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Aesthetic Transactions: Pragmatist Philosophy through Art and Life
Aesthetic Transactions: Art et philosophie à l'état vif
Held in conjunction with the conference L’art à l’état vif: 20 ans après / Pragmatist Aesthetics: 20 Years Later
Exhibition Curator: Richard Shusterman
(La traduction française par Aurélien Allard)
THIS EXHIBITION ORIGINATED with a Sorbonne project to organize a conference marking the twentieth anniversary of the publication of my book Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art (Blackwell, 1992) which was simultaneously published in France as L’art à l’état vif: la pensée pragmatiste et l’esthétique populaire (Minuit, 1992). The project’s organizers — Richard Conte and Barbara Formis — had the genial idea to complement the conference with an art show at the Sorbonne’s Michel Journiac Gallery and thus highlight the pragmatic dimension of my work by exhibiting the connections of theory and practice. They further proposed that I curate the show, which they initially titled “Le vif état de l’art.” Although a curatorial virgin with no confidence in being equal to the task, I felt compelled to accept their offer, not only out of gratitude and curiosity, but also through a philosophical commitment to experiential openness in facing new challenges and engaging transdisciplinary projects; for the pragmatism I practice advocates experimentation as a key dimension of its philosophy of transactional experience.
The notion of transactional experience is double-barreled. First, it underlines that experience is not something confined to the interiority of human consciousness but necessarily involves or incorporates the subject’s environment, both through active engagement and more passive absorption of environing conditions and energies. Transactional experience also connotes the idea of experiments in transcending disciplinary boundaries, transgressing entrenched dichotomies, and transforming established concepts or topics, together with the idea that these transactions can succeed in advancing both theory and practice through the experiences and lessons that such experiments induce. Pragmatist Aesthetics represents my first foray into this transactional mode of theory, challenging the familiar aesthetic dualisms of art versus life, high art versus popular culture, the aesthetic versus the practical and political. Its chapter on the aesthetic import of rap music attracted the most media attention, especially in Europe, partly because that genre (and its philosophical treatment) seemed emblematic of the book’s activist vision of transactional theory and experience. Through the book’s transnational reception I found my own intellectual identity transformed from a mainstream Anglo-American philosopher into a provocative Grenzgänger or passeur culturel. These terms, with their evocation of risky border-crossing and smuggling, are very hard to translate into English, and I first learned them (and so much else) through the book’s complex history of fourteen translations, in a variety of different-sized editions.
Translation is inevitably transactional and transfigurative. Titles are often especially resistant to good literal translations, so just as the original English title Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art was transformed into a very different title in French (and then again in German and some other languages), I have taken the liberty of transforming the original French title for this show into an English one that highlights the theme of transactional aesthetics while retaining (in the show’s subtitle) the notions of pragmatism, art, and life that figure in the book’s title in both French and English (and the many other languages in which it has been published).
Aesthetic Transactions is an exhibition structured on two of the key themes of Pragmatist Aesthetics: First, aesthetic experience is not a passive, purposeless affair of disembodied contemplation but rather involves the active somatic engagement of purposive perceptual discrimination. Artworks are not only created through somatic action; their reception also involves the soma’s sensorimotor acts of perception and response, including its affective reactions. This core theme helps explain how the project of somaesthetics emerged as a logical consequence of my work in Pragmatist Aesthetics (and is already present there in embryonic form). The second key theme that shapes this exhibition is that the philosopher’s most useful role in aesthetics should not be that of a distanced, dispassionate spectator, a disinterested judge, or passively pleased consumer, but instead that of an actively engaged participant concerned with improving aesthetic experience by heightening perception and enriching creativity and meaning. With respect to art, this means engaging in the complex processes of art’s creative flourishing through the critical reception, theoretical elaboration, and curatorial presentation of art. But such engagement can sometimes extend still further to collaborating in the actual creation of artworks, even to the point of physical involvement in their making, indeed even so far as putting the philosopher’s own body into the artwork. The works here exhibited by Luca Del Baldo (in painting) and Yann Toma (in photography and video) illustrate this ultimate pragmatist bridging of somaesthetic theory and artistic practice, where my own philosophical soma (with its expressive energies and cultural shaping) becomes the substance for artistic rendering.
