I have compiled chapters 1 – 3 in pdf, and are available upon request. Here are pages one from chapter 2 and 3:
When it comes to art and opinion, we are always reminded of the latin maxim: De gustibus non est disputandum (There’s no disputing taste). However, in the anime Hyouka (13th episode) the issue of art and subjectivity is raised by two high school girls, between Mayaka Ibara and her senpai, the president of the manga club. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
I came across this fascinating article on salon.com about the corrupting influence of nostalgia on contemporary culture. The argument of so-called Generation Void is that retro-zeitgeist nostalgia has mutated to the point that there’s no longer any original work anymore. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
This exceedingly liberal idea that everyone is an artist –irrespective of the fact whether they’ve produced any artwork – has never sat well with me, personally. If art is the process of arresting creativity with production that is shared with others, then only a select few qualify as artists. In other words: only the actual is genuine, not the potential. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
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.
Modern art emerged during the end of realism or the crisis of representation (cezanne, cubism, dadaism, surrealism). Realism is defined as the mirror theory of knowledge where the mind is a mirror of reality and objects that exist independently of the mind are represented (reproduced by a concept/work of art) adequately, accurately and true.
The invention of photography canceled/negated the authority of painting to “represent” reality. Technological innovations from the infrastructure of society subverted and radically transformed the superstructural tradition of visual art when mass production replaced hand crafted originality.
Modern art also contains abstract art, where the presentation of the unpresentable is attempted (suprematism, de Stijil, constructivism, abstract expressionism, minimalism). One way to present what is conceivable but not representable is by abstraction: if the concept was inadequate to represent reality, then the solution was privileging it and the elimination of all traces of reality from the (re)presentation of the unpresentable. Then the concept becomes the sublime reality.
De Stijl promoted the machine aesthetic, which was an idealistic belief in abstraction for real life, and championed machinelike undecorated flat surfaces (international style in architecture)
Constructivism was basically the desertion of easel painting for kinetic art and technical design in typography/architecture/industrial production.
In abstract expressionism there is only one name: Jackson Pollock.
Dadaism was taken as a stance against the optimism of modern art. For dada means nothing, a meaningful nothing when nothing has any meaning. Dada emerged in the nihilistic defiance of endless machinery and assembly line of technological warfare in World War I (Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, and Kurt Schwitters’ merz production) even when the artist spits, it is art! Dadaism released automatism, which junks all traditional rules of art for the sake of chance as the direct creative access of the unconscious. Duchamp insisted that “readymade” nonart object by itself can be displayed as art if separated or isolated from its original context/use/meaning (porcelain urinal signed as R. Mutt). The mass (re)produced object discontinued the concept of originality as well as sacred uniqueness of a work of art.
Minimalism: Carl Andre’s 120 fire bricks, where he intended to “unexpress” himself by eliminating all elements of expressiveness that left only the aesthetic process itself at the very borderline of non-art.
Non-presentation signified the very destruction of the aesthetic process. Piero manzoni captured the movement by canning his own shit and sold it as 100% pure artist’s shit. Conceptualism did away with the aesthetic process and refuted art itself since it was contaminated with elitism and crass marketing of the art world.
Lyotard identified one alternative strand of pomo as “antimodernist” that called for the end to experimentation. But since antimodernist conservationism is only one strand of a tangled skien, rational agreement on postmodernism is impossible.
Another strand is “eclectic” or “junk” pomo, a ground zero of contemporary general culture: reggae music, western film, burger king for lunch, local cuisine for dinner, paris perfume in tokyo, retro clothes in Hong Kong…. Kitsch, confusion, anything goes, no aesthetic criteria except for $…
1. Reproductibility in age of mass consumerism: Walter Benjamin thought mass reproduction would lead to the destruction of aura/autonomy of original stuff, but actually, the more a piece of work becomes a cliche, the higher the original costs. Everything is becoming the souvenirs of the ancient manufacture of the past. Where the reproduced is replacing reality as hyperreality is Image consumerism, the life that already has been lived and reproduced w/o reality except the cannibalized image.
Postmodernism is working w/o rules for the purpose of finding out the rules of what you have finished working on. Instead of experimentation, the question of recognizing a work as art depends on whose power it is that legitimizes what was done as the right way of doing it.
