Essentialism and Its Objects: Identity and Abstraction in Language, Thought, and Action (work in progress)

Essentialism is a complex project that has both an artistic and philosophical aspect. The philosophical aspect includes identifying the necessary conditions of making and apprehending works of art and reflecting on matters of interest that follow from, or otherwise pertain to, that identification. As necessary, these conditions are essential. This indicates one reason for the use of the term ‘Essentialism.’ The artistic dimension of Essentialism consists of a series of works of art, each of which reflects, explicitly or implicitly, a particular way or ways of using the essential conditions of making and apprehending works of art to result in the nature and particularity of its identity. Because these works of art individually reflect, in different ways, and with different emphases, what is required of an object to be a work of art, they are grouped together under the rubric of ‘Essentialism.’

Every artwork has a particular identity that differs from everything that lacks that identity. An artwork’s identity is its being this thing that no other thing is. An artwork is either embodied in a perceptual object that it is to be understood to be, or it depends on an object whose apprehensible properties enable one to understand that with which the work is meant to be identified. Every artwork presupposes the consciousness and agency of the artist who determines its particular identity. The understanding, interpretation, and evaluation of artwork identity presupposes the consciousness and agency of anyone who would understand, interpret, and evaluate that determination. The issue of artwork identity is presupposed by any other matter to which the work is aesthetically, artistically, or philosophically relevant. Hence it is more fundamental than anything else. And given the dependence of the production and recognition of artwork identity on objects, consciousness, and agency, the relation of these three things in the production of identity is the most reductive approach to identifying the more minimal objects that art can determine.

Looking at the complex issues to which this project pertains in the most reductive way possible then means using objects, consciousness, and agency as ways of producing, or otherwise determining, works of art whose purpose is to investigate the relation of identity and difference, as that relation results from, and registers its connection to, their use as means of conducting that investigation. That further means that the concepts of object, consciousness, and agency will be variously reflected in the character of artwork identity as ways of marking the identity-difference relation that results from the use of things to which those concepts apply.

Click to view pdf