Art and Metaphysics


During a discussion on Friday, I was asked to define art. Ah, yes, an impossible task; my favorite kind! In order for me to define art, I found myself describing metaphysics. So, before I get into any discussion of art, and the three categories I concluded exist to describe artistic endeavors, I first must give a sketch of metaphysics.

I am but an armchair philosopher. I accept this title gladly; I’m sure there are many professional philosophers who can’t afford arm chairs. So please, feel free to disagree with me. I welcome intelligent disagreement, for it is one of the best ways to learn. I also welcome correction: if my facts are incorrect, surely that affects the conclusions I draw from them.

Much of my metaphysics is stolen from Kant. But I don’t agree with him 100%, so I’m going to posit this all as my own. I believe there exists a phenomenal realm and a noumenal realm. These two realms are somehow, mysteriously simultaneously existent in the same place at the same time.

I define the phenomenal realm as the material world: all that we see, touch, smell, hear and taste. Anything made out of matter (and I would likely include anti-matter), whether by humans, the laws of nature, or the Causation of the universe, makes up the phenomenal realm.

The noumenal realm, by nature, is more difficult to define. It is, roughly, that which can only be accessed by intellect, instinct, or intuition. But such elements, not limited to the precision of empirical processes, appear wildly subjective and inconsistent. Because of this inconsistency, many have been led to believe that the noumenal realm is either non-existent (materialsts), entirely subjective (post-moderns), or unimportant (the religiously scientific). I agree that the noumenal realm is terribly difficult to access, and that the human ability to do so is inadequate and fragmented. But undermining the existence of such a realm based on its problems is a kind of ad hominem rejection, and therefore insufficient.

I am willing to argue that its veiled nature is what makes the noumenal realm so exciting. Religion, metaphysics, ideals, morals, spirituality are all members of the noumenal realm. The fact that they are difficult to access prods humans to discover them more fully.

Even in the phenomenal realm, humans cannot help but discover the unknown. What is off the edge of the map? What is inside an atom? How big is space, and what is it made of? What consistent patterns can be defined by equation? Why is the sky blue? All of these questions have prodded humans to discover.

We want to know what we don’t already know. Thus, the noumenal realm is endlessly fascinating. This is where Art comes into the picture.

6 thoughts on “Art and Metaphysics

  1. If you are interested, Heidigger, Plato, and Marx give, in my opinion, the best essays on the nature of art and art criticism. They are all shortish essays, easy to read although Marx is best read after Nietzsche’s art theory for a fuller picture.

  2. Weclome to the blogosphere, Annie.

    Not here to disagree, per se, just to state that I – this being the Self, the same one used by every person that exists now or has ever existed – am the Noumenon and Phenomenon all rolled into One. In other words, I am the Artist and Art rolled into One. Escher, among others, made this quite clear.

    Peace on Earth,


    • That is certainly something for me to think about. I mentioned in my post that “These two realms are somehow, mysteriously simultaneously existent in the same place at the same time”, and I think the place where this is most evident is in humans. I plan to devote a post to that topic in the future.

  3. Pingback: The Noumenal and Phenomenal: How to make something beautiful | AnnieKO'Connor

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