Something to think about for the CPA paper 2005

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Something to think about for the CPA paper 2005 ...

    Art, Nature, and ―Greenberg‘s Kant‖

    Suma Rajiva

    Memorial University

    Over time, Kant loomed progressively larger in Greenberg‘s thinking.

     John O‘Brian, Introduction to vol. 3 of Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and 1Criticism

    Greenberg has never disavowed his Kantianism, but he never understood Kant either As

    far as I know, most critics of Greenberg…have taken his reading of Kant for granted and

    have rejected the Kantian aesthetics along with its Greenbergian misreading. This is the

    first element in a huge misunderstanding. 2 Thierry de Duve, Kant after Duchamp

    …the real terms of the debate with Greenberg have been largely misunderstood through his

    finding unwarranted shelter beneath the theoretical umbrella of Kantian-style aesthetic

    formalism. 3 Paul Crowther, ―Greenberg‘s Kant and the Problem of Modernist Painting‖

1. Introduction

    Clement Greenberg famously characterized Kant as the first real Modernist and made Kant‘s views the foundation of many of his own statements about art generally and 4modernist art specifically. Although Greenberg is thus usually taken to be a Kantian, 5several commentators have recently addressed the extent to which ―Greenberg‘s Kant,‖ 6is a legitimate incarnation of Kant. In addressing this issue I focus on Kant‘s conception

    of the artwork and its relation to nature and on whether this radically differs from Greenberg‘s Kantianism. 7The main focus is Kant‘s claim in the Critique of Judgment that the work of art,

    while being the product of genius, must also be ―like‖ or ―as‖ nature. According to Diarmuid Costello, it is a mistake to take such a claim as being about resemblancethe

    point is rather about the artwork being convincingly ―unwilled‖ or without obvious 8constraint, rather than about what it is trying to represent, if anything at all.

    In one sense Costello‘s approach, which turns out to be surprisingly close to 9Greenberg‘s, is entirely correct. In another sense, however, Kant‘s claim that the work of

    art be ―like nature‖ appears to lean on at least a minimal kind of representation or relation 10to representation in the artwork, including structures such as space and time even if such a minimal relation involves little or no actual depiction, to use Henry Allison‘s

    distinction. Thus, endorsing a radical move away from representation and spatiality

    seems to place Greenberg‘s ―Kantian‖ account at a considerable distance from Kant‘s own account of the artwork, though endorsing a moderate shift in representation might

    not. This is particularly important for Greenberg‘s interpretation of both Kant and the

    modern artwork since Greenberg claims that modernist art moves away from, for example, the spatial aspect of representation generally (in Monet, for example) and, in later developments, radically moves away from representation at all (Mondrian, Pollock). Much depends then on what Kant means by the claim of being ―like‖ or ―as‖ nature.

    Even if this claim involves a relationship to representation in art it may allow a great deal of flexibility in such representation; moreover, even though Kant‘s notion of ―nature‖ in

    Æ : Canadian Aesthetics Journal / Revue canadienne d'esthétique Volume 14

    (Fall/Automne 2007)

    ? 2007 Canadian Society for Aesthetics / Société canadienne d'esthétique


    Art, Nature and ‘Greenberg’s Kant’ 2

    this context does mean some form of resemblance, this may be compatible with a much ―thinner‖ sense of the natural in Greenberg.

    I will look at the general notion of ‗nature‘ in Kant‘s philosophy and then at the

    specific way in which nature constrains the artwork and the artist in both process and 11product. Nature plays at least three roles in Kant‘s account of art, roles united 12throughout by the overriding notion of nature being the standard for art. Firstly, nature

    as the standard for the artwork means that the artwork, like a natural object, generates its aesthetic appeal through purposiveness without purpose, through appearing as if it were ‗natural,‘ which, as we will see, can mean a number of things, but especially the

    Greenberg/Costello sense of being ―unwilled‖ as though it came directly from nature. Here there appears to be a strong relationship between Kant and ―Greenberg‘s Kant‖

    though the force of such a relationship depends in the end on whether representation needs to play a large role in Kant‘s notion. Secondly, as Costello stresses, and as

