Creativity was a key concept for Bergson. He titled his major work Creative Evolution. In this book he discussed his notion of artistic intuition and claimed that the creative urge is at the heart of evolution. He began Time and Free Will with writing on aesthetic feeling. Bergson did not develop a systematic aesthetic. His thoughts in this area refer to ‘old-fashioned’ elements of grace, motion and rhythm as components of beauty. He did not champion a particular style of art. His ideas on art contain the same profound contradiction as did those of Plato, revolving around notions of art as ‘mere’ representation and art as an inspired and creative practice, around truth revealed in art and truth revealed through art.
On the former, Bergson held that all forms of representation are distorted refractions of the inner self, merely enriching our present, resulting in the inner self being ‘spatialised’.
‘A representation taken from a certain point of view, a translation made with certain symbols, will always remain imperfect in comparison with the object of which a view has been taken, or which the symbols seek to express. But the absolute, which is the object and not its representation, the original and not its translation, is perfect, by being perfectly what it is. It is doubtless for this reason that the absolute has often been identified with the infinite.’1
While the inner life cannot be represented by either concepts or images, an intuition of duration can be evoked by an image. For this to happen the work of art must not be constructed analytically (since one can only pass from intuition to analysis but not vice versa) but must induce an alogical ‘state of mind’ in the viewer.2
For Bergson, the great souls are those of artists and mystics, true art is revelation and the artist is ‘this revealing agent.’3 This is because these artists are in harmony with the inner life of things, have greater sensitivity to colour and form and can draw us into their experience through their work.4
‘we live in a zone midway between things and ourselves, externally to things, externally also to ourselves. From time to time, however, in a fit of absent-mindedness, nature raises up souls that are more detached from life’5
Bergson felt these artists should have a privileged position in society, followed by a public ‘whose perceptual capacities forever follow the artists’ lead.’6
‘For hundreds of years…there have been men whose function has been precisely to see and to make us see what we do not naturally perceive. They are the artists. What is the aim of art if not to show us, in nature and in the mind, outside of us and within us, things which did not explicitly strike our senses and our consciousness?’7
Bergson thought that every work of art is the result of a process whereby the inner self in its duration is made accessible to others through intuition. Art tells others about ourselves and always aims at what is individual. Artistic intuition embodies nature’s spiritual essence. Bergson argued for creative action rather than contemplation, yet in his philosophy the two are indistinguishable. He held that the artist’s vision is free of conceptual or utilitarian influence – it is disinterested.
‘The artist’s vision is essentially detached from the need to act; he perceives things for their own sake and not for what can be done with them.’8
The creative product of intuition hopefully persuades the viewer or reader to transcend their daily ‘mental’ habits and also experience intuition and these two intuitions co-mingle in inter-subjectivity.
Part eleven/to be continued…
1. An Introduction to Metaphysics, op. cit., 23 ↩
2. Compare with Plato’s ‘For a poet is indeed a thing ethereally light, winged and sacred, nor can he compose anything worth calling poetry until he becomes inspired and, as it were, mad, or whilst any reason remains in him…(they compose) from the impulse of the divinity within them.’ ‘Ion’ in Five Dialogues of Plato Bearing on Poetic Inspiration. London,1929, 7. Deleuze wrote ‘Platonic inspiration makes itself profoundly felt in Bergson.’ Bergsonism, op. cit., 59. ↩
3. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 159 ↩
4. This theme is developed in Le Rire. ↩
5. H. Bergson, Laughter, An essay on the Meaning of the Comic, Trans. C. Brereton, F. Rothwell, London, 1911, 154 ↩
6. Quoted in Inventing Bergson, op. cit., 60. Cf. Kahnweiler on this and the above point. ↩
7. The Creative Mind, op. cit., 159 ↩
8. Bergson and his Influence, op. cit., 13. Bergson’s philosophy drew together the two currents in art I have identified – movement and static contemplation – both are contained in the visual art ‘isms’ of the first two decades of the twentieth century. The above paragraph and quotation outline the function of Bergson’s philosophy and the art based on it in capitalist visual ideology. ↩