- Purchase/rental options available:
The Journal of Aesthetic Education 38.1 (2004) 35-52
[Access article in PDF]
Means Without End:
Production, Reception, and Teaching in Kant's Aesthetics
The Work of Art
If aesthetics is to have a role within an art school context, it must be able to engage with the work of art as an ongoing and ontologically open productive enterprise. The reception of the artwork as a completed thing or act and the aesthetic judgment necessary to take pleasure in the contemplation of it is largely irrelevant to the day-to-day work of the artist in the studio or onsite. Rarely do the tutor or student stand before a work that could be claimed to have reached completion or achieved what might be called "finality." On the contrary, in most cases an essential aspect of teaching practice is precisely to resist the impending closure of the work through a critical engagement which challenges the student to consider and reconsider the aesthetic possibilities of given forms within a situation of infinite reflection. Given this, it is important at the outset to consider Kant's notion of finality without end.
So we may at least observe a finality of form, and trace it in objects — though by reflection only — without resting it on an end....Whenever an end is regarded as a source of delight, it always imports an interest as determining ground of the judgment on the object of pleasure. Hence the judgment of taste cannot rest on any subjective end as its ground. But neither can any representation of an objective end, i.e., of the possibility of the object itself on the principles of final connection, determine the judgment of taste. 1
Echoing his famous description of art as "purposiveness without purpose," here the Kantian relation between finality and endlessness turns attention away from the art object, and the objective judgment determined by it, to the reflective process whereby the act of aesthetic judgment has primacy as that which acts upon the pleasure attending finality in the manner [End Page 35] of a tracing to be traced and retraced by the receiver. By thus denying finality an objective end, it is true that Kant removes the specter of desire from his aesthetics. But does this not also remove the originary work of the work of art, its eruptive production prior to reproduction in what might be called the "instant" of its creation outside of the "always already there" of what Jean-François Lyotard calls "aesthetic time?" 2 Indeed, to go further still, Maurice Blanchot famously conceives of the art work as harboring a radical "worklessness," a "neutral" absence that, nevertheless, is essential to its being a work, or its being as a work. 3 Does Kant's nonobjective account of aesthetic experience direct us, ultimately, toward this peculiar ontological neutrality, or does the communicative imperative at the heart of his aesthetics overlook what Blanchot would call the "fascination" of the work as the inscrutable presence of an absence? It is this problematic that weighs heavily upon the reading and teaching of Kant's aesthetics as presented here.
In Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime, Lyotard offers one solution to the problem. For him, reflective judgment is itself productive — "production that exceeds simple reproduction is an a priori condition for aesthetic judgment" (LAS, 67). That is to say, the power of the imagination and the pleasure associated with this power concern respectively the exercise and the registration of a productivity that is crucial for aesthetic reception to be possible. But does this playful enjoyment of our receptive/productive faculties and their beautiful attunement not obscure or distract us from the pure and immediate desire of the aesthetic where the concatenation of work and worklessness, that is to say, of production and reception, within the creative moment demands from the artist an interest in the ownership of, and responsibility for the work, as well as an absolute (one might say obsessive) commitment to the work of art — the labor of the aesthetic...