paine / kant


Roxy Paine: Checkpoint, 2014 / Maple, aluminum, fluorescent light bulbs, and acrylic prismatic light diffusers / 14 ‘ h x 26′ – 11″ w x 18’ – 7 1/2″ d

The American artist Roxy Paine (1966- ) exhibited the diorama Checkpoint at the Marianne Boesky Gallery (New York, NY, September-October 2014) Checkpoint was shown with other sculptural works in Paine’s first solo show with the gallery titled Denuded Lens. Checkpoint represents a life-sized airport security room carved and fabricated in maple wood. The perspective of the diorama is set on a single point. This single point perspective distorts the trompe l’oeil effect depending on the viewer’s position in the room (an 80’ room is compressed into an 18’ deep diorama).[1]

Paine’s monochrome Checkpoint represents a space overlooked in the anxiety of hyper regulated air-travel security. We normally do not think of such a space as aesthetical—or even beautiful. Yet, the scrupulous (computer aided) attention to detail begs to be noticed. Much in the same way, we do not normally think about the complexities of a judgment of taste, as much as Kant did in the 3rd Critique (Critique of the Power of Judgment). Kant’s 1st Critique (Critique of Pure Reason) alluded to a “Copernican Revolution” in philosophy, whereby his transcendental idealism changed the philosophical perspective from empirical skepticism and rational dogmatism. The beauty of philosophy has to do with a focus on that which seems insignificant and mundane, while at the same time exposing what is significant and profound.

The extreme and laborious work involved to create Checkpoint stands as a salient quality of the aesthetic experience. Part of the way we appreciate Paine’s diorama is closely attributable to the way we reify work itself. We admire the hours it took to fabricate the piece. Work itself becomes aestheticized. I will argue that Kant’s philosophical efforts are aestheticized in a similar way. Kant’s perilous intellectual heights come close the extremes of work found in a finely crafted artwork. Aestheticized work aspires toward universal agreement about its ability to please. Such work becomes normative. It creates, as much as it wants to be a regulative principle exemplified by its own high standard. Nonetheless, sheer labor cannot serve as a logical concept to create beauty. Yes, we admire hard work, while we also know that some things become overworked.

Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790-6), commonly referred to as the “Third Critique,” deals with aesthetics and teleology. Kant says that the power of judgment “is the faculty for thinking of the particular as contained under the universal” (5:179).[1] Given the notorious complexity of the text, we cannot get into numerous details, such as the differences between “determining” and “reflective” judgments, other than to point out that aesthetic and teleological judgments are considered “reflective.”

An aesthetic judgment, for Kant, is based on a feeling of pleasure or displeasure. He names four types of aesthetic judgments: (a) a judgment of the agreeable (b) a judgment of the good,[2] (c) a judgment of taste (&/or) the beautiful, and (d) a judgment of the sublime. A judgment of the beautiful is to be distinguished from primary cognitive judgments.

First Moment (§§1-5): A judgment of beauty is essentially based on a feeling of pleasure. Yet, the pleasure felt has to be disinterested, i.e. it is not to be confused with lust, or covetous desire. A judgment of the beautiful is to be distinguished from cognitive judgments because it is based on a feeling, whereas a judgment of the agreeable is that which “gratifies”[3] (empirical things such as comfort, food, drink, &c.).

Second Moment (§§6-9): Judgments of beauty claim “universality” or “universal validity.” We have the notion that when we claim something is beautiful, everyone else ought to share the same feeing about the object in question. Yet, universality is not conceptual. A judgment of beauty is not based on logical concepts. We cannot prove an aesthetic judgment. A judgment of beauty has “subjective universal validity” (5:215). It is subjective because it is based on a feeling and it aspires to be universal. A judgment of taste must be an agreeable “free play” of the understanding and the imagination (5:218).

Third Moment (§§10-17): Beauty is seen as a special kind of non-teleological “purposiveness.” It is purposeful without conceptual or perfectible utility. A judgment of taste is aloof from emotion or charm (5:223). There is a connection with the a priori in a judgment of a moral/practical good. A moral connection is not exactly the same with an assessment of (non-conceptual) beauty, but judgments of beauty and the sublime are related to moral freedom.

Fourth Moment (§§18-22): Judgments of beauty lean more toward subjective necessity. Still, we know that everyone will not agree with our judgments of taste, but we feel they ought to (re: judgments of taste are normative). The aspiration of universality can be thought of as sensus communis (common sense) (5:238). Although a judgment of taste is subjective, it presupposes agreement. The drive for universal agreement normalizes its subjective claims. Taste yearns for regulative principles.

[1] Kant, Immanuel, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 66.

[2] Note: an aesthetic judgment is not an agreeable judgment or a judgment of the good, although there are intrinsic connections between them all.

[3] Kant, Immanuel, “Analytic of the Beautiful,” Philosophy of Art, 274.

[1] …see the press release for the show: