Polymorphism In Art
I will take the problem of works of art from another point
of view, to see how they are characterised.
I conceive them as artefacts (literally) or enaction (action art) that often possess a polymorphism of four facies or
in other words, that are expressed in terms of four aspects:
Facies in English (both singular and plural) implies aspect.
There may be an absence of one or more of these facies (or in other words, expressions). One can talk about the
semantics of a work of art, when there is a representation that one can translate into discursive speech, such as
Picasso's Guernica which may have historical significance to the people of Guernica. The semantics can only
refer to the symbols within the work.
Medium and Symbols
What can not be lacking is the medium or the significant immanence (for more details on this concept, see "Art
and Nothingness"). However purpose and/or symbols are not so necessary; lacking the latter would be art for
art's sake, which is still art by all means, as one cannot exclude oneself from art.
In order to speak of the meaning of a work of art, it must contain symbols, and to make sense, it must have
been made with an objective, an intention, which in this case I have called purpose.
I hope I will not lose my way by being overenthusiastically taxonomical, however I see four varieties, depending
on whether the artwork has some deliberate purpose or symbolism.
1. There is art that has a purpose and symbolism, as in the case of Renaissance painting, architecture in general,
business logos and Greek sculpture.
2. Then there is a rt that has a purpose, but not symbols, like jewelry, some vases, swords and crafts.
3. There is also a rt that has symbols, but it has no specific purpose, like modern art in general, especially pop art.
4. Lastly there is a rt has neither purpose nor symbols like abstract modern art, surrealism, Dadaism and
Also in every work of art there is a medium i.e. the way this set of parts is configured in order to form the synthetic
unification (op.cit.). The parts are not always confined to one physical place all joined together nor even in a small
area of space. For example, in order to find the significant immanence in the "The Fountain" by Marcel Duchamp,
one has to be aware of the reference to an element outside of the museum, which in this case is the hardware
shop that sells household urinals. The same can be said of "Brillo Box" that Andy Warhol produced 50 years later
that is conceptually the same thing.
Figure 1 . Marcel Duchamp, in 1917, displayed a work in the exhibition
of the Society of Independent Artists called "The Fountain", a urinal
purchased at a hardware shop, which was exhibited as a work of art and
signed "Richard Mutt".
The medium is in the coexistence, anything can be a medium.
The coexistence determines the significant exchange between humans themselves and that between humans and
nature; this is done through play, language, arts and customs in general. All these elements are likely to be
utilised as media for art.
The conjunctions of these objects can become visions of new objects. The exchange on the other hand, can be
more or less sophisticated, depending upon the technology.
Figure 2. The painting "Las Meninas" by Diego Velazquez, joins a set of
symbols and it was also done with a practical aim, so I would say that it
clearly expresses a purpose.
Art is not searching for a medium, it is actually the reverse, as the medium may lead to intuitions. Intuitions can
not arise from nothing. Remember the words of Kant: "we refer to objects directly or indirectly through intuitions".
Figure 3. Gudea had a high office in Patasi, in Lagash, Sumeria,
in the 22nd century BC. He is represented by this black diorite,
but it has added features whose symbolism implies a hieratic
and joyful attitude, which elevates him from being appreciated as
typically human. Note the disproportionate body and the special
way of sitting.
The facies, which gives any work of art an immediate impact, is the that of the character of unity, that so-called
significant immanence and it is associated with a set of seemingly scattered parts that form a whole (synthetic
unification). Upon discovering this immanence people usually feel a pleasurable emotional reaction, but it is just
a super-imposed feeling, the immediate reaction to the work; but this thing that is perceived is that which can
also contain the symbols.
Immanence emerges in the form of intuitions about an integrity which must lie in the object domain of some medium.
An immanence cannot be constructed, an integral entity in nothingness, as it has to be found in the domain of
feelings that in turn comes from our imagination and our environment. The environment, of course is the source
of the empirical feelings and it brings with it the signs from the biosphere.
Strictly speaking, every work has a purpose. If an artist creates a piece of art in order to show it in a museum, so
that he will feel recognised and admired, or just to adorn a room, as Van Gogh did when he painted his famous
"Sunflowers", then it would still have a purpose.
However there is a fundamental reason why one cannot say that art exists per se by itself and for itself: "The Temple
of the Holy Family" serves as an example. It is a work of art yet at the same time its interior is used for religious acts.
So how could it just be a work by itself and for itself?
For its part, "Las Meninas" was commissioned by King Philip IV in order to leave a testimony of the existence of his
daughter, Princess Margarita, and the place where she grew up. How could it be a work by itself and for itself?
A cave is a "deep underground hole within a mountain", but a cave with hunting icons is a temple.
There are probably exceptions, but in general, every work of art possesses this polymorphism which on the one hand
enriches it and on the other obscures it in its being and it is this which has proved so difficult to theorise.