Posts Tagged ‘aesthetics’

On Sentimentality

March 15, 2009

Anthony Savile’s commentary on ‘sentimentality’ proved to be somewhat problematic while being correct at times. Savile states that sentimentality is a “gratification by false-colouring an object in his thought.” Thinking back to Kant’s Critique of Judgment, one is left to wonder if there is such a thing as “false-colouring”. Would it be false to declare that judgment and perception are largely dependent upon the subject and his or her right to subjectivity? Savile’s phrasing of his thoughts merely allows it to seem that anything can be thought to be ‘sentimental’, depending on how the critic views the situation. If this were to be the case, then what right do we have to view ‘sentimentality’ in such a negative light? That is not to say that a certain act out of sentimentality is necessarily ‘good’, but it is not necessarily ‘bad’, either. An overarching statement like Savile’s is too broad and general to be heard as truth.

-Anna Choi

On “The Dematerialization of Art”

March 13, 2009

“The Dematerialization of Art”
-Lucy Lippard and John Chandler

Lippard and Chandler bring up very relevant arguments in their essay [“The Dematerialization of Art,” on conceptual art practice of the 1960s and early 1970s].  With the advancements in technology and media since the 1960’s, art has become much less of a material art form.  Now, we see corporations like MTV mastered the combination of the audio and visual arts and are using it as a catalyst to perpetually promote and market their own brand.  They have found a way to manipulate art and audiovisual aesthetics to make it so appealing to a generation of kids that has grown up under the MTV influence.  Once again, the artist has been revolutionized, and we owe it all to technology.

MTV places a lot of emphasis on exhibiting sexual images that society has chosen as a whole to be beautiful.  Something about a body’s contour and a face’s symmetry have its hold on the modern day general public.  Other companies have taken notice of the undeniably philosophic assertion that beauty is captivating or, “sex sells.”  The soap distributor, Dove, has taken notice of society’s infatuation with the beautiful and targeted females that have been rejected by society’s unrealistically disproportionate standards of beauty.  Art has been dematerialized significantly and society’s new perceptions have turned it the art of love to the obsession of lust.
-Todd Dockery

On ‘Art that is Pornographic is Pornographic Art’

