domingo, 12 de maio de 2013
The Work of Art adn the Self-Reproduction of Art by Niklas Luhmann
We can discern in reality certain kinds of systems, which following a suggestion of Humberto Maturana are called “autopoietic” systems. These systems produce the elements of which they consist, by means of the elements of which they consist. It is thus a question of self-referential closed systems or, more exactly, of systems which base their relation to their environment (i.e. Umwelt) on circular, closed operational connexions. This kind of self-reference involves not only reflexion (i.e. the system can observe and describe its own identity), but also the fact that everything which functions in the system as unity receives its unity through the system itself, and this applies not only to structures and processes but also to the individual elements which for the system itself cannot be further broken down.
It is not difficult following this theory to define society as an autopoietic system. It consists of communications which are made possible and reproduced by the communications of which it consists. What is regarded and treated as the unity of a communication cannot be pre-given by the environment but is given by the connexion with other communications — above all by the conditions of meaningful negation (rejection). The concept of autopoietic systems thus fits society as a whole, and at the same time leads to an unequivocal delimitation of the societal system in relation to its environment in which there is no communication. The question is then whether this is the only case of autopoiesis in the sphere of social systems, or whether, and under what social-historical conditions, other social systems can also attain this structural form of self-referential closure and autonomy in the constitution of their elements.
This can be shown with sufficient clarity for the legal and the economic systems of modem society. In the one case, the system becomes autonomous through the communication of normative legal expectations, which can only be validated by reference back to other elements of the same system. In the other case, the system consists of monetary payments, which presuppose and permit monetary payments. This cannot be fully explicated here. In any case it cannot be seen as chance that precisely these two functional spheres dispose over a highly developed systems technology, and were able to represent society in the liberal phase of the modern development of society.
Correspondingly, the autonomy of art attained in modern society is not something which excludes social dependence, nor something which drives art into a hopeless marginalisation. On the contrary: art shares the fate of modern society precisely because it seeks to find its way as an autonomous system.
That art has become differentiated as an autopoietic functional system in modern society is shown particularly clearly in the fate of all attempts to call into question the traditional criteria of the beautiful, the functions of representation, and even the symbolic quality of works of art. This calling into question becomes itself the execution of the autopoiesis of art. The denial of all expressive intentions is thus understood as a particularly refined and elusive expressive intention — despite all assertions to the contrary.
If art with all its forms is seen as a social system and one asks about the elements of which this system consists, one is led to individual works of art. We could therefore suppose: art consists of works of art and what a work of art is is determined by art. Circular definitions of this kind are nothing new, they were commonplace as constituents of theories of good taste in the first half of the 18th century. Our problem is first of all whether the work of art is really the elementary unit of the art system, which cannot be further broken down. Sociologically speaking this would be an anomaly. For society already consists of communications (not, for instance, of texts), and communications are events not objects; and the economy also does not consist of commodities or capital but of payments. If we follow this line, then we can consider the work of art, if need be. as a compact communication or as a programme for innumerable communications about the work of art. Only thus does it become social reality.
Now that we know what they are good for, let us concentrate further analysis on the works of art themselves. It must be here, if anywhere, that we look for the key to the autopoiesis of art.
The work of art is both condition and obstacle for the autopoiesis of art. Without works of art there would be no art, and without the prospect of new works of art no social system of art (only museums and their visitors). “New” means here, as it has since the 17th century, not only another example, but rather something which diverges from the foregoing and thus surprises. Genius lies in the accomplishment of discontinuity: it is clear that this temporal discontinuity presupposes a social discontinuity, i.e. the differentiation of art from the tutelage of other, above all religious and political, interests.
That the individual objects are kept ready for admiration, repeatedly viewed, read, performed, and preserved as far as possible from destruction, goes without saying. Their destruction or even their sale abroad would be an ‘‘irreplaceable loss”. They are sanctified and secured with safety alarms. We cannot go on without them.......... but actually not with them either. Their prices are rising, their truth gains clarity, but our intercourse with them in the social system of art unexpectedly acquires another quality. Boredom creeps in, and official celebrations have almost the effect of a stubborn refusal of this state of affairs, of a counter measure or a compensation.
Furthermore, the (aesthetic) form must be ambivalent to the degree that it gives pause and directs questions back to the work of art. It must stimulate the comprehension of self-reference and thus also communication about the work of art. It has always been accepted and demanded that the work of art arouse “astonishment”. The “aestheticisation” of art requires in addition that only the work of art itself can answer the questions which it raises and that neither knowledge of its style nor of its function is sufficient as an answer. “Astonishment” is thus relieved of all kinds of functions of directing attention in the interest of religion, morality and politics; it too is, so to speak, differentiated.
Our question can be answered with the aid of the concept of style. We define this concept functionally, without reference at this stage to its use in art theory. The style of a work of art allows us to recognize what it owes to other works of art and what it means for other, new works of art. The function of style is to organize the contribution of the work of art to the autopoiesis of art and in fact in a certain sense against the intention of the work of art, which aims for self-containment. Style corresponds to and contradicts the autonomy of the individual work of art. It respects it and despite this diverts surplus value. It leaves the uniqueness of the work of art untouched and yet establishes lines of connexion to other works of art.
Our functional determination of the concept of style also avoids the much discussed question: must styles dominate a whole epoch in order to fulfil their historical mission or is this neither necessary nor desirable? This is more a problem for the writing of art history than for art itself. The problem of what a work of art says, assimilates and influences beyond itself can be solved within the framework of a pluralism of styles, even at the limit in terms of “the personal style” of an artist. We don’t have to carry the longing for unity so far that pluralism and eclecticism become prejorative concepts. On the contrary: art is perhaps better advised when it avoids the risk of a unified style and opts for multiplicity, as long as associations (eclecticism?) remain possible. The question whether and under what conditions unified styles dominate whole epochs is therefore excluded. It can only be answered in any case if we have clarified what is lo be understood
by “style”, and whether this phenomenon can actually support a special historical “compulsion to unity”.
Style can arise from the model character of individual works of art. It is thus possible in an effortless and unreflected way. The church tower of St. Paul de Leon becomes the model for other church towers in Brittany. This is only possible, however, if copying is permitted, if the uniqueness of the work of art is not a condition of quality and if prescriptive production is not harmful. Etymologically speaking copia originally meant a positive evaluation. In rhetoric, for example, it expresses the abundance of forms and figures of speech, and only when they are readily available in printed form does the meaning of “copying” become negative. As long as copying is praised as drawing on the rich knowledge of perfect forms, then the level of meaning of style lies in the similarity of works of art. This level is not clearly differentiated from the form and execution of the works. However, the reproduction process must substitute for the original object and its context more abstract symbols and it is this which compels the reduction to characteristics of a “style”.
If it can be generally said that works of art produce astonishment and admiration, now the kind of astonishment intended changes. The miraculous, pompous, exaggerated style is replaced by the call for the simple, the natural and the sublime. The concept of style includes both; it is still defined as manner or as a way of arousing interest, but the astonished interest, the pleasure, the agreeable feeling that style should arouse has now become autonomous. The work of art is no longer employed for the support and magnification of hierarchically superior meanings; it is no longer just decoration for churches and palaces. It no longer aims for that amazement, of which Shaftesbury said, it is “of all other Passions the easiest rais’d in raw and unexperienc’d Mankind”. On the contrary: it reckons with artistic connoisseurs. Now art produces its own public, and the only question now is who can participate.
system for art results, in other words, in the differentiation of the difference between professionals and public.
In other respects too this retreat of the rhetorical tradition, directed to a non-reading public, can be observed. For instance redundancy can be arranged in a freer and more individual fashion. The addressee can no longer rely on formulaic stereotypes; especially in poetry and literature one can develop one’s understanding through the text itself, and traditional formulas seem boring or even an imposition which underestimates the abilities of the observer or reader.
