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The Art of Seeing  #06: Towards an Erotics of Art

Suzan Sontag

(για ελληνικά πατήστε εδώ)

What the hell does “an Erotics of Art” is supposed to mean? Can I fall in love with Art? Isn’t Art something that I should study and analyze in order to appreciate its value? Doesn’t it include an intellectual endeavor in which I should use my mind to understand what the artist want to express and/or to bring out the hidden meanings and interpret an artwork? Can there be a love at first sight, immediate and irrational, when confronting a work of art? It seems like Suzan Sontag’s famous quote (Against Interpretation, 1964) walks the line between aesthetic experience and interpretation. In fact, Sontag suggests that an “erotics” approach allow us to experience the qualities of art through our senses and without the need for interpretation. But what does “erotics” mean

“In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.”

Sontag uses this phrase to conclude her book “Against Interpretation” in which obviously, she argues against hermeneutics, although she does not reject it entirely. To be more precise, she argues against the institutionalization of interpretation, that is the systematicity of criticism and its theoretical accounts and constrains, which, in her view, distract the observer, reduce his sensory experience and destroy the particularity of an artwork.

“…The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys; it digs ‘behind’ the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one…”

The “Erotics of Art” is a call for a more formalist approach through which a work of art can be enjoyed as an object of sensory experience; that is “to see more, to hear more, to feel more”. In other words, Sontag argues against the domination of content over form: content requires interpretation while form assumes aesthetic experience. Modern criticism -or western criticism if you like- is obsessed with interpretation of content, using deductive reasoning to analyze and disclosure the hidden ‘truth’ of a work of art.

“Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world — in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings.”

Sketch by Wendy MacNaughton

Sketch by Wendy MacNaughton, Retrieved from

Holding the above thoughts, we conclude this article with an except from Haris Kakarouhas’ interview, concerning the art of photography and a slightly different kind of “erotics of art”:

“You cut the image into form and content and you talk about the one or the other. So, you try to analyze it and you fantasize that by analyzing it like this you can touch the truth of image. You cannot do it this way. You have to assume the image as a whole. It does “speak” to you or it doesn’t… …Typically we say ‘did you understand it?’ but there is nothing to understand inside an image. It is such a foolish question as when you are in love with someone and a friend asks you to say something about your love. Would you ever make a sociological or psychological analysis for your love? The only thing you can say about your love is something equally poetic…”

*edited by Adamantia Zafiropoulou



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