?How can making bring into appearance what is not the result of making; how can what according to its own concept is not true nevertheless be true? This is conceivable only if content is distinct from semblance, through the form of that
semblance. Central to aesthetics therefore is the redemption of semblance; and the emphatic right of art, the legitimation of its truth, depends on this redemption?.
Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 107
The above passage can serve as a summery of Adorno?s approach towards the search of truth in art. In order to fully grasp his intentions, a detailed analysis of his key concepts is needed. We shall begin by clarifying the concept of ?semblance?, which includes the notion of art as a lie, followed by the presence of truth that is problematic for it cannot be accounted in the making of artworks. Once the background is clearly set, we shall clarify the concepts of ?content?, and ?redemption.?
Adorno?s theory (as so is any philosophical theory) is not immune to criticism, which we would later explore through the claims of Derrida and through some of my own empirical observations. The traditional perception of semblance regards it as an imitation of that which exists. While holding ?what exists? on the high pedestal of truth, anything that is ?similar to? and not ?equal to? another which is tangible, deems the former as a mere copy, and nothing more.
The notion of art as a lie originates in Plato?s approach towards art as a double lie; first, as all objects in our reality are a mere appearance of their true forms. Second, as the lie of art, which copies those objects. This notion has endured centuries of philosophical inquiries for its acceptance of our reality as the basis for all works of art. As elusive as the concept of truth is, once reality is grounded as the measure of truth, art, which copies it, is deemed as a lie.
The acceptance of art as a lie leaves no value to its content in philosophical aspects.
It discards all works of art as mere artifacts which do not serve in any way for the search for truth. The problem with simply casting off art as a lie rises with the realization of a certain mysterious quality that differentiates art from any other man-made objects; the same quality that distinguishes art from mere artifacts.
This certain quality, which makes us appreciate works of art above all other artifacts, is no other (maybe for a lack of a better answer?) than truth. Yet how can this truth be accounted for? Whether it is the artist that creates the artwork or the artwork that creates
the artist ( Heidegger?s circle of thought regarding the origin of the work of art) does not matter in this case; either way, truth seems to find its way into the work by means which defy empirical observation.
An empirical observation can account for technique; it can account for the application of color; it might even account for the aims of the artist. Yet the truth in art is not the truth of the artwork?s message. The search for truth in art does not involve an art-historical analysis of the artwork. The truth (as intangible as the term is), which is sought in art, is neither the truth-as-a-key-to-all-existence elusion, nor the ?things as they are? (a Heideggerrian term) truth concept. The truth which is claimed to be found in art is that enigmatic quality of art as rooted in nature, yet serving as a phenomenon for its own sake and not as a mere copy of nature. As paradoxical as the presence of truth within a lie sounds, Adorno soon resolves the contradiction in terms by exploring the concept of semblance.
Adorno sets out against the traditional perception by replacing the concept of semblance. In order to overcome the notion of semblance as a lie, he separates art from the ?truth? of its content by claiming that art is autonomous. He acknowledges that art does draw from reality, yet this semblance is acceptable within the autonomy of art.
The Autonomy of art achieves the separation of art from the empirical world by a presentation of a conflict: By art being a presentation of what is not, art becomes an autonomous presentation of this negation of reality, rather then a copy of reality. The autonomy from something unavoidably ties it back to that very ?thing? from which it gained its autonomy.
Adorno refers to the unbreakable connection of art to the empirical world by stating the following: ?The difference of artworks from the empirical world, their semblance character, is constituted out of the empirical world and in opposition to it. If for he sake of their own concept artworks wanted absolutely to destroy this reference back to the empirical world, they would wipe out their own premise? (page 103). By this statement he confirms the status of art as an autonomous presentation, rather than a re-presentation.
Yet by warning against the destruction of art?s reference to the empirical world, he makes it clear that without it art is devoid of its right to exist; a destruction that would have basically regress art to the status of a mere ?thing?, holding no bearing on the notion of truth and therefore losing our interest in it.
By presenting a ?reality? which contradicts our own reality art creates a conflict; the conflict of the existing non-autonomous world with the non-existing autonomous world; the former standing for our empirical reality, while the latter is the world of art.