February 19, 2009

My primary objection to Jerrold Levinson’s categorical denial of the existence of pornographic art stems from the very structure of his argument.  He spends a great deal of time providing reasons to separate that which he labels ‘erotic art’ and that which he deems ‘pornography.’  To Levinson, the central differences are the aims of the two categories.  Pornography, he asserts, “induces you, in the name of arousal and release, to ignore the representation as to get at the represented.”  ‘Erotic art,’ however, “induces you, in the name of aesthetic delight, to dwell on the representation and to contemplate it in relation to the stimulating or arousing qualities of what is represented.”  Thus, the aims of either pornography or ‘erotic art’ have a bearing on the aesthetic qualities of the object itself, namely its ‘transparency’ or ‘opaqueness’ in terms of aesthetic quality.  While this in itself seems like a fair distinction, it is when it is applied to actual art-objects that it loses traction. Take, for example, the Venus of Cnidus, a marble sculpture of ancient Greece formerly the centerpiece of a temple in Cnidus but now known only in Roman copies.  It is an image of a nude woman—a beautiful and sensual one, at that.  However, when the sculpture is discussed or critiqued in this day, we do not focus on it as a pornographic image, instead our focus lies on its formal and aesthetic qualities—its pose, texture, proportion, the obvious skill needed to render such a gentle, compelling likeness of the human body, even—within reason—we comment on the beauty of the figure itself, at least in terms of it being an example of the Ancient Greek tendency to idealize the human form.  Levinson could not deny that the Venus of Cnidus is art, and its place as a religious image in the Classical canon would make it interesting for him to classify as ‘erotic art,’ though I have no doubt that this is where he would place it in his categorical understanding of art objects.  However, the sexually stimulating quality of the artwork—a factor which he claims pushes an art object beyond the realm of erotic art and breaches the pornographic—cannot be denied.  The Venus stands in half nudity, revealing her expertly carved curves in all their sensual suppleness.  The skill of the artist in veristically rendering the female body, which allows us to better imagine her as real, thus allows us to more easily be stimulated by her image.  In this case, the quality of transparency that allows us to become more aroused by the sculpture is also the very reason the sculpture is so compelling and exalted as a masterpiece of sculpture—thus, this same element of transparency is functioning to two different ends, and not unsimultaneously.  This example serves to illustrate that Levinson’s conception of pornography and erotic art is founded in the all-too-modern understanding of art for the sake of art.  Of course, in our post-Modern times, the medium of an art object and the process of art-making are foregrounded in the formal qualities artwork itself.  Thus, pornographic images could be seen to fail as art objects because their attempts at transparency for the sake of arousal remove or reduce that which we understand to be the very essence of contemporary art—the way in which a thing is represented, not the thing that is represented itself.  However, this is a very young aesthetic school, and though it dominates now it was once unknown.  Certainly the Ancient Greeks had never thought the vehicle of the image was itself the most important thing.  What was important was making a likeness of the god or goddess; the vehicle of sculpture merely the logical means of fulfilling this goal.  Then who is to say that, in rendering an image of a god or goddess, a Greek sculptor would avoid making the image erotic for the explicit purpose of stimulating at the same time as it serves to represent a religious icon?  This is especially true when the goddess being depicted is the goddess of beauty and sensuality; the goddess Aphrodite.  Why not make her likeness an effective demonstration of her supernatural powers; her ability to tempt and to seduce, but never give in? As described in Lucian of Samosata’s Erotes, the Venus of Cnidus does just that, and in her beguiling, all-too-real form is the intersection of pornography and art of the highest order:


“Filled with admiration, we noticed behind one of the thighs a stain like one on a robe, which only brought out the whiteness of the marble. It seemed a flaw in the stone. This kind of defect is not uncommon, and fate thus tends to thwart that which otherwise would reach perfection. Supposing this dark stain was natural, my admiration for Praxiteles only increased, for having so skillfully hidden it where it would least be noticed. But the groundskeeper, who had stayed by our side, recounted an extraordinary and barely believable tale on this subject. “A young man from a distinguished family,” said she, “but whose act has made the name unspeakable, came often to the temple, where an evil spirit had made him fall in love with the goddess. As he spent his whole day there, it was first believed to be due to a faith bordering on superstition. In fact he was up way before the dawn, and only went home after sunset, having spent all his time seated before the goddess, his eyes constantly fixed upon her. You could hear him murmuring sweet nothings to her.

….His passion only grew stronger…finally, the violence of his desires made him lose his reason, his audacity serving him for pimp. One evening, at sunset, he slid unseen behind the temple door and hid in the darkest corner, holding his breath. The keepers closed the gate as usual, and this new Anchises found himself alone inside. Who would dare recount the sort of deeds he consummated that wicked night? In short, at daybreak this sign of his amorous embraces was discovered, a sign which ever since has marked the goddess as a reminder of her suffering. As for the young man, they say he threw himself upon the rocks, or into the sea. In any case he disappeared forever.”

-Elliot Reichert

On Sentimentality

February 18, 2009

In Newman’s analysis of sentimentality, the presence of artworks that present a more truthful or “sobering” account of the empirical world mitigates the potential harms that stem from the existence of sentimental works.  Specifically, he juxtaposes the comparatively sentimentalized version of war in the Iliad against Wilfred Owen’s account of World War I, “Dulce et Decorum Est.”  I think that Newman has a point here: artworks that deal with similar issues exist in dialogue with each other in the public sphere.  Still, I find that this particular example is problematic.  The Iliad and Owen’s poem do not exactly represent different accounts of the same violent phenomenon.  Homer’s epic may present an exaggerated or “falsified” version of warfare, but it could never glorify the sort of horrific atrocities of World War I.

In his book “The Great War and Modern Memory,” Paul Fussell examines the effects that World War I had on artistic production.  One of his central theses is that the war caused a level of disillusionment that made sentimental accounts impossible.  Going back to Newman: I think that different artworks can only create a “balanced” dialogue if they have similar contextual origins as well as thematic continuities.  After the Great War, glorified views of war seemed ridiculous; sentimental language became an insult to the victims of the tragedy.

I think that the discussion on sentimentality could benefit from the historical considerations seen in work like Fussell’s.  Sentimental artwork produces different effects, and creates different problems, during different public crises.  The public’s tolerance for sentimental art probably depends on the cultural moment.  I don’t mean to say that it is easy to predict how an audience will receive sentimentality in a given moment.  World War I produced the Lost Generation, but the tragedy at the World Trade Center opened a space for what was arguably a highly sentimental patriotism.

– Michael Baum

On Horror

February 18, 2009

The theory put forth by Kendall Walton and Alex Neill [in Berys Gaut’s article “The Paradox of Horror”] on why people may enjoy horror films and other experiences which provoke negative emotions is absolutely fascinating. It essentially separates the emotion from what it is actually happening, thus it is not the emotion which is negative but occurrence which prompted it. In the case of the death of a loved one, it is not that we are sorrowful because we feel sorrow, but rather because we have lost someone close to us. “That is, it’s the situations rather than the emotions which are distasteful or undesirable, which we (metaphorically?) describe as painful or unpleasant.” (Gaut, 323) The idea of separation of emotion and event is interesting in that it inherently questions the meaning of any emotion. Perhaps we have been conditioned to feel certain ways after certain events, through witnessing other people go through them or simply through pop culture, but who is to say that the emotions of sadness or grief are objectively the correct emotions to feel after an event like the loss of a loved one? Would it be unimaginable for someone to feel elation consistently associated with death if at a young age death was presented in a positive light instead of negative? Is our opinion of what is good/pleasant in life simply a matter of conditioning put on us by our culture and more closely peers and family rather than an objective realization? All of these are feasible, which puts us on notice to wonder why we feel that ways we do, and if that is the only way we should feel, or if there are other possibilities.

– George Stoichev

Notes per Hegel’s “The Philosophy of Fine Art”

January 22, 2009

content of art = IDEA
form of art = CONFIGURATION OF SENSUOUS OR PLASTIC IMAGE

Hegel states that one must mediate between these two in a “mode of free totality”
1. The first determinant: The content shall disclose an essential capacity for display/configuration
2. The second requirement: The content shall not be anything distract
3. The third consideration: The content must be clearly individual, entirely “concrete” and a self-enclosed unity

concreteness: the point in which both coalesce and fall in with one another

As it relates to sensuality…
“The work of art has no such naive and independent being.” […like the forest, for instance…]
“It is essentially a question, an address to the responding soul of man, an appeal to affections and intelligence.”

There is a significant amount of talk about the degree of intimacy and that union with which the IDEA and CONFIGURATION appear together in an elaborate fusion. I believe that these two components are at the crux of Hegel’s philosophy of art.

— Matthew Murray

The Power of the Perceiver

January 22, 2009

Johann Joachim Winckelmann says that beauty exists irrespectively of the perceiver and that people must receive training on that which is beautiful in order to correctly judge what the beautiful is. Immanuel Kant, on the other hand, suggests that the subjective (though universally agreed upon) judgment of a perceiver establishes that which is beautiful. Kant suggests, then, that beauty does not exist apart from the perceiver, but rather that it is created through the perceiver. From Winckelmann to Kant, the power of the perceiver shifts tremendously—from the perceiver as someone who must be schooled in how to judge beauty correctly to the perceiver as the determinant of beauty. Under Kant’s logic, the perceiver is more powerful than the object of beauty itself because the object of beauty does not exist without the perceiver. This suggests, then, that an artwork cannot be beautiful if its audience and critics do not perceive it to be so.

-Laura Biagi