Sztuka, Emocje, Wartosci (Art, Emotions, Values).
IF WE assume that aesthetics is, or at least aspires to be, a scientific discipline then the so-called pluralistic' approach of some contemporary aestheticians should not surprise us. They are ~pluralistic' in the same sense as all end of twentieth-century natural sciences. This means they are concerned with: (a) questioning, defining, ordering their conceptual apparatus (since this is a necessary prelude to all sciences); (b) continuous incorporation into their disciplines of relevant findings from other disciplines; (c) awareness of the beneficial or harmful consequences of their findings for communities, societies, the world.
This book by the Polish aesthetician Bohdan Dziemidok (a collection of seven articles published between 1971-1985, some in Polish, others in English, and two additional ones, written especially for this book) is a good example of this broad, scientifically orientated, pluralistic approach to aesthetics.
More specifically, Dziemidok in his articles attempts to see contemporary twentieth-century Polish aesthetic thought against the background of world aesthetics. Some of the methodological proposals, findings and insights of such classics of Polish aesthetics as Ingarden, Tatarkiewicz and Ossowski are--he argues--still relevant, and some of them have even anticipated such aesthetic reflections of non-Polish aestheticians.
With rare clarity, conscientiousness and modesty Dziemidok summarizes and classifies the approaches to aesthetics of more than fifty contemporary (i.e., from the 70s and 80s) non-Polish aestheticians, mainly British, American, Russian and Scandinavian, with frequent reference to articles from the British Journal of Aesthetics.
'The radical de-estheticising tendencies of the recent artistic avantgarde'--he writes--'caused many aestheticians Of 70s and 80s to renew reflections on (1) the aesthetic nature of art, and (2) the relationship between artistic and aesthetic values'.
Analysis of these issues and related problems, such as whether different arts (particularly literature) should be treated separately, is central to all Dziemidok's articles.
His own ideas (often lost in his conscientious reporting) are ~pluralistic' and ~open', similar to those of Tatarkiewicz, and the contemporary Swedish aesthetician, Goran Hermeren (Aspects of Aesthetics, 1983) according to whom the relationship between aesthetic and artistic values may be presented with the help of a diagram of two overlapping circles, one symbolizing aesthetic values, the other artistic values.
With the help of this diagram we may distinguish three classes of objects: (a) objects without artistic value (such as some bones, stones, landscapes, animals); (b) objects which have both artistic and aesthetic values, e.g., paintings of Brueghel or poems of Rilke; (c) objects which have only artistic value (such for instance as some works of conceptual art ~which are often completely deprived of aesthetic value without losing, however, their status as works of art').
The early phenomenological formulations of Roman Ingarden (particularly his book on the analysis of literature, first published in German) are well known to Western scholars. According to him ~artistic values' (those of a given work of art) have an instrumental character, while ~aesthetic values' (those of the recipient of art: viewer, listener, reader, i.e., of the ~aesthetic subject' according to his terminology), have a different, ~absolute' character, since ~we respond generally with the same or very similar satisfaction, pleasure or elation to the same works of art'.
Though Ingarden's early formulations are of great philosophical significance, such absolutist formulations do not invite empirical verification and exploration. Dziemidok argues however that in his late publications (from 1960 on) Ingarden changed from ~moderate aesthetic absolutism' to ~relationism' (the conviction that aesthetic valuations depend not only on the qualities of the evaluated object but on the biopsychic and social abilities, predispositions and attitudes of the evaluator as well).
Unlike Ingarden's early formulations, these late ones make of his aesthetics at least a potentially interdisciplinary discipline inviting empirical verifications and explorations which have been undertaken by many of Ingarden's followers.
Though Tatarkiewicz with his minimalism' (as opposed to the maximalism' of such systematizers as Ingarden) is mainly a historian of aesthetics, in practically all of his numerous books and articles we can find clearly formulated questions and hypotheses which invite interdisciplinary verification. Do the plastic arts--he asks for instance--tend (and under what conditions) to create in their recipients a response of contemplation rather than of day-dreaming?
Well-designed small aesthetic experiments were certainly incorporated into Tatarkiewicz's seminars attended by this reviewer.
Ossowski, one generation younger, philosopher-turned sociologist, was the most empirically orientated of the three Polish classics of aesthetics singled out by Dziemidok. And I can well imagine large interdisciplinary, international research projects on aesthetics being directed personally by him. Does the awareness of great artistic effort and high artistic quality connected with a given work of art help to produce aesthetic feelings in its recipients? asks Ossowski, and this is only one example of such potential research questions to be found in his writings. Maybe some of his followers, such for instance as the brilliant young Israeli aesthetician Tomas Kulka could undertake (with the help of Unesco?) such international aesthetic research?
And what about the aesthetic value of sports events, sermons, university lectures? These questions of Dziemidok's deserve as well to be incorporated into such an international project.
For scholars and thinkers from open Western societies the flourishing of philosophical aesthetics in soviet-controlled Poland was always an intriguing phenomenon well worth sociological investigation.
Was this only a relatively safe escape into an area less controlled by the state or something more? Maybe such non-ideological reflections on art and beauty were healthy self-assertions of human rights.
From the decade of the 80s (after the suppression of the Polish Solidarity movement) I well remember the surprising appeals to poets published in the underground publications of the democratic opposition. Some of them did not call--as one would expect--for politically committed poetry but quite the contrary: they argued that real freedom of artistic activity is freedom from even the most noble political pressures, freedom for guiltless writing about the most private involvements.
How widespread were such tendencies (in poetry and in other arts as well?) and did they persist or change (and why?) in the independent Poland of the early 90s?
Costly empirical investigations (of a historical, sociological, psychological character) into such non-practical problems have been always rare even in rich Western countries, and who would subsidize such research in countries fighting for their economic survival?
But we could well ask for some clear interconnected hypotheses illustrated by examples, of the persistence, change and modification of public and private commitments to the arts in societies undergoing--as does Poland--sudden and difficult transformations in all areas of life.
May the next book of Bohdan Dziemidok, whose conceptual analysis is so intelligent, be equally conscientious but less timid, and give us some answers to these intriguing and important questions.