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Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

Volume 22, Issue 2, Spring 2018

Christopher Thomas
Pages 367-387
DOI: 10.5840/epoche201815107

From Complex Bodies to a Theory of Art
Melancholy, Bodies, and Art in the Philosophy of Spinoza

Spinoza’s limited words on the subject of art has led many to claim that his philosophy is incompatible and even hostile to a theory of art. Such a critique begins by confusing modern aesthetic standards with Spinoza’s actual words on art and its objects. Beginning with this confusion, this paper will argue that Spinoza’s philosophy naturalises the work of art and conceives of things such as paintings and temples through his theory of complex bodies. Turning to the two places that Spinoza discuss art—IIIP2Schol and IVP45Schol—this paper will argue that Spinoza understood works of art to be particularly complex and hence powerful extended bodies with a use value relative to the striving of the human individual. Accordingly it will be argued that because Spinoza conceived works of art to be external bodies–artistic bodies–, we should therefore begin to study art and its objects through Spinoza’s relational theory of the individual.