Ascetic Aesthetic Utopia

            The previous post (Yart Sale) considered a “trifecta of art credibility”, the stuff of art (the actual thing itself), the theory of art, and integration into actual community. It suggested why today it is next to impossible to achieve. The speculation was centered primarily on the ever changing definition and nature of community. It is highly possible to indicate the art object or event though many are chameleon like in their intent to be mistaken for everyday reality. Even more so is it to define the theory or critique which usually appears as text. But actual community is taken to be slippery, eluding the grasp. Hereabouts in Ohio, an environment of blue green toxic algae has stained summer fun at many local lakes and beaches this year, even on Lake Erie. A recent headline/article reported that local leaders/officials blame it for the decrease in tourism related commercial activity. No mention is made of the crappy economic environment inhibiting people’s ability to spend discretionary income on summer outings. In like manner, focusing on the ephemeral nature of community when considering the trifecta of art credibility misses the greater role theory plays within this wager.

            Many times in previous posts we have considered the enormous impact of the thought of Jacques Ranciere on contemporary art and art/cultural theory. Ranciere relies on a rearrangement of the art historical perspective, introducing regimes of art, how art making/perception were organized over the passage of time. These don’t rely so much on evolution, tracing one regime growing out of another, but more on the direction and emphasis of a civilization’s culture. With Ranciere it would be the European culture. The recent regime, that of Art, the aesthetic regime, originated less than 250 years ago and runs concurrent with the upheavals of democracy and social organizations of equality (rather than hierarchy). Ranciere stimulates this direction by arguing for the aesthetic experience, the establishment of the art experience (sensually as well as theoretically) separate from other experiences with the rise of the romantic period of the 19th century (Why Madame Bovary must die). The aesthetic became legitimate on its own terms as individual experience/event whereas previously it supplemented a religious, ethical or political (monarchic) priority. Now the aesthetic is the priority. Various historic “headlines” evidence the feasibility of this approach – Art for art’s sake, Abstract art critiques of the 1950’s and 60’s that insisted the work had to justify itself, Danto’s art after the end of art, etc.

            With Ranciere’s aesthetic regime and the shifting of art to Art, a worm slips in unnoticed; one that is slipperier than the current definitions of community. It is presumed that Art and the aesthetic experience is akin to the experience of sky diving or wilderness camping. Involvement with the activity is exclusive by definition of the activity. If I jump out of a plane or plunge into the woods without the need for accommodation reservations, the experience produced will be one of free falling or sleeping in whatever weather/terrain is found. However, the worm begs to differ. This is not the current condition of the art (or Art) experience. The aesthetic regime described by Ranciere is not. Whether it ever was is a totally other consideration.

            Today, the art experience (or Art) is simultaneous with many experiences. It does not occur exclusively, nor is it sought out exclusively. Previous posts of this blog have considered the current definition of art as a social activity involving circulation and exchange (indeed reflective of late term capitalism). It has been questioned whether it is at all possible without the dialogic of others, in experience, interpretation or execution. Today’s undergrads have never experienced educational opportunities without video, audio or other artistic resources occurring simultaneously.  Name me an art (Art) experience that is exclusive as such. Movies? Folks get Netflix and enjoy them at home with all the interactions/distractions that provides. The opera? Now simulcast at your local cinema or available on DVD or as a download. Art gallery, with attendant coffee shop/children’s interactive area? Sculpture in public places shared by buskers, hot dog and T shirt vendors? No, art (Art) is experienced in conjunction with, is preferred alongside other experiences simultaneously. To isolate the art experience, to be motivated in art production by the inspiration that “someone will appreciate this particular endeavor” is to not live within our culture. Academy award winning films are experienced in the back seat of distinguished designer SUV’s by kids with iPod buds stuck in their ears downing Schweddy Balls ice cream being chauffeured by mothers texting about the latest episode of Hollywood Hausfraus on their Droids while gulping gourmet cappuccino on the way to soccer practice.

            The difficulty with achieving the trifecta of art credibility lies not with actual community but rather with the theory/critique. Current theory/critique self justifies by withdrawing art to a like exclusivity as itself. To speak/write of art as an activity or experience separate from that of other elements of culture is to promote an ascetic aesthetic utopia.

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