Michel Foucault' filosoofiline nägemine kujutava kunsti näite põhjal


  • Mirjam Lepikult University of Tartu




Foucault's art philosophy, philosophical seeing, Martin Heidegger, George Dickie, vertical view, horizontal view, spheric view


In examining Michel Foucault’s philosophical vision I have used Gilles Deleuze’s definition: “A seer is someone who sees something not seen.” Being situated on the border between the discursive and the non-discursive, images offer an opportunity to get out of the discursivity; this rupture enables one to see and say something new. The images carry in themselves “an uncertainty essential for creativity”. This property relates images to Foucault’s philosophical vision, aimed at destroying the evidence characteristic of a historical formation in the sphere of what is seen and what is said.

In addition, one can notice three different directions in Foucault’s understanding of art, which correspond to different periods in his thinking. In his first work Folie et déraison. Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (1961) there is a vertical view. Influenced by Martin Heidegger’s ontological conception of art, Foucalt sees images as “growing out of the Earth”, as a specific truth which he valued highly during this period.”

Archéologie du savoir (1969) reveals a different vision of art. In this work, Foucault stressed that, at least in one of its dimensions, art is a discursive practice “at the most superficial (discursive) level”. In this “superficial” phase, his account of art may be compared to George Dickie’s institutional theory of art. I call the gaze moving along the surface the horizontal.

However, as early as the 1970s, Foucault’s understanding of art becomes spherical: art lacks an ontological dimension; instead, images emerge in a historical fabric, within a network of power, as a result of complex interaction between various forces. Foucault participates in this “fight” mainly at the discursive level, but he does not suffocate images with text; instead, he revitalizes them, making them visible again in a novel way.

Eventually the question arises whether the direction of the view has an effect on the interpretation of art.

Firstly, there is the problem of value. In a broader wider perspective, the vertical is inherently tied to this. It touches on hierarchy, on looking up from below and the awe this invokes. A connotation is assigned to divine structures and the symbolic significance of such things. Growing from the artist’s hand via forces unknown, self-made artworks thus evoke a different kind of reverence than those produced merely on a flat surface. Foucault’s earlier works in his vertical period reference visual art notably more than his later works. Pictures made in the vertical seem to offer him more inspiration. It is only during this period that pictures speak to him, later it would be reversed – he would speak of the image.

Admittedly he never finished his horizontal interpretation, producing only a barebones sketch. Such an approach does not demand viewing or listening to the art itself, but rather offers a possible way to hold a discussion on it. Maybe Foucault just did not have the time to write on the horizontal or maybe it simply did not engage him enough.

The horizontal approach, specifically the version put forth by Dickie is a consumer-centric vision. Art would mean a market that is based purely on supply and demand. With this approach, artworks tend to contract the one time use and disposability of commodities.

Secondly, there is the issue of visual art’s material or virtual nature. Words like verticality and Earth remind us that art has been material (until now) and thus literally originates from the ground. One can easily argue that works come from the Earth and emerge with the help of the artist, as Heidegger claimed. If we say that artworks have been material until now, we draw attention to the evolution of art as a configuration of shining pixels on a computer screen. The screen may be material but how and in what way is the light emitted from the tiny points of light material? However one approaches it, the virtual image is material in a different way than traditional works of art. Might it be that Foucault’s spherical view is a good fit for analyzing such virtual art?


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Author Biography

Mirjam Lepikult, University of Tartu

Mirjam Lepikult (b. 1969) is an Estonian free-lance translator interested mainly in 20th French philosophy. She has translated works by M. Foucault, T. Todorov, M. de Certeau, R. Barthes, P. Veyne, M. Merleau-Ponty, J. Maritain, J.-F. Lyotard, also J.-J. Rousseau, D. Diderot, etc. She has also published prefaces for works by M. Merleau-Ponty, J. Maritain, M. Foucault, as well as articles on Foucault’s philosophy of education and the reception of M. Heidegger’s philosophy in Estonian. Lectured at Tartu Art College, Eurouniversity (Estonia), Gustav Adolf Grammar School (Tallinn), and the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy.