An Old Idea Whose Time Has Come

Spring                                                                           Bloodroot Moon

In May some docent friends from the class of 2005, a rowdy class and proud of it, will go to
Chicago for a time with the arts scene there.  Like my visit to the National Gallery a couple of weeks ago this too will be an exercise in part in discovering how to keep the arts active and alive in my life.

One of us has decided to offer a mini-tour on an object at the Chicago Art Institute.  I decided I would do one, too.  My plan is to focus on methods of analysis, including the praxis idea I wrote about yesterday.

Ever since I got seriously interested in Ovid, my seminary education in biblical criticism has niggled at the back of my mind.  Why?  Well, biblical criticism, the higher criticism in particular, uses scholarly methodology for exegesis.  Exegesis tries first to get at the plain meaning of the text in its context.  It precedes the task of hermeneutics, that is, interpretation of the text for a contemporary audience.  What’s niggled at me is that neither exegesis nor hermeneutics is peculiar to the study of scripture.

In fact, exegetical method can be applied to other texts, whether in a foreign language or not, just as hermeneutics can be applied to the resulting exegesis.  As this thought persisted I kept wanting to create a method for using exegetical tools designed for literature in the service of art history.

Well, that day has arrived.  “Exegesis includes a wide range of critical disciplines: textual criticism is the investigation into the history and origins of the text, but exegesis may include the study of the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience. Other analysis includes classification of the type of literary genres present in the text, and an analysis of grammatical and syntactical features in the text itself.” wikipedia article

Not sure yet whether I’ll venture into the realm of hermeneutics.  That may, in art, best be left to the viewer.

This also raises another profound idea I learned from the philosopher of religion, Paul Ricoeur, second naivete.  Ricoeur developed this idea to explain how a student of the higher criticism might use its critical methods on scripture, then return to the text later with a second naivete, one that includes the scholarly work, or incorporates it, while at the same time allowing the text to speak again as scripture.

My sense is that the idea applies to analysis of art as well.  That is, we can engage formal analysis, praxis analysis, style and methodological analysis, school, content analysis, then step back from all that and return to the piece with a second naivete which allows that work to enrich our immediate engagement with the work.  Anyhow, this is on my mind right now.