Some artists, some philosophers, a room

Some Artists & Philosophers Walked into a Room is a one-day symposium featuring an impressive line-up of speakers and thinkers, chaired by the Victorian College of the Arts’ Dr Sean Lowry and the University of Adelaide’s Professor Jenny McMahon. We asked a handful of the participants to enlighten us on their philosophy on art.

By Sarah Hall. 

Q: What would the world be like without art?

  • Answered by Rowan McNaught, MFA candidate, Victorian College of the Arts.

“Without art our physiologies would adapt to have gigantic eyes. They let too much light in. We can’t go near others because of the risk that they will elaborate an impossible darkness. But all the stuff that people have in their houses is really much more beautiful. Esperanto is a success but was not invented, and June Huh cannot prove the Rota conjecture despite his best efforts. There is the same number of wars. In our dreams we can see figures from history but only as they rush by, wearing the clothes of today, made of technical materials.”

Rowan McNaught, As we mightn’t think (2017). Image courtesy of the artist.

Q: What role does art have beyond aesthetics?

  • Answered by Sophie Takách, Monash Art, Design and Architecture.

“Art has the potential to exceed; to exceed appearances, exceed expectations, exceed habitual responses. It can (and should) affect our way of thinking about possibilities and reality, make us feel the world.

“Art can bring us closer to the world, to materials and forces. It is possible that this affect is reached through aesthetic appeal, and I believe there is no reason that art should distance itself from aesthetics in pursuit of meaningfulness. On one hand, if it is only about looking, and not feeling or thinking, art can be too easily consumed and assimilated, lessening its power. On the other hand, if there is nothing in art to invoke sensation, how does it reach beyond the narrow confines of an already interested audience?

“The power of art to effect change in the world is through an intensification of sensation, by commanding attention, by engaging with people. I believe that the role art has in the world is to break established habits of consumption and action, and by doing away with established notions of beauty in the pursuit of the new it is possible to define a new aesthetics. So art does not leave aesthetics behind by going beyond them, instead it pushes aesthetics before itself as a cresting wave.”

Sophie Takách, Nest (2013). Cardboard, tape. 150 x 140 x 130cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Q: How does studying art help or hinder our understanding of it?

  • Answered by Dr Sean Lowry, Conference convenor, Head of Critical and Theoretical Studies in Art, Victorian College of the Arts.

Art education can radically extend expectations for ‘understanding’ art.”

Sean Lowry, Untitled (overpainted wall painting) (2014). Acrylic sign writing and gallery stock paint. Image courtesy of the artist.

Q: Does an artwork still exist if nobody is there to appreciate it? Why?

  • Answered by Dr Kate Just, Graduate Coursework Coordinator, VCA Art, Victorian College of the Arts.

My work’s engagement with people is central to its purpose. However, a work of art can also exist or emerge as a gesture of love and devotion. An act of love does not need to be seen or reciprocated in order to exist. It can just emanate.”

Kate Just, Feminist Fan: Catherine Opie, Self Portrait / Nursing, 2004.

Some Artists & Philosophers Walked into a Room takes place on 11 July, 2017, 9.30am–5pm, at Federation Hall, Southbank, Melbourne. Free event, but booking is essential. More details

Main image: 03 Immanuel Kant 03, by Willie Sturges. Flickr.