Archive for the ‘ M ’ Category


Dates: 1924-

Nationality: American

Joseph Zalman Margolis (born on May 16, 1924 in Newark, New Jersey) is an American philosopher. A radical historicist, he has published many books critical of the central assumptions of Western philosophy, and has elaborated a robust form of relativism. His own investigations into “ourselves” have proceeded with a focus on a consideration of the arts as an expression of human being. In What, After All, Is a Work of Art? (1999) and Selves and Other Texts (2001), he elaborated upon his earlier work on the ontological similarity between human persons and artworks. The latter – defined as “physically embodied, culturally emergent entities” – he treats as examples of “human utterance.” Margolis argues that the cultural world is a semantically and semiotically dense domain, filled with self-interpreting texts, acts and artifacts.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Joseph Margolis’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 October 2010, 06:55 UTC, <>

What, After All, Is a Work of Art? directs our attention toward historicity, the inherent historied nature of thinking, and the artifactual, culturally emergent nature of both art and human selves. While these are familiar themes in Margolis’s well-known studies of art and culture, they are largely neglected in English-language aesthetics and even philosophy in general.

Margolis brings these primary themes to bear on a number of strategically selected issues: the modernism/postmodernism dispute; the treatment of modernist and “post-historical” painting in Clement Greenberg and Arthur Danto; the coherence of relativism in interpreting art and the relevance of cultural relativity; the difference between artworks and persons as culturally constituted entities in contrast to natural entities and with regard to the logic of interpretation; the import of film on the theory of the relationship between understanding ourselves and understanding art, with special attention to the views of Walter Benjamin; and the propriety of the analogy between artworks and selves, as cultural entities, by way of treating the arts (also history, action, and language) as a form of human “utterance.”

Although the argument is largely focused on certain particularly strenuous puzzles in the philosophy of art, the validity of Margolis’s claims are more far reaching. If, through incorporating the reality of physical and biological nature, the emergence of art and human selves cannot rest satisfactorily on exemplars selected from nature alone, then certain fashionable views of science, of canons of understanding, conceptual resources, logic, rationality, and the like may well have to yield ground to ampler models that have been largely marginalized or overridden. In particular, the admission of historicity, the nerve of Margolis’s argument, invites a decisive conceptual reorientation.




Dates: 1908-1961

Nationality: French

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (March 14, 1908 – May 3, 1961) was a French phenomenological philosopher, strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger in addition to being closely associated with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. At the core of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy is a sustained argument for the foundational role that perception plays in understanding the world as well as engaging with the world. Like the other major phenomenologists Merleau-Ponty expressed his philosophical insights in writings on art, literature, linguistics, and politics; however Merleau-Ponty was the only major phenomenologist of the first half of the Twentieth Century to engage extensively with the sciences, and especially with descriptive psychology. Because of this engagement, his writings have become influential with the recent project of naturalizing phenomenology in which phenomenologists utilize the results of psychology and cognitive science.

It is important to clarify, and indeed emphasize, that the attention Merleau-Ponty pays to diverse forms of art (visual, plastic, literary, poetic, etc) should not be attributed to a concern with beauty per se. Nor is his work an attempt to elaborate normative criteria for “art.” Thus, one does not find in his work a theoretical attempt to discern what constitutes a major work or a work of art, or even handicraft.

Still, it is useful to note that, while he does not establish any normative criteria for art as such, there is nonetheless in his work a prevalent distinction between primary and secondary modes of expression. This distinction appears in Phenomenology of Perception (p 207, 2nd note {Fr. ed.}) and is sometimes repeated in terms of spoken and speaking language (le langage parlé et le langage parlant) (The Prose of the World, p. 10). Spoken language (le langage parlé), or secondary expression, returns to our linguistic baggage, to the cultural heritage that we have acquired, as well as the brute mass of relationships between signs and significations. Speaking language (le langage parlant), or primary expression, such as it is, is language in the production of a sense, language at the advent of a thought, at the moment where it makes itself an advent of sense.

It is speaking language, that is to say, primary expression, that interests Merleau-Ponty and which keeps his attention through his treatment of the nature of production and the reception of expressions, a subject which also overlaps with an analysis of action, of intentionality, of perception, as well as the links between freedom and external conditions.