Though my soma is otherwise absent from the works in this show, all of them are from artists with whom I have collaborated in some way through their interest in my theories of pragmatist aesthetics and somaesthetics, and through my fascination with the compelling ways their work expressed and deepened insights that I struggled to formulate in conceptual terms. The fact that this collaboration arose through the medium of theory illustrates a fruitful aspect of experiential pragmatism that is worth thematizing in this exhibition. The idea is that pragmatist transactional theory involves an orientation toward openness and a sensitivity to practice that in turn enrich and refashion theory. In this instance, my pragmatist aesthetic theories brought me into contact with visual artists attracted by those theories but whose collaborative engagement extended and Tatiana Trouvé reshaped my theorizing in meaningful ways, including its range of topics. Such encounters in fact redirected my theory towards contemporary art.
Pragmatist Aesthetics hardly discusses contemporary art or the visual arts more generally. Its principal foci for aesthetic analysis were the arts of literature (especially poetry) and music (in the popular forms of rap and rock). Moreover, because its emancipatory arguments for a melioristic critical legitimation of popular art involved a pluralist critique of the exclusionary privilege accorded to the high art tradition of high-priced objects that Dewey disapprovingly dubbed “the museum conception of art,” the book’s pragmatist thrust might have seemed uncongenial to today’s extension of the high art tradition through artists who show in contemporary art museums and galleries. Yet the book’s core message of embodied transactional experience clearly spoke to certain artists whose ensuing dialogues with me directed my theorizing increasingly toward the visual arts. Some of the best of these artists generously provided the works displayed in this exhibition, and I take this opportunity to thank them again for their artistic quality, theoretical insights, and magnanimous friendship.
This is obviously a very personal show, and my long professional engagement with philosophy’s scientific quest for absolute objectivity and universality makes me well aware of its corresponding suspicion towards the personal approach or focus. But there are obvious exceptions: from Augustine’s Confessions to Montaigne’s Essays and then to Nietzsche (who held all philosophy was disguised autobiography), and even through to the introspective psychological probing of William James and the private notebooks of Wittgenstein. Just as “know thyself” formed the defining quest that first launched philosophy through Socrates’ interpretation of this Delphic maxim, so Descartes (a champion of objective certainty) started with the contents of his own subjective consciousness. What value could a philosophy of experience have without any personal perspective? Moreover, could our encounters with art be so inspiringly meaningful without the vivid affect and distinctive poetry of personal subjectivity? Art surely feels no need to apologize for being personal in its quest for truth or beauty, so why should philosophy, especially if it is construed pragmatically (as Socrates first defined it) as an art of living involving critical, meliorative care of the self rather than mere truth for truth’s sake?