The functional definition of the concept of style is at the same time a historical concept. By “historical concept” I mean that the concept is codetermined by a historical difference which it itself brings about. This does not exclude a functional definition but on the contrary presupposes it. The problem produced by the distinction between work of art and style is itself a historical problem. It is given by the differentiation of a system of art. And only in relation to this problem does the recognition and change of style (as opposed to the work of art itself) make a difference. Or more concretely: it is not simply the model character of the work of art itself which fulfils the function of style, rather style becomes differentiated as a special level of intercourse with works of art. And only by this means is it possible to individualise the perfection of the work of art (freeing it of its model character) and at the same time posit style itself as authoritative and changeable.
The reference problem of the differentiation of autopoietic subsystems arises only in history and only relatively late - certainly long after the existence of art. Long before the problem became relevant the concept of style was already ready for it. With a difference of levels enters into the system of art. With it contingency as the possibility of choice of style could be formulated without making the individual work of art arbitrary: the work of art could assert its own necessity under the rule of a style (or even through eclecticism of styles). All this does not, however, explain how style fulfils its function, let alone whether and what restrictions of possible styles can be derived from the function.
Style is thus, we may say, what joins work of art to work of art, and thereby makes the autopoiesis of art possible. Autopoiesis, however, only means.
that, in general art continues to be possible and does not say how. Also from a formal point of view' autopoiesis is possible in many different ways — we have seen for instance that a work of art becomes a model for many others. What leads then to closer determination of the structure, to more exact indications of the characteristics which a work of art ‘'passes on” to others? What constraints are accepted in order to determine in which direction autopoiesis should go? It would be premature to answer this question by pointing to pluralism of styles and interpreting it as anything goes. Certainly plurality and choice of style (both that which needs grounding and that which is capable of grounding) are important in this context at least since the 16th century. Concentration on just one style has been avoided (probably at all times) — which does not exclude the possibility that such a unified style for this very reason has not been sought for and considered desirable. But there are also other limitations which go beyond the pluralism of styles. They consist of reactions of the system of art to its own differentiation and autonomy, i.e. recognizing within the system that the system of art must provide for its own autopoiesis not in a free and arbitrary way but in a social environment.
The subsequent realist and naturalist movements of style also face the necessity of pursuing a politics of distance. Precisely if one follows the stylistic programme of confronting reality then it must be made clear in the work of art that this alone is not yet art; the comprehension of reality must also be made apparent and it must be shown that the work of art is finally due to the employment of specifically artistic means.
This kind of attention to style elements in the production and judgement of works of art still has the characteristics of a programme which guides the selection of action and experience. It has not only “ideological” but also concrete relevance. However, it is not a programme of decision in the sense that the quality of the work of art is simply given by the execution of the programme. The individualisation of the work of art demands rather that the work of art be its own programme in a concretely deciding sense, i.e. that it itself delimits what is possible for it. Style is then, just as much as material, the limitation of self-selection — and in both cases it is a limitation which requires ostentatious emphasis.
This double function of style, on the one hand, ensuring the production of the elements by the elements of the same system, and on the other, delimiting the field in which this occurs, exactly corresponds conceptually to the definition of an autopoietic system. If this outline of the argument were to be developed and empirically confirmed, it would show that art too differentiates itself as an autopoietic subsystem in the course of the evolution of modern society; or at least that it is obliged to attempt this because it cannot otherwise maintain itself. From this hypothesis follows a corollary which concerns the “inclusion” of the public in the system of art.9
Above we indicated that art theory, as regards the social context of art, occupied itself at first with the general function of arousing amazement. The recipient must first of all be startled and astonished so that he is stimulated to experience and respond to art. This aspect is refined in a development of theory in the first decades of the 18th century, which attains its final form with reference to a public specific to art. The capacity for judgement of this public, formulated in the concept of taste, is assumed as a natural capacity, but already seen as something which must be acquired through reading or conversation in the salons or simply through the exercise of critical judgement. This changes with the further differentiation of the system of art and with the understanding of “style” as a mediating level between art and society. Demands on the public are increased.
