Philosophy and modern art painting have some interesting similarities and differences. Before going on, it might be appropriate to ask: when is a modern art painting considered modern? It is generally accepted that modern art was produced during the approximate period between about the 1860′s and the 1970′s. Work since then is often referred to as contemporary art, and they are definitely not the same. Of particular interest to many is the way that modern art and philosophy share common goals, but get there through such different means. Whether a participant in a philosophic conversation, or an observer of art, make critical connections or not, depends largely on their individual ability to interpret and apply.
One of the main characteristics of modern art painting is that it represents a significant shift from the way the classical or traditional artists looked at nature, the environment, as well as social norms and structures. It tended to portray more emotion on canvas. During this period, philosophy began to be more incorporated into art, to such an extent, that the visual aspect of the art is dominated by the philosophy from which the art was created. This does not meant that artists only painted with philosophic goals in mind. Rather, that the art itself tended to connect people with philosophic introspections in ways it had not done before. It made those processes more explicit and deliberate.
As mentioned earlier, both philosophy and modern art painting do tend to share similar objectives. Both attempt to shed light on the nature of the world, the self, and our place in it, and work to open our minds to a greater exploration and understanding about the inner workings of our common human experience. And while this may be the case, others feel that, in fact, there is no goal or objective. They would argue that art is more pure than that, and that whether a person is moved or not by a certain piece has nothing to do with the intention of the artist. For these people, identifying the goal of art is missing the point entirely. I’ll let you decide which side you think is more compelling for yourself.
Philosophic methods challenge us to ask questions about the nature of reality, what it means to be a self, what the ethics of a society should be, how we know what we say we know, and many other metaphysical and epistemological areas of life that people have been deeply interested in throughout the ages. Deliberate or not, modern art painting causes a similar introspection about many of the same things and challenges us to ask similar questions. Color, shape, form, and texture are simply other tools by which we are brought face to face with such concerns and questions.
In terms of communicating ideas and emotions, modern art painting has limitations just as philosophy does. Both are inherently abstract, such that understanding and application can be rather elusive to all but the most committed participant. Since significance seems to be a relativistic quality, only to be gleaned by making meaningful interpretation for oneself after looking at a modern art painting, or thinking about a philosophic argument, it makes sense that one think and feel deeply about both.
Thankfully, the goal is not to go through life without making any emotional or mental connections with the ideas and emotions that a painting, or a philosophic idea might provoke. Instead, those connections are encouraged and celebrated. We see a modern art painting – we feel deeply. We ponder a compelling philosophic argument – we are moved within. Both make us feel connected and glad to be alive.