MY DIALOGICAL ENGAGEMENT with the seven artists in this show has enriched my life experience as well as my thought, so it seems right to frame my discussion of their work by noting the contexts of our collaboration. Carsten Höller was the first of them to contact me, in 1996, prompted by his interest in Pragmatist Aesthetics’ themes of full bodied, participatory aesthetic experience and the blurring of the established oppositions between life and art, the aesthetic and the ethical, knowledge and amusement. He asked me to write the text for the provocative House for Pigs and People he was in the midst of creating with Rosemarie Trockel for documenta x (1997). A profoundly thoughtful artist concerned with highlighting the diversities, complexities, and multiple powers of aesthetic experience, Höller (with his doctorate in agricultural science) is also a master of transactional, cross-disciplinary creation, blending art and science in ways that engage the public’s embodied participation and that entertain (often with playful fun) as they edify, while highlighting that so-called visual art is always more than visual, involving a variety of somatic senses. Indeed, his amusingly instructive contribution to this show is meant to be experienced with one’s eyes closed. An intrinsically interactive work focused on our sense of proprioception (which neuroscience identifies as one of the distinctively somaesthetic senses), Höller’s Pinocchio Effect is based on experimental research on a proprioceptive perceptual illusion defined (in 1988) as “the Pinocchio Illusion” by James Lackner, whose further studies in proprioception are deployed in the somaesthetic arguments of my book Body Consciousness (Cambridge, 2008). The Pinocchio Effect involves the participant’s applying a vibrator to the biceps tendon of her arm while holding her nose with the hand of that arm. The vibrator stimulates muscle spindles in the biceps that would normally be stimulated by the muscle’s stretching, creating a kinesthetic illusion that the arm is moving away from the face. But since the fingers of that hand continue to give tactile sensations of contact with the nose, the subject feels her nose moving away from the face too and thus surprisingly growing longer. In creating a novel aesthetic experience that is dominantly proprioceptive, Höller’s piece also suggests that art’s illusionist powers also extend well beyond the visual.
I was introduced to Tatiana Trouvé at her show in the Miami-Basel art fair in early December 2007, the year she won the Marcel Duchamp Prize for young artists and a week after Le Monde ran a full-page commentary on the French translation of Body Consciousness. Immediately impressed by the exceptional beauty and unusual intelligence of her diverse oeuvre, I was happy to accept her invitation to explore this work from my pragmatist somaesthetic perspective by conducting a conversation with her, appearing along with essays by Robert Storr and Catherine Millet, for her book Tatiana Trouvé, published by Walther König in 2008. Our conversation, conducted in French, was entitled “Corps sans Figure” (“Body without a Face”), because I was particularly fascinated by the different ways that the soma is extremely central to Trouvé’s art and yet representations of it are entirely absent from her work. Though occasionally suggested through representational traces (such as a pair of shoes that peek out behind a panel that doesn’t quite reach the floor in Time Snares) or through indirect implication by strange contraptions that could suggest bodily use, the soma is perhaps most powerfully present in the transactional experience of her Polder installations whose reduced architectural spaces and furniture heighten one’s somatic awareness by making one feel one’s body is out of scale. I also find the soma strikingly evoked in her untitled “trees” of metal, leather, and epoxy paint, two of which are exhibited in this show. Their expressive standing forms suggest the body’s limbs, posture, and gesture, while their compositional layers of metal, leather, and paint evoke the body’s structure of bones covered by flesh and skin. Moreover, their beckoning beauty and congenial stature arouse a somatic sympathy that makes one feel one’s own body all the more. This feeling is heightened and complicated by one’s sense of the intense bodily effort that goes into the making of these pieces, including the extensive but meticulously detailed leather wrappings and lacings that simultaneously cover and reveal the metal skeleton.
Long before first meeting ORLAN at the 2008 Miami-Basel fair, I knew her as a body artist of amazingly bold originality and world-historical status; so I was happy to discover her interest in somaesthetics and to welcome her to some events in this field. ORLAN’s signature notion of Carnal Art converges with pragmatist somaesthetics in emphasizing the soma’s role as both the site of aesthetic experiences of pleasure and as a medium for creative self-fashioning. Her cosmetic surgeries are undertaken not to achieve a particular surgical result but to appreciate the transactional experiential process of remaking the self as a performative expression of individual freedom. The two photographic works exhibited in this show are taken from ORLAN’s 5th Surgery Performance, Operation-Opera, from Paris, July 6, 1991. They were earlier shown as part of a comprehensive solo exhibition of her Surgery-Performance Photos (the first ever held in the United States) that was organized by my Center for Body, Mind, and Culture at Florida Atlantic University in December 2010, in conjunction with the Center’s international conference on “Bodies of Art” in which ORLAN was a featured speaker. ORLAN Requests Silence from the Medical Team shows the artist in her harlequin hat and reading literature, clearly demonstrating her commitment to an aesthetics of performative process and pleasure that is at once serious and playful, as she formulates this point in her Carnal Art manifesto. “Carnal Art is not interested in the plastic surgery result, but in the process of surgery,” repudiating “the Christian denial of body-pleasure” and its “tradition of suffering and martyrdom.” Though ORLAN’s manifesto claims “the artist works on representation,” this should not, I think, be construed as limiting such work to visual images. There is a profoundly experiential dimension to ORLAN’s art of living and creation of character that goes far deeper than the representational surface or the skin.
