• Juhan Maiste



Art, Truth, Art History, The Analytic Versus the Phenomenological Approach


Art and truth are the two diferent beginnings of understanding our world, two possibilities that the artists themselves, as well as the authors of art history, often treat if not as opposite, then still as diferent in their fundamental essence. Mostly proceeding from the Platonic conception of idea (eidos) and form (morphe), the creation of the world of God and the creation of the world of man appears to us in the form of the piece of art what one can see and use but never understand in its final meanings and essence. Art is an attribute of idea, while truth in its turn is more profound than art, leaving art rather an illustrative role. The prerequisite of writing about truth is its logical foundation which, as the starting point of the epistemological side, prefers logical explanation, through which the output of the author fnds its place via the  historical narrative or its semantic signifcance, being associated rather with the world that surrounds art than with art itself. According to this the non-epistemological fctional reality of art is given to us by diferent representations, while the truth remains to us a secret and a sort of Pandora’s box that nobody has yet been able to open. The present article should be understood as a quest that seeks to bring forth art’s actual nature from the shadow of diferent techniques, iconological approaches, political and social context, focusing in so doing on art as the unity of the external and the internal, including thereby the invisible and indistinguishable immaterial plasma, as well as the connected refection in the form of a visual image. At the same time, the author of this essay understands the discrepancy and the complicated nature of his aim. The article should be interpreted as a sort of search or then a pilgrimage into the depths of diferent opinions and evaluations of artistic reality, defning it from Aristotle to Plotinus, and from Kant to the new possibilities of phenomenology of the 20th century of Heidegger and Derrida. The aim of this article is to take under the observation and hesitation the methods achieved by the so-called “critical art history“, and instead of mourning the “art history” as a discoursive paradigm, to speak in the beneft of the new “history of art” where the pieces of art (artefacts) appear to us as fresh corals lifted up from the bottom of the ocean. As a sort of revelation art gives birth both to poetry and which, since Herder, has been characterized as the metaphysical and inexplicable essence of the image – as something that is born out of the darkness of fantasy opens as light on the paintings of Olav Maran, William Turner or Jan van Eyck. The precondition of understanding art is not a trace in memory (eidòlon) or an image (eikòn), but the idea itself, which does not appear before or after the facts but simultaneously with them, thus opening the deeper contents of our psychological subconsciousness, fowing out as ergon in any work of art. And not anywhere else – neither above nor below, right or left. Art and truth are two diferent sides of the one and the same phenomenon – the world as a piece of art, which can be experienced and understood time and again through the ability given to man to understand the world within the limits that we are able to understand. This makes the understanding of art both complicated and simple, seeking not so much the proof than the enlightening experience. Without ofering practical instructions and suggestions as to how we should recognize art or to write about it, the author of this essay has rather expressed his concern about the conventional approach to the history of art today which, while constantly approaching science, has deprived art of its most essential part. Having alienated from the magical cathartic feeling of the touch of the genius, which is mediated rather by the emotions of joy and sorrow, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, which we use anyway as our fundamental tools describing and perhaps understanding the world and ourselves. Having changed the universe (Greek: apeiros) into cosmos, we have been able to weave the warp into the fabric of art and art facts, yet without understanding the meaning of single forms which are born again and again between the light and myself as the recipient of light. As much as art can be the twin sister of science, it is a part of the human soul and the divine spirit which, as the religious recognition, will open itself only to those who themselves are ready to open themselves to it.


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Author Biography

Juhan Maiste

Juhan Maiste is professor and Head of Departement of Art History at the university of Tartu. As a prolifc writer he has authored a large number of monographs and articles on architecture, classicism, cultural heritage, the philosophy and poetics of art history. Also among his scholarly interests have been Estonian and Livonian manor architecture, the phenomenon of park landscapes as well as the work of Johann Wilhelm Krause. In addition to teaching and research, professor Maiste curates the publication of the Baltic Journal of Art History.




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