There’s an anti-aesthetic movement, an undercurrent of skepticism of art, in academia. Recent developments in literary studies claim the aesthetic is only a tool of ideology, a complicit institution that reinforces the modern capitalist state.
This is also where “formalism” has been transformed into a disreputable word, charged as something insidious as a political befuddlement or conservativism. Even deconstructionists got in on the act when they denounced the romantic aesthetic notion of symbolic embodiment as something that enabled totalitarian ideology.
The anti-aesthetic song and dance starts with sheer skepticism of the concept of aesthetic value, saying objective value is impossible, and then crediting the rise of the aesthetic value with the rise of the economic value. Second, more fundamentally, their attack focused on the very criteria of aesthetics, how a piece of art is defined, and demolished it as something bogus. This means the criteria (disinterest, autonomous form) is actually class based, or part and parcel of the class distinctions of the middle class society.
When a critic says the aesthetic experience that a certain writer describes is dependent on, or in accordance to, the preferences of a specific class, they are not saying that the experience does not exist. For example, when Pierre Bordieu says a taste for autonomous and non-utilitarian art is limited to the upper class, he is not saying that this taste is just an ideological delusion. He is actually saying that,
because they represent the value of a specific class, there is no transcendent value.
One can object by pointing out that even if an aesthetic value or experience does play a part in class distinction, it doesn’t necessarily prove that the value or experience does not exist on its own terms. For one thing, even if the experience protects class distinction, this pleasure may be real and worth having too, and for another, an experience we all may recognize as particularly aesthetic does not disprove that the experience doesn’t have “cultural capital.” Therefore, aesthetic experience both exists and serve ideological ends. Art can be universally valuable, even if it is limited in its availability due to contingent social arrangements. Just because there are many forms of values that are associated with class distinctions doesn’t mean that aesthetic experience cannot ever establish anything definite about art or that it shows the independence of art from ideology.
The value of aesthetic criteria as autonomous form, disinterest, anesthetic, and embodiment were put forward by folks like Kant, Shaftesbury, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.