Provocation in Philosophy and Art

By Dan Egonsson.

Published by The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts

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Provocation is an integral part of Socrates’ philosophical method. Does provocation have a similar methodological function in art? My tentative answer is no. In the Socratic method, provocation of feeling is used both on an individual level to force a person to think better (preferably in ethical matters) and on a general level in order that a society should never rest but “be stirred into life.” Philosophy is a teleological practice with truth or enlightenment as its telos. Art has no longer a well-defined telos, and the place and use of provocation in art is therefore debatable. But for art to be something rather than anything, I argue that a provocative work of art has to provide for the aesthetic qualities of how the provocation is performed. Provocation without instrumental qualities is atypical in philosophy, whereas provocation without intrinsic qualities is atypical in art. Using this as a normative guide, we may claim that instrumental success is more important than intrinsic success in philosophy and that the opposite holds for art, as far as provocation is concerned. I conclude by commenting on two Swedish examples of provocation in art from this perspective.

Keywords: Provocation, Socratic Method, Art

The International Journal of Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts, Volume 10, Issue 3, September, 2015, pp.27-35. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 431.482KB).

Dan Egonsson

Professor in Practical Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, Lund University, Lund, Sweden