Posts Tagged ‘Aesthetics’

SpongeBob And The Angels

October 23, 2013

The reports out of AP and others is that Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati has evicted a monument of SpongeBob SquarePants after originally admitting it, claiming it to be inappropriate. The legal argument (of course) pivots on a cemetery being like a condominium, though anyone who has visited one will attest that no one is living there – the cemetery, that is. Now the grieving are really aggrieved. Monuments are forever. No peace to be found in Spring Grove until this enduring dilemma is resolved.

In a 6-16-13 post entitled Punctum, All Of The Noose That Is Knot considered Eric S. Jenkins’ insights on a Barthesian Punctum within animation. Setting aside Barthes’ obvious corollary of mortality applicable to Spring Grove, what Jenkins had to say on a different matter creates some genuinely eternal concerns. “The punctum of animation, although likewise a punctum of “Time,” is about life rather than death… Jones [famed Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones] might depict the character moving and expressing, but Bugs lives beyond the drawings. This child expresses animation’s punctum, sensing as alive that which exists only as image.” (Critical Inquiry Vol. 39 No. 3 pg. 585) This last line likewise could be used to describe an angel, of which there are probably a considerable number adorning monuments throughout most cemeteries. The Walkers, whose daughter Kimberly the monument is meant to commemorate, now may have recourse on aesthetic and cultural grounds. “Animation, animated subjects do not exist, have never been, share our world and experience only through the image, nothing more.” (this blog’s 6-16-13 post, Punctum). As much could be said for angels, though many, like the child recounted by Chuck Jones, actually see and believe in their actuality. This brings up an even gnarlier quagmire than the often related joke about Catholics in heaven (will anyone of another faith be there?). If our cemeteries are “populated” by what comprises our democracy (though strictly prohibited from being able to cast a vote by our boards of election), who determines the aesthetic, cultural appropriateness of commemorations to be found there?

Spring Grove's Eternal SpongeBob

Spring Grove’s Eternal SpongeBob


September 26, 2013

There was a time when what something meant had all the world to do with why it was or was not used, included. Part of the aesthetic involved with any creative endeavor included meaning. Today it could be likened to layering. One layer was meaning, another maybe harmony or rhyme, another maybe the actual physical quality, like the sound or color. A creative endeavor included the visual and auditory arts. Oration likewise was included in this, classically stemming from its roots in rhetoric, the art of persuasion. Today the aesthetic is about what is immediate. With oration, it is go for the jugular; that is, determine which side of the polarity those you hope to persuade are on, and how far they are/can be polarized. There is now no place for subtle arguments, narratives or reasoning to modify conviction and belief. Nope, just materialize positions, reify ideology. This week Ted Cruz’s political theater staged a magnificent production of that contemporary aesthetic. Why green eggs and ham? Because I’ve always liked it. Why Hitler, Chamberlain and appeasement? Because it is about taking a stand. Never mind it is also about Monday morning armchair quarterbacking given that at THAT time, in THAT place, no one could have foreseen the future any more than in 2001 anyone would have guessed the US would still be at war in Afghanistan 12 years later. No matter, what is relevant is that meaning as one layer of an aesthetic presentation, be it oratory or video, is of no consequence (all brings to mind George W. Bush’s infamous “So what?” reply to a question about meaningful facts). The end, the outcome is all that matters within the current aesthetic (how much box office was made on the opening week end, whether you have “won” the red states or blue states, whether your stint at American idol resulted in recording and appearance contracts, etc.). Eloquence in the arts has been displaced by effectiveness in the polling.

Life Is Short

August 26, 2013

Life is short, so one should enjoy it. Life is short, so one should find meaning in it. These two admonitions create a certain tension. Much continental philosophy and aesthetic theory reflects this tension within their discourse. Enjoyment seems to be not enough for a satisfying aesthetic experience. Meaning, as the basis of action and philosophy, elides the mundane, the everyday, the material.

Karl Marx was born in 1818; Ralph Waldo Emerson 15 years earlier. Emerson died in 1882; Marx a year later (roughly as contemporary as Mick Jagger and Jon Bon Jovi). Charles Darwin was a fellow rock star (1809-1882). Both Marx and Emerson were influenced by Hegel and his writings, philosophy and approach. It is hard to believe that Darwin did not know of Hegel. Volumes have been written on these contemporaries. Nothing new here. Suffice to say Emerson evolved Hegel different than Marx. Marx threw out the “spirit” aspect of meaning and replaced it by what makes for meaning within the capitalist status quo of the time – material. Emerson, perhaps much more cognizant of actual human bondage (than Marx) because of his everyday experience of living in a land where humans were considered material within the capitalist status quo (could be bought, sold and treated legally as property), focused on the “spirit” aspect, but without necessarily discarding the material. We all think we know what is attributed to Marx re: religion, but no memory permeates today of Emerson’s disposition to material, what makes for physical experience.

