framework or continuum which gives it an independent place to exist or be between occasions of its observation by me.
One of the places physical objects can be while unobserved is under lock and key. Thanks to their independent ontological status, physical objects can be possessed, and bought or sold. States of consciousness are clearly not in this ontological category. I can tell you about them, but as states of consciousness, I cannot strictly speaking sell them to you or buy them, lose them or find them. They lack the requisite ontological independence. They are not mine in the same sense as my watch.
The third constituent of our everyday world, persons, are in an ontolological category which is a combination of that of physical objects and states of consciousness. The institution of slavery indicates the mixed ontological status enjoyed by human beings. A master may own his slave's body, but owning his mind is more difficult, and the master certainly cannot own the slave's conscious states as such. A person is thus reidentifiable as a physical object by any observer, but the identity, or better, character, of his conscious states, is something only that person can identify (characterise).
Within the standard ontological framework then, there are, persons aside, only two kinds of things, physical objects and conscious states, and of the two, only the former are reidentifiable and thus capable of being owned (bought and sold). States of consciousness cannot be transferred from one person to another. They can be communicated of course, but this is another matter. What is communicated cannot be a state of consciousness per se.
What then is the ontological status of works of art? Do they exist within the standard ontological framework? Are they, in other words, either physical objects or states of consciousness? Or do they exist within ontological frameworks which are in some respects non- standard?
It seems obvious to me that works of art cannot be identified as states of consciousness, simply because states of consciousness are private to each individual and any particular work of art can be experienced by many individuals. Is it the case then that works of art have the same status as physical objects? It seems that since one and the same work of art can be experienced by different individuals, works of art must have a place which is independent of any given individual's experience, and the capacity to occupy such an independent place is what characterises the ontological status of physical objects. We can agree then that, though not all physical objects are works of art, all works of art are physical objects.
If this is true it would not allow the ontological status of a work of art to be used as a criterion for identifying it as such. Everyday objects would share the same status, and so the ontological status of works of art would not be sufficient to distinguish them as works of art as opposed to physical objects.
In the light of the above considerations we could simply conclude that works of art are not identifiable in virtue of their ontological status. The class of 'works of art' is included in a larger class of physical objects, and there is no independent ontological characterisation for them. This in itself should not cause us too much grief, since any arbitrarily chosen class of physical objects, eg. bottle tops, cats etc., can be characterised quite nicely without worrying about the fact that they all share the same ontological status. Why then suppose that works of art should be any different? Why should we suppose that identifying works of art, as such, should involve identifying them in ontological terms rather than in terms of those ordinary characteristics which define, and serve as criteria for, identifying other classes of things?
There would be no impetus in this direction if it were not for the fact that works of art can only be experienced when they are 'brought to life' so to speak, by being read, seen, listened to, (in short, appreciated). In addition, works of art cannot be identified as such without the assumption that an artist created them.
Neither of these characteristics apply to physical objects which are thought of as being completely independent of human experience or activity so far as their existence is concerned. Thus, works of art are not neatly classifiable in the standard ontological framework: though they are independent of human beings in a sense in which states of consciousness are not, they are not independent of human beings in the way physical objects are. This is enough to tempt us at least to further determine their ontological status and to look to this further determination as a criterion through which they may be identified as works of art.
Our working hypothesis will then be that works of art exist only in non-standard ontological frameworks, and that it is their special ontological status which identifies them as works of art.
We can say three things a priori about any such non-standard ontological framework.
- In some respects works of art must have as part of their ontological framework some feature which they share in common with the standard ontological framework in terms of which physical objects are characterised. This is necessary, because works of art are capable of being experienced by more than one person at a time. So in some respects they must exhibit one or more of the ontological features which allow physical objects to exist independently, and thus publicly.
- The ontological framework in which works of art exist must in some respects allow for their manipulation by the artist (performer) and their appreciation by the audience.
- All our descriptions of these non-standard ontological frameworks will contain metaphorical terms because our language is geared to the standard ontological framework and when we use it to describe things or events within non-standard ontological frameworks we must expect to have to use ordinary terms in a non-standard or metaphorical sense.
Later I will say something about epistemologically non-standard worlds (and how they differ from the epistemologically standard world) when I discuss how the schema can be applied to works of art such as novels. The fact that both sorts of non-standard worlds are conceptually non-standard is a straightforward consequence of the fact that our descriptions of them necessarily employ metaphorical language which is, by definition, conceptually non-standard. I will give a fuller account of what this amounts to in a moment, when I discuss how I intend to use the term 'metaphor'.
