You may remember that I have an interest in Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) and have been reading Graham Harman’s book of the same name. I have been allowing some of his thoughts (detailed in previous posts) to permeate before continuing with my journey. In this regard, I decided to read an article Charisma and Causality (2015) by Timothy Morton, another author associated with OOO. Morton’s variant relies upon the causal dimension of object relations. He argues that causality is an aesthetic dimension between objects where the sensory experience does not have direct access to reality but is rather an interruption of an inter-objective system. Causation is magical, or as Morton coined it “realist magic.”

Art is central to OOO and as Morton argues:

“Whatever human art is, it is telling us something very deep about the structure of how things are: ‘the structure of how things are’ being a pretty good paraphrase of the word ‘ontology’. . . OOO thinks of art not as decoration, but as the fundamental operation of cause and effect. To make artwork is to interfere directly with the realm of causes and effects.” (Morton 2015).

Morton questions what he calls the ‘civilised’ philosophy of Plato arguing that maybe rather than being only decorative there is something more – that art can have an effect on us that we are not necessarily in control of. That art is not constantly present nor can it be perceived directly. As Morton calls it – “A dangerous causative flickering.” (Morton 2015). He refers to this effect as charisma – an entanglement between two things (causality and illusion) – magic.

The Norse language called magic weirdness. Neolithic ontology does not want reality to be weird. Morton argues that:

“Appearance as such is where causation lives. Appearance is welded inextricably to what things are, to their essence, but even ‘welded’ is wrong. Appearance and essence are like two different ‘sides’ of a Mobius strip, and so also the ‘same’ side. A twisted loop is exactly what weird refers to, etymologically speaking.” (Morton 2015).

A piece of art cannot be reduced to its parts or from what it is made, or who made it. Art has a direct causal effect. Art is charisma.

How do Morton’s views affect or influence me? For me, Morton’s approach suggests that my audience’s response to my work is largely intuitive and something that might be difficult to influence. In large part, they will like and relate to a piece of art spontaneously and quickly. Equally, those who don’t connect will make a judgement speedily. The relationship between objects in my imagery is important and, as I already believe, reality in my image making is not something that is accessible to me or anyone else directly. What of charisma? We know about some people possessing a charisma that is attractive to others. Is Morton merely saying that art is accessible to some and not others? Or is there more to explore in terms of cause and effect – the causal relationship?

Returning to Graham Harman, he argues that we can never touch another through sensory perception. Art (or photography) is the only way to transgress the boundary of reality and glimpse the ‘being’ of the real object. I return to my Final Major Project on the MA, The Ephemeral Hiddenness of Skye. Some people are able and willing to look beyond the surface representation and in so doing glimpse the noumena behind the veil. The likes of Harman, Morton and Ortega privilege art because of its transgressive potential. Not everyone understands or sees it.



MORTON, Timothy. 2015. Charisma and Causality. ArtReview, November 2015.



Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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