Existential rambling. Bad Faith, freedom and stuff.
A look at authenticity and Art from an existentialist perspective.

How do we produce authentic art? Can Art be produced in the Sartrean sense of Bad faith? That is an inauthentic representation of the self. Or in other words. An expression of a lie to oneself. A lie that we are aware of but insist on ignoring.
Or in the sense of Simone de Beauvoir and her idea of the Serious woman/man. That is an individual who latches on to a role or cause, to the extent they begin to lose themselves within it, and start, as she describes, “to harden “ into the object.
We know these people; as they assume their role, indeed take themselves so seriously they make an object of themselves, eradicate all doubt, gradually losing their transcendental, subjective natures (transcendence as a possibility to surpass its given state of affairs - to become something other).
Could artworks constructed in this fashion become merely a sclerotic object? One that has no basis in freedom. An object of an object.
How can we tell what is authentic and what is not, in a reality so full of things?

As way of introduction we find Aristotle embark on the inquiry into authenticity in the context of virtue by maintaining that “true” virtue is performed by the individual for themselves, because they carved this way to action through personal deliberation, as opposed to, doing for the crowd, so to speak, or out of fear, or vanity. Nietzsche contributes to notions of authenticity and existentialism with, amongst other things, his attention to the idea of “becoming” in the individual, which we will take up again with Sartre; but crudely speaking he gives us the idea of a reality with no fixed meaning; “we” bring this to the world. He describes the becoming individual as one of self creation, much like a work of art being made. In this sense, he shapes the work toward authenticity as a work of the individual, who has the power to clear away all the false illusions imposed on themselves to fully become what they are, not as a final goal, but a state of being, or being toward. Critics of Nietzsche accused him of creating a “relativism”, an anything goes philosophy leading to “nihilism”;but on the contrary, he worked to develop a philosophy of affirmation, in the face the demise of religion and the rise of science

Where to begin, briefly?

In an idealist sense, our mental productions are representations of reality. Both consciously and unconsciously produced. This is all we know. The real reality of the world out of our grasp, not reality itself-so described by Kant, as the thing -in- itself or noumena. Kant applied this further to subjectivity to create a split self, hewn into two incompatible parts. The phenomenal self stranded within the limits of its senses alienated from the essential reality which underlies it.

So, what is this endeavour of art?- to represent or interpret this representation of our reality, and maybe gain some (speculative,imaginary)insight into our selves, or into the noumenal realm? Or is it the restlessness of our split selves appealing to understand, to fill the void. We a free because we lack, and we lack because we are free.
We are meaning machines, because we suffer, die, look at ourselves doing it and can’t help asking - why?
Sartre in his analysis of consciousness develops the idea of intentionality; that our consciousness is shaped by an about- ness. It’s eye is aimed at phenomena which it concerns itself with . He expands this idea to a double intention -focussing outward into the world of things, but also focussing at ourselves within it. In other words, resting our attention upon reality, and reflecting upon ourselves within it, and as if it wasn’t complicated enough; reflecting back at ourselves, through the reflective capacities of another human.

Sartre proposes this double movement( perceptive consciousness and self-consciousness) introduces a gap( as consciousness finds and negates itself- )within our being- a nothingness(negatite )which constitutes us as a being -for -ourselves.A being which finds itself non- identical to itself, necessarily un-unified, constantly seeking to become itself. Instead of the hackneyed excuse of a phrase. “ I am what I am”. Sartre would replace it with, “ I am what I’m not” and “ Iam not what I am “
We are becoming beings, constituted by possibility. It is this feature of nothingness, our incompleteness generated by our consciousness which “ condemns” us to freedom, whether we act on it or not. It is the corruption of this becoming which leads, according to Sartre to bad faith. However in a world of people and events it is extremely difficult to build ourselves authentically or even know what this is. The problem of the other, and the necessity of the other inhabits all that we do. So Bad Faith emerges from a loss of the authentic project of the self. “ I am what I’m not for something other”

But this sounds like an absurdly impossible, selfish project seeing that we are animals bound up with each other and the world we find ourselves in. How do we stop this supposed project of authenticity from collapsing into narcissism. Our entire system of language pre supposes a being with others(or be examined later in terms of Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Mind). Simone de Beauvoir would say that the transcendental project of individual freedom coincides with everybody else’s project of individual freedom. So, she says, we cannot experience our own freedom unless those around us move toward their own freedom and authenticity. The inter subjective nature of existence is paramount(all our responsibility), so that gesturing and posturing leave out subjectivity altogether. So, we have to beware of narcissism dressed as a number of values; care, compassion etc. all performed in Bad Faith.All we see is an act played out.
Or if we become a tool of another or an organisation we lose our subjectivity, we leave our freedom at the door, and authenticity goes out the window.

