Philographics: Big Ideas in Simple Shapes
ISBN 978 90 6369 341 1
Philographics: Postcard Book
ISBN 978 90 6369 389 3
What is art for? “L’art pour l’art” wrote Théophile Gautier as a slogan in 1835. And today’s bohemians continue to repeat the creed: “Art for art’s sake.” It’s a catchy slogan, still what most people unreflectively tell themselves when confronted with the question: “What is the purpose of art?”
The catchphrase expressed the revolutionary idea that art should serve no purpose higher than itself. “Art for art’s sake” gave the middle finger to Victorian moralists and educators who wanted art to be edifying, and it looked down at pious churchmen who desired art for the glory of God. Above all, it rejected the idea that art should serve morality.
Not everyone, however, followed the end-in-itself turn that art took in the nineteenth century. Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that “art for art’s sake” was empty talk:
When the purpose of moral preaching and of improving man has been excluded from art, it still does not follow by any means that art is altogether purposeless, aimless, senseless — in short, l’art pour l’art, a worm chewing its own tail. “Rather no purpose at all than a moral purpose!” — that is the talk of mere passion. A psychologist, on the other hand, asks: what does all art do? does it not praise? glorify? choose? prefer? With all this it strengthens or weakens certain valuations. Is this merely a “moreover”? an accident? something in which the artist’s instinct had no share? Or is it not the very presupposition of the artist’s ability? Does his basic instinct aim at art, or rather at the sense of art, at life? at a desirability of life? Art is the great stimulus to life: how could one understand it as purposeless, as aimless, as l’art pour l’art?
Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, “Skirmishes of an Untimely Man,” §24
Nietzsche thought that art promoted certain values over others. Even stripped of its Christian moral purpose, art aims not at art but at life. Art for life’s sake.
Genís Carreras, also, produces art with a sense of purpose beyond itself. A young graphic artists, Carreras set out to introduce and explain philosophy to his generation of visual learners. The goal of his art is educational and edifying. It works in reverse too. These minimalist graphics can also help philosophers to think visually, though that’s not their primary mission.
He calls his project “philographics” which nicely conveys both the idea of philosophy graphics and the love of graphics. The book attempts to convey the big ideas of philosophy in simple geometrical shapes divided into six categories: metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, politics, religion and other. It isn’t comprehensive but it does range far and wide.
As a work of philosophy, Philographic is not analytic or continental. As a consequence of its sheer diversity, in practice it preaches a kind of eclecticism, like Lives of the Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius, only for concepts.
Eclecticism: A Conceptual approach that does not stick to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories or styles to gain a more varied or balanced insight into something.
Unable to find a traditional publisher for the idea, Carreras crowdfunded the book on Kickstarter. After its success, the second edition was published by BIS in October 2013. Twenty-four of the graphics are now available as postcards in a postcard book.
Many of the images are also available for sale as art prints on Society6.
Philographics invites people who think visually to start thinking conceptually. It’s theoretical aestheticism (or aesthetic theoreticalism). It opens up the enticing possibility that today’s spectators could become tomorrow’s philosophers.
Aestheticism: The belief that our main efforts in life should be focused on creating and enjoying beauty, in all its forms.
Like any good teacher, Carreras meets his “normal language” students where they are: in the Instagram world of images. Most young people have a deep visual vocabulary, even if they have a shallow grasp on philosophical terminology.
Philographics invites its spectatorial readers to use their intuitive visual grasp of each minimalist graphics as the entry point into conceptual thinking. The book’s simple visuals help novice readers quickly grasp 95 difficult theoretical terms, steps on the stairway to philosophy.
Read a dictionary of philosophy that’s overwhelmingly visual, Philographics, is fun to browse. Each graphic is paired with a philosophical term defined in a single sentence. Most of these are quite good. The entry on idealism is typically lucid and concise: “Idealism: The philosophical view that asserts that reality is fundamentally based on and shaped by ideas and mental experience, rather than material forces.”
Idealism: The philosophical view that asserts that reality is fundamentally based on and shaped by ideas and mental experience, rather than material forces.
Philographics is more than a dictionary though. Reading it also provides training, though repetition, in a foundational philosophical skill: the art of clearly and concisely defining terms. Thinking theoretically is difficult. This isn’t philosophy made easy. It’s an introduction to thinking philosophically that brilliantly uses minimalist art graphics as a pathway to conceptual thought.
For today’s spectatorial generation, it’s also great entry point into the philosophical tradition. By the end of the book, its pre-theoretical reader, unversed in the terminology of philosophy, has taken baby steps toward practicing the bios theoretikós, the theoretical life. And the book invites revisiting and rereading.
The slogan for this book could be: “l’art pour la vie philosophique.”