Modal realism as a problem for artistic denotation.

The general philosophical view of modal realism derives from possible world theory. The view that the world at any instance could be distinct in some way from the present state of affairs. That is so long as there is no inherent contradiction. A contradiction of a given state of affairs is sometimes, cheekily, referred to as the grandfather paradox. An excellent reference comes from the famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Russell noted that certain objects have vague referents. That is in a sense when identity exists as referent to a possible state of affairs ( “the present king of France is bald”). However, some objects could be possible, but never have an actual existence. Russell cites an example of a the round square. This is “intolerable, and if any theory can be found to avoid this result, it is surely preferred.”

Necessity of the art object

The problem modal realism poses to the artistic pursuit is the rendering of a possible world, as actual. Actual as a necessary condition, therefore denoting the object/art as possible if imagined to be true. However, if the name links to a referent, it is an art object by token of being actual. However, this faces the problem outlined by Russel pertaining to the existence of persons in relation to a description. Kripke, a contemporary philosopher, suggests the ‘cluster concept theory’. A series of concepts gives a more robust meaning to a name. The philosophical point: is this the case in all possible worlds? A couple more questions. Could art exist in all possible worlds? Could art have no resemblance if in another world? So if not art in all possible worlds, what makes it art in this world?

Art object as true in all possible worlds.

Artists who ponder the philosophical foundations fall into two primary camps. The realist material world theorists, or idealists mental construct theorists. However, a third and often overlooked option, is a possible world realism. The first two categories lay within the literature of art history. Realism pertains to anthropological material culture as an artifact. Idealism is the characteristic Romantic style. Its vouchsafed by anything external to the individual, in a bid for passionate personal commitment. The lifestyle or idealistic goal. Possible worlds relate to contingent identity. An art object is contingent to a referent. The referent may go by different names. However only a particular could be the creator of that object in all possible worlds. This entails a cluster of concepts that ‘rigidly designates’ between object and referent. This compatibilist approach to realism and idealism takes on many forms, and could be the subject to further analysis.