Pan Gongkai is a shining exemplar of a contemporary Confucian polymath. Not only brilliantly successful in the genres of painting, installation, video, and architecture, he is also a proven master in the practical fields of art education and administration; and since 2002 he has served as president of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts and guided its remarkable development. Pan is equally accomplished as an erudite theorist, and we have spent many hours in Beijing in philosophical dialogues about art, some of which have been published in Chinese art journals. One key focus in these discussions concerns the relationships between art and life, including the pragmatist idea of the ethical art of living that I first developed in Pragmatist Aesthetics from the Western tradition but that (as I increasingly realized) can find particularly rich resources in the classical Confucian notion of an ethics of harmony in which ethical education rests on the twin aesthetic pillars of art and ritual.
Another key pragmatist theme I share with Pan Gongkai is cultural pluralism. For him as for me, this pluralism in the contemporary globalized lifeworld does not mean that artists or philosophers must provide completely hybrid work that totally blends the different cultural traditions of East and West with their different vocabularies, themes, and images. Such a universal hybridized fusion could yield a confusing hodgepodge that risks ruining the distinctive beauty of these diverse traditions. True pluralism also allows working in one’s own traditional vocabulary (painterly or conceptual) while being aware of its differences from other traditions. Pan’s abiding artistic passion in developing his beloved signature genre of lotus ink painting demonstrates the power of such commitment, as his works here show. One of them is a video of his 2011 Venice Biennale installation Snow Melting in Lotus, which dramatically demonstrates his ideal of cultural pluralism with respect for difference. Onto the two immense panels of black, ink-painted lotus (rendered in his contemporary-traditional style), Pan projects, in the form of snow, the white letters of the English translation of his text on modern Western art and art theory. If this work suggests that Western art and art theory are continuously projected into Chinese aesthetic culture (thus bringing new brightness), it also implies that such projected imports melt into the enduringly beautiful but continuously evolving Chinese forms of lotus, nourishing them with moisture but not burying, distorting, or displacing them. West and East coexist in active harmony and moving beauty, without an isolating separation, but also without coercive fusion.
Thecla Schiphorst, an interactive media artist and researcher in the burgeoning multidisciplinary field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), likewise brings dynamic harmonies of vibrant beauty to an opposition as perhaps pervasive and problematic as the East/West divide, that of body and technology. While sometimes treated as a machine and recognized as our primordial instrument (hence most intimate technology), the human soma is typically contrasted to machines because of its living nature, its organic materials and composition, and its purposive subjectivity. My somaesthetic project that emerged from Pragmatist Aesthetics seeks to remedy this troubling opposition (and related dualisms generated by the traditional body/mind dichotomy) by recognizing and integrating the soma’s twofold nature as both the material tool for performance and self-fashioning and as the perceptive subjectivity using these instrumental materialities. Schiphorst explicitly uses somaesthetics as the theoretical framework for her interactive media art, and I first came across her work through her research article “soft(n): Toward a Somaesthetics of Touch” that describes a project of soft, interactive sculptural forms that react to qualities of human touch and movement by emitting different sounds (humming, sighing, singing) and patterns of light and shaking movements. In Tendrils (exhibited here and created in collaboration with her former student Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo), Schiphorst develops her transactional somaesthetic inquiry toward the somatically central art of fashion. Tendrils is a responsive, kinetic wearable artwork, an interactive garment that responds to being touched, both when touched locally by direct contact on the garment’s surfaces and when touched collectively through remotely transmitted signals from an Iphone Touch App that are delivered through a networked link to wearable armbands that are a part of the Tendrils network. The theme of high-tech softness is highlighted here through the fabric’s soft, conductive silk organza and the garment’s gentle flowing and responsive form, as if it were a second living skin, tender and sensitive in its own reactions of shivering and quivering, yet also incorporated into the wearer’s somatic experience.
