Philosophy of Art and Time

Overview 240

Temporal Art 241

Art’s Representation of Time 247

Philosophical Theories of Time and Temporal Art 256

Study Questions 261

Suggested Readings 261

Overview

Lessing divided art into Arts of Space and Art of Time—or spatial art and temporal art. We define temporal art as separate from other forms of art, considering some common objections. We then move on to how art represents time, focusing on the most-discussed artistic medium, cinema. Is cinema the best form of art for representing time? It does seem better than some other forms, such as painting. Yet, what of ephemeral art? Some such art seems to directly represent time or represent time with itself. The proposed answer is that cinema is best because, while being able to represent temporal properties directly, it is also the freest form of art to represent time.

We examine the claim that art can be used to decide between different theories of time. One objection is that any kind of structure, for example strange temporal but also strange spatial structure, may be represented by art, but that does not mean we must believe there is such structure.

We consider two specific objections to philosophical theories of time. One is that the nature of music purports to undermine four-dimensionalism, a contemporary philosophical view of time. The other is based on Bergson’s philosophy of time, which inspired some filmmakers in their thinking about cinema. Bergson’s theory of time is often claimed to conflict with the common philosophical interpretation of relativistic physics.

Temporal Art

The art theorist Lessing (2005) classically divides art into two kinds—an art of space and an art of time. Lessing gathers classic sculpture and painting under the art of space; he gathers music and poetry under the art of time. An art of time “employs wholly different signs or means of imitation” from an art of time, such as poetry. The difference is in how each kind of sign exists in time or space. Painting uses “forms and colors in space” and poetry uses “articulate sounds in time”. As such, painting is an art of space because its signs lie beside each other; “signs arranged side by side can represent only objects existing side by side”. Poetry is an art of time because its signs succeed each other; “consecutive signs can express only objects which succeed each other, or whose parts succeed each other, in time” (Lessing 2005, section xvi, 91).

Later, cinema was also drawn under the art of time. For example, Eisenstein and Tarkovsky are both influential filmmakers and theorists about time in cinema. For Eisenstein, cinema is an art of time because of its capacity for montage; for Tarkovsky, cinema is an art of time because of its capacity to depict the time of filmed objects (e.g., Tarkovsky 1989, 124; Totaro 1992, 22).'

Depiction here is not merely representation. We discuss the nature of representation in more depth later in this chapter. For now, the difference is this: many things may be represented by many other things, and there is nothing particular that the representation need share with what it represents. However, depiction is different. A depiction is in some sense like its object, that is, there is some kind of necessary resemblance between the depiction and what is depicted. For example, a picture depicts some things it represents because it looks in some way like what it represents. Looking “at a depiction of a cow is somewhat like looking at a cow”—even though, of course, a picture is intrinsically different to a cow (Le Poidevin 2007, 135).

Call art of space spatial art and art of time temporal art. The table develops Lessing’s distinction.

Spatial Art

Temporal Art

(a) What it must have

The artwork has space as a necessary component. It uses space in its representation or other artistic aspects, such as its aesthetics.

For spatial artwork, if there is no space, then there is no artwork. For example, if painting is an art of space, then, if there is no space, there is no painting.

The artwork has time as a necessary component. It uses space in its representation or other artistic aspects, such as its aesthetics.

For temporal artwork, if there is no time, then there is no artwork. For example, if music is an art of time, then, if there is no time, there is no music.

(b) What it can only do

The artwork can only represent space—in Lessing’s terms, objects or their parts arranged in space (e.g., side by side).

The artwork can only represent time—in Lessing’s terms, objects or their parts succeeding each other in time.

Given these distinctions, we can ask: Are there actual cases of temporal artwork? Why wouldn’t there be cases of temporal artwork? We have already listed a few. It seems that we easily find work that falls into both categories. We need only find instances of painting, sculpture, poetry, music, or cinema.

 
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