What is the purpose of art

Kant, art and kitsch - morality is not the purpose of art

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Should the artist set a moral example? Philipp Tingler explains how Immanuel Kant answers this question.

We live in a time when everyone wants to be an artist. The artistic way of life with its ideas of creativity and particularity has become the mass role ideal of late modern society.

That is the new guiding principle: to make a work of art out of life. After all, everyone today has the opportunity to put themselves in an artistic relationship of imitation and correction to reality. Even if only through an Instagram filter.

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What to do with morally questionable artists?

In a paradoxical parallel movement, however, there are more behavioral sanctions against actual living and dead artists than, say, in the last half century. Pictures are taken down, books are revised or not even printed, actors are cut from films.

Is there a moral fragility of the work of art? Do they exist especially when and because a work of art may have been created by a morally questionable person? What would the enlightener Immanuel Kant say about it?

Philipp Tingler

Writer and philosopher

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Philipp Tingler is a writer and philosopher. He did his doctorate on Thomas Mann and Transcendental Idealism and moves in the criticism team of the SRF literature club with the same winning competence as among the guests of Donatella's garden party at Fashion Week.

Web series "Steiner and Tingler"

Kant's "Critique of Judgment"

In his "Critique of Judgment", Kant gradually developed a concept of the beautiful within the framework of the analysis of the beautiful. He defines this term, also with a view to art, based on the perceiving subject. What is judged to be beautiful is that which creates a feeling of pleasure in the subject, although it is neither useful nor morally good: the beautiful triggers an "uninterested pleasure".

The state in which the subject arrives when contemplating the beautiful is determined by a harmony between imagination and understanding. By relying on the composition of sensory impressions by reason and imagination to justify the aesthetic judgment, Kant brings about a categorical demoralization of aesthetics. For, for Kant, imagination and understanding are two cognitive faculties of the power of judgment, which are a priori applied and presupposed in man. They are not moral values ​​per se.

The theorem of "disinterested pleasure" justifies the autonomy of art, because this understanding is incompatible with art that is supposed to teach and improve, that is, that is geared towards specific purposes - such as Schiller's concept of the theater as a moral institution.

In a nutshell: who was Kant?

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Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) is the Enlightenment philosopher who summed up the spirit of this epoch in the famous words “Enlightenment is the exit of man from his self-inflicted immaturity”. At the center of his extensive work are the three "critiques": In addition to the "critique of judgment", first of all the "critique of pure reason", which is based on the central question "What can I know?" concerned with the connection between knowledge and experience.

The ethical question "What should I do?" the "Critique of Practical Reason" is devoted to elaborating Kant's famous moral commandment of the categorical imperative: "Act in such a way that the maxim of your will can at any time also apply as a principle of general legislation."

The art is autonomous

Kant would say: Art history is overflowing with morally questionable personalities, but art is autonomous, like the enlightened individual.

Kant, who had a weakness for punch lines, would probably also mock the fact that, when parts of posterity present a moral offsetting of artistic life, certain misconducts seem to count less than others: Cellini's murders seem to arouse less outrage than Balthus' ambivalent look .

A line leads from Kant via Hegel's theory of recognition to Jürgen Habermas' ethics of discourse, and this line says: Art is debate. Art means thinking symbolically.

Art condenses and transcends reality and thus relates to a metaphysical truth, and this metaphysical truth is universal, for everyone. Art is based on the universality of being human, no delimiting ideas of identity that always consider the difference to the presumed other.

Universality is another parallel between art and the Enlightenment, and the fact that art aims at what Kant with respect and fascination called the “metaphysical remainder” makes its intermediate position clear, the mediating task of the artist, his empathic - magical role as a mediator between the upper and lower world, between idea and appearance, spirit and sensuality, understanding and imagination. Human or human is not the political moralist who censors and instrumentalizes, but the esthete who allows freedom. Those who come to art with morals, on the other hand, produce: kitsch.

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