Capitalism’s emphasis on the material as fundamental to value (and meaning) differs little from Marx’s emphasis on the material as fundamental to value and meaning. The how’s and the why’s may differ but the material as foundational does not. Materialism determines value and meaning with either. In that they are brothers. Within continental philosophy this fraternal relationship seems to surface and reify with the thought and production of Guy DeBord and his Society of the Spectacle. The ultimate evolution of this affinity of meaning and value is found with Baudrillard’s writing on our culture, and simulacra (with regard to the values and meaning of materialism expressed as such). Emerson finds meaning and value with what is not tangible. Within his writing he advocates that what is not tangible has a bearing on the conduct of life and the determination of meaning. Early within his essay “The Poet” he writes “The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.” (again the Hegelian influence?). From DeBord and Baudrillard we associate expression today with material – material presence and the material being that accompanies “having”. Even the meaning and value of words and language changes within the hegemony of materialism. Emerson is also known for having been a poet, part of his appreciation and valorization of language (in a Marxist sense?). Language as material, maybe not, but as a material (sensual) experience, for sure, for sure. And therein lies the separation from the tension of continental philosophy, of meaning and enjoyment. For Emerson, to enjoy produces meaning. Within the materialist disposition (capitalist or socialist), the meaning that is material (that material “is”) does not necessarily correlate with or produce enjoyment (Jay Leno may have a lot of “stuff”, but is that what brings joy to his life?). Life is short. One should enjoy it as that is the only way to find meaning within the short span. But what brings joy? For Emerson, this was a (and “the”) philosophic question, something to be considered critically. It would be presumptuous (and flippant) to give the knee jerk answer as a distraction, past time, religious conviction or addiction. Joy for Emerson isn’t automatic, predetermined or guaranteed, but rather involves the half of a person that is not “his expression.”


June 16, 2013

The Spring 2013 Critical Inquiry offers an interesting extension of Barthes’ punctum. In an article entitled Another Punctum: Animation, Affect, and Ideology, Eric S. Jenkins (re)interprets Barthes’ insights with what is definitely not photography (but may employ it in the process) – animation. Barthes punctum is felt. That contributes more to understanding it than anything else. It is affective, much as the Proustian cookie. Something in the photograph “connects” with the viewer, touches the viewer, wounds or breaks the surface. This “something” is not necessarily the same thing for each viewer. It may be a trivial detail of clothing, or setting, or physical feature, gesture. But it is enough to make the viewer stop and reconsider their assessment and response to the image based on how the image now exists in the world as they (the viewer) know and experience it. Barthes also considers a second degree or level of the punctum, that of how the “traditional” photographic image connects with the viewer through the aspect of time, along the channel of finality – death. THAT, which I am looking at, was but is no more. Call it poignancy if you like, it is as affective as the initial connection with some individual element within the make-up of the image. Barthes dwells on the specific characteristic of mortality found with traditional photographs. Traditional must be stressed as so much could not be said for “photo-shopped”, manipulated images or moving “pictures” – film. Contemporary with the development of film was the development of animation, another type of moving picture. Jenkins realizes that folks respond affectively to animation, so there must be a punctum at play there somewhere. The classical Chinese ink painting theorists would describe this as the image needs a doorway, an entry into the painting. We would call it the point where there is a suspension of disbelief. Animation, animated subjects do not exist, have never been, share our world and experience only through the image, nothing more.

“The punctum of animation, although likewise a punctum of “Time,” is about life rather than death. Gertie [Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur, 1914] never lived, so her coming death is unlikely to incur a wounding melancholy. Instead, in animation’s punctum, the viewer senses as alive that which does not live. This sense of life is so potent, this prick so sharp, that even knowing otherwise sometimes cannot prevent the feeling that these characters live. For instance, in an oft-repeated anecdote, famed Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones mentions to a child that he created Bugs Bunny. The child stubbornly denies his assertion, insisting, “’he draws pictures of Bugs Bunny,’” Jones might depict the character moving and expressing, but Bugs lives beyond the drawings. This child expresses animation’s punctum, sensing as alive that which exists only as image.” (Critical Inquiry Vol. 39 No. 3 pg. 585)

