The Phenomenology of Modern Art: Exploding Deleuze, Illuminating Style
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As a philosophical approach, phenomenology is concerned with structure in how phenomena are experienced. The Phenomenology of Modern Art uses phenomenological insights to explain the significance of style in modern art, most notably in Impressionism, Expressionism, Cezanne and Cubism, Duchampian conceptualism and abstract art.
Paul Crowther explores this thematic approach in a new way, addressing specific visual artworks and tendencies in detail and introduces a new methodology - post-analytic phenomenology. It is this more critical, post-analytic orientation that allows the book to utilise some unexpected phenomenological resources. Gilles Deleuze, rarely associated with phenomenology, in fact employs an overriding phenomenological orientation in his focus on modern art. Crowther uses Deleuze's important phenomenological insights as a starting point and goes on to develop arguments found in two other thinkers, Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty, as well as addressing those figures and tendencies in relation to whom twentieth-century critical appropriations of Kant have been most influential. Accompanied by illustrations, the book offers the first sustained phenomenological approach to modern art.
relationships and proportions into an order which requires movement. Thus drawing is irreplaceable.74 On these terms, then, rhythm is given a more concrete meaning than is found in Deleuze. It centres on the structural formal and compositional organization of the painting. And while Dufrenne, like Deleuze emphasizes the primacy of colour for painting, he sees drawing as the basis of rhythm. He integrates a key notion which is somewhat suppressed by Deleuze.75 Releasing Style from Sensation 55
immobility of the finished work. But this remains a worryingly metaphysical – even mystical – fascination. Can it be made more concrete? I would say ‘yes’ – by reference to Deleuze. His notion of different orders of sensation within some overall sensation is a kind of confused characterization of the complex and dynamic unity in diversity of our aesthetic response to painting. But the link to the body without organs, and the desire to escape the body, are more vital clues to some key aspects that
both dimensions. Now an image such as this can be analysed, but in the concrete perception of it, these analytic factors are drawn back, and made strange through the specific manner in which they cohere, inseparably, in the visual unity of the image itself. As a focus of visual and psychological complexity, the picture does not allow our sense of the individual’s immersion in visual reality, to settle into some edifying formula. Given that Malevich’s Zaum sensibility is centred on the elusiveness
occasions, however, our attention to dimensional Being finds an idiom whereby those factors involved in the visual comingto-fruition of individual states of affairs are preserved and disclosed at the level of visual perception itself. The idiom in question is painting. This is an activity whose very essence is to not only ripen into an individual thing, but to do so in a way that discloses the visual ‘dimensionality’ involved in its emergence to perception. Merleau-Ponty identifies some of the
of reductive or de-structuring representation: . . . synthesis in Cubism is the process of pictorial conception and construction where the component parts used have not been derived from the observation and ‘analysis’ of the painting’s subject-matter. Seen thus, synthesis and invention have become almost synonymous, synthetic cubist images being, presented not as reflections of the world we know, but as additions to it – new inventions.19 However, while the synthetic elements in cubism may be