A Basic Schema for Understanding Aesthetic Transactions.
In the first instance, the schema I wish to present will be illustrated with reference to representational painting. This account will provide a model for understanding æsthetic transactions which can then be extended to other artistic media.
My working hypothesis states that works of art can only exist within non-standard ontological frameworks, ie., frameworks which are in some respects at variance with the standard ontological framework (the world of common experience). This ontological norm is, of course, a function of a wide variety of parameters, each of which is revealed as a parameter of the standard ontological framework when we encounter a non-standard ontological framework which deviates from the norm in that particular way. Thus, for example, a representational painting which employs perspective deviates from the standard ontological framework by not providing a stereoscopic visual experience of its subject matter. (2) The things I see 'in' the picture occupy a place in perspectival space, a 'space' whose special (ie., non-standard) character is revealed by our experience of normal stereoscopic visual space.
Why do I contend that works of art can exist only within non-standard ontological frameworks? The assumptions upon which my view of æsthetic transactions depends is that these transactions have their beginnings in situations in which someone notices something about objects or processes within the world (the standard ontological framework) which engages their interest and which they therefore wish to express to others or, indeed, simply to themselves. It is in the nature of this 'something' that it cannot be expressed in a straightforward way. The concepts available are simply not felt to be adequate to the task. This situation can be illustrated as follows: there are particular objects in the world called "pens", and we can provide straightforward or literal descriptions of them in terms of their physical characteristics; their size, how they function, what they typically look like, how much they weigh, etc.. Certainly no artistry need be involved in expressing these facts about pens which pertain to their status within the world. But, in addition, there may be something further which we wish to say about them, something, for example, about the way in which a pen often seems to be or become an extension of my hand, almost a part of my hand when I write, and clearly no literal description of the physical relationship of my pen and my hand can express this 'something'. I cannot, for instance express what I want to say-nor expect to be understood-by saying in a literal fashion, "Look, my pen and hand are one thing". To express this particular 'something' I need the freedom provided by a metaphor, namely the freedom to state something which from a literal point of view, is obviously false, but which still may be regarded as stating something intelligible. And clearly I cannot exercise this freedom unless I consciously employ a metaphor and am understood to be doing so.
Since in what follows, the notion of metaphor is crucial, it will be useful at this point to explain to the reader how I understand the term "metaphor" (3). Metaphors are employed because the store of concepts that we have in our language is not rich enough-and can never be rich enough-to neatly describe each and every aspect of the world which may catch our attention. There is always something about a man's face, the play of light on water, etc., etc., for which there are no ready-made terms. Now for better or worse, people like to bring their experience of the world under concepts-they like to try to understand it. The only way to understand something for which there is no ready-made concept, is to make up a new concept which will relate the new "something" which we have experienced in the world, to those things in it with which we are already familiar. It is this integration of the new with the familiar which constitutes the essence of understanding something new. Thus we must forge our new concepts from those with which we are already familiar.
This forging process extends our store of concepts, but this extension of our language is bought at a price, namely, that the new concept-the metaphor produced by a conjunction of familiar terms-is in defiance of the customary usage of those familiar terms. As such it is not immediately intelligible-literally, it does not make sense. Because of this an effort must be made to 'see' this new conjunction of familiar concepts as intelligible. This involves finding some relationship between these two familiar terms, which, once it has been noticed, allows us to make sense of this new conjunction. Once this link has been established widely, the metaphorical use of this conjunctive concept begins to become less evident, eventually disappearing altogether (so far as our noticing the metaphorical nature of the conjunction is concerned). Like legs of tables and arms of chairs, fresh metaphors gradually become familiar concepts, ready to hand.