    Greenberg makes clear in certain writings, the artist must appear ‗natural‘ or at ease in his

    or her workthe work must look unforced and unconstrained, though the artist is actually constrained by rules and purpose in the production. This is another important point in favour of ―Greenberg‘s Kant.‖ Thirdly, nature is explicitly named as the true

    cause or originator of the artist‘s genius and hence as the true cause of his or her

    originality as displayed in the artwork, something argued against by Greenberg, to some extent. On this third point, then, Kant looks quite different from his descendant, ―Greenberg‘s Kant.‖ Nonetheless, we can see that Greenberg‘s more individualistic

    interpretation of the source of originality is really a development of aspects of Kant‘s account and thus, though quite different from what Kant is saying, is a reasonable kind of 13―neo-Kantianism‖ on this point.

    2. Kant’s account of nature

    According to the Critique of Pure Reason nature can be considered materially or

    formally. Materially regarded, nature is the ―sum total of all appearances (natura 14materialiter spectata)‖ (B 163, GW 263) to which the categories of the understanding prescribe laws a priori.‖ Formally, the same nature can be ―considered with regard to its 15form rather than its matter. That is, it can be considered with regard to the categories 16as the ground of the lawfulness of the appearances (B 165, GW 263). In a larger sense

    the form of nature can also be seen to include space and time as the formal condition of 17any appearance so far as the sensory content of the latter is given to us. Thus:

    we ourselves bring into the appearances that order and regularity in them that

    we call nature, and moreover we would not be able to find it there if we, or the

    nature of our mind, had not originally put it there. For this unity of nature should

    be a necessary, i.e., a priori certain unity of the connection of appearances.

    (A125, GW 241)

    Locating the structure of nature in us, so that we can legitimate a priori claims about it, keeps nature from being utterly contingent, at least structurally. However, while utter contingency would be unacceptable for Kant the lawfulness of nature must also be compatible in principle with the playfulness of the aesthetic, and he locates this in the nature of particular natural laws:

    The pure faculty of understanding does not suffice, however, to prescribe to the

    appearances through mere categories a priori laws beyond those on which rests

    a nature in general, as lawfulness of appearances in space and time. Particular

    3 Art, Nature and ‘Greenberg’s Kant’

    laws, because they concern empirically determined appearances, cannot be

    completely derived from the categories, although they all stand under them.

    Experience must be added in order to come to know particular laws at all; but

    about experience in general, and about what can be cognized as an object of 18experience, only those a priori laws offer instruction. (B165, GW 263-264)

    Thus nature in the first Critique has both form (space, time, the categories) and content (appearances considered in their given aspect including the empirical laws of nature). Every aspect of experience is contained in space and time and is thought through the categories but particular laws and the details of particular experience, though systematic in their own way, are not themselves universal and necessary except through their form.

    Particular experience is developed further in the Critique of Judgment which also

    discusses nature extensively but with a greater stress on presupposing its empirical unity

    (Ak. 183-184, ?V, GM 70). Such a unity can be cashed out in ―a possibility of infinitely manifold empirical laws, which as far as out insight goes are nevertheless contingent…

    and with regard to them we judge the unity of nature in accordance with empirical laws and the possibility of the unity of experience (as a system in accordance with empirical laws) as contingent‖ (Ak. 183, ?V, GM 70). Thus, although specifically contingent,

    natural empirical unity in general is not.

    Given the third Critique‘s overall emphasis on systematic empirical nature, the

    model for artistic beauty must, in some sense, be the empirical world as cognizable nature, understood through the categories, synthesized perceptually by the imagination, and judged by both the understanding and reason. This is scientifically comprehended nature conceived (by the understanding) and also a regulated nature reflectively judged as a system through ideas (by reason). It is thus already a nature whose mechanism has been animated by cognitive ideas of reason, just as the artwork, as we will see, is animated by aesthetic ideas. Such a nature becomes an analogical type for the artwork though only 19analogical.

