Thursday, 21 February 2013

Objectivity and the Sublime

If we think of the sublime as sensation, an indescribable awareness or emotion experienced whilst viewing the art work, we can question whether or not the artist was experiencing something similar whilst creating it. A non-artist might see a work of art and presume the artist was under the influence of drugs. Where as an artist might empathise with another artists’ intentions (choice of colours, forms etc.) and might not be as presumptuous. ‘The question of whether drugs help to create these beings of sensation, whether they are part of art’s internal means that lead us to the “doors of perception” … is given a general answer inasmuch as drug-induced compounds are usually extraordinarily flaky, unable to preserve themselves, and break up as soon as they are made or looked at.’1

Is the feeling we get when viewing a work of art real if art is subjective? If we like or dislike certain works, are they to be considered real because we don’t quite understand why we like or dislike them but know that there is something more to them?
‘The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.’2 The real is the sublime within art, it is the unknown. The real exists regardless, as does the sublime. It, unlike the symbolic is without differentiated signifiers. It is that which is beyond language, it is the impossible.


The work of a non-artist or child might appear to be sublime for shorter length of time than the work of a non-artist, or artist with learning or mental health difficulties. Both works will remain ever present but the sublime experience may linger for longer with one sort of art work or the other, perhaps depending on the individual viewer. The painting of a person with mental health difficulties might be deficient in space, awash with overcrowded imagery, lines suffocating one another on the canvas, compressed and crowded. Yet in this madness, a variety of planes may allow the void, the real, the sensation or the sublime, to materialize and affect the viewer more deeply than the work of an innocent, uncompromised child. ‘Sensation is not qualitative and qualified, but has only an intensive reality, which no longer determines with itself representative elements, but allotropic variations. Sensation is vibration.’3


Showing the imaginary real and the imaginary through our work because the real cannot be seen, is a crucial factor when creating art but the ability to do this cannot be intentional because one can’t intend to do something that doesn’t exist to us. We cannot show the real, fantasy exists alongside reality, when reality is the symbolic. There is an inconsistency when putting them up to each other, the real is not made present, and it exists in the gaps or the void (the inconsistency between the symbolic and imaginary story lines). This gap allows the real to come forth, the inconsistency between fantasies are where the sublime exists. 
The trauma exists in the gaps. Many artists are described as being egotistical, so it is usually no surprise when the threat of the real comes into play and an artist begins to act out a narcissistic fantasy through their work. It fulfils a desire when reality is insufficient. A lack we experience in reality, a lack due to the symbolic. The imagination is the interpretation of reality, fantasising events by giving them the wholeness they don’t possess in reality.

Everything in the symbolic world, is defined by language yet art, has the ability to convey emotions by communicating with the viewer in an inexplicable way, without language. However, we are not in control of language as it controls us, the role manifested in constitution, it constitutes who we are and only exists as we use it. When we experience a work of art, are we in some way experiencing the real? Is to experience the real, to present the unpresentable? When we present the unpresentable, does it then become the imaginary? The sublime exceeds form, it is indeterminate, it exceeds theory and it is a testing point for aesthetics. A limit case, to see what theory and aesthetics can cope with.

1. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix, What is Philosophy? (UK: Verso, 1994) 165.
2. www.lacan.com/zizekchro1.htm (Accessed 25th November 2012)
3. Deleuze, Gilles, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (UK: Continuum, 2005) 32.