After the end of art (the post modern), what makes for art is greatly in flux. No fixed criteria exist to make this art or not. Everything can be art. Everything is not art. Classical aesthetic theory falls short when one considers popular culture as a fountainhead of art. It is squished flat when one considers the current inter relationship of the market and art. Because some “thing” (concrete or conceptual) has had its five minutes of fame, does that make it art? If some “thing” sells, does that make it art? The higher the price, the better the art? What makes for quality with art if we know that it is art to begin with? On pg. 583 Jenkins writes, “If the punctum is like the passage through a black hole, perhaps animation’s punctum can be envisioned as going through another hole, a rabbit’s hole, like Alice transported to a realm where cats talk, caterpillars smoke hookahs, and the Queen of Hearts barks orders for decapitation.”
Inadvertently, Jenkins himself opens a passage that helps answer some of these questions regarding what makes for art, what makes for quality. Allowing for such a bivalent interpretation of the punctum makes an aesthetic utilization possible. Without doubt or controversy, one of the most beloved manifestations of western art would be that produced by the “category” called the Impressionists. Yet what do we find here? We find individual artists who insisted on always “representing” something that already was (much as traditional photography). At the same time, we find a palette and style that belongs more with that of the Disney studios than the contemporary academic painters of the time. The affective response to Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party or Monet’s Haystack at Sunset near Giverny could be equally described by either Barthes’ or Jenkins’ punctum. The house barely appearing in the summer’s pre twilight haze, the woman holding the dog up, these are trivialities that draw me in. They are not Gertie, in that they never have been. They once were. And yet there is also the aspect of the colors and forms, so much in keeping with Jenkins description of animation. Were I to ever encounter life forms like Renoir’s or a landscape like Monet’s, it would be as Jenkins describes, “Temporal hallucination.” (pg. 584) The contribution to considerations of quality or existence (is it art?) that such an expanded interpretation of punctum provides would be along the lines that it once was (something experienced, shared, coexistent with actual experience) AND the acute sense “as alive that which does not live”. Much as the pre Socratics (and the pre Robert Redford’s) described life (philosophized about life) as a river, one that you cannot step into the same river twice. No! Not even once. Yet we all admit we do step into the river. So considerations of art, its being and quality, have to include what definitely was, as well as what we can never enter into, “sensing as alive that which exists only as image.”

The Sublime

April 1, 2012

            Sometimes one sees them passing by, a rusted hulk or faded relic riding atop a trailer. They aren’t headed to be sold at the scrap yard. Haggled over and purchased, they are on their way to be restored to what they were originally intended to be, or what folks back then would have modified them to be as per the actual practice of everyday life. Refinished, they will amaze with their gleaming renditions of bygone modes of transportation sharing the very pavement with our contemporary fuel efficient, on star equipped versions.

            Permission had been given to set up an apiary on a recently acquired rural property. It was located on a back road, neither here nor there. This was a ruin from the time when farming as life had crested in the US. Young men went off to fight WWII, “the big one”, never to return to what had been till then “their future”. Old age and disability had eventually separated the residents from their source of vitality. With no descendents interested in carrying on, the house and grounds continued on their own, unabated. The neighboring farm down the road, from the same era, had its tillable land sold off separate from the immediate homestead, now occupied by a young Amish couple. Both houses originated architecturally for more utilitarian requirements like having a place to sleep, eat and stay warm than aesthetic or leisure ones. The remains that the bees would now call home were still intact though the surrounding land and barn continue to be leased for cattle and hay. The house itself was added to and modified, both the original and the additions; i.e. a porch, then the porch enclosed, then the porch made into a florida room, then opened up to accommodate a wheel chair ramp, or a lean to shed, then a carport, then extended for two cars, then an enclosed garage, then walls of glass to serve as a green house for starts, etc. The grounds immediately adjacent to the house harmonize with it; a pond surrounded by various nut trees, the dike raised and pond expanded to within yards of the back door, a fir tree forest originally planted as a windbreak now overshadowing many different varieties of fruit trees, fallen down grape arbors and more large nut trees, throughout, flowers and berry bushes of every kind, both intentional and volunteer, crammed into any available nook, cranny or corner. The grass of the grounds has been continuously grass for so long that a layer of hummus is distinctly evident in the sod that was broken for the new hive stands. Life has outlived the folks who lived here.

