Questions that are framed by the word “what” are formally essentialist, because they presuppose the possibility of an essence that satisfies the question. Ergo, asking questions like “what is art” predisposes the subject matter of art into an essentialist framework. Instead of posing this question that somewhat sets unnecessary limits for art, Nelson Goodman proposed to dump that question and begin asking “when is art” instead. By starting with a different word, the topic of art changes: no longer limited to the search for the necessary or sufficient conditions of the possibility of the concept of art, freeing its radical creativity from the prison of theory.
Nelson Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking instructs us how art is composed of category schemes that dictate the criteria of identity for their objects. If two category schemes contain different criteria of identity, then it follows that they are irreducible to one another. Both category schemes do not treat of the same things. Constructivism entails that since a world consists of the things it comprises, irreducible schemes establish different worlds, many worlds that are dramatically different. If the categories which determines identity conditions of objects are human constructs, then we are worldmakers, creatures of imagination, and creators of art. Art, inasmuch science, makes and reveal worlds. Formally, aesthetics is the branch of epistemology that analyzes the cognitive functions of art. Goodman investigates, in greater depth, syntactic and semantic structures of symbol systems, literal or figurative ones.
Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy posited a radical account of art: Art saves the suffering creator and through art, life saves the sufferer for himself. This is a kind of truth that denies life and subsists only by illusion or some form of self-deception. The greater the capacity of suffering, the greater the need to reinterpret reality. And man is an acute animal that suffers rather acutely. Art justifies existence through one’s creative energies by sanctioning it with values. Only the truly hypersensitive pour forth creative energy and recast the meaninglessness of reality into a vision of humanity.
This viewpoint rides shotgun on the Schopenhaueristic premise that life is bereft of meaning. The ancient Greeks were natural pessimists and had a great capacity for suffering. Silentus said “what is best of all is forever beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. The second best, however, is soon to die.” It should be added that for too long we, the inheritors of western civilization, have had this absurdly romantic view of the Greeks as enlightened or naive people who considered suffering a foreign concept. Nietzsche argued that they created Apollonian arts to render their existence endurable and the Homeric dream world is the medium of their idealization of the highest good. “Only as aesthetic phenomenon is existence and the world eternally justified.” (Birth of Tragedy) Aesthetics is not beholden to some foreign criteria of justification or metaphysics. In other words, the world isn’t moral in the Christian sense, nor rational in the Hegelian, but beautiful – simply just so.
Yet, some propose art to be an artifact of politics, a pedagogical tool of the masses. Some even purport to link a moral character to the quality of art. These alternatives hardly deserves a response. Moral behavior does not dictate the talent of the artist. The artist faces an empty canvas, without anything in advance. The artist is not following a schema, a pattern when he begins to paint or draw or Photoshop. No previous decision predetermines the next movement of the brush, the pencil, or the cursor. The picture is completed when he decides it is finished. The last line is the one he chooses as the end.
By no right does an artist claim whatever is art, besides his or her own aesthetic standard. Art does not exist outside the specific choices of the artist, who brings the concept of art into the world with their specific work of art. As a result, they take responsibility for the concept of art as a whole. They are stating what art means for everyone else as well. Artists create the values, the only legitimate sort of values that evaluates their work. Bottom line: there is no such a priori “predetermining explanation” that defines creativity. Everything in art is ad hoc, after the fact, and contingent upon the subjectivity of the artist. When the artist employs the concept of art, they are giving it a meaning for everyone to see. This resembles the “intersubjectivity” of language that a concept of one’s creation is available for everyone else to witness and comment on, agree or disagree with, or attempt to elaborate on.