It is improbable that more nonsense has been written about aesthetics than about anything else: the literature of the subject is not large enough for that (Clive Bell)


The Index is found here

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Simmel : Conclusion

(this is the Conclusion Georg Simmel's "Rembrandt: An Essay In The Philosophy of Art".
Quoted text is in YELLOW.
Text quoted from other authors is in GREEN)



The achievements of intellectual history are shot through with a contrast that can be characterized as that between the capacity to create [Schopfertum] and the capacity to fashion [Gestaltertum]. Given a certain extension of these concepts, there is no human work, beyond pure imitation, that is not simultaneously fashioning and creating. Just as we cannot create physical substance (all external action is actually the reworking and reforming of material elements), so there is no activity and work of the mind that does not presuppose some intellectual material or other. On the other hand, however, the capacity to create means bringing into being something that was not yet there, at least in the sense of the refashioning or extension of that which is to hand through the individual’s own power that is not deducible from elsewhere. In all such activity can be found an element through which all that is given and handed down is multiplied by a certain amount, and it is this — developed out of that which has been found and inherited — that is the source of the work’s unity. This peculiar combination makes humans into historical beings.

Simmel goes on to identify the Classical Greeks as examples of "fashioning", while Rembrandt, Shakespeare, and others of the "German spirit" exemplify "creating".

But couldn't the reverse argument be made just as strongly ? Would these arguments lead to any kind of insight regarding what these artists were doing - or would they only be exercises in rhetoric ?

Simmel may identify humans as uniquely "historical beings", but he has not shown much interest in locating Rembrandt within the history of Dutch painting or the Protestant Reformation.


The antitheses between the classical and the Rembrandtian style, just like that between the art of objective and of subjective religion, seem to bring with them the appearance of an antagonism: an inner hostility, a positive mutual exclusion, each [position] standing at the extreme poles of human possibilities as though offering each of us the choice between the one or the other. Here, we now find a highly effective division within the great spheres of intellectual life. Within theory, only one truth is recognized. There may be various equally valid paths to truth, but each definitive decision is made in the absolute exclusion of every other answer to the question that has arisen. Practical conduct — determined by emotion and will — sometimes takes this form, radically rejecting one possible route if an alternative decision has already been made. But sometimes we nevertheless attempt to follow two logically contradictory paths, or to arrive at a mixture or compromise between them; or, the decision having been reached, we at least acknowledge the other path as equally possible and equally valid. The antitheses found in art, however, demand a much more peculiar interpretation. For the creator the problem is not discussable precisely because he is simply the creator of one side of the antithesis. But a value judgment [Wertentscheidung] does not appear to be reached merely through a viewer’s subjective and irresponsible taste. Rather, by making a judgment we also mean to judge objectively; at least we intend to do so even if we are not free from one-sided emphasis. Even so, the decisive one-sidedness in the mode of experience and in the direction of the style of the work of art still does not contain that partiality, that more-or-less aggressive mutually antithetical emphasis common to all other human expression. A great work of art may represent a conviction or a style that is as radical as can be, but it is never something exclusive that, in rejecting its opposite, still demands it; rather, somehow, the totality of life lies within it, transcending all antitheses. This is inconceivable in logic, but is nevertheless an undeniable possibility in art, namely, that is gushes out of the deepest yes, the most singular unique — aspect of the personality as its expression, and yet allows this peculiarity to be experienced as a vessel of that which is general and all-unifying as such.

Couldn't Simmel just have acknowledged that words of text are required to present a thesis or antithesis. Paintings don't do that.

This is Simmel's final topic, and like the rest of the book, seems like just more erudite-seeming verbosity.

Looking back at the book's title, "Rembrandt: An essay in the Philosophy of Art", I now realize that Rembrandt was not really the topic of these ruminations, but only an excuse for them.

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