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Part 2 – Art in the four quadrants 

In his book ‘The Eye of the Spirit’ Ken Wilber takes us through a brief history of art and its meaning. 


“An integral theory of art and literary interpretation is thus the multidimensional analysis of the various contexts in which – and by which – art exists and speaks to us: in the artist, the artwork, the viewer, and the world at large. Privileging no single context, it invites us to be unendingly open to ever-new horizons, which broaden our own horizons in the process, liberating us from the narrow straits of our favorite idealogy and prison of our isolated selves” – Ken Wilber, ‘The Eye of Spirit’


Art is in the representation: (pre-modern, LLQ/ULQ)

As Wilber points out the simplest and perhaps earliest view of the nature and meaning of art is that art is imitative or representational: it copies something in the real world. The painting of a landscape copies or represents the real landscape. Plato takes this view of art in the Republic, where he uses the example of a bed: the painting of a bed is a copy of a concrete bed (which is itself a copy of the ideal Form of a bed). Later theorists would “upgrade” this Platonic conception by maintaining that the true artist is actually copying the Ideal Forms directly, seen with the mind’s eye, and thus is performing a “perfectionist” artistry. Aristotle likewise takes the view of art as imitative or copying the real world, and in one form or another this notion of art as mimesis has had a long and profound influence: the meaning of art is that which it represents. 


Art is in the Maker: (pre-modern, ULQ)

Numerous artistic styles and movements postulate that the essence of art lies in its power to express something, and not simply to copy something. And indeed, in both the theory and practice of art, emphasis often began to turn from a faithful copying and representing and imitating, to an increasingly expressionistic stance, under the broad influence of the general currents of Romanticism. Their position was that art is, first and foremost, the expression of the feelings or intentions of the artist, and the expression of an internal reality. We therefore can best interpret art by trying to understand the original intention of the maker of the artwork itself. For Tolstoy, art is the “contagion of feeling”. The artist expresses feeling in the artwork which then evokes that feeling in us, the viewers, and the quality of the art is best interpreted by the quality of the feelings it expresses and “infects” us with. Collingwood made the original intention of the artist so utterly primary, that the inward, psychological vision of the artist was itself said to be the actual art, whether or not that vision ever got translated into public forms. This view of art gave rise to what is still perhaps the most widespread school of the interpretation of art: modern hermeneutics (the art and science of interpretation). In its various manifestations, expressionism was not just a stylistic or idealizing alteration of external representation, but an almost complete and total break with the tradition of imitation. 


Art is in the hidden intent, ‘symptomatic’ theories: (modern, LRQ)

Psychoanalysis pointed out that many human intentions are in fact unconscious, and that these intentions, even though unconscious, nonetheless can make their way in disguised forms into everyday life. This inevitably meant that the original maker would leave traces of unconscious intentions in the artwork itself. It followed then that an important part of the correct interpretation of an artwork is the unearthing of these unconscious drives, intentions, desires, wishes. Why limit it to Freudian themes? There are larger currents the artist is often unaware of: sexual, economic, cultural, ideological. 


Art is in the Artwork: (modern, URQ)

Various more “formal” interpretations of art arose, in part as a reaction to these originally Romantic and expressivist versions of art. The Enlightenment rationalism and from there to the Impressionnists who sought to capture “immediate visual impressions”. Here the nature and value of art is to be found in the form of the artwork itself. Much of this formalism had its modern origin in Kant’s immensely influential Critique of Judgment. For formalism in general, the meaning of an artwork is found in the formal relationships between elements of the work itself. A valid interpretation of the work, therefore, involves the elucidation of these formal structures. In many cases, this was coupled with an aggressive denial of the importance or significance of the maker’s original intention. (Barthes’s famous “death of the author”). The death of the subject meant as well the death of the subject’s original intention as a source of valid interpretation. In the rather influential American New Criticism (Monroe Beardsley, William Wimsatt) in ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ state that: the maker’s intention is “neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work” of art. The nature and meaning of art was to be found in its “significant form” (Roger Fry, Clive Bell). And this a valid interpretation of art consists primarily in the elucidating of these forms or structural relationships of the elements manifested in the artwork itself. 


Art is in the Viewer: (post-modern, LLQ)

As formalist theories killed the artist and centered solely on the artwork, another extremely influential trend in art emerged, the postmodern. For these various theories of “reception and response”, the meaning of art is found in the viewer of the art. As Passmore summarizes it: “the proper point of reference in discussing works of art is an interpretation it sets going in an audience; that interpretation is the work of art, whatever the artist had in mind in creating it. Indeed, the interpreter, not the artist, creates the work.” These theories trace much of their lineage to the work of Martin Heidegger who broke the traditional conception of truth as an unchanging and objective set of facts, and replaced it with the notion of the historicity of truth. Human being do not have an unchanging nature so much as a changing history, and thus what we call “truth” is, in important ways, historically situated. Moreover, we come to understand this historicity of truth not so much through scientific empiricism but rather through interpretation. Heidegger’s hermeneutic philosophy has had an immense influence on art and literary theory through two major students of his work: Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jacques Derrida. For Gadamer, even a “purely” aesthetic event, such as looking at a painting, is not merely a simple sensory occasion. The moment we start to ask what the painting means, or how it affects us, or what it might be saying – the moment the mute stare gives way to meaning – then we are inexorably stepping out of the merely sensory and into language and history. What a painting means to us today will be different from what that painting means to people a thousand years from now. In other words, we cannot isolate meaning from the ongoing sweep of history. The work of art, accordingly, exists in this historical stream, which brings forth new receptions, responses, interpretations and meaning. According to this view, the artwork is not something that exists by itself, outside of history, isolated and self-regarding, but is the sum total of its historical stream.     


The integral view:

It is evident from the above analysis that all previous and current approaches (premodern, modern, postmodern) have a valid and important dimension to add to the overall framing and praxis of art. 

The framework of integral methodology as postulated by philosopher Ken Wilber and the Integral Institute, adapted for the context of architectural photography, takes into consideration the interior and exterior aspects of both the individual and collective perspectives of an investigated phenomenon, in order to provide a comprehensive study that respects all available dimensions in a non-reductionist manner.

The Q&A discussions of the features, we explore architectural photography aspects such as: the background biography and influences of the photographers, the overall vision and approach, the relationship between architects and photographers, specific key projects in assignments and personal work, film and digital, print and online means of production and distribution, business aspects of the industry, editing, commercial and artistic expressions, gear and technological advancements, awareness and transformative experiences, the interaction between people and their built environment, movements, styles and sub-genres, future plans and broader collaborations between photography and architecture, workshops, teaching, apprenticeship. 

In the integral lexicol it covers the photographer’s consciousness (UL), the photographic product (UR), photography culture (LL), and photography systems (LR).

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