    203. The production of the artwork as ‘natural’

    21Kant tells us early in the account of fine art that, while the free arts do not essentially

    appear as compulsory, they still require

    …something compulsory, or, as it is called, a mechanism, without which the

    spirit, which must be free in the art and which alone animates the work, would

    have no body at all and would entirely evaporate (e.g., in the art of poetry,

    correctness and richness of diction as well as prosody and meter), since many

    modern teachers believe that they can best promote a liberal art if they remove

    all compulsion from it and transform it from labor into mere play. (Ak.304, ? 43,

    GM 183)

    ‗Mechanism‘ and ‗mechanical‘ thus involve production which is characterized by compulsion (Ak.304, ? 43, GM 183), the actualization of some possible cognizable object (Ak.305, ? 44, GM 184), an intention to produce a ―determinate object‖ and which thus pleases ―only through concepts‖ (Ak.306, ?45, GM 185), as well as ―diligence and

    learning‖ which concern academic form and constraint and which involve ―determinate rules‖ (Ak.310, ?47, GM 188-189). Though only the ―body‖ for the ―spirit‖ which

    animates the true artwork all this is a necessary if insufficient condition for the 22production of artwork.

    Art, Nature and ‘Greenberg’s Kant’ 4

     Unlike sensory or agreeable art (e.g., music as a dinner accompaniment) the representation which is beautiful art ―is purposive in itself and, though without an end,

    nevertheless promotes the cultivation of the mental powers for sociable communication.‖ (Ak.306, ? 44, GM 185) Since this communicability is supposed to be universal it obviously cannot be tied, says Kant, to mere sensation but must be a pleasure of reflection ―and thus aesthetic art, as beautiful art, is one that has the reflecting power of 23judgment and not mere sensation as its standard‖ (Ak.306, ? 44, GM 185).

     Beautiful art makes us aware in this reflection that the artwork is an artwork but its purposiveness of form must seem ―to be as free from all constraint by arbitrary rules as

    if it were a mere product of nature‖ (Ak.306, ?45, GM 185). Kant then concludes with

    the extraordinarily rich statement that: ―Nature was beautiful, if at the same time it looked like art; and art can only be called beautiful if we are aware that it is art and yet it 24looks to us like nature (Ak.306, ?45, GM 185, emphasis added). We never lose our

    consciousness that the work of art captures nature in a sense, including nature‘s 25sublimity, but remains simultaneously both artificial and natural. Hence the purposiveness of beautiful art is intentional but must appear unintentional ―i.e., beautiful

    art must be regarded as nature, although of course one is aware of it as art‖ (Ak.307, ?45,

    GM 186).

    What I would like to call the duality of the artwork is thus its being like nature

    but also not nature, in some sense, i.e., looking unintentional while being an artifact. Its only constraint is that it stays within the framework of possible experience while 26deviating imaginatively from the empirical system of experience. The empirical system

    of experience is the coherence of particular laws of nature to form this actual world, which, of course, conforms to the framework of possible experience but which is also a particular empirical cashing out of this framework. As indicated in the Critique of Pure

    Reason, the framework of possible experience prescribes only the minimal conditions for an empirical system, conditions which could be fulfilled by many possible empirical worlds. The artwork is at least one way of fleshing out what such an alternate possible 27world could look like. Moreover, even in this actual world the artwork can present us with many details which, while reflecting the laws of nature in this world, deviate from the actual empirical history of the world.

     In The War of the Worlds, for example, we have presented to us an alternate

    empirical history in which there is advanced and malevolent life existing on Mars. By presenting the novel as if it were a factual account of events taking place some time earlier, so that its narrative exists diagetically, as part of the universe of the story, Wells heightens the ‗natural‘ quality of the artwork. However, Werther contains no fantastic

    elements other than the fictional quality itself, and the empirical resemblance to nature, 28especially human nature, is heightened by the epistolary form of the novel which

    furthers the illusion of the novel‘s reality. Its world is thus mostly our world, in laws and

    in details, with some difference. On the other hand the artwork may deviate so much from actual nature as to be barely within the framework of possible experience and may 29even be trying to gesture beyond this framework. 30There appears to be a further duality in our perception of the artwork arising out

    of the reflective quality of appreciating beauty generally. The beauty of nature rests on what I call the duality of perceiving a natural object as purposive, simultaneously seeing what is given as nature and seeing it as spontaneously intentional. Actually seeing it as intentional spoils its beauty, as Kant says when we mistake a mechanical bird singing for a natural one and then realize our mistake.

