Talk by Distinguished Professor Emeritus Andrew Benjamin (Monash, Melbourne):
What is the Object of Art?
To the extent that philosophy concerns itself with experience, the status of the object within experience is often assumed to have an immediate givenness. Whether perception is taken to be purely physiological or 'theory laden’ forms of immediacy prevail. Perception is often, and of necessity, immediate. Driving, playing football, walking down the street are all actions in which decisions are taken that are neither intentionally calculative nor loci of sustained reflection. There is a necessity that immediacy prevail. Moreover, what allows for immediacy is the quality of the activity. However, once activity becomes generalised immediacy knits together a set of concerns that are taken to have a normative register. As such, there is nothing immediate about immediacy other than the reiteration of the content of normativity. Experience, immediacy, and the normative coalesce; a coalescence too quickly naturalized. In contradistinction to this set up there is the primacy of the work of art – the object. The latter is the concern of a philosophy of art. While the danger of an insistence on the object is that it many open itself up to the trappings of connoisseurship, it is only by focusing on the object of art – and thus not on the naturalization of experience – that it becomes possible to identify the ways that art can interrupt forms of naturalism. The object becomes that which objects.