However, before metaphors fade in this fashion, while they still remain fresh, they produce a special effect in the mind of the audience. Consider the effect of a newly coined metaphor such as : "The acorn stretched and became an oak". Some of the connotations of human stretching, viz. "becoming taller" and "brought about by an internal cause", are sufficiently similar to the connotations of plant growth to allow the metaphor to become intelligible. Equally, many of the connotations of 'stretching' do not bear any similarity to the process of growth from acorn to oak (an obvious difference is the time scale). The tension that results produces an implicit invitation to determine the aptness of the metaphor, both where it makes sense and where it does not. This invitation to understand the metaphor-to fully integrate the two sets of connotations which surround the concepts which have been conjoined-plus the resistance to being integrated which the partially mismatched concepts provide, constitute together, the special effect which metaphors have on us, an effect which we can broadly characterise as the experience of Poetry. In sum then, the experience of Poetry which a metaphor provides both invites and resists articulation and the extent to which a metaphor may be articulated is a measure of its aptness, and vice versa. (4)
Artists, then, must employ metaphors to express themselves with reference to the 'somethings' they notice in the world. Where the medium within which they express themselves is not linguistic, my thesis is that they require an ontological framework which is non-standard, and which can, in virtue of this fact, provide the freedom-the ontological 'room'-to express, in the case of painting, the visual equivalent of falsehoods, and thus produce the necessary basis of a metaphor in paint. To use our previous example, a painter might paint a pen in a hand in such a way that the pen blended organically with the hand holding it. In this case, the distortion of reality that captures the 'something' about pens and hands that strikes him as interesting, is only possible within a non-standard ontological framework. Specifically, one in which the superficies of objects within the framework are such that they can be 'falsified' in order to make two separate things into a single object. Such an 'object' expresses, in the form of a visual metaphor, the 'something about' the relationship between pens and hands which the artist wished to express.
It should be clear that I could not express this special pen/hand relationship if I stuck to the 'rules' governing the relationships of ontologically standard objects (ordinary pens and hands). To do so, I would somehow have to be able to "blur the edges" of these objects to allow them to combine in strange ways and this is simply not possible within the standard ontological framework.
The framework which representational painting employs has two non-standard parameters: it lacks the third dimension (depth) and the temporal dimension. How, in the case of an actual painting, does this non-standard ontological framework provide the means for making non-linguistic metaphors?
Consider an answer to this question based on Vermeer's "Woman in blue reading a letter". Let us suppose that Vermeer had seen a young woman reading a letter and that he knew that it was from her lover. Let us also suppose that he knew it was a reply to her request that her lover declare his intentions towards her. She stands reading, absorbed in what her lover has written, uncertain as yet whether he will declare himself in her favour or not. Vermeer sees her at the junction of two possibilities: either joy or dismay is in the process of dawning on her face. There is then, in terms of our formula, 'something about' her expression-a dawning apprehension that could go either way, a fascinating ambiguity-which, according to our story, we suppose he wishes to express on canvas.
Since it is impossible within this motionless two-dimensional framework to provide as much information as our normal three-dimensional experience of objects in time provides, any human figure which he draws will necessarily foster certain ambiguities as far as the spectator is concerned. Hence to understand what this two-dimensional figure represents, ie., to relate it to something with which one is familiar-namely, a living human figure within the world-the spectator must be provided with the wherewithal to make up for the loss of information which is the ontological consequence of any two-dimensional representation of the world. I would like to suggest that the wherewithal in this case is provided through a visual metaphor constructed as follows :
Where there is inherent ambiguity in the painting (resulting from its ontologically deprived framework) this ambiguity can be manipulated by the artist to suggest possibilities of interpretation which will effectively make up for the lost temporal dimension. (In this particular example, making up for the lost temporal dimension is the sine qua non of expressing the 'dawning' which, we have suggested, is Vermeer's intention). The possibility he actually exploits in this case, is the fact that he can decrease the amount of information available to the spectator by lowering the definition of the lines on the woman's face which betray her feelings. The 'blur' which results serves as the metaphorical expression of what he wishes to convey when we, as spectators, attempt to resolve this ambiguity. We in effect 'see' the moment of dawning apprehension by being forced into seeing mutually contradictory emotions on the woman's face due to the ambiguity of the blurred expression lines on her face-the locus of the artist's visual metaphor. We alternatively see the possibilities either of dawning joy, or dismay-and in doing so, we give back life (a 'temporal' dimension) to the woman's expression. Her face "moves" due to the recreative effect of our sliding back and forth between the possibilities which the artist embodies in his blurred-edge visual metaphor.
Before leaving this example there is a further point worth making in connection with the thesis that the metaphor in paint is a close, if not a perfect analog of the linguistic metaphor: no matter how closely you look at the face of the woman in Vermeer's painting, you cannot clear up the ambiguity of her expression. To attempt to do so is to attempt to find with the physical eye, information which is simply not present in this deprived ontological framework. Such an attempt is thus the equivalent of trying to construe a linguistic metaphor literally.