Tendrils stroke-sensors are hand-sewn, and its crucial use of stitching on this second skin connects it clearly to the works of the other female artists exhibited here: skin stitching is essential to ORLAN’s surgery, and it is also suggested in the leather lacings of Trouvé’s somatic trees, whose hard but pliantly shaped metal skeletons contrast powerfully with the soft connective tissue of Tendrils. If stitching more generally evokes the domestic, feminine-gendered arts of sewing, knitting, and quilting, then these works also invite different kinds of feminist readings or strategies: from ORLAN’s outspoken affirmation of Carnal Art as militantly feminist, to Schiphorst’s explicit “embracing of ‘radically soft things’” as “a counterpoint to, or a critique of, the hard,” and then to Trouvé’s bewitchingly nuanced brew of softly bending shapes in immaculately laced leather skins that highlight rather than conceal the beauty of their hard skeletal core. In first selecting these works, I never thought of juxtaposing them in terms of a feminist interpretation, but women’s issues pervade the field of somaesthetics, because our culture has so long and so profoundly identified women with their bodies. Since its meliorist agenda involves a critique of oppressive body norms while not abandoning the quest for somatic beauty and pleasure, somaesthetics has often been adopted as a framework for feminist theorizing outside the realm of art.
Men also have bodies that are subject to the judgmental gaze of disapproval, derision, or desire; bodies that are often painfully experienced as the locus of anxiety, discomfort, impotence, and illness; bodies that age and fail, that suffer and die; bodies that we male philosophers have traditionally sought to ignore or escape by identifying the true self with the mind, while identifying true life with the life of thought (as if such life could have any real content or energy without the sentient soma). Male bodies have also been the subjects of beautiful artistic renderings, and they are obviously essential to the artistic performance of male artists and the aesthetic experience of male viewers. Transactional pragmatist aesthetics thus demands a somaesthetics for all genders, as all art is created and perceived through the body.
As Pragmatist Aesthetics unexpectedly earned me the controversial status of a rap philosopher and hip-hop fanzine columnist (aka Rich Frosted), so the somaesthetic research I undertook to write Body Consciousness transformed me not simply into a body philosopher but more surprisingly into a professional somatic educator and therapist (in the Feldenkrais Method). I realized that good pragmatist theory is best nourished by real practical know-how, which is best acquired through professional training and practice. But my theory-generated somaesthetic transformations of identity have evidently gone still further, stretching my philosophical self-image into forms even stranger than that of body therapist. Yann Toma and Luca Del Baldo invited me to participate in their creative process by being a collaborative model and performer. And how could a pragmatist theorist who insisted in putting the body back into philosophy and aesthetics refuse that invitation, especially when I argued that philosophy should be practiced as an embodied, transformative way of life? If I talked the talk, shouldn’t I also walk the walk? Besides, what better way to answer the question, recurrently posed by artists attending my lectures and workshops, “what is the connection between somaesthetics and contemporary art?” than by making that connection myself, by putting my own somaesthetic intelligence at the service of contemporary creation and by inserting my own body into the work of art.
My story with Yann Toma is older and longer, but let me here begin with Luca Del Baldo who contacted me in December 2010 to participate in his project of painting small oil portraits of influential theorists of culture, portraits based on photographed head shots that the theorist supplied and then complemented by a short text of response to the portrait. As Del Baldo provided me with a continuing flow of draft stages of my portrait, replete with commentary and questions about my reactions to this process, we developed a sense of aesthetic collaboration and camaraderie. So when the Sorbonne proposed that I curate a show connected to my work, I mentioned the project to Luca who proposed that we think of doing a special new work for it. Rather than another head, wouldn’t it be better, he argued, for a body philosopher to present more of the body; and he explained that “more” meant not only including the torso but also revealing it, tel quel, in frontal nakedness.
