According to Joseph Kosuth’s formula, art has become philosophy. This has always seemed overstated to me. There is a Positivist bias against the ineffable lurking in such statements. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that aesthetics has been deeply problematized since the appearance of Duchamp’s Fountain in 1917, and consequently the focus of what is to be done in art and elsewhere has shifted from the uplifiting of the spirit via Kant’s “Dispassionate contemplation of exquisite Form” to a more earthy substrate, conforming to Stendhal’s transformational “promise of happiness”. The future age will be an era of acts and not of facts, but acts must be grounded in a viable philosophy of the Real. Pursuant to that end, I must ask the question: What are the phantoms which animate self and society?
In this work I wish to explore this question, quite apart from traditional aesthetic considerations. The delineation of the ethos informing these signs make possible the effective interrogation of the meaning of the political system which regulates all our lives.
Signage examples photographed on Sept. 22, 2016 between Roger Williams Ave. and Laurel Ave., Highland Park IL USA
Title: Character Counts!
I present seven photographs in 8” X 10” format of ordinary street signage found in Highland Park, IL. The signage shows each of what are termed the Six Pillars of Character, itself a project of the Josephson Institute, Michael Josephson, President, mailing address 8117 W. Manchester Ave. #830, Playa Del Rey CA 90293. The motto of the Josephson Institute, as published on their website, is “To improve the ethical quality of society by changing personal and organizational decision making [sic] and behavior.” The Six Pillars of Character are Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship. These signs are dotted all through Highland Park at nearly every stoplighted intersection in the city. Of particular note are the subheadings on each sign. Under the heading Fairness, one finds, for example, “Play by the Rules.” Under Citizenship, one finds “Respect Authority”. I am particularly interested in the religious implications of this signange and its implications for the much-vaunted US “separation of church and state”. Highland Park is a rather conservative community with philosophical roots in the old-line Protestant ethical tradition, a "Lutheran-Calvinist axis", which is a good match for Josephson’s program. Be that as it may, I contend that the principles promulgated by Character Counts! raise interesting questions about the nature of Authority in our society which point to a deep underlying tension between the values of a so-called “secular society” and inflexible moral codes such as the Judaic Ten Commandments. Is our society really so secular as it purports itself to be?