AuthorBaldacchino, John

    "[T]he values and norms in accordance with which motives are formed have an immanent relation with truth." (1)

    --Jurgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis

    "As 'truth' is not a name for a characteristic of assertions, so 'freedom' is not a name for a characteristic of actions, but the name of a dimension in which actions are assessed." (2)

    --John Langshaw Austin, "A Plea for Excuses"

    When we speak of the arts, and more so when one engages with the arts as a practitioner in their various contexts, the questions of legitimacy and legitimation take a very different turn. This spans across a wide horizon, whether it is that of art-making in the studio; of showing in the gallery; of performing in the hall; or of teaching, learning and unlearning in schools, colleges or universities.

    To start with, one needs to understand and find a way of differentiating between legitimacy and legitimation. Legitimacy implies a degree of conformity, whether it is with the law, agreed rules, or a grammar of speech, practice, and procedure. (3) Legitimation is the action by which legitimacy is or could be claimed. (4) In terms of images, by which we mostly make art, the process of being justified and verified, and more so, in terms of a manner by which a process of legitimation comes forth, emerges from that which is shown in terms of what it represents to groups and individuals who, in being recognized as sources of legitimacy, are then ready to give it. (5)

    This raises an immediate question: is legitimacy a gift that is expected from others? In turn, this could imply that as recipients of this gift, human actions only gain the validity of what they represent so as to have a value that is identifiable with forms of legitimation established outside them. values that immediately come to mind, when the arts are presented within this realm of legitimacy, would include those aesthetic, pedagogical, social, and moral categories from which one could always glean a political set of assumptions. These are often sustained and justified by socio-economic metrics that are now linked to the so-called culture and creative industries. (6) The latter seems to have completed the circle of legitimacy, where the arts are not simply seen, but expected to justify their existence from perspectives that are tangible, and to which the institutional voice of the arts is increasingly and often actively, giving assent. (7)


    This state of affairs has had a strong impact on the language of artistic legitimation, especially where there has been a significant turn on norms and categories that many accept as being helpful and therefore benign in making a case for the arts. (8) Making such a case implies a variety of contexts. They span from the case for the arts in education, from primary to tertiary education, (9) to that of funding the arts in the community, from sources that range between the state and the private sectors. (10)

    In her inaugural blog of August this year, aptly titled Advocacy, Community, and Arts Wisconsin, the Board President of Arts Wisconsin, Ann Huntoon, states that "we can all agree on one thing--the arts are indispensable. There's no doubt that music heals, that making art is a panacea, that experiencing art with others brings us together." (11)

    This falls in line with a national and more widespread international approach to the arts, and I would own up to partaking in the same debate. (12) More so, I have to accept that whether I would agree or not, I find myself using the same narratives to put my foot in the door of a wider set of constituencies that often need help to understand why the arts matter. Yet I should add, that this is also a source of discomfort, which often leaves me highly critical as well as skeptical over whether we can afford to risk falling foul of the law of unintended consequences, not knowing exactly whether Adam Smith's infamous "invisible hand" (13) has anything to do with art's polity, not to mention its inherent economy.

    Y et one must hastily add that while actors in this scenario tend to engage and use this language, not everyone keeps on the same legitimizing hat throughout one's engagement with the arts. There is a caveat to this narrative, and it is made with some force. This has to do with the apparent contradiction between the arts' intrinsic value and their use, which immediately brings to play one's own existential experience of the arts, what John Dewey calls the "quality of being a whole and of belonging to the larger, all-inclusive whole, which is the universe in which we live." (14)

    Additionally, this implies a personal sphere, where the arts administrator recalls her own intrinsic relationship with art-making, as Huntoon does when she speaks of her comfort zone, which she felt that she had to exit once she became an arts advocate. (15) "My mother's father was a cattle rancher in Illinois, but spent the winter months in a room in the farmhouse, painting landscapes in oil." (16) Being introduced to the work of Ruth Stolle, an artist from Tripoli, Wisconsin, by her father, Huntoon describes how her family "spent afternoons at [Stolle's] home, amidst her hundreds of sketches, paintings, and stacks of books. We had several of her paintings hanging in our home. The ideals of these experiences are my comfort zone, and never imagined that these things weren't a part of everyone's lives." (17)

    Before adding this personal note, Huntoon states how she "began to understand that the role of being an arts advocate meant that the first requirement was the ability to step way outside of my comfort zone." (18) Here she highlights a play between two forms of legitimation: an intrinsic, personal if not existential, engagement with art-making, and an extrinsic, verging on the instrumental, sphere of activity by which one becomes an advocate for the arts. (19)

    Huntoon's words capture these conflicting forms of legitimation, which some may well not regard as such, but which here I want to dwell upon, if only to argue that unless we remain aware of such a conflict, the case for the arts may well be impaired by a degree of confusion that risks slotting the arts into static categories of legitimation. I would add that the detrimental effect of such a rigid categorization would mean two things: (a) the increasing instrumentalization of the arts which results in a detachment between art-making and arts institutions, and (b) paraphrasing Max Horkheimer, (20) the total eclipse of the arts' unique forms of action and reasoning, by which in their complex histories, human beings have found ways of retaining their sense of autonomy in both their ways of knowing and more so, those of being.


    We broadly agree that our diverse encounters with the arts happen by dint of values that bridge practice with affectation, use with need. (21) However, externalizing these values from both art's immanence and the existential actuality of arts practice, invariably results in a complete failure to secure any working consensus around the meaning of art. (22) Though this comes with the territory of aesthetic understanding and dialogue--which as Huntoon suggests, is a "comfort zone" for those who make and partake in art qua art--it is not always the case when another approach to the arts requires that an external sphere comes into play. (23) The "comfort zone" becomes unsatisfactory, if not insufficient, to those legitimating mechanisms and institutional narratives that express the need to categorize the arts by neatly locating them within a taxonomy that ranges from aesthetic affect to institutional use, thus spanning between inherent-immanent and extrinsic-instrumental sets of criteria. (24)

    Let us begin with the relationship between truth and legitimation. Reading the question of arts' legitimacy from the context within which Jurgen Habermas positions values and norms within an accordance sought from specific formations of motives that imply an "immanent relation with truth," (25) one would need to clarify the relationship that the arts play with the formation of motives, the nature of their immanence, and what we mean by truth. Borrowing from Piaget's developmental approach, Habermas attributes motives to norm systems and behavioral controls, which is something that developmental psychologists interested in the arts have often referred to and elaborated in their theories of knowledge (26) and learning. (27)

    Given that Habermas's concern is not art, but political systems and their legitimacy, he relates this to an ordering where the major players include moral and linguistic systems of rationality and legitimation. (28) Here we are directed to a systematic aspect of how a moral and empirical ordering relates and competes in the structuring of a motivational formation; which is why Habermas seeks to focus on a context where "only this systematic aspect of the truth relation of factually valid norms and values is of interest," (29) and after which he goes on to discuss Max Weber's concept of legitimate authority. (30)

    While this seems to confirm a gulf between Habermas's context and that of the arts, I would argue that taking the formation of motives from the immanence of art's truth would reveal an interesting parallelism, especially when later he dwells on the "relation of legitimation to truth," (31) going on to state (again, with reference to socio-economic systems) the following:

    This relation to truth must be presumed to exist if one regards as possible a motivation crisis, resulting from a systematic...

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