     It is otherwise with the work of art. If we think it is actually real, we are missing its nature as an artwork. Moreover, we frequently cannot avoid some interest in it, either empirical or moral. We may flee town, saying the Martians have invaded, since we do not

    Art, Nature and ‘Greenberg’s Kant’ 5

    have the crucial element of disinterest in aesthetically appreciating the radio dramatization of the War of the Worlds unless we are aware that we are listening to a

    dramatization. Simultaneously, however, we must perceive it as if it were natural, as if

    the Martians were really landing. If we do not shudder at the image of the great machines stalking the landscape, or remain impervious to Werther‘s gallant despair, then the

    artwork has not succeeded. It needs to move us as if it were real while making us know it

    is not real. We must be conscious of its spontaneity as artwork but affectively feel or 31perceive its inexorable givenness as nature. The artwork is thus purposive but without

    a determinate purpose. We are in the world of the artwork, as was pointed out previously, 32but we are also outside it, feeling a pleasure grounded in the very duality of naturalness 33and artifice. 34The beauty of nature, which requires no genius to appreciate, concerns beautiful

    things; Since ―the beauty of art is a beautiful representation of a thing‖ (Ak.311, ?48,

    GM 188) its duality can do something natural beauty normally does not: as beautiful representation (not as representation of the beautiful) art can show us many things that are actually not beautiful but are ugly. ―The furies, diseases, devastations of war, and the like can, as harmful things, be very beautifully described, indeed even represented in 35painting‖ (Ak.312, ?48, GM 190). Thus, what would normally not be the object of the 36harmony of the faculties becomes subsumed under this harmony through art.

     In fine art representation also requires spirit otherwise the work of art can only be, says Kant, ―quite pretty and elegant‖ but nothing more. Spirit in this context means for Kant ―the animating principle in the mind‖ (Ak.313, ?49, GM 192) which is ―nothing other than the faculty for the presentation of aesthetic ideas‖ (Ak.314, ?49, GM 192):

    …by an aesthetic idea, however, I mean that representation of the imagination

    that occasions much thinking though without it being possible for any

    determinate thought, i.e., concept, to be adequate to it, which, consequently, no

    language fully attains or can make intelligible.One readily sees that it is the

    counterpart (pendant) of an idea of reason, which is conversely, a concept top

    which no intuition (representation of the imagination) can be adequate. (Ak.314,

    ?49, GM 192)

    Such ―aesthetic ideas‖ allow one to represent, often symbolically, the range of sensory and imaginative representations of an object which no concept can fully determine. 37(Ak.315, ?49, GM 193-194). What we do with such ideas is, says Kant, to create imaginatively ―another nature, out of the material which the real one gives it (Ak.314,

    ?49, GM 192).

    4. Greenberg on nature and Kantian naturalism

    In a review from 1946, Greenberg reveals his own formulation, akin to Costello‘s,

    of what Kant meant by ―like/as‖ nature:

    The error here is to assume, unwarrantedly, that by ―looks like‖ (sieht aus als)

    Kant meant ―mirrors,‖ that is, that art portrays nature. Actually, as he explained

    both before and after this statement, all he meant was that the ―purposiveness in

    its [art‘s] form must seem to be as free from all constraint of arbitrary rules as if

    it were a product of mere nature.‖ That is, art, although it must look as though it

    came from nature, does not have to resemble any of the content of nature,

    anything already present in it. (Greenberg, Vol. 2, ―‘Americanism‘ Misplaced:

    Review of Preface to an American Philosophy of Art by A. Philip McMahon‖ 38p.66)

