Wednesday, March 20, 2013


85. Subjective and objective interplay

 In item 23 of this blog, on knowledge, I discussed the interaction between the inside, or the subjective, and the outside, or the objective. I proposed that forms of thought (the inside) affect how we perceive and interpret phenomena (the outside) but also develop in the process, so that in that sense the outside has a causal effect on the inside.

This entails that the subject and object are not separable, with a Cartesian subject objectively contemplating the object, as a bystander, but interact. How, if at all, does this fundamental issue connect with art?

The Chinese philosopher of art Wang Guowei (1877-1927) proposed to see art as interplay of the subjective and the objective (jingjie). First of all he indicates that play is part of art.

If both knowledge and art arise in interaction between the subjective and the objective, what does that say about the relation between knowledge and art? What is the difference between them, in this interaction? First of all, perhaps art is more playful, in interplay.

In the interplay of subjective and objective in art, observed phenomena, in nature or society, are infused with feelings, or, the other way around, feelings are expressed as phenomena in nature or society. In other words the one is used as a metaphor for the other.

Thus a lover may compare the loved one to ‘a summer’s day’. Anger or passion may be portrayed as a storm. Feelings may be portrayed as a fountain or as leaden weights on the soul, or as an uncontrollable horde rushing the mind.

In item 31, on invention, I discussed a cycle of invention, according to which new knowledge arises, along several stages, from applying the known in novel contexts where it meets its limitations, and next exploratory combinations are made, in reciprocation, of elements from existing knowledge and novel elements encountered in the novel context. That is also a matter of interplay between the subjective (existing knowledge) and the objective (the novel context). Here, metaphor is helpful, in seeing the one in terms of the other. Perhaps invention is where art and knowledge meet.

This also arises when people want to cross cognitive distance, to achieve mutual understanding and develop novelty, which is also a matter of making novel combinations, in this case between different subjects that meet as objects to each other, and seeing the one in terms of the other, as discussed in item 57.

This view of art is in tune with the view, proposed in the preceding item in this blog, of art as shifting meaning. That is what metaphors do.

So perhaps we can say that in playful interaction between the subjective and the objective art with its metaphors and shifts of meaning contributes to novelty, or yields an exercise for it, also in knowledge and in understanding. Perhaps art also plays a role in empathy between people, where there also is interaction between the subject and the other person encountered as an object. I will elaborate on that in later items in this blog.