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Grant Bartolomé Dowling: Looking at Abstract Art and Sampling Phenomenal Concepts

Date and Time: 
Wednesday, December 1, 2021. 05:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Working Group in Literary & Visual Culture
Meeting Description: 

Presented by Grant Bartolomé Dowling (PhD candidate, Philosophy, Stanford University).

“Formalism” is a movement in aesthetics and art criticism that began in the 19th century and generated theories which evaluate works of art according to how well they instantiate the essential characteristics of their medium. Similarly, formalists argued painting shouldn’t be evaluated by their depictive content, even if that’s what most people pay attention to. Consequently, formalists embraced modern painting as painters obscured or completely removed depictive content. According to Greenberg, paintings without imagistic content draw us to their formal features because they do "not exhibit the illusion or semblance of things we are already familiar with in real life; it gives us no imaginary space through which to walk with the mind's eye; no imaginary objects to desire or not desire; no imaginary people to like or dislike. We are left alone with shapes and colors. These may or may not remind us of real things; but if they do, they usually do so incidentally or accidentally—on our own responsibility as it were; and the genuine enjoyment of an abstract picture does not ordinarily depend on such resemblances” (Greenberg 1959, 70). Are abstract paintings about more than the formalists let on? Dowling evaluates Greenberg's formalist proposal of how to look at a work of art by drawing on two more recent philosophical developments: work on phenomenal concepts in the philosophy of mind by Brian Loar and Michael Tye and a work-in-progress on types of aboutness in abstract art by Kendall Walton. What forms of aboutness can a painting instantiate, and how many forms of aboutness can survive the formalists' strict restrictions for viewing a painting? After developing a formalist proposal for how to view abstract art by “sampling phenomenal concepts” and proposing that way of viewing art as a kind of pragmatic representation, Dowling will offer two objections to the formalist program, one from art theorist Leo Steinberg’s 1972 response to Greenberg called “Other Criteria” and another from Wittgenstein’s response to Russell’s behaviorist theory of desire in The Blue Book.

This event will be presented in a virtual format. RSVP to receive Zoom link. >>


The Working Group in Literary &Visual Culture is made possible by support from an anonymous donor honoring the work of former SHC Director John Bender, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
 

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