Art is generally a public function, although its production can be a solitary business, and can remain there, as much as unvocalised thoughts remain hidden from the world. However, its’ intention is to convey a representation into the world. To represent a representation(of the mind). We can do this through an appeal to the world-“What is this?” Or a statement -“This is the case.”Or many other possibilities emerging from thought and passing over into manifestation( Iwill try to approach this area later).Something of the experience of our self and reality we want to be shared( even if it is shared only with ourselves). To share the subjective experience of phenomena, and the questions it throws up. This could be individual, social or political; relating to anything in the world.

To recap;we find ourselves, in the world, with no explanation, with a mind which is aware of its own body, almost as a stranger, and is aware that this body has a time limit, and in this time we must endeavour to make it mean something( or fall into nihilism). Heidegger believed we must acknowledge ourselves as a being-toward-death to truly think and act authentically. A true acceptance of this plight ( and absurdity for Camus), and the radicale freedom which grounds us would be our ideal existential beginning point. So by extension, should the work, as an embodiment of consciousness, or encountered phenomena, the floundering for- itself as it tries to make sense of itself, others and other things, should (try to)embody that same freedom? Indeed a massive challenge.
If a certain social cause is being represented, we find the artist as activist; but is it not the case that if the artist does not recognise their own inconsistencies,contradictions, doubts and possibilities, the work will fall into either propaganda( a tool of ideology), or disappointing analogy, where we discover the (didactic)meaning of the work in the title, and in this one move, lose all the inherent freedom of the work? Living consciousness or subjectivity is lost.
If a work is to address an issue, which is a worthy and necessary project, in existential phenomenological terms it must begin from the subjective. It must almost be discovered anew. I think sometimes, many(outside of art), approach issues which are outside of their reality, purely because the last thing they want is subjective involvement.
To take an issue as it stands, and illustrate it, is just to publicly agree with it. An elaborate gesture. “I AGREE”. And with implication. “SO SHOULD YOU”. We may suspect, narcissism or some such ulterior motive.
Awareness that the phenomenal world is awash with power struggles, in language and manifestations, is I think, essential. In a contemporary world which presents us with realities outside of our experience, we must be honest with ourselves of what we know, navigate wisely. Both Sartre and Beauvoir insist that the choices we make for ourselves are choices made for the world; how we want to be is how we want the world to be, and the only logical project is the one of freedom. In this sense, Beauvoir especially, created an ethical dimension to existentialism which prevents freedom from manifesting as a destructive project, it’s necessary true form is when where it is neither receiving or emanating any oppressive force,to move toward its’ full potential (Beauvoir did get into a mess when considering the complexities of the forces at play when approaching emancipatory projects. As you enter into a state of affairs the outcome may be unpredictable and upturn when unknowns show up etc- as we see in global emancipatory military projects..) Theory and action, not always straightforward.

We see eradication of freedom and authenticity in totalitarian regimes, where the oppressive force exercises its power deep into the internal worlds of individuals. This is clear to see and feel, as it comes with physical restrictions. We see in culture, a different aspect,where pervasive ideology takes hold of institutions, and starts in its modelling to outlaw what it deems to be wrong thought. In the old religious sense, doctrine, but doctrine disguised as freedom itself, heads up projects. THIS IS HOW WE NOW THINK. Is it the case that state funded art galleries function more as churches, run by a new priestly type?

So as we submerge more deeply into this technological, global era, the complexities of a media saturated culture, it is hard to imagine a more worthy emancipatory project than one which attempts to wrestle the individual free for themselves.
In the oncoming discussions I will attempt examines different modes of Art with the use of philosophy