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Art as a Form of Knowledge
by The Ovi Symposium
2013-06-06 10:57:34
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Art as a Form of Knowledge
Dr. Ernesto Paolozzi

“Knowledge has two forms: it can be intuitive or logical knowledge; knowledge for imagination or knowledge for the intellect; knowledge of the particular or knowledge of the universal; knowledge of things and their relationships: in short it can produce images or concepts.”

This opening of Croce’s Estetica come scienza dell’espressione e linguistica generale [Aesthetics as science of expression and general linguistic] places us smack in the middle of the philosophical conversation. Art, as intuitive knowledge of the particular represents, within Croce’s philosophical system, the very origins of human knowledge. It is on the foundation of such a concept that Croce builds his entire philosophy. It is important to notice at the outset how peculiar and important is such a Crocean approach to aesthetics. Indeed, if we do not grasp initially that art is for Croce an essential element of knowledge, we run the risk of falling into misunderstandings, as has happened and continues to happen.

There is no doubt that the philosophical tradition to which Croce goes back to support his theoretical approach to art is an illustrious and ancient one. The closest references, as admitted by the same Croce, are Baumgarten and, above all, Giambattista Vico. But even the aesthetics of Baumgarten refers back in some way to the intuitions of Leibnitz who, within the rationalistic school of thought, opened a breach for intuitive knowledge. Similarly, it cannot be denied that even in Plato, even if the intention remains that of devaluing, one can individuate the concept of mimesis, a concept of art as knowledge. A conception this that, as is well known, one can detect also in the philosophical systems of Shelling (intellectual intuition) and of Hegel (sensible apparition of the idea), even if in those systems there is no clear distinction between aesthetic knowledge and philosophical knowledge.

All this does not take anything away from the fact that the emphasis Croce places on the cognitive value or art is such that even if his thought cannot be considered in this aspect wholly original, nevertheless it opens new horizons which remain to be explored. When we think of art we of course think of the great complex masterpieces of music, painting, cinema, theater, the poems one learned in school, the great novels read for cultural enrichment or sheer enjoyment and it becomes difficult to think of Shiller’s Hymn to Joy, put to music by Beethoven,  or of Michelangelo’s Pietà, or Joyce’s Ulysses, as a work of knowledge.

The concept of art as a form of knowledge may appear even more paradoxical if one keeps in mind that with such a term we generally think of the idea of a sensible knowledge or purely intellectual, logico-formal. But this is not so if we are aiming primarily at overcoming a psychological condition more than a philosophical one.

Croce’s aesthetics is not a mere brilliant extrinsic enumeration of art’s characteristics but a search which fully locates artistic activity in the context of a rigorous philosophical discourse. In fact in the very first pages of Croce’s the most important writing, Logic as science of the pure concept, he declares that the relationship between intuition (art) and philosophy is indissoluble. There he writes that “Behind logical activity there are the assumptions of representations or intuitions. If man represented nothing he would be unable to think…What is important however is to keep well in mind that logical activity or thought arises from representations, intuitions, and sensations through which the human spirit elaborates in theoretical form the process of the real.” This is a complex passage which may mislead the reader. Philosophers who have written many years ago must be read with extreme caution. Perhaps they ought to be translated in contemporary usage of the words they utilize barring the problem that often enough more ambiguity is the result.

But the conundrum here is this: if art is a form of knowledge, what does it know and what is the tool it uses? Yes, it knows the world in its particulars and answers without equivocation, but such knowledge remains a knowledge springing from feelings via intuition upon which is based all knowledge. Which is to say, art is intuition. This carries a strong dose of romanticism which could not but result in equivocations. This is so because the general concept of intuition carries with it a strong Romantic connotation generating many equivocations.

The very concept of intuition calls to mind a conception of life as anti-rationalist with its connotation on the semantic level of irrationalistic and sentimentalist tones. On the historical level we may remember the great philosophers of the 19th century (it would be enough to think of Shelling) or of the great Romantic artists and decadentists to become aware that parallels and analogies were inevitable, at time authorized by the same Croce.

And yet Croce’s position is different and can be characterized as equidistant: it is neither Romantic nor anti-Romantic. His speculative effort is focused on defining logically a state of being of knowledge. In his first Aesthetics in which we do not perceive yet his definition of knowledge as lyrical intuition, Croce via a Socratic method, which he used frequently, attempt to establish first what intuition is not, and therefore he proposes it as pure cognitive function, that is to say, autonomous function. It is a form of knowledge but it is not knowledge via the intellect. Croce writes there that “The first point to be established is that intuitive knowledge has no need of masters or to be sponsored by anybody; it does not need to borrow others’ eyes because it has its own eyes and they are quite valid. Undoubtedly concepts can be identified mixed with many intuitions but in many others there is no sign of this mixing which proves that it is not necessary to mix the two. The impression of a moon light as depicted by a painter, the landscape of a town delineated by a cartographer, a musical motif, gentle or energetic, the words of a spirited poetry, or those with which we ask, order or complain in ordinary life, can all be intuitive facts with no shadow of intellectual references.”

Note from the translator Dr. Paparella: This initial opening position of Dr. Paolozzi to be continued in the next installment of the Ovi Conversation on “The Nature of Art and the Envisioning of a New Humanism” is one of the essays from his 2002 book titled L’estetica di Benedetto Croce [Croce’s Aesthetics].


Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting -


  Symposium for the Exploration of the Nature of Art within Modernity and the Envisioning of a New Humanism


Dr. E. L. Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida.

Dr. Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science.

Dr. Lawrence Nannery. Has studied at Boston College, Columbia University and at The New School for Social Research where he obtained his Ph.D. He founded The Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal and authored The Esoteric Composition of Kafka’s Corpus. Devising Nihilistic Literature, 2 vols. Mellen Press.


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