In this work I shall analyze, first of all, the possibilities and modalities of a cognitive act in an attempt to approach and comprehend art as an apophatic phenomenon. For the sake of this objective, I am going to analyze the philosophy of a creative act by Nikolai Berdiayev and to implement some critical points of his philosophy in finding a solution for two questions that the late 20th century art theory and practice raise: 1. Is it possible to overcome the gap between the art “theory” and “practice” and how can it be done? 2. How to comprehend art without (positivistic) imperative of “scientific objectivity”?
There were number of different attempts to overcome the “theory-practice” gap in the history of 20th century art. They were discussed both in art theory and art practi ce. “Theory,” as a separate objective reflection on art, becomes in this time an insufficient concept in approaching and understanding art. The second part of the century raises the following questions: Can there be any separate “theory” of art? If the old “theory” as a concept opposite to “practice” should be revised, what kind of “theory” or thinking of art would be appropriate?
During the 1960s, Susan Sontag makes one of the most interesting at tempts to reexamine methodology of the 20th century art history and theory in her essay “Against Interpretation.” She criticizes “interpretation” of art as a universal method of art comprehension. This critique is based on Sontag’s skepticism that a positivistic and rational approach to the arts is possible and fruitful. Instead of it, she proposes “erotics” as a “method” of thinking and understanding art. Given the fact that it is not “content” or “form” that matters but art in its completeness, Susan Sontag implicitly defines art as an apophatic phenomenon, i.e. a phenomenon for which a rational analysis, she calls “interpretation,” is not an adequate nor sufficient cognitive method.
On the other hand, similar examination of art, as a free and creative human activity, can be seen in Berdyaev’s philosophy. Nikolai Berdyaev argues openly against “rational,” “scientific” or “objectivistic” methodology in thinking of art. Being a free and creative activity, art is apophatic in its essence, and can never be fully reached by a rational analysis. The solution that Berdyaev sees is quite similar to the conclusions by Sontag: an “erotic” act, act of a communion between the “subject” and “object” is necessary for a cognitive act. Berdyaev’s philosophy also offers a solution to the “gap” problem faced by the 20th century art and art theory: the gap between the art “theory” and “practice.” In his eyes, annihilation of the division between the “subject” and “object,” leads to annihilation of the gap between the “practical” creative labor and “theoretical” reflection: both activities are one and the same creative activity, and no essential separation between them can be made.
Philosophy of Nikolai Berdyaev can be implemented in finding a solution for particular contemporary art and art theory issues. It reveals unexpected similarities with some of the most influential streams of art of the second half of 20th century. One of them is a tendency to look upon art as an apophatic phenomenon.