For a linguistic metaphor to work, the familiar rules governing the articulation of the concepts involved must be ignored in part. We must be allowed some leeway to try some new 'false' combinations. So too with the visual metaphor. The rules for visual experience are set in the world. To be able to ignore them, we must create an ontological framework within which new 'false' or rule-breaking combinations are possible. Thus, to anticipate, all artistic media must be non-standard in order to provide the 'room' the artist needs to create the metaphors which alone allow him to stretch his expressive capabilities in order to accommodate the 'something about' the world which serves to initiate his æsthetic transaction.
Let me now state in full the thesis which underlies, and in effect, constitutes this schema for understanding æsthetic transactions.
Aesthetic transactions between artist and audience are made possible by non-standard frameworks. Due to their variations from the norm, these special frameworks provide the freedom-the room for manipulation-which permits the artist to express himself via metaphors suited to the medium in question-and to do so well or badly (ie. to display his artistry, his control over, and understanding of, the possibilities for making metaphors, which the status of his medium presents to him).
From the audience's point of view, the æsthetic transactions has two parallel phases. The first turns on the fact that the recognition of the work of art as art-as something calling for an æsthetic response-is part and parcel of recognising it as something which exists only within a non-standard framework. In other words, there must be something about the work of art presented in the world which alerts the audience to the fact that it does not belong to it. Thus the non-standard framework which provides for the possibility of expression on the part of the artist signals the presence of a work of art to the audience. For the audience, the 'something about' the work of art which indicates that it is not an ordinary thing or event, makes it clear that the work of art cannot be understood in literal terms.
This 'something' may, of course, simply be the fact that it is 'on a pedestal', ie., has a place within the institutional form of life that includes things like art galleries (and pedestals). But can putting an ordinary, everyday object inside an art gallery alter its ontological character?
Yes. Typically it changes ordinary work-a-day objects by making their 'insides', ie. what they are made of, irrelevant, and what their outsides look like, of paramount interest. Ontologically speaking, a brick transferred to an art gallery loses one of its primary qualities, viz. its solidity. The very fact that in an art gallery I am not (according to the usual conventions) allowed to touch the work of art, confers upon it an 'other-worldly' character.
[The metaphor in this case is the unfamiliar conjunction of brick and pedestal. It permits us to stretch our concept of a work of art. The non-standard feature of the art gallery 'medium' which provides the freedom, the 'room' for this metaphor, is the 'please do not touch' sign which is conventionally, if not actually, attached to the pedestal. As soon as we can no longer touch them, ordinary objects assume surfaces, forms, and colours which can be appreciated æsthetically.]
I would now like to argue that the non-standard features of the artistic medium in question provide us with fruitful starting points when we come to attempt to articulate our response to a work of art which is embedded in this medium. We may begin by noting that though the 'something' about a work of art which alerts us to its 'unworldly' character is something which-as non-standard-we quite naturally notice, it is not necessarily something of which we take notice. Taking notice is the second phase of the æsthetic transaction. To illustrate : the curiously deliberate (ie. non-standard) movements of a ballet dancer may simply seem odd to a child until it learns that others regard this way of moving as 'artistic', ie. capable of being apprecitated.(5) Thus to take notice of the non-standard movements of ballet cannot consist merely in regarding them 'literally', ie., simply as a non-standard way of moving, but rather it must involve regarding these movements metaphorically, so as to provide a raison-d'etre for this odd way of moving, ie. an understanding of them. Specifically, this will involve relating the 'something about' these movements to some aspects of the world with which the person is familiar, via a metpahor of their own devising through which they can familiarise themselves with it, and thereby gain some understanding of it. On this schema we can see how one might begin to understand the 'metaphors' of the ballet by examining the non-standard aspects of the framework which constitute the ballet. Clearly the dancers move in three dimensions, but the time they take to make these movements is dictated in large part by the music. Furthermore, in classical ballet, the gravity which governs all our ordinary movements is, if not suspended, then at least attenuated. Furthermore, the dancers communicate through movement alone, before a large audience, and thus their gestures are exaggerated (with reference to the norm). Within these non-standard parameters, the 'metaphors' of ballet become possible, and in this way, a new capacity to see human movement and human relationships can thereby be opened up for us.
