The British Avant-Garde: A Philosophical Analysis
ABSTRACT: British Avant-Garde art, poses a challenge to traditional aesthetic analysis. This paper will argue that such art is best understood in terms of Wittgenstein¡¦s concept of "seeing-as," and will point out that the artists often use this concept in describing their work. This is significant in that if we are to understand art in terms of cultural practice, then we must actually look at the practice. We will discuss initiatives such as the work of Damien Hirst, most famous for his animals in formaldehyde series, and that of Simon Patterson, who warps diagrams, e.g., replacing the names of stops on London Underground maps with those of philosophers. Cornelia Parker¡¦s idea that visual appeal is not the most important thing, but rather that the questions that are set up in an attempt to create an "almost invisible" art are what are central, will also be discussed. Also, if we concur with Danto¡¦s claims that "contemporary art no longer allows itself to be represented by master narratives," that Nothing is ruled out.", then it is indeed fruitful to understand art in terms of seeing-as. For application of this concept to art explains what occurs conceptually when the viewer shifts from identifying a work, as an art object, and then as not an art object, and explains why nothing is ruled out.
Much of contemporary art, as many have noted, has posed a challenge to much of traditional philosophical aesthetic analysis. British Avant-Garde art is no exception. This paper will argue that the "British Avant-Garde" art is best understood in terms of Wittgenstein¡¦s concept of "seeing-as,"(1) and will also point out that the artists and their critics often implicitly or explicitly use Wittgenstein¡¦s concept of seeing-as in describing their work. It is quite significant that both groups do this, in that if we are to understand art in terms of cultural practice as some suggest, then we must, I believe, actually look at the practice.(2) It is interesting to note that Wittgenstein himself in discussing aesthetics suggests that cultural practice is significant.(3) It is also my contention that if we concur with Danto¡¦s claim that "The great master narratives which first defined traditional art, and then modernist art, have not only come to an end but that contemporary art no longer allows itself to be represented by master narratives at all.", and with his claim that "Ours is a moment, at least . . . in art, of deep pluralism and total tolerance. Nothing is ruled out."(4), then it is indeed fruitful to understand art in terms of seeing-as. For application of the concept of seeing-as to art explains what actually occurs conceptually and perceptually when the viewer or viewers shifts from identifying the same work at one time, as an art object, and at another time as not an art object, and explains why nothing is ruled out.(5)
A recent article in Art News discusses the British Avant-Garde artists in...