Essay, Pages 7 (1635 words)
Martin Heidegger regards language to be the ultimate reality, and holds poetry to be the highest and most authentic form. Language became a quasi-divinity, the ultimate reality or medium which explains the world to us. Heidegger takes this idea further to say all art is essentially poetry. He furthermore states the work of art, or in this case the painting is as dependent upon the painter as the painter is dependent upon the painting. This brings us to conclude that the origin of the work of art is art itself.
Art is a way in which truth happens. In art, truth is at work in the work; the establishment of truth is always active in the work.
“Art, says Heidegger, exhibits an impulse to realize itself in a work as an entity within the realm of entities” (Quigley 1). Art is one of the ways truth can establish itself in this realm. Like some before Heidegger, for example Hegel assigns to art a supreme role in the human experience.
It is through the deeper understanding of Picasso’s The Old Guitarist in terms of the struggle between earth and world that we gain access to Picasso’s true skill and talent in the success of this piece, we understand the role of creator in the dynamic emergence of truth.
Picasso’s The Old Guitarist is a haunting and pensive work, instilling a sense of mystery and intrigue. The old man, clad in tattered rags, is gazing towards the floor, both of his hand on the guitar even though the old man appears to be asleep.
The essence of the old man is embodied in his posture and gesture, a distorted style noting that the upper torso of the guitarist seems to be reclining, while the bottom half appears to be sitting cross legged.
Knowing nothing about the old man, one can conclude that he has lived a long life, maybe even a depressed life considering the visible points in the painting is of fundamental importance to his mode of being. Adding to the mystery, a mysterious image is painted underneath The Old Guitarist. It is very likely that Picasso originally started painting a portrait of a woman who appears to possibly be seated and in an upset or worried mood. Not much of this image is visible except for her face and legs. The identity of the woman is also a mystery.
Picasso has achieved the revelatory effects in this portrait by revealing the truth of the old man through Heidegger’s principle of truth as “aletheia” (Textbook 196). Aletheia was the Greek goddess of truth, truthfulness, and sincerity. Aletheia in Heidegger’s terms is the unhiddenness or the experience of something hidden being brought to exposure. By not allowing the old man’s thoughts, ideas, and words to be heard and capturing him in a frozen moment of paint, Picasso allows a profound understanding of all that he has to say.
By concealing the experience of being in his presence and knowing him as a musician, Picasso reveals the very truth and nature of the old man’s serenity and existence. Picasso understands the old man’s world and the ways it would shape his material form. Heidegger describes art as the happening of truth in the struggle, “a fighting of the battle between world and earth” (Textbook 195). The truth of the old man in the painting emerges from the surface of Picasso’s work in earth. The suggestions given by the old man’s physical representation draw him out a man in a truly realistic earthly setting.
His figure and the language of his facial expressions and posture reveal him to be a man of sadness, on who is involved in the process of revealing truth and experience of duality in nature. Heidegger emphasizes that creativity in the great artist is an impulse whereby genius allows a work to become what it is. The old man in the painting is reportedly modeled after Senor Sebastian Mazzarella, the blind artist who mentored Picasso in his earlier days in Madrid. Not too much is known about Senor Sebastian, but it is thought that he died before the painting was created.
Picasso stepped away from the experience when he could no longer see Senor Sebastian for himself and Picasso was able to simply create his face and body as they were and as they became older. Picasso intuitively understood that it was not simply a task of capturing his accurate physical being, but an accomplishment of a higher level of portrait painting in capturing Senor Sebastian’s essence as a being. What is concealed both by the work and Heidegger’s inquiry, is Picasso. We cannot find his intent with this work or necessarily know how he expected it to be received, nor can we interpret its character through its creator.
Heidegger might argue that this is ideally as it should be, that the work stands on its own and that Picasso was so successful in his portrait that we don’t need to know him at all. However, without ever knowing Picasso, how do we know this portrait is really true? It could be that Picasso has let rise to something that is false or deceptive. “Heidegger understood language through its root logos, which stems from to speak which in turn derived from gather such that to speak is to gather meaning” (Quigley 4). Heidegger does not account for the gathering of false meaning and the speaking of untruths, such as Picasso may actually be doing. Picasso gathered the meaning of Senor Sebastian’s world, but is that at all the truth?
There is no room in this question to understand that, or to question the sentiments of the individuals involved in the portrait painting in their potentially corrupt roles as subject, creator, and preserver. Heidegger’s thought process overall is a fairly effective interpretative vehicle. Despite its sole understanding or beauty as revealed truth and negligence of the potential of falseness, it does bring forth the many subtle and complex happenings in Picasso’s work as well as many works of poetry and language.
While the painting is striking and engaging due to its visual characteristics and sad presence, Heidegger’s process of analysis reveals it in a much fuller complexity and richness which might otherwise be easy to overlook but which in fact holds the very keys to unlocking its deeper meaning and significance. The method of inquiry would not work for many works of art, such as a self conscious poem which has to do with familiarity with the author and his life. Heidegger would call this “bad” art for lack of a better term. His philosophy relies on the definite presence of truth in reality, such as revealed in this case through unconcealment.
Truth as unconcealment is the exposure of the being of what is. Turning to The Old Guitarist, we can conjure up the earth and world of Senor Sebastian’s life; we can see a much larger picture unfolded in the painting. The guitar is what it is, and is seen to be such, in the way in which the guitar functions in and embody his life and world. The truth that is revealed by this work is not a truth of a merely particular object, the guitar, but in revealing the whole of the earth and world of Senor Sebastian, the painting’s truth is a truth of all that is.
It is because the truth Heidegger has in mind is a truth of the being of all that is, that art can have the important function Heidegger gives to us. But what if there is no absolute truth? Works of art still affect its viewers, move and stir the souls of man whether they reveal great truth or not. How can we account for our metaphysical and deep emotional responses to music, photographs, drawings, or a scene in a play, if there is no deep profound truth being revealed?
The subjectivity of our worlds makes it that each observer or experience of art will have a unique response and understanding based on their sentiment, history, and psychology. Can a piece of art reveal universal truths, or simply touching subjective beliefs which we mistakenly put forth as true because they have been apparently revealed as such? Heidegger might state that a work of art that evokes false or incorrect truths, mistaken responses, and confused reactions is faulty in its lack of clarity in revelation of truth.
The quality of work, however, becomes a virtue rather than a flaw, as wider or more personal appeal, while less grounded in absolute truth, can make a work far more effective and immediate, encouraging personal soul level responses rather than a correct way of experiencing the truth. A less insistent analysis which does not rely on the happening of truth as something which can be perceived as well-done or unsuccessful may allow for greater levels of experience and understanding of art, while revealing far more profound truths in the process which could be otherwise hidden by a seemingly arbitrary system of judgment of what may be deemed true.
For paintings such as The Old Guitarist which attempt to convey truth, Heidegger’s “vehicle” of interpretation is ideal. We may understand the truth of the subject and the truth of the portrait as aletheia through the struggle between their earthly and worldly dimensions and further our experience of the work as we understand and articulate our preserving reactions to the relative success of the work based on how well we gain access to the truth it reveals.
The Old Guitarst by Pablo Picasso (1903) Sources T. R. Quigley, Summary of Heidegger’s ‘The Origin of the Work of Art, 1996. Rasmussen, David (Editor), Kearney, Richard (Editor). Continental Aesthetics: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Textbook. Blackwell Publishers. July 2001. The Old Guitarist. art. com. 2006.