We collaborated in choosing the portrait’s pose (from a host of photos I sent him, taken specially for this occasion) and later in selecting its colored mood and title. If the title Through the Arcade evokes something of the bizarre, disorienting fantasy of Through the Looking Glass — but displaced from rustic nineteenth-century Britain to the contemporary maze of posthuman arcade video games, then it also suggests the curious, errant, anxious flâneur of Walter Benjamin’s famous Arcades Project, who can savor even the discomfort involved in a continuous (perhaps compulsive) transactional crossing of boundaries that are spatial, social, and mental. The posture and facial expression in the work are likewise mysteriously vague, perhaps because they were spontaneous improvisations. Unaccustomed to posing naked, I simply raised my hands as a confessional shrug of helpless uncertainty.
Meanings, however, abound. If the hands’ prominence identifies them as crucial instruments for both the philosopher’s writing and the artist’s painting, their gestural configuration of fingers has hieratic connotations: but whether it’s the traditional Jewish priestly blessing or Star Trek’s futuristic Vulcan salute is unclear. Despite the figure’s bare, direct frontal disclosure with the arms and hands raised and even the palms openly exposed so nothing is concealed, the meaning of this pose remains a mystery of absent narrative context. Am I a commanding prophet (perhaps from the mythic naturalist realm of Arcadia) or a lover raising his hands in wondering worship of his beauty waiting in bed, or instead a cautious victim held up by a bedroom gunman, or a wistful adulterer surprised by an angry wife or husband? Sometimes I see myself merely as a naked philosopher with embarrassingly nothing in his hands to give the public, nothing except those hovering circles of light promising enlightenment and wholeness that may be as empty or fragile as soap bubbles. Still there remain the pragmatist values of experimentation and meliorist striving, the aesthetic experience of collaborative creation, and even the cognitive gains from exploring new practices that provoke new sensations, spur new energies and attitudes, and thus probe one’s current limits and perhaps transcend them to transform the self.
My work with Yann Toma epitomizes this experiential method of transactional aesthetic inquiry. Experience was indeed the theme of our first encounter in 2006, a short video interview for his project with the Collège International de Philosophie, where each selected philosopher had to give an impromptu lecture on a key concept central to that philosopher’s work, my choice being experience. Toma’s key themes are energy and light, which he treats in two complementary ways. First, in the spirit of conceptual art, he acquired the ownership of a defunct Paris electric company, Ouest-Lumière, and gave it new life as a virtual company for real artistic interventions, such as the project Dynamo Fukushima at the Parisian Grand Palais (2011), with eighteen thousand cyclists pedaling on stationary bikes with dynamos to create energy symbolically sent to Japan. The second way is through his practice of Radiant Flux, a form of space writing in which Toma tries to capture and visually represent the invisible aura of the person posing for him, an aura he perceives as a continuously changing, contextually sensitive energetic force emanating from the person’s body. After posing his photographic subject in a totally dark setting (normally indoors), positioning his camera on a tripod, and adjusting its setting for long exposure, Toma — dressed in black to make himself less visible and holding a hand lamp — releases the camera shutter and approaches the subject’s soma to trace its aura with the lamp’s light and then returns to close the shutter to complete the shot. The resulting photograph shows the subject framed by energetic lines of light.