Legitimation is the third issue of pomo: a difficult and unpopular avantgarde modern art became accepted as institutional standard of taste through the taste of art galleries, museums, dealers, n the art purchasing public (merchants and collectors of art). As experimentation destroyed the aura and autonomy of art, the aura and autonomy became the sole properties of “exhibitive power” or the crritical establishment (curators, art dealers and clients). Ergo even anti art inevitably becomes reproduced as art by the institutional powers of legitimizaition. Contra the naive utopian beliefs of early avantgarde modernists where they thought history would confirm and legitimate their works as representing modernity through formalism and subversion, postmodernist struggle with this legacy (formalist subversion) and come to grips with the depressing reality that representation, reproduction and legitimation are far more complicated than previously thought.
Questions that are framed by the word “what” are formally essentialist because they presuppose the possibility of an essence that satisfies the question. Ergo, asking questions like “what is art” predisposes the subject matter of art into an essentialist framework. Instead of posing this question that somewhat sets unnecessary limits for art, Nelson Goodman proposed to dump that question and begin asking “when is art” instead. By starting with a different word, the topic of art changes – no longer limited to the search for the necessary or sufficient conditions of the possibility of the concept of art – freeing its radical creativity from the prison of theory….
Nelson Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking instructs us how art is composed of category schemes that dictate the criteria of identity for their objects. If two category schemes contain different criteria of identity, then it follows that they are irreducible to one another. Both category schemes do not treat of the same things. Constructivism entails that since a world consists of the things it comprises, irreducible schemes establish different worlds, many worlds that are dramatically different. If the categories which determines identity conditions of objects are human constructs, then we are worldmakers, creatures of imagination, and creators of art. Art, inasmuch science, makes and reveal worlds. Formally, aesthetics is the branch of epistemology that analyzes the cognitive functions of art. Goodman investigates, in greater depth, syntactic and semantic structures of symbol systems, literal or figurative ones.
Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy posited a radical account of art: Art saves the suffering creator and through art, life saves the sufferer for himself. This is a kind of truth that denies life and subsists only by illusion or some form of self-deception. The greater the capacity of suffering, the greater the need to reinterpret reality. And man is an acute animal that suffers rather acutely. Art justifies existence through one’s creative energies by sanctioning it with values. Only the truly hypersensitive pour forth creative energy and recast the meaninglessness of reality into a vision of humanity.
This viewpoint rides shotgun on the Schopenhaueristic premise that life is bereft of meaning. The ancient Greeks were natural pessimists and had a great capacity for suffering. Silentus said “what is best of all is forever beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. The second best, however, is soon to die.” It should be added that for too long we, the inheritors of western civilization, have had this absurdly romantic view of the Greeks as enlightened or naive people who considered suffering a foreign concept. Nietzsche argued that they created Apollonian arts to render their existence endurable and the Homeric dream world is the medium of their idealization of the highest good. “Only as aesthetic phenomenon is existence and the world eternally justified.” (Birth of Tragedy) Aesthetics is not beholden to some foreign criteria of justification or metaphysics. In other words, the world isn’t moral in the Christian sense, nor rational in the Hegelian, but beautiful – simply just so.
Yet, some propose art to be an artifact of politics, a pedagogical tool of the masses. Some even purport to link a moral character to the quality of art. These alternatives hardly deserves a response. Moral behavior does not dictate the talent of the artist. The artist faces an empty canvas, without anything in advance. The artist is not following a schema, a pattern when he begins to paint or draw or Photoshop. No previous decision predetermines the next movement of the brush, the pencil, or the cursor. The picture is completed when he decides it is finished. The last line is the one he chooses as the end.
By no right does an artist claim whatever is art, besides his or her own aesthetic standard. Art does not exist outside the specific choices of the artist, who brings the concept of art into the world with their specific work of art. As a result, they take responsibility for the concept of art as a whole. They are stating what art means for everyone else as well. Artists create the values, the only legitimate sort of values that evaluates their work. Bottom line: there is no such a priori “predetermining explanation” that defines creativity. Everything in art is ad hoc, after the fact, and contingent upon the subjectivity of the artist. When the artist employs the concept of art, they are giving it a meaning for everyone to see. This resembles the “intersubjectivity” of language that a concept of one’s creation is available for everyone else to witness and comment on, agree or disagree with, or attempt to elaborate on.