This is, however, only a superficial, possibly dispensable requirement. More importantly, the work of art itself — as a component of its style — must increase the demands placed on participation, and this to an ever growing degree since the 19th century. The visual demands which painting has required of the observer since the 19th century become ever more complex and cannot be naively fulfilled. They demand broken immediacy and thus a particular distance to the object. With literature one has to think of the emergence of irony and further of intenser forms of confusion of the reader.
The decoding of the work of art in terms of what is art in it requires trained activity; and this is not only a regrettable side effect of the complexity of the work of art but the ground of its quality; it is its inherent intention, the requisite of this continued effect, the explication of its style. Further stages are reached when the transition to another medium becomes required and demands a corresponding training. Thus modern music is only understandable with the aid of the score (who cannot hear must read), while conversely the highly refined rhythm of modern poetry is scarcely readable; one has to hear it performed (who cannot read must hear). As a result the increase in the demands on inclusion has the effect of exclusion.
A final judgement on this development is not yet possible. Its effects can be observed as a reduction of the communication system of art lo a narrow circle of admirers and as a greater differentiation of the art forms in the sense that an understanding of modern poetry does not mediate an understanding for modern painting or theatre or in particular for the art of direction in the theatre. A priori it does not follow, however, that this must remain so and above all that this situation must be determined by decisions of style. It is clear enough that this would imply significant prejudgements about the future of art.
Are there functional equivalents for style? Are there other possibilities of solving the same problem?
We could think of fashion. Fashion also constitutes itself within time limits and yet it too functions despite this. In fact around 1700 the question was already raised whether a judgement about art could be anything but a question of opinion and fashion. Is beauty subject to fashion or something for all time? Diderot along with many others set himself this question at the beginning of his Traite du beau and it reveals a certain indecision that he could not immediately answer it.10 The problem becomes really acute when epochal styles last such a short time and succeed each other so fast that they have the effect of fashions. Is there a functional equivalent or even fusion into one and the same phenomenon today?
One affinity between style and fashion obviously resides in the fact that fashion can also be generalised and can involve different areas. It is therefore necessary to undertake a more exact functional analysis of fashion in order to determine similarity and difference. It is not easy to know what was meant when around 1600 people started to say “la mode” as well as “le mode”. At first the transient and evanescent was certainly emphasised. Precisely this turned out to be omnipresent once it had been fixed by the concept. Not only clothes and manners but also linguistic expressions, religious feelings, the style of sermons, dietary habits, the refined manner of cutting meat, and even the preferred way of killing and being killed, the duel, revealed themselves as products of fashion. Everywhere people appeared to take pleasure in the transient and the new. And then it was soon seen that it was not only a question of pleasure but also of security, especially for extravagences or other conspicuous deviations." A lot can be dared and supported as fashion because it does not mean a long term speculation. And by its success fashion turns the burden of proof around: whoever does not adopt it becomes conspicuous.
If we see fashion primarily as a strategy of security for the unusual which pays for the risk through the decline of the fashion, then it is understandable why people have hesitated to surrender all values (or even the most important) to it. it was not only necessary to rescue from fashion true virtue (note the necessity of affirmation); beauty loo must not be surrendered to it. Below this level of values the situation is less clearcut in relation to “style”. One can insist that the actual function of fashion is not the same as that of style. Security as regards the unusual is not yet autopoiesis, is precisely not a guarantee for self-reproduction. And yet a peculiar community of function can be seen. Does not the development of style profit from fashion? Does not the possibility of betting on fashion serve the risks of innovation in the development of style? And above all: could it not be the case that the input of extravagence must be constantly increased in the succession of styles in order still to be able to offer formal innovations, so that style and fashion gradually converge? The autopoiesis of art would then have to accommodate itself to change of fashion and the question would then be not so much what a work of art contributes to style but how does one fashion in style provoke the next.