The notion of style occupies an important place in “Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence”. In spite of certain similarities with André Malraux, Merleau-Ponty distinguishes himself from Malraux in respect to three conceptions of style, the last of which is employed in Malraux’s The Voices of Silence. Merleau-Ponty remarks that in this work “style” is sometimes used by Malraux in a highly subjective sense, understood as a projection of the artist’s individuality. Sometimes it is used, on the contrary, in a very metaphysical sense (in Merleau-Ponty’s opinion, a mystical sense), in which style is connected with a conception of an “über-artist” expressing “the Spirit of Painting.” Finally, it sometimes is reduced to simply designating a categorization of an artistic school or movement.

For Merleau-Ponty, it is these uses of the notion of style that lead Malraux to postulate a cleavage between the objectivity of Italian Renaissance painting and the subjectivity of painting in his own time, a conclusion that Merleau-Ponty disputes. According to Merleau-Ponty, it is important to consider the heart of this problematic, by recognizing that style is first of all a demand owed to the primacy of perception, which also implies taking into consideration the dimensions of historicity and intersubjectivity.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Maurice Merleau-Ponty’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 10 December 2010, 22:23 UTC, <>


Dates: 1897-1974

Nationality: American

Thomas Munro was a philosopher of art and professor of art history at Western Reserve University. He served as Curator of Education for the Cleveland Museum of Art for 36 years (1931-67). He was educated at Amherst College (B.A. 1916) and Columbia University (M.A. 1917), where he was influenced by philosopher and educator John Dewey. Munro served as a sergeant with the psychological services of the Army Medical Corps before returning to Columbia to get his Ph.D.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Thomas Munro’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 December 2010, 02:35 UTC, <>

Rejecting the time-honored view of art in all its forms as timeless, transcendent productions of the human spirit, Munro, then a young instructor of philosophy at Rutgers, insisted that all art works were products of a specific time and place. As such, he argued, they reflected the styles and conventions, values and biases of their eras and cultures.

“Strictly speaking,” he elaborated in a 1943 essay, “the ingredients of a work of art are not really ‘in’ the object (e.g., a painting) as a physical thing, but largely in the behavior of humans toward it. People respond to a given type of art in a more or less similar way, because of similarities in their innate equipment and cultural conditioning, and tend to project these responses onto the object which arouses them, as if they were attributes of the object itself.” (This explains why some art or music or writing can be hailed as great or important art at some time or place, and exert no appeal at all to later generations or other population groups.)

But since we also come to a work of art as individuals, “no two persons will see exactly the same thing in a picture, for each is led by his nature and habits to select slightly different aspects for special notice.”

Thus, said Munro, it is meaningless to “’describe’ a work of art as beautiful or ugly, pleasant or unpleasant, well or badly drawn.” Or, for that matter, to make rigid distinctions between “fine” art and objects made for “use,” with the implication that non-useful arts are somehow superior. Musical compositions, he pointed out, often had utilitarian purposes, as did such elements of visual art as compositional organization. Nor should one look down on so-called “decorative” art, since “all arts contain some decoration and design as well as some representation.”

Such traditional distinctions and rankings must be recognized, in other words, for what they are: subjective or learned cultural biases. By the same token, the attempt to explain art as the self-expression of the artist is, Munro argued, doomed to irrelevance since the artist’s intent, to the extent that it was conscious at all, could not be subjected to scientific scrutiny. Indeed, with the development of scientific and rational thought—and such disciplines as historiography, psychoanalysis, sociology, semantics and phenomenology—humanity is able, perhaps for the first time in history, to throw real light on what art is and, more to the point, how it impacts viewers in the ways that it does.



Dates: 1882-1973

Nationality: French

Jacques Maritain (November 18, 1882 – April, 28 1973) was a French Catholic philosopher. Raised as a Protestant, he converted to Catholicism in 1906. An author of more than 60 books, he helped to revive St. Thomas Aquinas for modern times and is a prominent drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Pope Paul VI presented his “Message to Men of Thought and of Science” at the close of Vatican II to Maritain, his long-time friend and mentor. Maritain’s interest and works spanned many aspects of philosophy, including aesthetics, political theory, the philosophy of science, metaphysics, education, liturgy and ecclesiology.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Jacques Maritain’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 December 2010, 09:17 UTC, <>

Maritain had a long-standing interest in art and the arts. From one of his earliest books, Art et Scolastique [Art and Scholasticism] (1920), through work addressing the painter Georges Rouault and the author, Jean Cocteau [e.g., Art and Faith: Letters Between Jacques Maritain and Jean Cocteau], to Frontières de la Poésie [Art and Poetry] (1935), Situation de la Poésie [The Situation of Poetry] (1938), Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (1953) and The Responsibility of the Artist (1960), one finds sustained attention given to the topic. This is no surprise. Maritain’s wife, Raïssa, was a poet, and Maritain counted among his friends and acquaintances the artists, Marc Changall and Georges Rouault, the authors Georges Bernanos, Jean Cocteau, and Julien Green, and the composer Arthur Lourie.