    Art, Nature and ‘Greenberg’s Kant’ 6

    Thus, since what Costello understands by being ―like nature‖ for Kant is, in the lack of

    constraint, almost identical to what Greenberg understands by it, any distance between Kant and ―Greenberg‘s Kant‖ cannot rest on issues of constraint. It must, instead rest on this possibility: that the artist‘s creation of ―another nature‖, as Kant puts it, may facilitate precisely the kind of general illusion Greenberg commends modern art for moving away from. That is, Kant‘s notion, although consisting in the lack of constraint, may also imply a certain amount of depiction or representation, as we saw above, which may be out of 39keeping with Greenberg‘s emphasis on the freedom and indeterminacy of art, both as

    process and product. And, finally, Greenberg himself states:

    But even as a sculptor the artist can no longer imitate nature. There is nothing

    left in nature for plastic art to explore. …Instead of being aroused, the modern

    imagination is numbed by visual representation. Unable to represent the exterior

    world suggestively enough, pictorial art is driven to express as directly as

    possible only what goes on inside the selfor at most the ineluctable modes by

    which that which is outside the self is perceived. (Mondrian) (Greenberg, Vol. 1,

    ―Abstract Art‖ pp. 203-204)

    This appears to set the seal on endorsing a non-naturalist, perhaps even an anti-naturalist approach by Greenberg, in possible contrast with Kant. However, since for Kant ‗nature‘ 40includes human nature, an emphasis on what is ‗inside,‘ on the subjective, is not thus in opposition to a Kantian sense of ―like/as‖ nature—in fact, given the connection between 41art and feeling which, according to Donald Kuspit, is central to Greenberg, the Kantian

    sense would be one way of capturing the structure of why art can or should express feeling.

    Also, in another statement which highlights a more robust sense of nature, Greenberg comments that while ―Other, later masters have been able to do without the

    object as a starting point‖ that:

    …outright abstract painting, including Mondrian‘s, when it is successful,

    establishes its aesthetic right in the same way, ultimately as did the masterpieces

    of cubismby referring to the integrity of objects in nature. The best modern

    painting, though it is mostly abstract painting, remains naturalistic in its core,

    despite all appearances to the contrary. It refers to the structure of the given

    world both outside and inside human beings. The artist who…tries to refer to

    anything else walks in a void. (Greenberg, Vol. 2, ―The Role of Nature in

    Modern Painting‖ p.275, emphases added)

    This comment not only reinforces a definite though unusual naturalism it gives the naturalism a both an inner and outer reference which seems a great deal like Kant.

    Finally, we need to think about whether appreciating the beauty of the artwork as ―natural‖ in the Kantian mode is contrary to the famous directness associated with the Greenbergian ―eye‖ which appreciates an artwork without reference seemingly to any

    duality between process and product, between artifact and naturalness. However, the difference between Kantian reflection and the Greenbergian ―eye‖ may become, on further inspection, a difference at most of degree, not of kind. The Greenbergian ―eye‖

    often looks like a reflective and judging eye. This becomes particularly clear in some of Greenberg‘s comments on seeing art, for example, his discussion of how his ―eye‖ has learned to organize a Pollock in a way it has not learned to organize artwork from 42another culture. Frequently he does make statements about the initial ―freshness‖ of one‘s looking at an artwork which suggest a non-Kantian directness; however, a number

    Art, Nature and ‘Greenberg’s Kant’ 7

    of other statements qualify the immediacy of the experience in such a way as to reconcile it to Kantian reflection.

     Here is a 1945 statement of the classical Greenbergian ―eye which makes it look

    initially quite opposed to a Kantian account:

    Doesn‘t one find so many times that the ―full meaning‖ of a picture—i.e., its

    aesthetic factis, at any given visit to it, most fully revealed at the first fresh

    glance? And that this ―meaning‖ fades progressively as continued examination

    destroys the unity of impression? With many paintings and pieces of sculpture it

    is as if you had to catch them by surprise in order to grasp them as wholes

    their maximum being packed into the instantaneous shock of sight. Whereas if

    you plant yourself too firmly before looking at a picture and then gaze at it too

    long you are likely to end by having it merely gaze blankly back at you.