Certainly the tempo of change has increased — so much so that change of style can no longer be explained by generation change. (It is rather the ease that generations are to be determined and artists`fates explained by what style was the fashion in their youth.) If this is already, or will be the sitution we should not let our judgement be guided by prejudice against fashion. Neither style nor fashion preclude the quality of a work of art. More attention should be paid, however - as it were, against the polities of style to the question whether the substantial work of art can fulfil its function of organising communication through itself. A maxim of La Bruyere is apposite here: "A man of fashion does not last long because fashions pass; if by chance he is a man of merit he is not destroyed and he continues to exist somewhere; just as estimable as before, he is simply less esteemed”.
Style, as we have known it for two hundred years, appears to be dissolving into fashion; at the same time it is threatened by the danger of history. In order to perceive and correctly estimate this danger it is first necessary to comprehend the new function of history. More and more it serves merely as a proof of the contingency of what has established itself. It is being restored, cultivated, preserved and protected against its ordained end at enormous cost as a mode of the self-doubt of the present. Old music is celebrated on old instruments, although — and because! — the development of instruments permits a better sound. Factories in the style of tudor castles are rescued, at least as facade, that is quite sufficient* Behind the facade in Bielefeld, for instance, is a supermarket. The last horrors of the fin de siecle become objects of vehement communal politics. Spinning wheels and steam locomotives, no-longer-usable pithead towers, wooden fridges and copper kitchen utensils — the past deluges the present in order to demonstrate that it doesn't have to be as it is. It is obvious that this has nothing to do with artistic interests or aesthetic qualities.
Protest is sufficient and here one must have enough understanding in order to be able to evaluate the pressure exerted in this fashion on aesthetic experience- The relics of past cultural efforts, whatever their immanent value, are being used as witness against the present. If they weren't technically perfect — so much the better. If they look somewhat helpless and decrepit
— all the more convincing. If they line up with the other disadvantaged and underprivileged — that is exactly the intention. Besides, it is not a question any more of their original function and so they can be alloted a new function at odds with all past valuations and instructions for use: that of the proof of contingency. The view of the past changes according to what one wants to see in the present. If you see the present as progress, the witnesses of the past with their insufficiencies demonstrate the appropriate “not yet”. If on the other hand you want to document the problematic state of society and how little future content it has to offer then the past is drawn upon in order to show that things could be different.
The “museumising” of art appears imperceplably to be taking on this function. The simple and the clumsy, set in the right light, demonstrates against the over-refinement of a late age; religious painting now says: I don’t want to paint after nature, why should I? Strikingly, it is more difficult to show this state of affairs with literature and music — perhaps because printing had made a greater simultaneous presence of the non-contemporary possible, and there was always a choice. All the same: the remarkable Hesse-renaissance shows that the same motives are at work. Whatever the case, our argument is that the function of appealing to historicity inhibits purely aesthetic interest and makes unprepossessed seeing and hearing more difficult if not impossible. This applies all the more as the organisational side of the art industry has taken up this historical interest and oriented its marketing strategies to it. With the result that art is ahvays displayed with the implied expectation that it be experienced from the viewpoint that it would not be possible like that today. What is left over consolidates itself as the avantgarde.
“Et in Arcadia Ego”
In this way art collections turn into museums. If, additionally, change of style and change of fashion converge and the resistance to the “museumising” of art practically disappears, then the reproduction of art appears to be hardly dependent any more on a broadly based stylistic programme. Difference and estrangement are enough. This may have the practical advantage that museums can buy works of art in the expectation that they will shortly attract interest as historical objects. Being in fashion and being out of fashion fit nicely together — at any rate in the calculations of the organisation.
