The Ancient Quarrel Between Art and Philosophy in Contemporary Exhibitions of Visual Art

Curator: The Museum Journal 62 (1):7-17 (2019)
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Abstract

At a time when professional art criticism is on the wane, the ancient quarrel between art and philosophy demands fresh answers. Professional art criticism provided a basis upon which to distinguish apt experiences of art from the idiosyncratic. However, currently the kind of narratives from which critics once drew are underplayed or discarded in contemporary exhibition design where the visual arts are concerned. This leaves open the possibility that art operates either as mere stimulant to private reverie or, in the more contentful cases, as propaganda. The ancient quarrel between art and philosophy is that art influences surreptitiously while philosophy presents reasons that invite rational scrutiny. As such, in contrast to philosophy, art would undermine our agency. In July 2017, a group of philosophers gathered at the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW), in Sydney, Australia, in the presence of two AGNSW curators to explore the basis of their own experiences of selected artworks. Here, those commentaries are reproduced. Each reveal that objective grounds for an experience of art can be based in the community from which one draws one’s terms of reference. In our commentaries we see the expertise of the respective philosophical communities but other communities of culture or expertise might serve the same purpose and hence resolve the ancient quarrel. Before hearing these commentaries, I explain what is at stake when the ancient quarrel between art and philosophy is understood in contemporary terms. This Issue of the Curator also includes an article on the community-based art criticism that emerges from these commentaries followed by an exhibition review which reveals the incorrigible impulse (also demonstrated in the commentaries) to find the basis for the most apt experience of an artwork. A response by the AGNSW curators completes this issue.

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Jennifer A. McMahon
University of Adelaide

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References found in this work

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