06 March 2009
Gustav Klimt. Philosophy, 1899 - 1907. Oil on canvas.
This painting has always fascinated me. I think it expresses how many people, including may students of philosophy, feel about philosophy. Klimt is best known for his The Kiss -which for some reason you see in dorm rooms across America- and, tangentially, there is a surprisingly terrible movie about him called "Klimt": (he's played by John Malkovich who I love, but I couldn't even finish the thing -my art history teacher said the same thing-.)
Anyway, this painting is just uncertainty packed into paint. Western Philosophy still works hard every day to get around uncertainty, you can see an example of that in the Philosophy Bites post I just did with the scientific realist, in large part, I think, because it leads them to psychologically uncomfortable places. A very smart friend of mine expressed this as 'feeling the void.' I don't think uncertainty leads to this generalized philosophical ennui -seems to me like one of the many odd orthodoxies which plague philosophic education- but Klimt captured something true here. If I could retitled the work it would be "sociology of philosophic malaise."
(a side note, Klimt is known for his colors and their amazing texture - so the work doesn't really come across from this image... or so I assume since the work was burnt in 1945.)