From Tomas Kulka on Kitsch and Art to Art as a Singular Rule

Espes 9 (1):17-27 (2020)
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The article takes as its starting point the work of Tomas Kulka on Kitsch and Art to further a philosophical move aiming at the very logical core of the question of art. In conclusion, the idea of Singular Rule is offered as capturing the defining logic of art. In so doing, the logical structure of a singular rule is uncovered and in that also the sense in which the idea of singular rule both explains and justifies the role that art plays in our life. In his Kitsch and Art Tomas Kulka extends Karl Popper's refutation principle in science to the arts. He asks of a true work of art to be open to “refutation” by way of evaluating it against its own admissible alterations or variations. An admissible alteration according to Kulka is a change or a modification of the work that does not “shatter its basic perceptual gestalt”. In considering alterations that are aesthetically better, worse or neutral with respect to the original picture, Kulka offers us a rational reconstruction of key aesthetics concepts such as unity, complexity and intensity. His reconstruction will show that a work of kitsch does not qualify as art in direct analogy to a proposition that cannot qualify as scientific if it is not refutable. Kitsch cannot be “refuted” by any of its possible alterations as they are all of equal aesthetic value. This explains the aura of empty perfectionism that accompanies the experience of kitsch since the work of kitsch does not carry any promise for improvement nor does it show itself superior to any of its possible alterations. Notwithstanding Kulka’s novel analysis, its premise we must note is grounded in the work of art impressing on us a single basic perceptual gestalt with respect to which an alteration can qualify as admissible. But in acknowledging the possibility of a gestalt-switch or the fact that the work of art can impress on us a variety of mutually-exclusive perceptual gestalts, Kulka's analysis loses the logical anchor necessary for it to work. However, in what might look at first sight as an unrecoverable logical deficiency, we find an anchor to a novel analysis to the question of art. This is our analysis to the idea of art as a singular rule. Indeed, the concept of a singular rule - a rule onto itself which has exclusively itself as its own argument - must strike us as paradoxical. But in offering to reconstruct the work of art through the complementary concepts of background and figure - to match respectively the how and the what of the work - we are able to provide a structural resolution to the idea of singular rule as what defines art. In this we believe we deliver a definitive answer to the question of art.

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Doron Avital
Columbia University (PhD)


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