Modern Aesthetics, a course at Tate Modern. Notes from the final session. Martin Heidegger 'The Origin of the Work of Art', a shortened version of which is reading 30 in the set book.
This is the toughest of the readings we have looked at in this course. If you are going to re-read the Heidegger essay, I recommend downloading Timothy Quigley's very clear notes on his New School, New York website here. Click on the > next to 'schedule' in the lefthand column. Scroll down to weeks 9 and 10 and click on the little > signs next to the files you want. The pdfs should download straight away (he has given permission to link to this page).
Heidegger's essay is about 'the thinglyness of things'- but what can that possibly mean?
We concentrated on Heidegger's tripartite distinction between an object like a stone which is 'worldless' (meaning something like it is not part of a community's shared human understanding), a piece of equipment (i.e. anything shaped for human use - the material vanishes as it is transformed into equipment), and the work of art (which Heidegger believes can reveal or 'unconceal' truth and actually create a world).
Van Gogh's painting of a well-worn pair of boots that Heidegger takes to belong to a peasant woman (but Meyer Schapiro claimed were the artist's own boots), provides Heidegger with a pretext for a passage of purple prose in which he imagines a somewhat romanticized version of the world of the peasant woman via the image of the boots. (Hints of the Nazi obsession with national soil are left in here, but I suspect in a much toned down version from the original 1930s lectures on which this essay was based).The painting discloses the equipmentality of equipment, in Heidegger's jargon, which roughly means that by looking at the painting we are jolted in to a different kind of understanding of the nature of the objects that form part of a human being's world. The boots themselves (the 'equipment' here) probably wouldn't produce this effect. As Heidegger puts it in his strangely contorted and often wilfully obscure language:
'Van Gogh's painting is the disclosure of what the equipment, the pair of peasant shoes, is in truth This entity emerges in to the unconcealedness of its being.' (It is ironic then if these were in truth a painting of the artist's own shoes, and perhaps metaphorically about mortality rather than about peasant toil).
The material that is used up in making a piece of equipment, is itself foregrounded in a work of art in a way that is not either for a brute stone nor for any piece of equipment.
In the gallery we concentrated on several pieces by Roni Horn in the Roni Horn aka Roni Horn exhibition, contrasting them with the notion of a worldless stone, and exploring the question of whether they set forward their own material existence (unlike a piece of equipment that uses up its raw materials). For these works at least, what we extracted from the thicket of Heidegger's prose gave some insights into the particular pieces.
If you want to read Being and Time (Heidegger's major philosophical work), Hubert Dreyfus of U.C. Berkeley has a full podcast lecture course of over 20 lectures (free) on iTunesU in the UC Berkeley, Philosophy section. It is course Philosophy 185. This link to his first lecture might work if you have iTunes loaded. Poor sound quality, but Dreyfus is renowned as one of the clearer expositors of a notoriously difficult thinker.