A specific example would be the power of a glance directed upon one who hopes yet fears that the glance will light upon them. Often, in ballet such a glance can make its recipient retreat in little flutters of excitement and fear almost as if the glance were a physical force. Such a 'metaphor' is only possible in a non-standard structure of the kind described. Thus we may suppose that only in a reduced gravitational field could spiritual 'forces' have such exaggerated physical effects. Via this 'metaphor' we can come to appreciate the amazing power of a glance.
This second phase of the æsthetic transaction (the audience's attempt to articulate their experience of a work of art) is, in a sense, optional, as far as the audience is concerned. The other-worldly character of a work of art may in fact often remain unarticulated, but once noticed, an attempt at articulation, or at least a felt urge to understand, must be present if the transaction is to be regarded as æsthetic in character.
Why? Because otherwise the ontological or epistemological strangeness that characterises the thing or process in question will simply collapse into an oddity within the standard ontological framework; an oddity whose only interest lies in the fact that it is not immediately obvious what it is for. Thus, of ballet, the child might ask : "Why are those people walking on their toes?". It is clear that with all artistic media we have to learn that the non-standard features of their structure actually disconnect them from the everyday world and require from us a response which we render æsthetic by articulating it in a language which attempts to cope with the 'separateness' of the things which have their existence within a given artistic medium. Typically, the language we use contains metaphors of our own devising, attempts on our part to come to grips with the new conceptual space which works of art open up for us.
It is this conflict between 'something' occurring within a non-standard framework and a language which is geared to the standard framework, and which is therefore, not immediately applicable to the non-standard framework, which calls metaphors into being and ensures they will not entirely satisfy us.
Thus even when the second stage of the audience's æsthetic appreciation is complete, where the impact of the work of art-the 'something about' it-is articulated, the fact that we must use a metaphor to accomplish this articulation means that it is open to further elaboration.
To recapitulate : metaphors are always incomplete because the two familiar concepts which go to make them up always have sets of associations which cannot be related, eg., the spine of a book is not articulated like a human spine. What is the cartilage in the spine of a book? The glue? When we elaborate metaphors in this way we always run into aspects of the comparison which simply do not strike us as apt. Equally, some elaborations will prove apt, eg., the notion of the spine of a book sagging with age. In addition, the metaphor which is employed can be compared, through this method of elaboration, to other metaphors, so as to determine which is the most apt. In this way the schema leaves room for good and bad 'understandings' of works of art. Aesthetic responses which are articulated in terms of metaphors can be graded in terms of our willingness (as either maker or hearer) to speak to, or elaborate the metaphor, since the greater the elaboration without a breakdown in 'correspondence' with the work of art, the sounder our attempts to understand it seem to us. The depth of our appreciation of a work of art and the soundness of this appreciation as an æsthetic response, are thus direct functions of the aptness and complexity of the metaphors we employ to speak about a given work of art.(6)
Finally, there is an aspect to the audience's appreciation of the work of art which relates to the artistry of the artist. Within the non-standard framework which constitutes his/her medium, the artist has achieved a certain effect in terms (error) of a 'metaphor' by constructing one in our own words. (7) But once this desire has been satisfied to some extent there may also arise an appreciation, or response, to the fact that the artist's 'metaphor' has been constructed in a specific medium, in paint, or stone etc.. In other words, a response to his artistry within a given non-standard framework comes to the fore. To articulate this response, the audience must be aware of the limitations within which the artist has created this particular expressive effect. Thus in the case of Vermeer, the representational style in which he is working, allows him to manipulate the two-dimensional figure in terms of more or less definition of outline. Too little definition will allow for too broad an interpretation, too much definition will lead to an overly narrow interpretation. So within the limitations of this non-standard framework Vermeer attempts to produce a level of definition which aptly expresses the dawning apprehension on the woman's face (at least according to our story).
Thus, to the extent that the audience is aware of what aspects of the medium can be manipulated, to that extent they can appreciate (articulate/understand) the artistry of the artist. And, of course, this process can be refined by concentrating on given styles and periods and appreciating the special problems faced by artists working within these narrower ranges of possibilities. A book like Wolfin's Classic Art is, in large part, devoted to an appreciation of these subtleties. To conclude this section, the schema presented schematically runs as follows:
1. The artist notices something about the world which arrests his/her attention.
2. The artist tries to express the something which he has noticed in the medium of his choice in order that others may see the something he saw, and to do so he makes a 'metaphor' in the terms dictated by his medium. It is the non-standard character of the medium which provides the 'room' for such metaphors.
3. The artist's capacity to make the 'metaphor'-his artistry-is a function of his understanding of, and his skill in, manipulating the medium in question.
