Against Interpretation

Today I will be reading Susan Sontag’s essay Against Interpretation, from her collection Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1966).

I’m going back to Sontag because I need a bit of backing for some thoughts that have been rambling around in my head lately…

Looking at – and engaging with – conceptual art, it is obvious that this is a kind of art which is made with the purpose of addressing my cognitive skills.

In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.

At the same time, aesthetics, understood as the philosophy of art, was originally a term dealing with the nature of beauty and taste = the sensual and sensational.

The word aesthetic is derived from the Greek αἰσθητικός (aisthetikos, meaning “esthetic, sensitive, sentient”), which in turn was derived from αἰσθάνομαι (aisthanomai, meaning “I perceive, feel, sense”). The term “aesthetics” was appropriated and coined with new meaning in the German form Æsthetik (modern spelling Ästhetik) by Alexander Baumgarten in 1735.

The thoughts rambling around in my head are worried thoughts, anxious because I see much to much bad thinking in art, much too many unoriginal quasi-philosophical attacks on beauty and the sublime; and to little focus on the sensual & emotional sides of life and living. In short: If conceptual art is about ideas and concepts, how come its practitioners so very-very rarely are clever thinkers or interesting philosophers?

Is conceptual art Art???

I’m going to Sontag for some emotional backup.

She opens her essay with this beautiful quote:

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

- Oscar Wilde, in a letter