The Problem of the Indeterminacy of Art and Mutual Parasitism

March 16, 2015

Making value judgements on works of art is part of a processual or performative act that requires a cognitive orientation towards the work of art as a part of dialogic-like act. Since works of art are not pure material objects, but also communicative objects, they render the plastic form similar to a language. This is their role of mediation, to not primarily represent what it is that they are, but to pose a question of their representation. Even in cases in which this would seem to be focused on issues of actuality, this is shown to be false: Sellars’ critique of giveness [1] renders inert any assertions made on foundational sensory apprehension of the artwork, and attempts to circumvent this (as in the case of Minimalism) at best reveal a conceptual exploration of phenomenalism, or at worst founder upon a naive phenomenalist realism. That the object itself contains some purely objectively describable contents is not the issue; we can render a description of the mechanical process whereby the physics of the object interact with physiology in fairly straightforward terms, even if we do not yet understand all of the underlying physical or physiological features yet to be explicated within that process. If art were only science, we should be doing science and not art. The true test for a theory of art which attempts to tackle the myriad and complex forms with which art can engage intelligence requires the linking of semantic-conceptual processes of cognition with the physical and physiological throughout time. [2]

This is further complicated as individuated conceptual economies of those perceiving the work of art come into contact with its commutative matrix. Because art is not a straightforwardly defeasible in the sense of written languages (which can be further explicated and sorted according to the determinate content of their tokens in the meta-linguistic rules of the language game) but are hybrid mediations, embodying both material and iconographic elements, as well as their relation to abstract social structures, it engages inferential and abductive capacities which must make sense of the work in a way in which the determinately contentful representations of written language do not necessarily require (though may still engage). Encountering the work of art requires a pragmatic performance on the part of the viewer to produce an interpretation of it. Furthermore, individualistic interpretations, due to their privative nature, may not bear global relevance upon the interpretation of the work of art, further complicating the picture of how we might come to have some sense of an objective value judgement.

Because they are mongrel forms, artworks pick at the scab of cognitive simulation[3], their abyssal materiality plumbs the depth of categorical orientation, always re-opening the wound at the site of the intended suture, as they travel backward in time. To say backwards, is to stress the speculative value of artworks to some posited Archimedean community — the community of the future which speculatively synthesizes the successive individualistic judgements and distills global relevance from its locally instantiated embodied apprehension. Market speculation preys upon this dialectical process of value formation through the indeterminacy of the present. Contemporary Art’s diabolical genius is to suspend the arrival of the determination of this indeterminacy and the resuscitation of disciplinary norms for as long as possible, so as to foment the extraction of value from the economic sphere, whose calculus lacks the requisite vectors to map the invariant affordances throughout time. The price, however, of this mutual parasitism has been to stunt the development of the very theoretical and practical resources which art must develop as a part of its own critical and disciplinary norms if its practices are to have any future value whatsoever. As the independence of its own aesthetic value judgements wanes, it is economic value alone which props up a bubble of what might be best described as a polyglot fiat currency built on nothing but hot air.

1. Wilfrid Sellars, “Empiricism and The Philosophy of Mind”
2. Johanna Seibt, “Intercultural dialogue and the processing of significance: cognition as orientation”
3. Lawrence Barsalou, “Situated Simulation”