Visitor’s to Andrea Büttner (Nov. 21, 2015–April 10, 2016) view Bilder in der Kritik der Urteilskraft (Images in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement), 2014. Photo: Gene Pittman
The following remarks were delivered by Keren Gorodeisky, associate professor of philosophy at Auburn University, at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: curator Lars Bang Larsen, exhibition curator Fionn Meade, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian.
There are many prima facie reasons to think that Andrea Büttner’s work is as far from Immanuel Kant’s philosophy as can be. For one thing, Kant has for many years been regarded as interested mainly in natural beauty and its judgment, while discussing art and its criticism merely as an afterthought. Why should an artist, particularly one who is so versed and interested in the history of art as Büttner is, turn to Kant? Why not engage with, say, Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics, given that they are standardly considered to contain as much art criticism as they contain philosophy? Moreover, one of the characteristic marks of Kant’s oeuvre is systematicity. Not only did he propose a systematic philosophy that claims to unify diverse aspects of human life—the knowledge-seeking, the practical and the aesthetic spheres of human life—but he also instilled the very idea that systematicity is a value. One might think that this is precisely one of the values that are put in question in Andrea’s work, by her use of diverse media and techniques such as woodcut printing, video, photography, fabrics, clay, borrowing, and commenting, among others, and by reflecting on diverse contents such as the organic life of a moss, shame, art, philosophy, convent life, and poverty. Rather than a systematic system, this multiplicity may constitute what the German Romantic philosopher and critic Friedrich Schlegel sympathetically called a “system without a system”: a system that challenges the ambition to systematize as much as it complicates conventional dualities and distinctions.
One may wonder, then, how a systematic philosopher who—it is widely thought—merely pays a lip service to art can meet the artist whose work often devotes itself to humility and to the unassuming life of such organisms as a moss; and if they can meet, where would the meeting point be? Since actuality entails possibility, the two clearly can meet because they actually do. Andrea Büttner meets Immanuel Kant in the gorgeous book, Immanuel Kant, The Critique of the Power of Judgment, a book compiled, indeed made by, Büttner (and thus authored by whom? By Büttner? By Kant?) They meet in this book that, rather than merely questions, also displays love, attentiveness and great efforts at understanding Kant’s work, word, and world; a world, which through the lens of Büttner’s work, is seen to be both his and ours, alien and familiar all at once.
Perhaps, then, first impressions are just that—impressions or mere seemings. Perhaps the dualities with which I opened these remarks—dualities between art and natural beauty, systematicity and the lack thereof—are to be suspended or overcome, just like the many dualities that Büttner’s work challenges. Here is one way of thinking about their suspension. In recent years, more and more philosophers have acknowledged that art and art criticism may be as important to Kant as natural beauty and its judgment. There is a growing consensus that the order of his “Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgment”—an order that starts with a discussion of natural beauty and its judgment and only then moves to art—is merely an order of exposition rather than an order of priority, an order required for a perspicuous grasp of the phenomena but one that does not privilege natural over artistic beauty.
There is also no reason to think that the systematic ambitions of Kant’s philosophy leave no room for disruption, heterogeneity, and conflict—for a system without a system; nor that they come at the price of humility. The core of Kant’s critical turn in philosophy—roughly, the view that knowledge and science are possible only insofar as we keep them within the bounds of human reason—can only be viewed as a call for humility. The inclusion of art and aesthetic appreciation within his overall system, as a central aspect of human life alongside knowledge, science, morality and religion, suggests that, not unlike Büttner’s work, his system also includes heterogeneity and even conflict. It may be seen as posing a challenge to the long philosophical tradition, stemming from Plato, of thinking of aesthetics and art as marginal, as an outcast, particularly in comparison to knowledge and morality.