On the audience's side the transaction is more or less parallel:
1. The audience notices something about the work of art, which arrests their attention, in virtue of the non-standard framework in which it is embedded.
2. The audience tries-using a metaphor-to express the something they have noticed about the work of art, which they cannot express in literal terms.
3. The audience's skill in appreciating the artistry of the artist is limited by their understanding of the possibilities inherent in the particular non-standard framework.
Part III : Some comments on the schema and some examples of its application.
The basic relationship which exists between the two principles which inform the schema is quite straightforward: artistic media are distinguishable as such in so far as they deviate from the norm set by our everyday experience of the world. Such non-standard frameworks provide the means which enable metaphorical expression: In painting, for example, by manipulating images in a way in which the things which they represent cannot be manipulated, thus permitting the production of metaphors in paint. So, to put it as briefly as possible, non-standard frameworks allow for metaphor and thus for art, or, for æsthetic transactions to take place.
The norm of everyday human experience can be distorted in many respects, and any such deviation can serve to establish a non-standard world in which there is room for metaphorical expression.
Accepting that where there is deviation from the norm (in any respect whatsoever), a world is created in which æsthetic transactions can take place, we conclude that the range of non-standard worlds (and therefore the legitimacy of æsthetic transactions with respect to them) is very wide. As a suggestion, one might think of established artistic media as those which deviate from the norm in fairly major ways, whereas worlds which are characterised by fairly minor deviations are fields for æsthetic transactions only for the afficionado. (Eg. sport, fashion, etc.).
I would like to make one further remark of a general nature about this schema which will serve to simplify it even more. Non-standard frameworks always share some characteristics with the standard world. Eg., the blue colour of the painted dress which I see in the ordinary sense of 'see' on a canvas, is a colour in the standard world, but the painted dress is not a dress in the standard world. The painted dress both is and is not a blue dress. It is, we say, 'the same, but different', which is to say, it has both standard and non-standard features. This phrase, 'the same, but different' is a useful piece of shorthand for describing the relationship which governs the schema. Thus (of a rugby player) 'he ran the length of the field to score' is not how a student of the game would describe it : 'oh yes, he 'ran' all right, but this running was ...' (followed by some metaphorical rendition of what the difference was between this running and standard running and thus why an æsthetic response ('poetry' to articulate 'poetry in motion') is appropriate).
Applying the schema to various media in order to determine the proper locus of their æsthetic interest is then a matter of determining in what way the medium in question achieves this 'the same, but different' effect. It is this effect which constitutes the 'something about' a work of art which has the natural effect of prompting us to articulate this 'something about' response, and thus enter into a fruitful æsthetic transaction with it.
To conclude I would like to offer a few more samples of how to apply the schema to various media. For reasons of space I shall confine myself to a discussion of a particular passage in a novel, and a very brief discussion of an æsthetic commentary (Tom Wolfe on Modern Art) which illustrates how the schema can be used to understand criticism. Before beginning, I should say that these examples are all designed to illustrate the application of the audience-side of the schema for æsthetic transactions. The artist is, by definition, adept at articulating his 'something about' response. The artist's 'something about x ' response-his inspiration-can of course be drawn from the world at large, or from within his own medium. In both cases his creations are attempts to articulate what he senses but cannot fully grasp.(8) The audience, however, is not as a rule, adept at articulating their æsthetic responses, and the schema has, I believe, the potential to equip the audience with some straightforwardly applicable methods for discovering some valid starting points from which to launch their own attempts to articulate their responses to works of art and thus participate more fully in æsthetic transactions.
How does the schema apply to the novel? Where does our rubric 'the same, but different' take hold in this use of language? One non-standard element which seems to characterise most novels is the control which the author exerts over what his characters know and our mode of access, as readers, to this knowledge. The epistemological norm from which the novelist can deviate in various ways, is our experience of the world from our own standpoint. Each of us knows what we are thinking and how we feel about things, but we must divine in various ways, the thoughts and feelings of others. When we read a novel, however, we enter into a world with unfamiliar epistemological dimensions, and it is our experience of the novelist's manipulations of these dimensions that gives the novel its unique æsthetic configuration. Each species of epistemological deviance from the norm presents a reality which has the 'same, but different' quality, and some familiarity with these variations is the foundation of our æsthetic appreciation of the form of the novel.
