The Two Elementary Classes of Aesthetic Objects: Spatial and Temporal Modalities

  • Ian Verstegen
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Philosophy book series (BRIEFSPHILOSOPH)


If points of indeterminacy are the most rigorous way of characterizing medial objects and classes of them, then the spatial and temporal arts are the most basic division between such classes. Returning to the idea of existential dependence in Chap.  2, one can note a distinct kind of dependence occurring in each class. In spatial arts, all views of a work are one-sidedly dependent on the work; none is privileged. In temporal works, each successive phase of the work is dependent on a prior phase. Using ontological rigor gives new support for Lessing’s ancient argument in the Laocoön, with which Arnheim was quite sympathetic. Phenomenological analysis of cases of spatial and temporal arts reveal this basic ontological division. In the narratological distinction between plot and subject, sequence is essential to temporal arts, unlike in the arts of painting, sculpture or architecture. Consequently, each class has wholesale differences in kinds of in/determinacy. Spatial arts excel at capturing determinacies of permanence and temporal arts supply the determinacies of change. Invoking Arnheim’s categories, spatial arts are more “self-images” than “likenesses.” Just because ontology prescribes basic features of a medial object does not mean that practices cannot go against their grain. A viewer versed in the Bible will dutifully follow the narrative sequence of Christ’s life in Brueghel’s painting.

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© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian Verstegen
    • 1
  1. 1.Visual StudiesUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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