Sunday, 14 December 2008

Artists and rational argument

"The creative artist, like the philosopher, is fully committed to a truth-seeking activity, trying to see below the surface of things and acquire a deeper understanding of human experience, however, he [sic] publishes, or publicly presents, his insights in a different form from the philosopher, a form that relies on direct perception and intuition rather than on rational argument."

Bryan Magee, The Story of Philosophy, 2001

As a generalisation this is probably unobjectionable, but as a rule it is dubious. Putting aside the question of whether 'truth' is the main objective in either activity (one can imagine both art and philosophy being practiced for reasons other than the search for truth), and the quibble about gender assignment, what remains doubtful is the opposition of 'direct perception' and 'intuition' versus 'rational argument'. It's possible to think of philosophical arguments that appeal to direct perception and intuition (especially in the eastern tradition — through the direct contemplation of nature, the elliptical remark, or koan form) as well as artistic statements that are the result of a reasoned, logical process (some of Sol LeWitt's 'structures' spring to mind, as well as other constructivists and process-based artists). This may be over-loading Magee's generalist claim, but it is worth resisting the easy separation of art and philosophy.