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The Intimate Philosophy of Art

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How many of us have stopped before a famous painting or building only to realise, with quiet disappointment, that we can't quite see what the fuss is about? What do we have to do - beyond just staring - to get the most out of art? How do we come to develop an attachment to individual works and find them deeply fascinating? How do they come to matter to us? While many have How many of us have stopped before a famous painting or building only to realise, with quiet disappointment, that we can't quite see what the fuss is about? What do we have to do - beyond just staring - to get the most out of art? How do we come to develop an attachment to individual works and find them deeply fascinating? How do they come to matter to us? While many have diligently directed attention to questions in art history, theory or criticism, the author, in a powerful and original shift of focus, considers the roots of our personal engagement with art. perhaps this is both the most important and most neglected aspect of thinking about art. There is no access to art except in private - in looking, thinking and feeling in the presence of an individual work. In this book, the author describes the resources we each need to cultivate in order to enjoy painting and architecture; resources such as reverie, attention and the investment of emotion. Moving easily between the intimacies of personal experiences and lucid, accessible philosophical reflection, the author acts as a sensitive and persuasive guide.


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How many of us have stopped before a famous painting or building only to realise, with quiet disappointment, that we can't quite see what the fuss is about? What do we have to do - beyond just staring - to get the most out of art? How do we come to develop an attachment to individual works and find them deeply fascinating? How do they come to matter to us? While many have How many of us have stopped before a famous painting or building only to realise, with quiet disappointment, that we can't quite see what the fuss is about? What do we have to do - beyond just staring - to get the most out of art? How do we come to develop an attachment to individual works and find them deeply fascinating? How do they come to matter to us? While many have diligently directed attention to questions in art history, theory or criticism, the author, in a powerful and original shift of focus, considers the roots of our personal engagement with art. perhaps this is both the most important and most neglected aspect of thinking about art. There is no access to art except in private - in looking, thinking and feeling in the presence of an individual work. In this book, the author describes the resources we each need to cultivate in order to enjoy painting and architecture; resources such as reverie, attention and the investment of emotion. Moving easily between the intimacies of personal experiences and lucid, accessible philosophical reflection, the author acts as a sensitive and persuasive guide.