?By emphatically separating themselves from the empirical world, their other, they bear witness that the world itself should be other than it is; they are the unconscious schemata of that world?s transformation? (page 177). Adorno makes it the point that by presenting us with a ?distorted? picture, a negation of what is, or an autonomous reality which is not separated from ours but actually contrasts our reality, precisely by virtue of that conflict, art is able to present us with truth both on an empirical level as well as on a metaphysical level.
On the empirical level, art shows us the distinct conflict of our social reality and art?s reality. Our social reality is not free; it is consumed by laws and regulations; it is preoccupied with social recognition and socially accepted behavior. Art, on the other hand, is free; it has no boundaries, no rules, and no restrictions. It is by virtue of that comparison that we are able to reflect back on our reality through art and therefore allows us to see the truth in the existing reality.
On the metaphysical level, art presents us what we do not usually see. By its autonomy from the empirical world, art has the privilege of exposing a world that cannot exist by any other means. Thus presenting us with its own truth by the forms of its content.
Finally, the concept of ?redemption? ties all of the above together to form Adorno?s argument. The redemption of art through semblance is achieved in two stages: The redemption of semblance leads the way for the redemption of art; the latter preceding the redemption of aesthetics.
The redemption of semblance is achieved by granting semblance its proper meaning. That is, acknowledging that semblance draws its meaning from the similarity to the empirical world, yet presenting it as an autonomous reality rather then a copy.
A copy seizes to rightfully exist once the original is present; it is diminished to the status of an imitation which is, by definition, less significant than the original. A copy by its nature claims to be the original and therefore presents a lie. Yet semblance in our case does not claim to be a copy of reality, rather a presentation of another ?reality.?
The redemption of art naturally follows: It is by the redemption of semblance that art gains back its truth claim and is restored with its importance to the philosophical inquiry.
Once art is accepted as holding truth within it and is no longer regarded as a lie, the redemption of aesthetics is imminent. Aesthetics, possessing the task of finding the truth in art, rightfully redeems its right to exist.
On an opposing view, Derrida argues against art?s self sufficiency (a synonym of autonomy) and deems art as undetermined. He critiques a correspondence between Heidegger and Shapiro, a correspondence that regards a specific painting of a pair of shoes by Van Gogh. The discussion between the two evolves around Heidegger?s truth in painting which he exemplifies through the ?shoes? painting which he regards as a pair of a peasant woman?s shoes. Shapiro, in his turn, presumably debunks Heidegger?s argument by proving that the pair of shoes actually belonged to Van Gogh.
Derrida?s critique focuses on the absurdity of the entanglement about a specific painting in regards to truth in art. His opposes the use and the analysis of any specific painting for the purpose of identifying truth. By circling around the possible interpretations of the ?shoes? painting, Derrida illustrates how indeterminate and undecidable a work of art is. He claims that truth can by no means be found ?within? a painting.
Derrida refers to what Adorno would have called the ?non-existent? world of art as pure absence, and therefore abandons the search for truth.
On a personal empirical note, it is precisely for the lack of rules and regulations that govern the realm of art, or in other words, for its total subjectivity, that I find the usage of the term ?truth? to be an embarrassment to aesthetics. Whether the artist is the origin of the work of art or vice versa (as Heidegger is so preoccupied with the question) holds no bearing over the property of truth. To the farthest extent, a continuous exploration into Heidegger?s tedious circle might eventually lead us to find the origin of the mere titles ?artist? and ?work of art?, and nothing more. Truth, whether empirical or metaphysical, belongs to philosophy. Yet art is man-made.
The banishment of truth from the garden of aesthetics is not aimed towards the destruction of aesthetics as a whole. On the contrary, the question regarding the ?missing ingredient?, that ?thing? on which we are unable to put our finger, the ?essence? that differentiates art from all other kinds of artifacts, that is the truly enigmatic question of aesthetics. The account of why and how a ?thing? becomes ?beautiful? is one belonging entirely to aesthetics. But truth?
Whether it is inside a painting, outside it, or all around it; a painting will never reveal more then the artist?s inclinations and capability, or the embarrassing interpretation led by the viewer?s own psyche. Whether in opposition, negation, or in sheer proclamation, art will never raise a truer voice then that of the person uttering it. And as for the metaphysical attribute of presenting us with what we could have never otherwise seen?
So does a transparent glass of water.