Sunday, 1 April 2012

The contemporary context for my aesthetics

Tomorrow I will post Painting 10: ‘I could have sworn I felt my spirit soar’.  This painting is very different to the paintings that I have shown you so far, so today I am sharing with you a piece that I wrote then to give a context to my creative direction at the time. I had been exploring where my paintings sat within contemporary artistic discourse, and this piece describes my intention to relate to that discourse while remaining true to my roots in aesthetics:

‘[There is] something of a pattern fought out over the supposed division between the apparent irresponsibilities of aesthetic pleasure and the social and political responsibility of ‘critical’ art, in which ‘beauty’ becomes the place-holder for conflicting interpretations of the political status of pleasure in contemporary culture.’[1]

In the late 1990s, with exhibitions such as ‘Sensation’ and ‘Apocalypse: Beauty and Horror in Contemporary Art’, the aesthetic value of art was somewhat rejected as people seized upon the more productive uses for art, e.g. socio-political influence.  Notions of the Beautiful and the Sublime, were perceived to be shallow in comparison with the potential for social witness and a reformative function.  The aesthetic experience is fuelled by a sensual encounter with the art work which has the power to deeply affect the viewer subjectively, with the capacity to provoke both elation and devastation.  But with the artist being more concerned with a statement of cultural, political or social influence, the experience is more functional, worthy or intellectual.  There might be a tagline or something to ‘get’, in other words the end product is the power of the art work as reflected by the intellect, rather than the work in itself.  The art object has been demystified and not without shame, de-romanticized.  

In this decade [2000-2010], there has been a renewed interest in the aesthetic experience, although the words aesthetic and beauty are still considered embarrassing.  ‘It’s now a common situation to find contemporary art inconclusively split, unwilling to fully endorse an aesthetics of pleasure, yet increasingly uncertain about art’s effective role in a politics of responsibility.’[2]  I would argue that aesthetics is about far more than pleasure and its critics would be surprised by the transformative power of the aesthetic experience.  In its truest sense, the aesthetic experience moves the subject (viewer) to a state that can’t be quantified by the imagination or the intellect.  Yet, by so paralyzing the usual cognitive faculties it can’t help but impact upon the way that viewer sees the world in that moment, be it politically, culturally, whatever.  The two sides already have the potential for unity and it doesn’t have to be a case of one or the other.  

‘At the centre of contemporary antinomies is that art must be and wants to be utopia, and the more utopia is blocked by the real functioning order, the more this is true; yet at the same time art may not be utopia in order not to betray it by providing semblance and consolation.’[3]

[1]  JJ Charlesworth, Art and Beauty, published in Art Monthly no 269, September 2003.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory p32.

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