30 review for The Intimate Philosophy of Art

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    This is such a useful book. The idea is rather simple, but apart from maybe the section on Kant, Schelling and Hegel, it is also very readable. Given that you can’t really expect any exposition of German Idealism to be a page-turner, not if it is going to say anything worthwhile, even this section was forgivable. The simple question this book asks is, what should you do if you feel disappointed by a work of art you know is much better than you can work it out as being from what you are seeing. Y This is such a useful book. The idea is rather simple, but apart from maybe the section on Kant, Schelling and Hegel, it is also very readable. Given that you can’t really expect any exposition of German Idealism to be a page-turner, not if it is going to say anything worthwhile, even this section was forgivable. The simple question this book asks is, what should you do if you feel disappointed by a work of art you know is much better than you can work it out as being from what you are seeing. You know the score – you go to the gallery to see the latest blockbuster exhibition and there is a masterwork, something you’ve heard about all of your life, and you get into the room with it and it isn't so much that you feel disappointed by the painting, you are struggling to even feel that much emotion. The Americans have invented a word for this sort of moment, which is, as far as I can tell, meh. In the best of all possible worlds that would probably be the end of the story – you looked, it did nothing for you, you got on with your life. Except, this doesn’t really reflect the best of all possible worlds, but rather one of the more likely and therefore possibly also one of the not-so-great worlds. Nietzsche says in Beyond Good and Evil, “‘I dislike him’—why?—‘because I’m not a match for him’ Did any one ever answer so?” To which I think, when it comes to works of art, people answer like that all of the time. We often know we aren’t really up to understanding certain great works of art and so we blame ourselves. But while blaming ourselves might give us some kind of masochistic pleasure, it is probably better to try to do something about it. The question is, what? And that is where this book comes in. The first thing he suggests is to get information. Now, he later goes on to explain that this is probably the least satisfactory way of coming to understand a work of art, but, especially today with the internet, it is one of the more readily available ways to start out on our journey. It is also the one that is going to cost you the least personal effort – so it has that recommending it too. Okay, so you Google the painting and you find that it was painted in 1483 and so you are trying to figure out what else was going on in the world of art or in the world of history at that time in Northern Italy, or you find it was painted in 1893 by some guy born in Norway. What to do with this information? This is the point – works of art aren’t just products of their times, you know, not just – but having some idea of the times they are products of is going to help eventually in some way, just possibly not in a way that is immediately obvious. The book has had to go back to the library and I’ve forgotten to write down the words he uses to describe his next recommendations for understanding (although the first was animadversion). The first was notice the parts that the painting is composed of. In Mars and Venus by Botticelli, (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia... ) for instance, once you have noticed the wasps around Mars’s head you are going to have to account for them in one way or another. One way might be to talk about the Vespucci family, another might be to talk about the pain of love, but you are going to have to say something about them. And if you haven't looked at the painting for long enough to even notice them, then you haven't really looked at the painting. The painter put them there for some reason and we are meaning seeking creatures – if we can’t work out a good reason, we'll make one up. But noticing the parts that the painting is composed of is an essential first step. Oh, when I say first step, you might be forgiven for thinking that you do this stuff in order – but that isn’t the case. These are more like a checklist – to make sure you’ve ticked all the boxes – but not necessarily to methodically work your way through in order. The next thing to do (to compound the error I've just tried to correct) is see how the things you have identified relate to one another. The fact Mars has been stripped of his armour and the satyrs are either playing with it or wearing it is clearly going to be important in any reading of this painting. But what significance are you going to put to the fact she is resting on a red pillow and he is asleep on a pink sheet? And what about the fact the satyrs are holding his lance? The sexual joke seems obvious enough, but sometimes even trying to explain simple jokes like this can go a long way to helping us understand the point of a painting. There is also a satyr that is ‘blowing his horn’ in Mars’s ear – like I said, sometimes putting into words what you see helps explain relationships. Then their is the relationship between the opposition that has been created by the two bodies – one clothed, the other naked; one awake, the other asleep; one left, the other right; one male, the other female. I hardly think lying in the way these two people are arranged is the most natural post-coital of positions, so some sort of explanation is going to have to be made for that too. But a painting isn’t just the sum of its parts, nor is it the sum of the relationships of those parts. It is something even more again – a whole that somehow must be understood in its completeness. Perhaps this is John Berger’s reading, that in the battle between love and war, love leaves war exhausted and asleep. So, we have found information about the painting, we have sought to identify the painting’s component parts, how these relate to one another, and how the painting as a whole stands, so, is this enough? Well, unfortunately, no. To really understand a painting we need to seek to see what it was saying in its own voice – to try to understand what was going on in its world that might explain this as an image that made sense then. What Foucault would have referred to as the discourse this image was part of. But this image doesn’t only speak to us about the time it was painted. To understand this image we need to bring our own life histories and experiences to the image. We need to understand the image and our understanding is going to be based on the complexities of our own experience. In the book the author talks of this part of the process being a kind of daydream on the theme of the artwork. And then again, works of art are not just composed of their own time – but they silently persist through time. We know we can’t really see them in the same way they were seen 600 years ago. We also can’t help seeing them in ways that are different from any other time before too. Not least because we no longer have to make my way to the National Gallery in London to see this painting, but can call it up at anytime on our computer screen or in any number of books. If you watch the first minute of so of Ways of Seeing you’ll understand what I mean about how our reading of this painting has become affected by our modern world - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pDE4V... It could be argued that Botticelli has presented us with an idealised world in this painting. As this book makes clear – we now tend to look at idealised worlds with the sort of distain that comes from screwing up our noses while tutting. But an idealised world doesn’t have to be the naïve expression of our wish fulfilment. It can also be a visualisation of a perfect world to hold up in comparison with our less than perfect lived experience so as to help us see what needs to stay and what needs to change. This idea of an idealisation, as a lens through which to see the imperfections of our own world, is something I think we have mostly lost, not least because we are so much more cynical today – we are much more likely to watch television shows like The Simpsons than The Brady Bunch. There is a real sense that great works of art turn us into Narcissus – the young son of a river god and a nymph, who became so obsessed with his own image that he died looking at himself. To truly understand a work of art requires us to fixate on the painting, but this fixation is far less a journey of discovery into the world of the work of art, but is also concurrently a journey to see ourselves and our world within the world of the painting. This book gives us some tools to start this journey – but the paradox is that while great works of art are universally ‘great’, they need to be understood by us individually. The tools provided here are useful, but not enough on their own to produce the feeling of awe and exhilaration that great art is meant to produce in us. Only our own engagement is capable of that.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tanvika