    (Greenberg, vol. 2, ―On looking at Pictures Review of Painting and Painters:

    How to Look at a Picture: From Giotto to Chagall by Lionello Venturi‖ p. 34)

    This is reiterated in 1959:

    But ideally the whole of a picture should be taken in at a glance; its unity should

    be immediately evident, and the supreme quality of a picture, the highest

    measure of its power to move and control the visual imagination, should reside

    in its unity. And this is something to be grasped only in an indivisible instant of

    time. No expectancy is involved in the true and pertinent experience of a

    painting; a picture, I repeat, does not ―come out‖ the way a story, or a poem, or a

    piece of music does. It‘s all there at once, like a sudden revelation. This ―at-

    onceness‖ an abstract picture usually drives home to us with greater singleness

    and clarity than a representational painting does. And to apprehend this ―at-

    onceness demands a freedom of mind and untrammeledness of eye that

    constitute ―at-onceness‖ in their own right. Those who have grown capable of

    experiencing this know what I mean. You are summoned and gathered into one

    point in the continuum of duration. The picture does this to you, willy-nilly,

    regardless of whatever else is on your mind; a mere glance at it creates the

    attitude required for its appreciation, like a stimulus that elicits an automatic

    response. (Greenberg, vol. 4, ―The Case for Abstract Art‖ pp. 80-81, emphasis


    Note that although a mere glance at the picture suffices in one sense to activate its power to grasp your attention that Greenberg also appeals to those who have ―grown capable of experiencing this,‖ a claim he reiterated elsewhere in various comments on how to see a

    picture and also on how abstract art teaches us to appreciate the ―old masters‖ even better. And in this essay he goes on to say that the ―at-onceness‖ of the painting can be

    ― repeated in a succession of instants, in each one remaining an ‗at-onceness,‘ an instant

    all by itself. For the cultivated eye, the picture repeats its instantaneous unity like a mouth repeating a single word‖ (p. 81). Thus the immediacy of the ―eye‖ does not preclude

    learning, as made clear in Homemade Esthetics; it indeed becomes now a ―cultivated


     Greenberg also applies this immediacy of seeing in the moment to the aesthetic judgment generally:

    Aesthetic judgments are given and contained in the immediate experience of art.

    They coincide with it; they are not arrived at afterwards through reflection or

    thought. Aesthetic judgments are also involuntary: you can no more choose

    whether or not to like a work of art than you can choose to have sugar taste

    8 Art, Nature and ‘Greenberg’s Kant’

    sweet or lemons sour. (Whether or not aesthetic judgments are honestly reported

    is another matter.) (Greenberg, vol. 4, ―Complaints of an Art Critic‖ p. 265)

    He adds that since ―aesthetic judgments are immediate, intuitive, undeliberate, and involuntary, they leave no room for the conscious application of standards, criteria, rules or precepts‖ (p. 265). Nonetheless such precepts are there even if ―in subliminal

    operation‖ since aesthetic judgments for Greenberg are not purely subjective and in fact 43form a real consensus.

    Thus, although Greenberg seems to be advocating an immediacy of aesthetic experience contrary to Kantian reflection, the point is not a positivistic exclusion of learning or reflection or culture in favour of some purely sensory moment. What he seems set against, on the contrary, is an over-intellectual analysis of the artwork in place of its enjoyment, or even a bias based on cultural or other assumptions; such a position is entirely compatible with even a cursory reading of Kant, who also does not want aesthetic experience to be determined intellectually or analytically. Moreover, such a

    position partakes of the essential Kantian moment of freedom in the experience of the beautiful, an experience extended by Greenberg to appreciating art:

    For a precious freedom lies in the very involuntariness of aesthetic judging: the

    freedom to be surprised, taken aback, have your expectations confounded, the

    freedom to be inconsistent and to like anything in art as long as it is goodthe

    freedom, in short, to let art stay open. Part of the excitement of art, for those

    who attend to art regularly, consists, or should, in this openness, in this inability

    to foresee reactions. (Greenberg, vol. 4, ―Complaints of an Art Critic‖ p. 266)

    Of course, much more needs to be done to make clear the resemblance between this view of freedom and the untrammeled eye and Kant‘s notion of the freedom of the beautiful,

    whether in nature or in art, but there is, at least, a case for this resemblance. Thus, the Kantian artwork, though possessing a duality of artifice and reality which might initially preclude an immediate seeing, is actually open to the untrammeled eye, provided this is understood in the peculiarly Greenbergian sense. In fact, the artwork being aesthetically ―natural‖ in the way both Greenberg and Costello interpret this in Kant may require

    precisely such a direct seeing of it in the moment, rather than judging it through concepts of any kind.

    5. The Artist and Nature

    What I call the duality of artifice and reality in the artwork according to Kant is achieved through a similar duality in the artist, a duality which may pose a greater challenge to connecting Kant and Greenberg than the nature of the artwork. According to Kant:

    A product of art appears as nature, however, if we find it to agree punctiliously 44but not painstakingly with rules in accordance with which alone the product

    can become what it ought to be, that is, without the academic form showing

    through, i.e., without showing any sign that the rule had hovered before the eyes

    of the artist and fettered his mental powers. (Ak.307, ? 45, GM 186)

    45In this seemingly effortlessness, the activity of the artist mirrors the purposiveness

    without purpose experienced in the appreciation of beauty; in the latter experience the object conveys the illusion of purpose and intent while in the former activity the subject conceals active intent and makes the object appear as an object, as nature. At the same

    Art, Nature and ‘Greenberg’s Kant’ 9

    time, genius does not imitate painstakingly either nature or other artists, since this would imply being fettered externally.

    Nonetheless, finding a form which thus makes beautiful the work of art takes much labour and is not, for Kant, a matter of inspiration, but of ―a slow and painstaking improvement, in order to let it become adequate to the thought and yet not detrimental to the freedom in the play of the mental powers‖ (Ak.312-313, ?48, GM 191). The

    painstaking aspect of this search for form, which was earlier banished from the viewer‘s experience of the artwork, is here resurrected in the process of producing the artwork; in the end, though, the history of the effort must vanish so that we do not see the ninety-nine percent perspiration. 46In this peculiar heautonomy of taste and artistic production, as well as the

    injunction against ―painstaking‖ imitation we see some agreement between Kant and

    Greenberg, in spite of Greenberg‘s claim that what is distinctive about Modernist painting is that it actually draws attention to the medium, since this is not an issue of appearing painstaking or of imitating (Vol. 4, ―Modernist Painting‖ pp. 86-87). A more

    serious difference, however, might be that, according to Donald Kuspit, Greenberg seems to decry the appearance of effortlessness:

    Greenberg makes his main point over and over again….The modern point is to

    show more rather than less of the creative struggle, so that its intention becomes

    explicit for the modern artist, the work records the experience of the creative

    process. The work is not meant to give the illusion of being spontaneously and

    felicitously generated … Greenberg acknowledges the divine touch of many

    decorative artists, but asks ―Where is [their] strength? Where are [their] 47profundity and originality?‖

     This is broadly compatible with a Kantian position, which also emphasizes the originality and profundity of the artist‘s creativity. However, the emphasis on showing

    the experience of creativity is not in accordance with Kant‘s emphasis on the balance of originality and taste. The latter, Allison‘s ―thin‖ conception of Kantian artistic genius, does not accord with Kuspit‘s view of Greenberg as well as the ―thick‖ conception

    emphasizing originality. However, such a thin view does accord with Greenberg‘s own

    statements, quoted earlier, on what Kant meant by being like nature. Does this mean that Greenberg, on Kuspit‘s portrayal, is disagreeing with Kant, while correctly presenting the

    latter‘s view? The following quotation indicates otherwise, suggesting that Greenberg‘s view is actually closer to Kant‘s dictum on effortlessness:

    Like Rothko and Still, Newman happens to be a conventionally skilled artist

    need I say it? But if he uses his skill, it is to suppress the evidence of it. And the

    suppression is part of the triumph of his art, next to which most other

    contemporary painting begins to look fussy. (Greenberg, vol. 4, p.132, ―After

    Abstract Expressionism‖)

    Since such ―suppression‖ is presumably not the same as what Greenberg might criticize

    ―decorative‖ artists for it is certainly in line with the Kantian prescription for being precise without looking painstaking.

