Sir Joshua Reynolds’ ‘Discourses’: Anticipating a Movement beyond the ‘Form’ towards Ontology in Art

Ashmita Mukherjee

Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India

Volume 7, Number 3, 2015 I Full Text PDF


The paper tries to read the ‘Discourses’ or speeches addressed between 1769-1790 by Sir Joshua Reynolds to his students as the first President of Royal Academy of Arts, London, as a gradual movement of aesthetics from interminable formal/particular debates to theories of romantic emanation or still later, of a sense of ontological being, complete with historical awareness and temporal situation. Reynolds’ statements require analysis not as mere pre-romantic ambiguities but definitive aesthetic reflections on ancient and contemporary art with an increasing cognizance of particularity as a tenet of modernity in art.

Keywords: Aesthetics, Ontology, Reynolds, Form, Particular, History Painting

An Unfinished Perfection: The Unfinished Swan Examined Phenomenologically

Soham Ganguly, Independent Scholar, Kolkata


This paper critically examines The Unfinished Swan, a videogame released for the Play Station 3 platform by Giant Sparrow Entertainment, as an existentialist narrative. With this aim in mind, the various devices used in the game for the purpose of narration and virtually representing the imaginary world in which the story takes place, i.e, within the fairytale world of an unfinished painting, are studied. Their cumulative effect is considered through the lenses of existentialism as laid down by Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. Whether a virtual representation of an existential quest for meaning is possible is at first examined, after which, the focus is shifted to how far this is realized in the game.

Right from its outset, in terms of its title as well as its back-story, The Unfinished Swan harps incessantly on the fundamental problem that carries the narrative of the game forward, that in it, there is something dominant that remains unfinished, namely the world of the painting that the protagonist enters, and the player plays in. As part of its back-story, we find that the protagonist, Monroe is left with one of many paintings that his mother created, all of them left unfinished. The one left to Monroe is that of a swan, unfinished as well. The game begins with Monroe following the footprints of the aforementioned swan through a magical door in the wall.

The property of the painting of the swan being unfinished gives the protagonist the reason to proceed to do so. We may define this as a fundamental lack at the heart of Monroe’s being and hence, fuelling his eternal striving towards the goal of solving the enigma latent in the narrative-

We must further understand that the intentions aim at appearances which are never to be given at one time. It is an impossibility on principle for the terms of an infinite series to exist all at the same time before consciousness, along with the real absence of all these terms except for the one which is the foundation of objectivity. If present these impressions even in infinite number-would dissolve in the subjective; it is their absence which gives them objective being. Thus the being of the object is pure non-being. It is defined as a lack. It is that which escapes, that which by definition will never be given, that which offers itself only in fleeting and successive profiles (Sartre, 1966, p.28).

Indeed a phenomenological study of The Unfinished Swan demands that the portrait be unfinished in order to provide the protagonist the reason to set out into the world of the painting. The game is replete with existential symbols, apart from being, in the ludological sense, full of possibilities and paths of action.

The goal of the boy is to follow the trail of the swan. The swan embodies a primary existential symbol in the course of the game. Having its origin as a creation of the boy’s mother, the swan stands for the past, and in the life that the boy lived prior to setting out in the game’s central quest of the swan hunt, it formed his present, and as he seeks to find the swan it becomes his future possibilities all put together.

A fresh, white slate of a world is given to the player, which forms the “ground of experience” (Sartre, 1966, p.73), and the matter of Dasein or “being in the world,” as conceptually laid down by Martin Heidegger and examined by Sartre, immediately comes into play (Heidegger, 1962).

To start with, hence, we need take a look at Being, and how it stands in this context- “’Being is. Being is in-itself. Being is what it is.’ Being includes both Being-in-itself and Being-for-itself, but the latter is the nihilation of the former. As contrasted with Existence, Being is all-embracing and objective rather than individual and subjective” (Sartre, 1966, p. 592).