A challenge to conventional dualities is also part of Kant’s picture of aesthetics, his view of art and his understanding of judgment. On Kant’s view, aesthetic appreciation includes a necessary tension and duality. It is based on a paradox inasmuch as it is both subjective and universal. On the one hand, aesthetic appreciation is subjective insofar as it is based on feeling. To properly judge a work to be great or an object beautiful, one must express one’s liking for it. When it comes to art and beauty, Kant tells us, judgment, approval, and responsiveness to value are a matter of feeling. At the same time, unlike judgments based on sensory feelings—for example, judgments about pains or the taste of the palate—aesthetic appreciation is also universal. It makes a claim on the agreement of others. When I make an aesthetic judgment—for example, when I evaluate a work as poor or great—I demand that others appreciate the object just as I do and share my feeling for it. Though based on feeling, aesthetic appreciation is never fully passive or merely sensory, but is itself a form of judgment: a feeling judgment or a judging feeling. This is not only Kant’s way of poking at the alleged opposition between subjectivity and universality, but also Kant’s challenge to a conventional picture of judgment. If Kant is right, judgment could not be understood as the act of applying a concept to a sensory given or as the expression of a belief about a fact. Judgment, he suggests, may be as affective as it may be intellectual and imaginative. While some judgments articulate beliefs, and some articulate intentions to act, other judgments—particularly, aesthetic judgments—express feelings. The feeling expressed by aesthetic appreciation—the feeling that is aesthetic judgment—is not merely sensory, brute, or passively drawn from us, but a feeling that always already involves understanding. As many of Büttner’s works suggest, aesthetic judgment, as Kant understands it, requires an attempt to understand, even though no concept, assumption or knowledge with which the judge comes to the work can constitute proper understanding. Judging beauty and art requires attentiveness, slowing down, and willingness to be challenged, and even confused by the work.
Making art, like appreciating it, is also paradoxical, according to Kant: it is both free and lawful. Making art never merely follows principles of production, never merely applies the laws of a tradition or a genre and is never fully governed by the concept of what a thing is supposed to be. (For what concept would that be? Of a work of art? A painting? A realistic painting? Or the concept of a specific artist, such as Andrea Büttner?) And yet, art is not lawless, arbitrary, devoid of any connection to (or a break with) traditions, genres, and concepts. Art is active and skillful and yet receptive and accepting. It is, or should be, Kant holds, open to surprises, to nature beyond individual agency.
Like Kant’s aesthetic theory, Büttner’s Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment—or as we, Kantians, like to call it, Kant’s third Critique—is also a kind of system without a system, a heterogeneous unity of challenged dualities. Introducing the beautiful book, Büttner claims that the pictures she placed alongside the text have always been there. They belong to the text, invoked by Kant himself, by the very language that he uses. And they are. These pictures are Kant’s as they are Buttner’s. And yet, many of them would have been inconceivable to Kant: scenes of food street culture in Asia taken from the internet; a 2014 photograph of a living room, furnished by mid-century modern furniture pieces that are mainly covered by sheets and blankets, taken from a personal blog; a 2004 DreamHack LAN party taken from Wikimedia Commons; 2014 drawings by Andea Büttner; and many more. The pictures, unified indeed as they are as pictures that belong to the Critique of the Power of Judgment, come from diverse sources—from Kant’s archives and books, from other artists, like Goya, Diego Rivera, Rosellini, and the contemporary artist David Raymond Conroy, as well as from the internet, from Wikimedia Commons, from personal blogs and more. They are made, they are borrowed, they are reproduced. But they are pictures of the text—“of” in the sense of belonging, not in the sense of being about it. These images emerge from the text, comment on it, bring it to light, make it explicit, while, as Büttner once said about criticism, also cover it.
In the same preface to the book, Büttner endorses yet another duality. Some of the pictures, she says, support the text, the passages that they are paired with, while others disturb or disrupt it. She offers no further explanation of the support or the disruption, but the pictures do; more precisely, they offer one explanation of this duality and then challenge it. Or so I will claim in what follows.
At least on the surface, finding the disruptive pictures is a challenging task. You might think that pictures like the 2004 DreamHack LAN party—a party of video games from Wikimedia Commons—and of a food street vendor in Asia taken from the internet can only disrupt a philosophical text from the 18th century. But do they? Büttner pairs the picture of the video game party to, or rather she finds it in Kant’s discussion of, “games that involve no interest beyond that of making time pass unnoticed” (Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 5:306). The Asian food street vendors are invoked by Kant’s recollection of an anecdote in a book about France, an anecdote about “the Iroquois sachem that nothing in Paris pleased him better than the cook-shops” (CPJ, 5:204). Are these examples of supporting or disturbing pictures?