            It all made me wonder about art, beauty and the sublime. The rusted hulks and faded paint relics that collectors, hobbyist and pop culture artists restore to show off shiny and perfect at car shows, exhibitions and competitions all originated as perfect, undamaged, only to be resurrected as the same. No one would dare restore or resurrect the ruins of this household, pond and garden simply because no one could. The least little detail of any of it embodies, maps, what made it possible; the winds, rain and draught that damaged or nourished it, the pests and diseases that grew with it and are part of it, the economy that enabled or restrained desire. At what point could one hop in and say “this is what was there”? It is a continuance which out raced those that had delighted in it, a continuance which cannot be frozen in the LL Bean catalogue fashion of an art show, exhibition or competition. It is comprised of damaged goods, all the things that fall short, all the inadequacies, dysfunctions, indeterminacies. It didn’t start out as perfection, nor did it originate from perfection. It simply continues. Like the sublime, it outlives us all.

Woody Guthrie’s Music

February 6, 2012

A past news article headline declaring something like “Upcoming Woody Guthrie Museum will focus on the artistic and not the political” seems to have attached itself permanently to my brain. It concerned the projected museum addition in Tulsa Oklahoma. The headline is in perfect accord with Ranciere’s distribution of sense. At the same time it leaves one flabbergasted that what originally was an organic unity has been conveniently dissected. One is left scratching one’s head thinking would this be the same Woody Guthrie if he had written product jingo’s for radio ads, Broadway musicals, or academic music in some conservatory?

Serendipity finds the recent Critical Inquiry (Winter 2012) featuring Aesthetics and Politics: an Interview with Jacques Ranciere by Gavin Arnall, Laura Gandolfi, and Enea Zaramella (from 2009). In this article the conversation ranges not only over the distribution of sense and the aesthetic regime but also the nature and place of the museum. Regime orientation is defined by artistic practice (“Surrealist practices clearly belong to that tradition that is part of the actual tradition of modernism,” pg. 290). A museum concerns itself with these practices. No such establishment recuses itself from the contemporary and its ways. As Ranciere points out, the contemporary can and does include not only the aesthetic regime, but aspects of the mimetic as well as the ethical. It would come as no surprise to find elements of these within a museum’s practice, but a predominance of the aesthetic regime would probably prevail. “On the other hand, the aesthetic regime is based on a specific form of equality that is much more inclusive (everything can enter the realm of art), but has no specific connection with political equality.” (pg. 296). That, in a nutshell, explains the justification of the Guthrie Museum headline.

It is very unsatisfying, this equality of the museum where the presentation of difference comes across like an LL Bean catalog; everything fitting together (with a smile) and appearing to be there “naturally”. The discomfort doesn’t become apparent until one considers something like inequality itself- economic, educational, or social (of a racial, ethnic or religious bent). One immediately recognizes that given the inclusiveness and equalizing character of the aesthetic regime, and the “no specific connection with political equality”, it becomes difficult to understand how, if at all, inequality could be considered within a museum, let alone presented. It appears to be a subject which by definition, is not possible.  As Ranciere sums it up: “There is an egalitarian presupposition at the basis of the aesthetic regime. On the one hand, that presupposition supports the capacity to see aesthetically in general, the possibility to perceive and appreciate objects and performances as artistic. On the other hand there is an aesthetic utopia that has thrived on that presupposition, the program of a community of equals, where equality would be achieved in sensible life, in everyday life. In that case, the presupposition has been transformed into a telos. The enactment of equality always entails the risk of that transformation. (pg. 296)

Imagine an observation/presentation of how news articles inadvertently highlight the various aesthetic make up of subject matter. A man shoveling snow as opposed to a man using a snow blower highlight certain distinctions or inequalities (if you don’t believe me re: the inequality, the backs of the two gentlemen will convince you). Nowhere is this aesthetic more apparent than in news features of crimes, crime reporting. The composition or make up of the crime scene, the victim’s home or neighborhood brings the severe aesthetic disparity into sharp focus. Like the snow moving difference, in crime scene reporting one will find meticulous homogeneity of design/function components in some well to do crime scenes (think Tiger Woods being rescued from his crashed luxury SUV through the use of one of his top of the line golf clubs), a hodge podge of genuine and imitation components (ala Saddam Hussein’s Las Vegas-esque palaces), and deteriorating “make do” with sheets or towels for window covering and ad hoc purely functional 2×4 or plumbing pipe hand rails, concrete block steps, etc. In short, the aesthetic make up of the “crime scene” speaks inequality much more than any contextual reference. Yet, shown within a visual art gallery setting, the inequality becomes watered down, possibly becoming elided, eventually disappearing altogether when the spectator leaves the room. Those engaged in the current discourse regarding inequality and inequity would do well in considering the shortcomings of the visual arts in voicing such matters. Visual art cannot escape its heritage of wealthy patron portraiture, fine residencies in idyllic landscapes, and sumptuous settings of food.  Within the current regime of art, inequality, like the life of Woody Guthrie, requires dissection for inclusion in the distribution of sense.

Thoreau And Jake Reilly

January 31, 2012

Yahoo Contributor Network ran an article/interview by Brad Sylvester entitled “Jake Reilly’s ‘Amish Project:’ 90 Days Without a Cell Phone, Email and Social Media College Student Drops Social Media, Reconnects with Romance” (noted on 1-30-12). Jake Reilly decides to try to live sans high tech communication for three months. He is very surprised by what he experiences as well as the outcome. This is relayed in an interview that comprises the bulk of the article.

Reilly’s experiment hearkens another great adventure in quitting the conventional, Henri D. Thoreau’s account of Walden. Some uncanny analogies and outcomes are hard to dismiss. True, Reilly’s experiment was within the social while Thoreau’s was ostensibly withdrawn from the social (probably why it did not reconnect with romance at the end though many claim that the entire venture was a romance!). Both did stay in touch and communicate with their fellows; Thoreau through his regular visits to Concord and Lincoln as well as his encounters with those he met near his house, Reilly with his bicycling to visit, and use of wall postings and chalk messaging. The most striking analogy is that both took the time to find out what is worthwhile, what is really worthwhile. Thoreau, with a very conscientious, almost critical methodology discovers that a quality life demands a mindful everyday. Reilly discovers that contemporary high tech communication results in mindless, numbing existence. The most fascinating telling by these two philosophical expeditions concerning the nature of quality, the worthwhile, is their conclusions regarding writing and language. Language, of course, is the very heart of high tech communication devices and social media while writing is presently in flux between the kind associated with the epic that Thoreau considers, the kind embodied in multi media presentations, and the kind used to produce the code that makes digital transmission possible. Thoreau writes: “for there is a memorable interval between the spoken and the written language, the language heard and the language read. The one is commonly transitory, a sound, a tongue, a dialect merely, almost brutish, and we learn it unconsciously, like the brutes, of our mothers. The other is the maturity and the experience of that; if that is our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved and select expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be born again in order to speak.” (Walden, chap. 3 “Reading”, third paragraph). In the transcribed interview Jake Reilly’s response to Brad Sylvester’s inquiry is “What we do now, on e-chat, is people just flying off with whatever comes to mind. It’s so much different to have it really thought-out. I’m a writer, so it’s time consuming. I think it takes 20 minutes or half an hour to write a letter and really get it the way I want it. I think it’s a better, purer way to communicate.”

Oh that Thoreau, he was so 160 years ago. And that Reilly interview is not much better. It is so 60 seconds ago. Modern communication technology within late term capitalism’s embrace has created this unfulfillable desire for a merging of the spoken word with that of the written, a same time reality.  This quest for seamlessness, sameness, is akin to Zeno’s racetrack, where the contestant never reaches the finish line because there is always half the distance to go. There is always that interval, the interval of time. Thoreau and Reilly taking the time to discover what is really worthwhile reveals difference. And the difference is found in the “taking the time”, not in the “time saving” instantaneity of “real time” aspiration.

Contribute To The Decorum

October 26, 2011

Which came first, the chicken or the egg, the body or the body image? Old questions, living in the past. It was to be a non-transgressive errand of posting notices for an upcoming, in-the-flesh, physical body assembly (meeting) of the niners (not the Herman Cain variety). Speaking of living in the past, what better place than the local branch of the state university? Visions of messy information boards slathered with notices of everything from “try outs” to “room mate needed” to “upcoming meetings” were shattered by the explicitly designated parking area with its multiple postings of continuous surveillance and actively enforced prohibitions. The campus covers large acreage with multiple buildings, most of a recent vintage, a style I remember being noted in an Art For ‘Em critique as a cross between hotel, upscale shopping mall and corporate headquarters that “helped revitalize” downtown LA. Only this was the central Ohio, Newvegas rendition. It consists of multistory or high ceiling public spaces, with sound deadening walls, ceilings and flooring, all in a drab, muted toned coloration with recessed lighting that made everything “hush, hush”. There was the requisite “help desk” at each entry strategically placed to enable an unobstructed view of all the branching corridors as Acconci had anticipated. The buildings all had food service areas right off the “common” areas, with tables and barriers creating discrete spatial subdivisions unified by an unencumbered line of sight (a common space but an interrupted traffic flow), . Everything had the “aura” of privacy (very much in the Benjamin sense) while at the same time maintaining an ostensible recognition of being public- in funding, purpose and function. Not a messy, unkempt bulletin board covered with notices to be seen. Nothing untidy whatsoever. The campus itself is laid out likewise, with clear, unobstructed lines of sight and no physically private areas whatsoever. If you sat to be with your laptop or your lover, it could only be within the common view of all, be it in the cafeteria areas or the tree shaded green. Within the aesthetic of this architectural space, the human either contributes to the decorum or is not at all.