As an example, consider the strange epistemological blend which Faulkner achieves in this passage from his novel The Mansion . One of his characters, Mink, has just been released from jail after serving a 38 year sentence, and has just entered a country store. Prices have risen in the meantime:
It was a small tight neatly cluttered store plastered with placards behind a gasoline pump beside the highway; a battered dust- and mud-stained car was parked beside it and inside were only the proprietor and a young Negro man in the remnants of an army uniform. He asked for a loaf of bread and suddenly he remembered sardines, the taste of them from almost forty years ago; he could afford another nickel one time, when to his shock and for the moment unbelief, possibly in his own hearing, he learned that the tin would now cost him twenty-six cents-the small flat solid-feeling tin ubiquitous for five cents through all his previous days until Parchman-and even while he stood in that incredulous shock the proprietor set another tin before him, saying, "You can have this one for eleven."
"What is it?" he said.
"Lunch meat," the proprietor said.
"What is lunch meat?" he said.
"Don't ask," the proprietor said. "Just eat it. What else can you buy with eleven cents?"
Then he saw against the opposite wall a waist-high sack of soft-drink cases and something terrible happened inside his mouth and throat-a leap, a spring of thin liquid like fire or the myrial singing of ants all the way down to his stomach; with a kind of incredulous terror, even while he was saying No! No! That will cost at least a quarter too , his voice was saying aloud : "I reckon I'll have one of them." (9).
The blend in the last paragraph includes the author's voice; implicit in the powerful metaphor which he employs to capture Mink's sudden visceral memory of drinking soda pop; Mink's epistemologically private cry of protest as he succumbs; and his seemingly casual request reported in the public epistemological dimension. The blend of the last two elements is readily recognisable from our own experience in this inflationary age, but the richness of the authorial gloss on this brief transaction provides the additional perspective which heightens our experience of Mink's experience, allowing it to take on the 'same, but different' character.
Now the interesting thing, as far as our æsthetic transaction with this passage is concerned, is the implicit and therefore potentially transparent presence of the author to the reader. The æsthetic 'tone' of a novel where the author speaks directly to his reader, where the reader is allowed into the author's confidence, is markedly different. Thus in Dickens, for example, such invitations abound. For example,
And all these solemn proceedings having been satisfactorily concluded, Mr. Grummer was ignominiously ordered out-an awful instance of the instability of human greatness and the uncertain tenure of great men's favour. (10)
The author gives the reader a nudge and a wink which are entirely absent in the passage in Faulkner. The foundation of style-that which constitutes the overall 'tone' of a given author's work-lies, in part I believe, in the manipulation of these epistemological possibilities which the novel makes possible, and which each author employs in a characteristic fashion.
Since in aesthetics we are interested in articulating our responses to intangibles like 'style' (11) attention to non-standard epistemological configurations are a legitimate place to begin the process, in the case of the novel, which always deviates from the norm in this respect.
Let us look again at the effect of Faulkner's epistemological metaphor, in particular the conjunction of the author's implicit voice and that of Mink's epistemologically private voice. There is 'something about' this blend which calls for further articulation. To begin with, Mink's visceral sensations are known to him simply as 'something terrible'. They are not known to him in terms of Faulkner's vivid metaphor which captures this 'something terrible'. It is the reader who experiences Mink's experience of these sensations in these terms. But because the author's voice is implicit, ie., we have no sense of him speaking directly to us, there is-and here we must employ a metaphor-a certain 'transparency' to his description. We read the description not as Faulkner's comment on the character of Mink's private sensations, but simply as a characterisation of these sensations as they actually are. The effect on the reader of such a transparent, ie., epistemologically ownerless, description is that he attributes the richness and vividness which the author's description confers on Mink's experience of his sensations, to Mink's inner life. The effect of this attribution is to enrich our sense of Mink's humanity, to see in him a capacity for responding to his experience which is, strictly speaking, at odds with his own experience of his inner life as he himself articulates it. This unfamiliar conjunction of Mink's version of his experiences and the author's 'transparent' gloss on it is the epistemological 'metaphor' that Faulkner employs to achieve what I think is his aim; namely, to make us see the quite amazing depth and complexity which is implicitly present in the experience of human beings, however mundane their own public and private characterisations of their experience may appear to them. In a nutshell, the author's 'transparent' voice makes the implicit complexity of the character's experience explicit and allows us to recognize that life in Yoknapatawpha County is life with a capital L.
Using the schema as a means of interpreting criticism.