    "clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm,but to add to the sunset of my life"( Tagore). The societal mumbo-jumbo takes a quick toll on our once super-duper curious minds. The 'neccesity' of appearing honorable,practical, smart, accepted soon buries us under the pile of clerical papers,the rusted jarred door, the black blazer,the invisible changes in weather,the furious debates over a cup of tea, the indolent chatter of the television etcetc. Any engagement with ar "clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm,but to add to the sunset of my life"( Tagore). The societal mumbo-jumbo takes a quick toll on our once super-duper curious minds. The 'neccesity' of appearing honorable,practical, smart, accepted soon buries us under the pile of clerical papers,the rusted jarred door, the black blazer,the invisible changes in weather,the furious debates over a cup of tea, the indolent chatter of the television etcetc. Any engagement with art again falls in the ' entertainment's section. The compulsion of appearing knowledgeable is very strong. so,begins gulping of myraid dates,color types, different columns, the famous artist names. Facts makes the individual look refined. Has art any connection to him as a friend, as a beloved ? Art is seen narrowly as a part of a elite world.it is regarded as being understood and enjoyed only be a select few. This interpretation treats it as an abstraction,away from the commonplace. Knowing a picture or sculpture or building doesn't only requires loads of FACT. This is similar to a CV .We ask dry question ,missing out the fundamental "who are you really?". Facts when interlinked in a sensible way can shed light to the importance of the work. To be close to someone,we need to have a subjective connection. For example: the clouds look as ancient dragons, as a calm drifting balloon. Mentioning a small anecdote: once, I went to the gallery to watch a buddhist/ Hindu sort of exhibition. being a first timer, too much full on energy,like a fly I was hitting the different paintings on meditating buddha, a giant lotus,a attractive lady. There was no real reflection. Armstrong takes it to be a intimate experience.like drinking your favorite coffee.you taste it slowly,gently sipping.you remember your child,the warm air,the crispy pages of the book( reveries). Then you distinctly taste the parts. The whole experience is itself very fulfilling. there is a sense of holding on to that draining of hot liquid down the throat. finally, you tend to remember the experience contently at times.( Contemplation). Growing your own seeds of love with tea, makes you feel alive to other aspects it life. I felt that experience of mutual recognition when visiting a tribal arts fair.the huge tribal lady with a bun, was weaving a basket with dedication. Her eyes and silent lips communicated with me to appreciate the variances of our lives , oneness of our spirit. In the last section, John asks 'what is in art for me?'. Here the works of philosophers like Kant,schiller,hegel are used as a basis for the actual value of art. Kant's perception includes imagination with understanding. Schiller views art and beauty as essential to deal with problem of human beings.art reconciles our rational and sensous nature well. The most interesting view however is of hegel. the presence of thought has been a matter of progress and conflict. Art is the trip back home by the wandering, paralysed mind. This part is tiring in the sense of having too much focus on making it over philosophical. The arguments were stretched and repetitive. Next time,we see the old neighbor aunty, the money plant, the stairs at our home, the vegetables- lets put on brand new goggles.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    I am constantly recommending this book. An art appreciation book written in the spirit of actual art appreciation, which is a private, personal, intimate thing. You won't learn anything about art history or theory, though he does talk about how to apply that sort of knowledge; the discussion is about contemplation itself. The example plates are lovely and well-chosen. Well-written and intelligent but entirely casual. I am constantly recommending this book. An art appreciation book written in the spirit of actual art appreciation, which is a private, personal, intimate thing. You won't learn anything about art history or theory, though he does talk about how to apply that sort of knowledge; the discussion is about contemplation itself. The example plates are lovely and well-chosen. Well-written and intelligent but entirely casual.

  4. 4 out of 5

    I was wandering around Trang Thi str, having distressing questions of why a strange, two cents painting from an old, hobbyist couple on the street could be of much more alluring and provocative than those great paintings from a famous artist I just saw in an art gallery just a few blocks away. Then I saw this brilliant book resting on a coffee table at the corner somewhere. Asked the girl who brought it there, she said "you could borrow :)". Changes my way of looking at art work forever, I might I was wandering around Trang Thi str, having distressing questions of why a strange, two cents painting from an old, hobbyist couple on the street could be of much more alluring and provocative than those great paintings from a famous artist I just saw in an art gallery just a few blocks away. Then I saw this brilliant book resting on a coffee table at the corner somewhere. Asked the girl who brought it there, she said "you could borrow :)". Changes my way of looking at art work forever, I might ask this girl out for a date

  5. 4 out of 5

    Daniel B-G

    Even at a paltry 200 pages, many of which were artwork, I couldn't make it to the end. I've realised that I can't really do books about art, that really disruptive part of my brain just responds to be people talking about art with "I called him a ponce, now I'm calling you a ponce". I'm not a particularly visual person, so I find much of what they say waffle. I'm sure it is interesting waffle, but it is no match for my subconscious philistinism. Even at a paltry 200 pages, many of which were artwork, I couldn't make it to the end. I've realised that I can't really do books about art, that really disruptive part of my brain just responds to be people talking about art with "I called him a ponce, now I'm calling you a ponce". I'm not a particularly visual person, so I find much of what they say waffle. I'm sure it is interesting waffle, but it is no match for my subconscious philistinism.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    I liked this book because it gave me some new ideas (and validation) about how to view my relationship with works of art and architecture. I felt it started off strong and then in the later chapters I was a bit bored with it (but that may have been in part because my trip visiting Italian cities and museums was over and I no longer had the opportunity to reflect on the ideas Armstrong presents.)

  7. 5 out of 5

    pool spy

    secretly hoping to see the author around campus

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jana

    An academic but readable approach to looking at Art- why it matters, what we get out of it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rui Cordeiro

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ignoramouse

  13. 5 out of 5

    Graeme Sutherland

  14. 5 out of 5

    N Filbert

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elspeth

  17. 5 out of 5

    oenggun

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alice Randall

  19. 4 out of 5

    Peter

  20. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

  21. 4 out of 5

    Yomna Mustafa

  22. 4 out of 5

    Konstantin Tochilin

  23. 5 out of 5

    Phillip

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alberto Trombetta

  25. 5 out of 5

    Taryn Fryer

  26. 5 out of 5

    Johnny

  27. 4 out of 5

    Taryn Fryer

  28. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

  29. 4 out of 5

    احسان کیانی‌خواه

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susannah

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