Art Criticism / Art History

From Fascist, Progressivist and Liberal Art to Fallibilist Aesthetic Pluralism: Some Notes

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Suppose the study of aesthetics is also the study of value. Accept, if you will, that art’s engagement with value lies at the core of High modernism.  That’s a simple one: Duchamp’s work and that of the Futurists makes that rather clear. So, accept that the art-value relationship foregrounds for every epochal turn or stylistic adventure in the history of art, just so that we can take that on board and move on. Suppose, finally, that you want to work in the way you want to work. What political-aesthetic value will yield you your view? With what consequence?

Suppose the art of Progressivism stands against the art of Fascism. Suppose, getting a bit into the weeds, the art of Fascism is stringent rule-minded expressionism that refers only to itself—say, work in as varied as that of the Futurists and that supported under the Third Reich—then, in broad opposition, the art of Progressivism requires a supporting idea that disavows stringent rule-following.  Now I propose that Fascist art is derived from stringent rule following, itself derived from some avowed interest in the not-self (Expressionism is concerned with just that).  By concern with not-self, I mean the artist is not interested in any sense of what it is to be a man, woman or an artist: the biographical facts of works that are rooted in communities, a certain kind of world, are rejected.  What matters is the expression itself of some objective fact, which can only reflect objective things that remain true irrespective of the perspective taken on the work-War is emancipatory; the Reich is both true and points out the truth in the world.

Now, as soon as the artist looks upon herself, as person, as subject, all points become true or false relative to her view.  She makes judgments on pragmatic truth, that she exists or she is in love or whether there is today, in some corner of the world, some kind of border skirmish.  But that can’t work for fascism. For it is only when the subjective, relative vision is disavowed and some concrete value is given priority that Fascism marches in and trumps other values.  This concrete vision is merciless since it cannot respect relative value and requires that its own value supersede all others.  Authoritarians project their own value in just these terms.  Fascists speak of war and iron-bound machinery as the harbinger of a new world; man is undone here. Therefore, the dictator and his Fascist vision are required to be infallible.  Indeed, by denying and often destroying every other conception of the good, the dictator proves himself to be infallible.

Now, let’s go back to Progressivism. Progressivism supports a program of a better state of affairs than one available under the status quo; it is simply that condition that derives for the world progress from the here and now. In that sense, it would seem to support a better state of the world than the one available under fascism. But, progressivism gives us nothing about the epistemology of choice; it says nothing about infallibility. Progressivism’s only domain is the broad contours of the worlds be available for change. So, even if our binary coding of Progressivism versus Fascism held under the level of states of the world, Progressivism cannot support policy-level, individual and group level changes out of the status quo simply because it has nothing so say for it, to show for it.

But, Liberalism rejects infallible objective values and supports individual reason and individual cause in a non-interventionist manner.  I know what I want, but you cannot claim to know what I want in the way I can ,and vice versa, because we have not lived each other’s lives.  I want to seek my good but you can only legitimately intervene on my aspiration for my good if you know my claim is faulty or irrational.   Since you cannot know this most of the time, you must stay your hand.  Since this is the case for me as well, I must be committed to stay my hand as well.  Hence, mutual non-intervention is required of us due to the sociological fact of doubt; Liberalism sanctions that doubt and, more strongly, requires that doubt.  Under Liberalism–and yes, the Liberal state–we are each fully able to respect each other’s own conception of the good.

Liberalism requires that each individual be a person who makes determinative, non-dominated choices over his own a certain sphere of actions that are not dominated directly by the choices of others. Now, the individual’s choices can be pluralistic, their paths and trajectories can be entirely grounded in certain social values and need not function hierarchically.  Hence Liberalism supports Pluralism.   The Art of Liberalism is then not only the art of doubt but is also the art of Pluralism.

In other words, the position of art-making non-dominated by the views and values of others is then best supported by a position of Aesthetic Pluralism.  This value requires that an artist think that there are no objectively superior ways of painting in one way relative to another.  There simply are ways of painting in one way, relative to another.  If this is the case, the aesthetic pluralist artist is in a quandary: there are no rules to follow that are designated as the correct rules; there are no facts of the matter that can support a work that he might create, because there is no superhuman authority who might adjudicate between two competing claims of the truth in works.  The Aesthetic Pluralist artist is, finally, a fallibilist.

The fallibilist artist has every route available to her, but no direction in which to travel.  That is the cost of Aesthetic Pluralism.  It is a price she pays by choosing one of the available routes.  Where she goes, only she can tell, only afters he has reached the destination that, plausibly, always remains unknown to her.

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