Knowing my work in somaesthetics and my experimental temperament, Toma invited me for a weekend of shooting at the beautiful medieval Royaumont Abbey in mid-June, 2010. Disinclined to leave the glorious sunshine for the blackened shooting room, I was even more reluctant to put on the shiny gold lycra body stocking that Toma insisted would make my aura more perceptible and energetic. Though he usually does not demand this of most subjects, he thought I was slim and bold enough to inhabit that glittering second skin, and I was surprised he was right. But after a long day and night of docile static posing in the dark, my deep somaesthetic drives for sunshine and movement made me suddenly bolt from the blackened room into the Abbey’s sunny, flower-fragrant courtyard and gardens. Grabbing his movie camera, Toma chased after me, filming my capering ramble through the Abbey grounds and ruins, which then prompted me to improvise scenarios of dance and gesture that fit my playful mood and picturesque environment, even approaching a group of tourists before returning to the Abbey’s private quarters to dine with its owners (our weekend hosts), who, stunned by my attire, dubbed me “L’homme en Or” (“The Man in Gold”). This new persona signaled a real change in our transactional aesthetic experience that Toma happily welcomed. By shifting the photographic setting, determining the poses, and even transforming the genre from still photography to video of me in movement, I had become a real partner in artistic creation. We decided to continue this collaborative enterprise by nocturnal outdoor filming in Paris and then in other scenic spots, such as the city, ramparts, and coast of Cartagena (Colombia) and the beaches of South Florida, generating a distinct genre of Somaflux in photographic stills and films, some of which are presented here.
The artistic meanings of the Somaflux series, as I elsewhere explain, go far beyond the represented images in print or on screen. They involve a complex art of collaborative performative process, a developing dance of intuitive communication (of energies, feelings, and intentions) and cooperative improvisation that ultimately issues in photographic prints or video but is itself extremely rich in shared aesthetic experience for those involved in that creative performative process. My artistic experience as L’homme en Or raises an important question emerging from pragmatist aesthetics’ advocacy of philosophy as an art of living: what is the relation between the art of living and the art of the artworld? The issue is too complex for a general answer here, but I can offer this personal example. Commitment to my philosophical art of living through the pragmatist perspective of transactional experience was what generated my artistic transformation into L’homme en Or, just as it generated the artworld works in which he appears. Conversely, that artistic transformation helped transform myself as a philosopher, both by providing me new insights into the performative process and aesthetic experience of artistic creation that I subsequently formulated in theoretical publications, and by extending my sense of personal identity as a transactional philosopher of the art of living to include this golden, free-spirited, aesthetic avatar who by extending my experience into new roles and contexts also expands my self and my self-knowledge. In other words, L’homme en Or is not a mere masquerade for making art images that conceal or disguise my real identity; he is rather an embodied projection of that genuine but complex and mutable identity (continuously in the making), an incorporated extension that helps shape, enrich, and transform it further. If my work as L’homme en Or had not freed me from some deep inhibitions, I would have never entertained the idea of posing nude for a painting like Del Baldo’s nor had the courage to exhibit it in public.
The act of publicly displaying myself in these ways risks the charge of exhibitionism, but it also continues the pragmatist project of transactional aesthetics into curatorial work and public artworld spaces, while integrating it with the philosophical project of self-knowledge by revealing oneself to others. Exposing myself in this way to an unknown public will surely test me in ways beyond those I faced in posing for two artist friends. (I try not to imagine what awaits me here.) Yet how can we have self-knowledge without self-exposure? We need the other’s viewpoint on ourselves to see our blind spots and know ourselves more wholly. Thus Socrates explains to Alcibiades that the self needs a loving other to properly see itself, just as one can see one’s own face reflected in one’s lover’s eyes. If art can provide such reflective transactions by which a philosopher can come to see and transform himself through self-exposure, if such artistic self-exposure can attract the attention of others whose reactions can further enrich philosophical self-knowledge, then why not embrace such experimentation? Why not risk, in practice, a fuller union of those ancient, often hostile, lovers: art and philosophy? Must a philosopher, to sustain his integrity, continue to abuse his loves by treating them only with critical attention, whether of probing interpretive analysis or imperious verdicts of value? I hope the experience of Aesthetic Transactions will reveal an alternative and a complement.