In Tom Wolfe's book The Painted Word a complaint is registered which has to do with the inaccessibility of modern art (viz. non-representational painting) to its audience. Very roughly, Wolfe is attacking non-representational painting because it does not work without a "persuasive" theory. As he sees it, these works of art do not reveal themselves as such unless the artist reveals to us, by literary means, what it is about physical objects hanging on the wall that constitutes the 'something about it' which marks it off as art. This means that without an understanding of the theory behind it such non-representational art leaves the audience, in Wolfe's words,--standing in front of a thousand, two thousand, God-knows-how-many-thousand Pollocks, de Koonings, Newmans, Nolands, Rothko's (etc.) now squinting, now popping the eye sockets open, now drawing back, now moving closer-waiting, waiting, forever waiting for ... it ... for it to come into focus, namely the visual reward (for so much effort) which must be there, which everyone (tout le monde) knew to be there-waiting for something to irradiate from the paintings on these invariably pure white walls, in this room, in this moment, into my own optic chiasma.(12)
According to our schema nothing happens because the space within which these paintings exist is not obviously different from the space of the everyday world. They represent themselves simply as physical objects-coloured canvases-and we therefore need the artist to provide us with a theory which will allow us to understand what it is about these coloured canvases which consitutes the 'something about them' (the non-standard element) which will give us room to appreciate them as works of art. If we are given a clue as to what constitutes their ontological strangeness we can begin to respond to them æsthetically.
Without such a theory the paintings present themselves as artifacts, and their æsthetic neutrality-which Wolfe registers in the above passage-is, I believe, a direct consequence of their perceived ontological normality.
If space permitted, such examples could be multiplied indefinitely, but my purpose here is simply to introduce the schema, not exhaust it. My hope is that the basic ideas which inform it have been indicated with sufficient clarity to allow readers to try it out for themselves and see whether it has the virtues advertised.
1. University Paperbacks, Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, 1959.
2. In the case of Trompe d'oeil paintings, the viewer can easily destroy the illusion of stereo- scopic vision by aapproaching the painting more closely, or, of course, by touching the surface.
3. This conception of metaphor closely follows the account given by Jukian Jaynes in his book : The Origin of Conssciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Houghton Mifflin & Co., Boxton, 1976, pp. 48-59.
4. For a further elaboration of this point, see page 14.
5. To appreciate a work of art is always to understand it in some degree. The fact that "appre- ciate" is a word whose connotation includes pleasurable feelings of a 'refined' sort, ie. feelings which are the outcome of mental endeavour, is a reminder that, in fact, understand- ing things is a pleasurable activity of a particularly valuable kind. Aristotle and Spinoza are tow traditional advocates of this view.
6. I am grateful to Kevin Presa for this point.
7. Once in a while-as with Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition"-an artist in one medium, in this case music, attempts to articulate his response to painted metaphors in terms of musical metaphors.
8. As the old saw has it, "A man's reach should not exceed his grasp or what's a metaphor".
9. The Reprint Society Ltd., by arrangement with Chatto & Windus, London, 1962, pp. 241- 242.
10. Pickwick Papers, George N. Morang & Co., Toronto 1900, Ch. XXV, p. 358.
11. The presumption throughout this essay is, needless to say, that, æsthetically speaking, the unarticulated response is not worth having. Those who prefer their 'same, but different' experiences 'straight', need reminding that knowing how the dish was prepared doesn't spoil the taste, rather it allows us to delight in it. Delighting in things always consists in articulating our initial responses to them. It is, therefore, an essential part of our æsthetic transactions with works of art. Though there is, of course, a strong contingent who simply will not see the light. Eg., T. L. Beddoes, in a speech by Veronica from Torrismond
"And I'll not think of it, for meditation
Oft presses from the heart its inmost wish
And thaws its silence into straying words."
For a contrary view, consider this remark which Heidegger makes in Part I, Lecture III of his book What is Called Thinking? trans. J. G. Gray, Harper Colophon Books, New York, 1968, p. 31.
"Joyful things, too, and beautiful and mysterious and gracious things give us food for thought. Those things may even be more thought-provoking than all the rest which we otherwise, and usually without much thought, call "thought-provoking". These things will give us food for thought, if only we do not reject the gift by regarding everything that is joyful, beautiful, and gracious as the kind of thing which should be left to feeling and experience, and kept out of the winds of thought."
12. Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word, New York, Bantam Books, June 1976, p. 6.