Perhaps better candidates for disruption are a picture of the facade of a Dior store, from a fashion blog, and the 2011 work of the artist David Raymond Conroy, titled Sometimes I Wish I Could just Disappear—a picture of a gilded, decorated mirror, leaning on a pile of cushions and reflecting a high wooden ceiling and a camera held by a lone hand, as if dismembered from the whole body of the unseen photographer. The relation of the former—the Dior picture—to the passage with which it is paired is at best oblique, for the passage argues, “The highest model, the archetype of taste, is a mere idea, which everyone must produce in himself, and in accordance with which he must judge everything that is an object of taste” (CPJ, 5:232). Perhaps the picture of Dior is meant to disrupt Kant’s discussion of what he regards as the highest archetype of beauty, the beauty of a human being as the only beautiful object who is completely free, determining its own ends through reason? But perhaps it is meant to support Kant’s thought here, the thought that genuine taste requires that each person judge on her own, independently of accepted cultural and social archetypes of taste, like Dior? Conroy’s work too might disturb Kant’s way of connecting art with spirit, but it might also support the passage where Büttner finds it—a passage about objects presented as artworks that are lacking in spirit, if spirit might stand here for the artist’s own agency, the agency that is both in and lacking from Conroy’s work, the agency that Conroy both wishes to remove from his own work and is incapable of removing. (Think here too about Andrea’s wish to let the work fall down.)
On the surface, the placement of a photograph of a horse where Kant speaks about the beauty of a horse, a photograph of a roman sculpture of Doryphoros where Kant speaks of the beauty of the human figure and diagram of a flower from a 1763 book where Kant speaks of the beauty of a rose seem representative of the supporting group of pictures. But are they? Many of the pictures in the book seem to function similarly with relation to the parts of the text with which they are paired—pictures of birds where Kant speaks of beautiful birds and of palaces where he speaks of beautiful palaces. These pictures are literal, perhaps overly literal. In their literalness, they are, I believe, disrupting as much as they are supporting. They disrupt in a myriad ways. For one, most of the pictures in the book are pictures of Kant’s visual examples, not of his arguments, disrupting his main claims, pausing the process of reconstructing the argument for the sake of visually imagining. Does a diagram of a rose support Kant’s claim that the beauty of a rose makes a claim on everyone’s own satisfaction? Does it bring to light this complex thought about the value of art and beauty, its difference from other values, like goodness and truth, the demand it makes on its appreciator and the kind of responsiveness that it calls for?
In one respect, it is exactly in their literalness, in their visual insistence, that these pictures disturb more than support the passages they display. And yet it is exactly in their disruption that they also support those passages, discussions, and arguments. For they slow us down just as required for judgment. They do not allow us to go on. They force us to dwell on the arguments as well as on the pictures and the examples, to explore their connections. These pictures prevent us from taking these examples, the pictures, to be mere examples, mere visual decorations or instruments in the service of promoting the arguments. They challenge the distinction between a claim and an image, between reason and perceptual imagination. They suggest that Kant’s arguments are not made merely in the service of establishing conclusions, philosophical views, ideas. Rather, when we slow down and dwell—when we judge—we see how these arguments and their conclusions are part of a complete world, which is both rational and visual, just as it is both Kant’s and ours.
As in her other works, and as in Kant’s aesthetics, here too, then, in the Critique of the Power of Judgment she made, Andrea Büttner invokes a duality—between supporting and disrupting—in order both to reinforce and to challenge it. Displaying Kant’s pictures both to support and to disrupt the text—to support by means of disrupting and to disrupt by mean of supporting—Büttner’s work, once again, challenges her audience, slowing it down. And insofar as she makes us more reflective by making us more visually perceptive and more imaginative, she is doing philosophy by means of making art and making art by means of doing philosophy. For that, we should all thank her.
 Andrea Büttner, Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft (Hamburg: Felix Meiner/Museum Ludwig, 2014).
 Citations from Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment will appear with the abbreviation CPJ, followed by the volume and page number of the Akademie Ausgabe: Kants gesammelte Schriften, hrsg. von der Königlisch Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften [Ak] (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1902-).