The white world which greets Monroe upon first starting the game, or even at the beginning of each chapter or level, may be likened to a state of pure being, because it is, and no more may be said about it. Though there might be scruples of it not entirely being Being because it can stand by its chromatic, visual properties as being not-black on not any other colour, one may reason that since it is a visual approximation of the principle of Being-in-Itself, this is pretty much the nearest the game designers could get to it….Access Full Text of the Article

Editorial: Special Issue on Performance Studies

In this edition of Rupkatha we have the privilege of incorporating an introductory essay by Richard Schechner, in which he once again valorizes the anthropological foundations of performance studies and goes on to refer towards the infallible necessity of observing behaviour as a kind of transbiological agency and of tracing its effects in theatre and other kinds of representations. Schechner belongs to a tradition of performance scholars who believed in a kind of large, scientific ontology for the arts, a tendency which is evident when he quotes a New York University scholar. Perhaps the objective vision of a performance continuum is instructive for the future, as it creates an immediate stance, of both engaging as well as transcending the flow of experience in our lives which are organized and controlled  by means of mimetically emerging actions. The performer acquires, in Schechner’s scheme, as a liminal activist, so wonderfully described by anthropologist Victor Turner, and analysed in the scientism of Geertz’ observations of culture as an influential medium in which the arts and performances get endowed with signification.

TechnoMetamorphosis by Rob Harle

About the Artist 

Rob Harle is an artist, writer and researcher. His academic work involves research into the philosophy of Transhumanism, Artificial Intelligence and the nature of Embodiment. He recently abandoned a PhD in philosophy concerned with the relationship of human consciousness with an all-integrating field of matter, to instead develop his digital art work.

Editorial, Volume V, Number 1

It should not be out of place for us here to think of giving an outline to a kind of project, which was on our minds till a certain time but which could not be either discussed or implemented for the lack of appropriate opportunities. Could it be possible to think of a center or academy devoted to neuroscience, evolutionary studies, aesthetics, environment and medicine. Perhaps there is no one single institution in which information from such disciplines could be studied with a general redressive purpose. An institute which shall contain interdisciplinary course work intending to develop modules of analysis regarding behavioral functions, or components of human social existence is the call of the day. This call is driven by the very simple notion that what men and women need are scientific insights into the roots of their own existence and being, and a study of the conditions that would be conducive to free, uninhibited livelihood. Perhaps such insights lead to amelioration of health. The connection between neurophysiological realities of the brain and any form of physical exercise, athletics or sports seemed to have been already grasped by ancient systems of religion. Economists are studying the effects of microlevel redressal measures in the context of attempts made in order to bring about radical changes on macroeconomic level. Answer to such questions as how the arts emerge in human societies can explain the nature of aesthetically motivated actions. It is indeed time for us to conceive of the formation of a society that could discuss issues related to our lives and its environment, our culture and the arts that we perform. Please send us your suggestions or proposals for the formation of such a society. We look forward to hearing from you.

Tirtha Prasad  Mukhopadhyay, Editor-in-Chief

Metaphysics and Representation: Derrida’s Views on the Truth in Painting

 Chung Chin-Yi, National University of Singapore

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This paper discusses Derrida’s deconstruction of both representational and post-representational thinking, in pointing out that they both assume a realist or representational paradigm as its assumption. It examines Rosemary Hawker’s contention that Derrida’s argument is one fundamentally concerned about the inseparability of idiom and content, and argues that indeed this was an accurate reading; Heidegger and Shapiro’s fallacy as interpreted by Derrida is precisely the trap of metaphysical and representational thinking in assuming that content is separable from form. It also examines Marcellini and Haber’s arguments that Derrida’s arguments are about the failure of the representational paradigm of thinking as there is always a surplus and excess of meaning because each rendering differs from its origin. Finally it finds out that there is no such thing as pure representation as art always renders its object with a difference, or differance.

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