"Heidegger says that the question of the origin of a thing asks about the source of its nature. He asks about the origin from which both artist and work are seen to derive: namely, art. That which takes its rise from art is both artist and work. And art itself, he asserts, is the source of artist andbe what they are. Heidegger generates a tripartite relation between art, artist and work in an encompassing hermeneutic. As Joseph Kockelmans has observed, "if art is the origin of the work of art, art lets those who intimately belong together in regard to the work, namely the one who artistically produces it and those who try to preserve it artistically, each in his own essence, be what they are."
Thinking and visualising are not indistinct categories, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty reminds us: they are constitutive powers in our understanding and seek a legitimate place in daily life. The thinking that arises from the place of art in society is crucial to the experience of art and its survival. Art's flourishing is proportionate to its quality, and its quality is determined by the impact of its beginning. It is by adherence to its beginnings in an origin, and not simply that of an enjoined art historical tradition, that art gains its visible and social legitimacy. Thinking through material means and events provides the basis for an artist's practice. If the thinker thinks Being, and the poet names the sacred, as Kockelmans suggests, then the task of the artist is to draw forth works from the wellsprings of the in-visible.
To think thought is to think the work of thought, and to work the work of thought is to employ the hands. It is through his/her hands that an artist or writer establishes contact with "the austerity of thought," as Henri Focillon once remarked. The hand holds and carries. But the hand also runs everywhere through language, and is "in [its] most perfect purity precisely when man speaks by being silent." And so for Heidegger, every movement of the hand carries itself through the element of thinking, for "every bearing of the hand bears itself in that element." Indeed, he submits, "thinking itself is man's simplest, and for that reason hardest [handwork]."The hand and thinking share some mutual obligation: to think is to think and work with the hand.
The hand is an extra-organic implement of thought, but it is also the extra-organic organ of sight. The hand is, in its dexterous motility, a handling of the things imparted to it by the tactile senses of touch and sight. The artist sees the world with a keener sense, Henri Focillon believes, and as his art is made by his hands, so are his hands the instrument of creation. But before that, such hands are an organ of knowledge; for the artist "starts from the very beginning." The hand as a principle of knowledge brings about a factual clearing of sight for creative action. The impulse toward knowing and sightfulness is accomplished through the hand. But what bearings might this have on an artist who is intent on originary beginnings in works of art?
Contemporary art has moved away from a determined conceptual stance to one of interactivity. Contemporary artists have been induced to leave the solitude of the studio and engage with the social order. Such artists now deal with a demanding repertoire of social tools and art institutional prerogatives in exhibiting their work. Here we need a discourse that recognizes the artist's perception as mover and shaper of his/her creations. The evident materiality of an artist's discourse must be allowed to forge open-handed aesthetic values, so that we learn to interrogate those practices which are at odds with themselves or with the world."
• by: Derek Whitehead has a background in the visual arts, Classical languages, and Continental philosophy. He holds a PhD from Sydney University, Australia, and is a practicing artist, independent researcher and writer in the areas of aesthetics, aesthetic education, and varying themes in art research from historical and contemporary perspectives. Contact email address: email@example.com