The focus of Maritain’s writing is not aesthetic theory or even aesthetic experience, but art and the nature of beauty. Maritain sought to engage the world of the contemporary arts, but he was also critical of much of the aesthetics that was implied by it; he proposed to uncover principles of art at a time at which talk of such principles had already become somewhat suspect. His familiarity with the arts made his work relevant and accessible to those who engaged in them, and although his early work drew from his knowledge of western art, in his later work he also wrote about that found in Asian and Indian cultures.

A distinctive feature of Maritain’s discussion of art is his account of what art is. For Maritain, art is “a virtue of the practical intellect that aims at making” (Art and Scholasticism, p. 13; Creative Intuition, p. 49); it is, then, a virtue that is found in artisans and artists alike. The virtue or “habitus” of art, Maritain writes, is not simply an “interior growth of spontaneous life,” but has an intellectual character and involves cultivation and practice. As a characteristic of the practical intellect, art is not a speculative or a theoretical activity; it aims not just at knowing, but at doing. Finally, Maritain writes that the ‘making’ at which art aims is something that is demanded by the end of the activity itself, not the particular interest of the artist.

On Maritain’s view, what distinguishes the fine arts from the work of artisans is that the fine arts are primarily concerned with beauty — i.e., “that which upon being seen pleases” (Art and Scholasticism, p. 23; Creative Intuition, p. 160); this classical view, again adapted from Aquinas, runs counter to some of the principal trends in aesthetics and art since the eighteenth century. Maritain insisted, however, that his view of the place of beauty in art was more consistent with the nature of artistic activity. Even though a work of art is an end in itself, the general end of art is beauty. Thus, since art is a virtue that aims at making, to be an artist requires aiming at making beautiful things (Art and Scholasticism, p. 33).

Beauty can be found in nature as well as in art. While beauty affects human beings through the senses, and while the awareness of beauty does not involve abstraction (as does knowledge in the sciences), nevertheless, beauty is an object of the intellect. Maritain, following Aquinas, says that beauty “delights the understanding”; the appreciation of art, on the part of the spectator, then, involves awakening the intelligence.

Art has both subjective and objective dimensions. The activity of artistic creation is clearly something that is carried out by a subject. Moreover, Maritain acknowledges that beauty is analogical — just as ‘good’ is; just as each thing is good in its own way, so each thing is beautiful in its own way. Still, beauty is not something purely subjective or relative. Beauty — and, by extension, art — is something that involves integrity, proportion, and splendor or clarity, which are objective qualities. More broadly, art has a relation to the world; it can be a response to the world, but its expression is also determined by the world and by the work itself. (This also serves to put the ambitions and pretensions of the artist into perspective.) Finally, beauty and art have a connection to the spiritual and spiritual experience (Creative Intuition, p. 178). As a creative activity, it is ultimately dependent upon (and Maritain says that it is “ordained to”) the creator and, therefore, it has a relation to the divine and to the transcendentals of goodness, truth, and unity.

A second key feature of Maritain’s views on art is his discussion of art in relation to freedom; his views here not only reflect his metaphysics, but bear on his political philosophy. Artistic activity is, for Maritain, part of the basic drive in humans to create and make. It requires freedom — and, thus, the artist must be free. For Maritain, freedom is a fundamental characteristic of the human person. But this freedom is not absolute. Maritain reminds his readers that freedom is not license to do whatever one chooses. Freedom in all its forms is ultimately subject to truth and, for the artist, it is also subject to “the spiritual conditions of honest work” (Art and Scholasticism, p. 4). Maritain would say that artistic activity is analogous to divine free creative activity (see his letters to Cocteau); “the highest natural resemblance to God’s activity” (Art and Faith, p. 89).

While Maritain rejects the subordination of the artist to politics and to religious authority, he also denies that artists are answerable only to themselves. The creative self, he writes, “dies to itself in order to live in [its] work” (Creative Intuition, p. 144). Moreover, Maritain writes that art ‘perfects’ the artist; that by engaging in this activity there is “a perfecting of the spirit” (Art and Scholasticism, p. 62). The freedom that Maritain ascribes to artists, then, is not a lawless freedom.