    The balance between originality and taste is developed further in what happens, according to Kant, if one develops originality without any constraint:

    Now since the originality of his talent constitutes one (but not the only) essential

    element of the character of the genius, superficial minds believe that they cannot

    show that they are blossoming geniuses any better than by pronouncing

    10 Art, Nature and ‘Greenberg’s Kant’

    themselves free of the academic constraint of all rules, and they believe that one

    parades around better on a horse with the staggers than one that is properly

    trained. Genius can only provide rich material for products of art; its

    elaboration and form require a talent that has been academically trained, in

    order to make a use of it that can stand up to the power of judgment. (Ak.310,

    ?47, GM 189)

    Nonetheless it is still the originality of genius which ―gives the rule to [beautiful] art‖ so that for Greenberg:

    Inspiration alone belongs altogether to the individual; everything else, including

    skill, can now be acquired by any one. Inspiration remains the only factor in the

    creation of a successful work of art that cannot be copied or imitated…..The

    exact choices of color, medium, size, shape, proportion…are what alone

    determines the quality of the result, and these choices depend solely on

    inspiration or conception. (Greenberg, vol. 4, ―After Abstract Expressionism‖


    This initially looks similar to Kant, who also emphasizes the original, rule-giving, powers of the individual artist‘s genius. However, Kant in the end takes possession away from the individual genius since ―the talent, as an inborn productive faculty of the artist, itself belongs to nature‖ (Ak. 307, ? 46, GM 186) and ―Genius is the inborn predisposition of

    the mind (ingenium) through which nature gives the rule to art‖ (Ak. 307, ? 46, GM

    186). Thus inspiration itself is dual for Kant, appearing to belong to the artist but really 48belonging to nature, while for Greenberg it belongs ―altogether‖ to individuals.

     However, such proprietary individuality may be implicit in Kant‘s emphasis on

    the autonomy of the genius although not part of Kant‘s overt account, allowing the later

    evolution to Greenberg‘s explicit notion of artistic individuality. Kant warns that, though beautiful artworks serve as a model, they should not be imitated

    …down to that which the genius had to leave in, as a deformity, only because it

    could not easily have been removed without weakening the idea. This courage is

    a merit only in a genius, and a certain boldness in expression and in general

    some deviation from the common rule is well suited to him, but is by no means

    worthy of imitation, but always remains in itself a defect which one must seek to

    remove, but for which the genius is as it were privileged, since what is

    inimitable in the impetus of his spirit would suffer from anxious caution. (Ak.

    318, ? 49, GM 196)

    Here we have an instance in which genius is allowed to transgress understanding, at least

    to some extent, so that the wholeness of his or her work remains animated by spirit rather being constrained by the usual limits of ―anxious caution.‖ Such an instance does not

    appear to be precisely about the force of nature in the artist‘s originality so that here we have room for an incipient (though implicit) turn to individuality.

     Nonetheless, in section 50, Kant‘s explicit account links imagination to

    inspiration but judgment to beauty, and says that when we judge art as beautiful, we must weigh the power of judgment as primary. Rich originality is not as necessary to beauty as the free relation in judgment of the imagination to the lawful understanding and such judgment is necessary for bringing what would otherwise be nonsense ―in line with the

    understanding.‖ Thus taste, ―like the power of judgment in general, is the discipline (or corrective) of genius, clipping its wings and making it well behaved or polished‖.

    (Ak.319, ?50, GM 197). Taste also orders and guides genius, introducing clarity, order,

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