One may think that arts and philosophy are different endeavours both in their methods and content. However, there are points at which the gap between them is minimal, allowing each to develop more fully. This is a point where a movie causes us to think deeply about ourselves or a philosophical text incites our emotions while we are reading it. This close relationship between arts and philosophy can be beneficial for both endeavours. Let’s see how they can help each other.

Arts and philosophy have always sustained their differences. Art forms convey their messages in  an aesthetic fashion. The aestheticism of the expressions of different arts may make them vague  or ambiguous. Their main purpose is not to convey conceptually clear information but to be beautiful. That is why they may appear to be unintelligible from time to time.

On the other hand, philosophy aims to make what is unintelligible, intelligible. One goal of philosophy is to distinguish between different sense data, naming them distinctively, and revealing their relations to each other. It systemises by conceptualising and articulating what is ambiguous or vague. Let’s call this characteristic of philosophy conceptualisation. On the other hand, let’s call art’s aesthetic character beautification. In the naming and distinguishing of different characteristics of arts and philosophy, I am making them intelligible to our perception and reason.

The famous Greek philosopher Plato bans poetry from his ideal state in his Republic. The reason for this may be understood by the aesthetic character of art since it creates ambiguity and vagueness. Plato wishes to leave no room for what is unintelligible since it cannot be controlled by reason. One of the philosopher king’s duties is to make everything intelligible. That is, to make everything understandable and decipherable. Thus, it can be manipulated as one wishes. This process of intelligibility is not exclusive to philosophy, it is inherent in our daily lives. We differentiate between numerous sensuous data every day so that we can manipulate what is around us. We must detach one object from another to be able to function through them. I must distinguish between my glass and laptop so that I can drink coffee, use my laptop and not spill my coffee on my laptop. Philosophy makes this process of intelligibility for far more complex topics  such as epistemology or metaphysics. Epistemologists differentiate between various forms of knowledge and qualify, or assess them accordingly. Philosophers who are interested in ontology make these distinctions at the level of existence by investigating the relations of objects and enquiring how they construe a reality. Metaphysicians name different properties of physical reality whether it is time or objecthood. So, every branch of philosophy tries to make its object of investigation more intelligible.

By pointing out their unique properties and demonstrating art's relation to its creator or history, philosophers of art aim to understand the artworks. Understanding them requires a careful  assessment of the nature of every different artwork and requires detailed classifications,  distinctions, and concepts. In a painting, what does a line refer to? What does this colour mean? How do these parts create this thing which we call artwork? All these questions are raised to make artwork intelligible. There are different classifications and concepts for different arts because every art has its own language. Painting beautifies and conveys through colours and shapes,  literature via natural languages, theater through both words and body, dance uses only the body,  and music uses notes, rhythms, and compositions.

I said above that philosophy conceptualises and art beautifies. I must note here that these two  help each other to fulfil their duties. Philosophy gives art the necessary concepts to understand  and analyse the contents of the artworks so that they become intelligible. Without the help of  philosophy, art would stay unintelligible. Imagine that you are trying to understand a painting without any concepts in mind. You can’t distinguish between the references of lines and colours. In other words, you could not interpret it without the help of philosophical concepts. Art also helps philosophy to make its concepts beautiful. If philosophy books were written without any aesthetic concern (there are books as such), they would all be like encyclopaedias. That would make philosophy extremely inaccessible. Beautification of concepts helps others to understand and create new ones. Beautifying a concept would include giving a story about a concept, or placing it in everyday life to open that concept to other ways of understanding. In other words, it helps philosophers to create and understand each other. We can see this in the criticism and interpretation of different arts. We should also note that in some universities, philosophy is localised as one of the arts. This means that the close relationship between the two endeavours goes back in time. Think about Leonardo da Vinci, he was a scientist, philosopher, and artist. Now, the picture is set, and there seems to be no problem. Art and philosophy help each other to make themselves beautiful and intelligible.

There may be a problem in the reciprocal relationship between arts and philosophy. This problem manifests itself in the form of extremes, namely, the reduction of art or philosophy to mere conceptualisation or beautification. When we attempt to understand every artwork through the tools of philosophy, we may overlook the emotions, feelings, and excitement that art is meant to convey. Excessive conceptualisation can result in the loss of imaginative and emotional value. Similarly, reducing concepts to sensibility alone can prevent their formation into intelligible ideas that are useful for philosophical inquiry. Therefore, it is important to strike a balance between intelligibility and beauty. Finding this balance would enable the creation of both beautiful and intelligible books and artworks. To achieve this balance, we should open philosophy to art and vice versa. By doing so, neither artworks nor philosophical ideas would be reduced, and their full value could be appreciated. Only by embracing the interplay between philosophy and art can we transcend the limitations of each discipline and tap into a realm of creativity and thought that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Share this post