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Introduction. The Claim of Art: Aesthetic Philosophy and Early Modern Artistry
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1 i n t r o d u c t i o n The Claim of Art: Aesthetic Philosophy and Early Modern Artistry Paul A. Kottman Considering the attention paid to artists from the early modern period by philosophers working in what we now recognize as “aesthetics,” considering the extent to which artworks and practices of the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries were accompanied by an immense range of discussions about the arts and their relation to one another, and considering above all the sheer breadth and scope of the artistic achievements in the period, it is striking that so little recent effort has been made to understand the connection between early modern artistic practices and the emergence of aesthetics as a branch of philosophy over the course of the eighteenth century.1 It is striking, that is, how seldom nowadays specific artworks and artistic practices are seen as explaining, clarifying, requiring, or embodying the distinctive set of concerns articulated in that philosophical discipline we call aesthetics.2 Art is more often taken by philosophers and historians as a “stand-in” for, or reflection of, some other question, historical event, or social event of significance, rather than as being the phenomenon itself. The ten essays in this volume attempt to remedy this. Each essay included suggests ways in which the artworks and practices of the early modern period show the essentiality of aesthetic experience 2 Paul A. Kottman for philosophical reflection, and in particular for the rise of aesthetics as a philosophical discipline, while also showing art’s need for philosophy. Each contribution teaches us by example how we might better grasp central artistic and philosophical preoccupations of the preceding centuries and our own time, by asking after both early modern art’s claim on philosophy and philosophical realizations of the claim of art. This broad historical framing—“early modern art” and “modern aesthetics ”—implies some delineations concerning, for instance, the divide that separates the cultures of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries in Venice, Florence, London, or Amsterdam from the eighteenth century in Königsberg, Weimar, or Berlin. Each essay in this volume articulates that frame in its own way. Overall, however, making sense of this framing is understood here not just as a matter of establishing or gathering facts that might help us determine whether, say, Hegel ever laid eyes on a particular painting or how well Herder may have grasped Shakespeare’s English—though gathering these facts, too, is an ineliminable part of our collective work. Rather, since we do not doubt that artworks and practices from the early modern period exist alongside works of aesthetic philosophy from the eighteenth century, what we really want to know is whether these two existences are connected in some essential way. By “essential way” I do not just mean a further fact—or a so-called “smoking gun”— but something like what Hegel might have called the Wirklichkeit, or what earlier philosophers might have called the logos (the actuality or reality) of a connection between early modern art and aesthetic philosophy. Put another way, we want to know what reasons we might have for reconsidering the stories we already tell ourselves about early modern art and philosophical aesthetics. We want to know how, whether, and why we should reconsider the intellectual histories that have prevented these two historical phenomena from being considered together as part of our collective inheritance. As Richard Rorty once pointed out, the German way of doing intellectual history—“starting with the Greeks and working down through, for example, Cicero, Galileo and Schelling before saying anything off your own bat—is easily parodied.”3 But, as Rorty went on to note, this kind of approach helps us conscientiously clarify what we might otherwise take for granted, or carelessly assume. After all, we “all carry some potted intellectual history around with us, to be spooned out as needed. . . . Such stories determine our sense of what is living and what is dead in the past, and thus of when the crucial steps forward, or the crucial mistakes or ruptures, occurred.”4 And those of us who do not undertake the historians’ legwork Introduction: Aesthetic Philosophy and Early Modern Artistry 3 ourselves generally borrow a story from someone else—Karl Marx, say, or Hans Blumenberg. Taking the spirit of Rorty’s remark—that we would do well to be more vigilant when it comes to the histories in view of which we understand our present—the...