Katie Gingrass Gallery and Kant: A philosophical Analysis of “Au Naturel”

April 24, 2011 at 12:15 am (Uncategorized)

April is a good month for nature. April is associated with spring, with Easter and with Earth Day. What better way to bring in the spring than by contrasting Katie Gingrass Gallery’s exhibit, Au Naturel, with Kant’s aesthetics?

Au Naturel boasts of a plethora of artists. Indeed, samplings of the work of twelve artists competed with one another for space on the gallery walls. The work ranged from realistic depictions of nature to interpretations that seemed to emerge directly from the unconscious. Since my goal is depth of analysis rather than breadth, I will be focusing on the work of three artists: Karin Haas, Christine Alfery and Colette Odya Smith.

The theme of the show was nature. 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant famously said in the Critique of Judgment, “Nature is beautiful because it looks like art, and art can only be called beautiful if we are conscious of it as art while yet it looks like nature.” [i] Art, for Kant, must be able to stir a universalizable judgment of beauty. This emerges through what Kant calls disinterestedness. Far from being mere apathy, disinterestedness is when the individual views the art without being “prejudiced in favor of the existence of the things, but be quite indifferent in this respect, in order to play the judge in things of taste.” [ii] Our judgments in turn serve as an exemplar: it may not be the case that everyone who views the work of art will conclude it to be beautiful, but rather that they ought to. The person of taste therefore sets a standard by making an assessment that has the quality of being universal.

Nowhere is this more pronounced than in a work of art that depicts nature for Kant: it shouldn’t merely replicate our sensory experience of nature. We ought to have the awareness that we are viewing a work of art. Technique should be “punctiliously observed” without being “painfully apparent.” [iii] That is, while Kant may be a formalist, the formal qualities must not be such that one simply thinks they are looking at a technically proficient rendition of a natural scene. The work ought to additionally be original: artistic genius doesn’t merely replicate or follow the rules that she has been taught, but rather “has a talent for which no rule can be given” and “hence originality is its first property.” It is here that the relationship between nature and genius is most pronounced as “nature, by the medium of genius, does not prescribe rules to science but to art, and to it only in so far as it is to be beautiful art.”[iv]

Karen Haas’ work exemplified the originality of which Kant spoke: her unique work—delicate pencil drawings of animals and nature—was extraordinarily detailed, with a soft blending of colors. Marten’s work seeks to symbolically represent her own relationships. The interplay of the animals displayed a beauty and simplicity that, upon closer look, showed a profound complexity. Most provocative was the work, Marten, in which she depicted the furry woodland creature with a smaller marten springing from the main figure. At times, the marten’s fur looked almost spike-like, adding an almost imperceptibly subtle surrealism to the drawing. The pencil drawing Raccoon was similarly striking. Sandwiched in-between Raccoon and Marten was a piece “untitled” which was a floral piece. The symbolism on this piece was less obvious and at times seemed overpowered by the other two.

Christine Alfery presented mixed media works that she described as “driven by dreams and feelings” where she sought to “create language that is universal” and which would allow her to “not be afraid of the mysterious.”[v] The most evocative of these was Red Winged Black Birds. One is immediately drawn into the dreamscape by the vibrant reds and oranges. It is as if you are carried alongside the small bird silhouettes, illuminated by patches of color. Indeed, it is a work that appears to emerge directly from dreams and inspires the awe of nature. Here one encounters the experience of Kant’s free play of the imagination that he says “always takes place when a given object by means of the sense excites the imagination” which then “excites the understanding to bring about a unity of this collective process in concepts.”[vi] Viewing the work, I felt my own imagination excited and was well aware that I was not just subjectively enjoying the work, but arriving at a universally valid judgment of taste.

In a truly Kantian spirit, Colette Odya Smith expressed her intent to “move between abstraction and representation to show different viewpoints”[vii] through her rich pastel interpretations of the natural world. Her works, Drifting, Rich Remains and Cast Loose, which she described as being “inspired by God’s viewpoint”[viii] enveloped one in a sea of blueness. Upon continued observation, the subject matter came into view. In Drifting, after a few stunned moments of looking at what seemed to be abstraction, part of a tree revealed itself. If Kant’s aesthetic theory tells us that a work of art should depict nature—and do so in a way that renders it as distinctly artistic without overwhelming us with its technique—then no work could better exemplify this than Drifting.  The technique is obviously very well developed—there is no question—but the technique never takes over the work, you never get the sense that you are merely looking at a technically proficient nature scene, but rather are temporarily lost in a delicate unfolding of the environment that is as interpretative as it is accurate.

In conclusion, the artists represented at Au Naturel are as numerous as they are diverse. At times, the gallery seemed to overwhelm the senses with its choices. I would have preferred to see fewer artists represented so that more work of each individual artist could be exhibited. That said, the exhibit provides a sampler that enables one to see the many different styles represented by a variety of artists, both locally and nationally.

-Amy Lapisardi


[i] CJ:45.

[ii] CJ:3.

[iii] CJ:45.

[iv] CJ:46.

[v] Artist’s statement, Katie Gingrass Gallery.

[vi] CJ:21

[vii] Artist’s Statement: Katie Gingrass Gallery.

[viii] Ibid.

 

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Academia Meets the Art World

April 20, 2011 at 2:02 am (Uncategorized)

Welcome to the official launching of The Beautiful and the Sublime. The purpose of this online magazine is to create a bridge between academia and the art world by publishing a unique kind of arts review: reviews of current gallery openings, theater productions and dance performances through the lens of classical and contemporary aesthetics. Whether it’s Aristotle or Danto, Hegel or Ficino, Deleuze or Kant, you can expect to see careful yet accessible analyses of the arts with a philosophical slant.

I am looking for submissions from writers with both knowledge of aesthetics and an interest in reviewing the arts. Articles should be between 500 and 2000 words. While submissions should exhibit a comprehensive knowledge of aesthetics, it should be written for an intelligent but diverse audience. Please send all submissions and inquiries to submissions@beautiful-and-sublime.com

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