Doric columns is discussed, a taste for the archaic developed. Translated into the language of sociology, we can advance the hypothesis of the relation of several variables, i.e. the relation of:
1 an increasing differentiation of a functional system for art;
2 an increasing autonomy and responsibility of this system of professionals and public for self-reproduction of their communication by means of works of art;
3 a development of self-reflective theories, of "aesthetics” in the new sense, for the control of this autonomy and for the solution of the specific (incomparable) problems of this sphere, thereby setting in motion
4 an individualisation of works of art, until finally by the middle of the 18th century the uniqueness of the object becomes the condition of recognition;
5 as a result: the problematising of self-reproduction and the application of the difference of levels of meaning, concerned with the distinction between style and work, to the solution of the problem;
6 a use of the level of meaning of style to ground autonomy in the difference from (and at the same time dependence upon) the social environment and to include/exclude participants; and finally this produces:
7 the complete temporalisation of the complexity of the system with the result that
8 the time-bound value of styles and even of the objects threatens to displace the objective criteria of beauty (which if at all could only be determined self-referentially).
We leave the question completely open whether a self-reflective theory useful for art itself can be developed from such considerations and whether it could still be called “aesthetics”. Given such a state of affairs it is understandable that any social function of art is frequently disputed and its autonomy equated with absence of function. You can sign the death sentence in this way. Or you can revise the foundations of theory.
A sociology which conceives of modern society as a functionally differentiated social system does not assert that all functions resulting from functional differentiation work equally well. It has its doubts about religion and it can also pose the question in relation to art, whether differentiation suits it and whether it can succeed in autopoeietic self-reproduction. There is no answer to this question which can be derived from theory. Faced with self- referential states of affairs, methodologically given asymmetries of deduction and causality are inadequate. One can only proceed as we have done, that is by seeking to discover what difficulties result from such a development and which functional alternatives are still available shortly before all options are closed off.
"Andy Wahrol was one of the stupidest people I’ve ever met in my life."
1 We exclude other possibilities of a theoretically based analysis of art, for instance the conception of art as symbolically generalised medium of communication. See Niklas Luhmann, “Ist Kunst codierbar?”, in Luhmann, Soziologische Aufklärung, Vol. 3., Opladen, 1981. 245-266. ‘
2 Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, Frankfurt, 1970, 334, 335.
3 Erving Goffmann, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organisation of Experience, New York, 1974.
4 The distinction form/context is thus much more illuminating than the distinction form/content. See Christopher Alexander, Notes on the Synthesis of Form, Cambridge, Mass, 1964 and George Brown, Laws of Form, New York, 1972.
5 Ernst H. Gombrich, “Norm and Form” in. Studies in the Art of the Renaissance, London, 1966.
6 On this important tradition leading to secularisation see Hans Blumenberg, “Kontingenz” in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Vol. 3, Tubingen 1959, column 1793f.
7 For more extended treatment see Luhmann, “Temporalisierung von Komplexital”, in Gesellschaftsstruktur und Semantik, Vol. 1, Frankfurt, 1980, 235-300.
8 Winckelmann’s History of the Art of Antiquity is a classical example of the conception of history as the movement from the simple to the complex; here the concept of style acquires the function of ordering historical differentiation.
9 For other examples see Luhmann/Karl Eberhard Schorr, Reflexions- probleme im Erziehungssystem, Stuttgart 1979; Luhmann, Politische Theorie in Wohlfahrtsstaat, Munich 1981.
10 Adam Smith also had difficulties in limiting the influence of fashion on the judgement of beauty. See his Theory of Moral Sentiments, V. 1. And for Baudelaire rash ion was half the game; without it the outcome would be an indefinable abstract beauty. See “Le peintre de la vie moderne”.
11 Cl. on the dialectic of social security and individual profile, Georg Simmel Philosphie der Mode, Berlin, 1905.
12 b. D, C ope, The Primary Factors of Organic Evolution, Chicago, 1896.
In: Thesis Eleven 12(1) (1985): 4- 27.