A third distinctive feature of Maritain’s philosophy of art is his account of artistic (or what he sometimes calls ‘poetic’) knowledge. Maritain notes the focus on the awareness of the self as characteristic of art from the time of the German romantics, and recognises its value so far as it challenges the emphasis on reason and mechanical technique. This artistic knowledge is an instance of what Maritain calls, in general, knowledge though connaturality; it is a kind of ‘creative intuition’ that arises out of “the free creativity of the spirit” (Creative Intuition, p. 112; Natural Law, p. 18). Maritain also describes it as a “grasping, by the poet, of his own subjectivity in order to create” (Creative Intuition, p. 113). Maritain places this knowledge at the level of the preconscious intellect. It is non-conceptual, non-rational, and “obscure” (Creative Intuition, p. 18; see Natural Law, p. 18). Nor is it, as much knowledge is, a knowledge of essences. Nevertheless, it is still connected to “intellectual act”. It is a knowledge of reality — of a “concrete reality” — albeit one that “tends and extends to the infinite” (Creative Intuition, p. 126). This kind of knowledge lies at the basis, not only of artistic activity, but also moral and mystical experience.

Maritain’s views on art had a significant influence on a number of artists, writers, and composers of his time, not only on his interlocutors. The American writer, Flannery O’Connor; regarded Art and Scholasticism as the book that she “cut [her] aesthetic teeth on” (O’Connor, The Habit of Being, 1979, p. 216). While certainly no longer central in contemporary debate in aesthetics, Maritain’s views continue to have a broad audience.

Sweet, William, “Jacques Maritain”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>


Dates: 1960-Present

Origin: United States

Key Artists: On Kawara, Ray Johnson

Term applied to art sent through the post rather than displayed or sold through conventional commercial channels, encompassing a variety of media including postcards, books, images made on photocopying machines or with rubber stamps, postage stamps designed by artists, concrete poetry and other art forms generally considered marginal. Although Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters and the Italian Futurists have been cited as its precursors, as a definable international movement it can be traced to practices introduced in the early 1960s by artists associated with Fluxus, Nouveau Réalisme and the Gutai group and most specifically to the work of Ray Johnson. From the mid-1950s Johnson posted poetic mimeographed letters to a select list of people from the art world and figures from popular culture, which by 1962 he had developed into a network that became known as the New York Correspondence School of Art.

Held jr, John. “Correspondence art.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 12 Mar. 2010 <;

Ray Johnson


Dates: 1958-1975

Origin: United States

Key Artists: Donald Judd, Dan Flavin

As a style and a philosophically based movement, Minimal art developed to its fullest extent in the 1960s, although its repercussions continue to affect contemporary art into the 1990s. Like Pop art, which appeared in galleries in New York and Los Angeles only a year before Minimalism, it is characterized by hard-edged planes, anonymous facture, and an industrial sensibility developed in reaction to the painterly, emotion-driven forms of Abstract Expressionism. Unlike the Abstract Expressionists, many of the artists associated with Minimal art produced three-dimensional works. Although most had been trained as painters, the desire to suppress the illusionism inherent in painting and to explore the possibilities of real space led many of them to wallbound reliefs and finally to sculpture. The distinctions between painting and sculpture had begun to blur in the 1950s, and by 1965 Donald Judd was able to assert that much contemporary three-dimensional work might resemble sculpture but that it was nearer to painting, from which it retained its predominantly rectangular format and the use of color. While sculptors explored the effects of polychromy, painters associated with Minimalism tended to work monochromatically, in neutral, industrial colors. Resolutely abstract, Minimal art avoided figure-ground relationships in painting and any anthropomorphic reference that might associate it with sculptural statuary.

Colpitt, Frances. “Minimalism.” Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Ed. Michael Kelly. Oxford Art Online. 12 Mar. 2010 <;

Donald Judd



Dates: 1920-1960

Origin: International

Key Artists: Balthus, Edward Hopper

In the nineteenth century Realism had a special meaning as an art term. Since the rise of modern art, realism, or realist, or realistic, has come to be primarily a stylistic description, referring to painting or sculpture that continues to represent things in a way that more or less pre-dates Post-Impressionism and the succession of modern styles that followed. It is also true however, that much of the best modern realist art has the edginess of subject matter that was the essential characteristic of nineteenth-century Realism. In the twentieth century, realism saw an upsurge in the 1920s when the shock of the First World War brought a reaction, known as the return to order, to the avant-garde experimentation of the pre-war period.

“Modern Realism.” 12 March 2010.<;