The Platypus Affiliated Society has just published an interview with Robert Pippin. The interview, conducted by Omair Hussain at an event titled “On the Possibility of What Isn’t” at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, addresses the views of Kant, Hegel, and Adorno on the nature and purpose of art. For a full text of the interview, please click here.
OH: For some time now, the dominant model for what counts as critical in art, under the broad label “postmodernism,” has consisted in the idea of “resistance”: Art is critical insofar as it resists and challenges racist, sexist, classist, or generally authoritarian assumptions of modern bourgeois society. But this approach tends to neglect the historical dimension of the peculiar problems modern society poses for art, and vice-versa. How is this critical potential of art, as Hegel understood it, expressed in the art practices and theory prevalent today—or has it simply been left behind?
RP: To answer that, one has to go back to a fundamental philosophical question: What distinct human need does art, as art, speak to? This question highlights a danger we court if we consider art nothing more than a kind of sensible embodiment of a politically critical idea. This is already a betrayal of what is distinctive about art. Things that simply embody and convey a political idea may have interesting and important functions when exhibited in galleries, but it poses the question, enormously disputed over the last 50 years, of art’s raison d’être. Why should there be art? To ask this question seriously we have to be willing to concede that many things that are referred to, celebrated, and purchased as art might not be art. By extension, people can be wrong about what they think art is, as art.