And what of performance art? Yes, sculpture has gravitated in that direction. The Newvegas campus emulates the real Vegas with bronze, life size simulacras of figures seated on benches or in arrangements of imagined public activity (listening to the music in front of an empty bandstand, etc.). A lady giving birth in a gallery in New York and I can’t even post a piece of paper in public! Performance art is supplanting material 3D sculpture in so many of the undergrad/grad school studio art offerings. The students are always excited and titillated, like children at Halloween. It is so transgressive, a furtherance of the disruptive tradition spawned by Duchamp. Giving birth in front of anyone and everyone. And I can’t even post a scrap of paper! One wonders about this performance art since performance, within a designated performance space, is as old as classic Greek culture within the history of western art.

Performance art is ostensibly all about the body. Yet our actual, physical “public” space (like the Newvegas campus) is all about maintaining security and ensuring a “public”-ness. Here, the actual, physical body morphs into image and branding, something that can only be mediated. The medium is the message. If the actual physical presence in these public spaces does not contribute to the decorum, then it is not. I could have posted my message online, on a virtual bulletin board (it could even be formatted to appear messy). But then, who would have noticed?

Home Is Where The Heart Is They Tell Me

September 18, 2011

            Disruptive innovation theory – “Disruption is a positive force. It is the process by which an innovation transforms a market whose services or products are complicated and expensive into one where simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability characterize the industry.” (Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton M. Christensen, pg. 11)

            Occasionally, over the years, a dream recurs and puzzles my analysis. The format is similar, generally involving going, being in transit, either as in moving from one location to another or reviewing some situation (from where it once involved me to where it is evolving). In all of these there is an overriding sense of familiarity and certainty with what is involved – the environment, terrain or object of the dream. There is likewise some impediment, rearrangement or complication that familiarity (and certainty) would deem prevents a conclusion (the neighborhood has evolved, the road has been rerouted, or ownership has shifted). The sense of it has proved evasive because there is so much certainty and familiarity of all the elements involved. It is not so much a sense of frustration, as nothing is attempted to be achieved, retrieved or ascertained within the dream. Rather, it is more about a long term, slow moving kind of anxiety; an anxiety that is accumulated rather than precipitated.

            This is the dream of old age, the reliance on the familiar not in the everyday mundane sense but rather in the psychological sense, that the familiar is how we relate to our expectations, anticipations, values, etc. These were all established, determined, originated yesterday. When we are young, the expectations, anticipations, and values are coexistent and coextensive with the (contemporary) time of their fulfillment. As we age, the expectations, anticipations, values, etc. are more familiar to us than the changing contemporary where their fulfillment can only be met. Not that the fulfillment can’t be met, only the fulfillment must likewise follow changing anticipations, expectations, values, etc. When these subjective abstractions do not undergo change (do not become un-familiar), then what is being desired to be fulfilled (the expectations, anticipations, values, etc.) remain only those with which we are familiar. Hence the dream of not being able to connect with what one is so certain of, so familiar with. Cliché may be that one can never go home, but both home and expectations, anticipations, and the value of home change.

            In an analogous manner, Ranciere’s account of what makes for the expectations, anticipation, valuation of a work of art within the contemporary was formulated yesterday. That formulation did not evolve. Rather, it is continuously clarified and ascertained. In short, as the years sneak by it becomes more and more familiar and certain. The art of the contemporary, which so seamlessly accommodated the theory at its inception, today finds impediments, rerouting and impossibility. Evolving innovations in “new” technology de facto produce an art avant garde. This group’s familiarity and certainty with regard to what “creates” innovative art immediately dates them, makes them old. To be “at home” with the avant garde is to be at heart continuously in a state of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. Such is the consequences of “new” within art. How this differs from Yuriko Saito’s Everyday Aesthetics!

Ascetic Aesthetic Utopia

September 11, 2011

            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.