Aesthetics has a bad name in our time. Treated like a distant uncle who embarrassingly plagues our family gatherings, it's seen as a weakness, leftover from patriarchal times when wives dragged their husbands to the opera. It's dismissed as the pleasure principle, self indulgence with a faint waft of sex attached to it.
At present the problem's misunderstood, the players confused. In fact at a discussion presented by the School of Visual Arts in New York, a panel of distinguished critics, learned art historians, and respected professors could not define the term. The lecture's theme (Crisis In Aesthetics) was referred to, drawn from, sketched lightly but never defined, as if unimportant.
There was frustration in the air that evening, a feeling of something almost understood. We sensed each member holding different definitions and assuming the other panelists shared their thoughts, when in fact each panelist was projecting personal disdain; the very concept of aesthetics was unacceptable in the early 1990's.
With such accusations, with aesthetics on trial, it seems necessary to review it's history, examine it's parentage, question it value and define its purpose. One audience member suggested dispensing with aesthetics altogether, but that's like hanging first, trial after.
This cultural cleansing is already in effect; at an ICP exhibition I found the art work had actually been de-aestheticized. There were 1930's photographs, approx 12" square, by Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Edward Weston, Tina Modotti. The images were framed without matts, in gaudy, grainy, wood frames two inches thick. The frames and the photographs competed for attention...
The viewer's aesthetic sense was split in two and neutralized, leaving the work to be read as an illustration of art history; images made in that time period, by these people, following specific ideologies, as we learned in school. There was little else to see, little desire to look further. The aesthetic focus was lacking.
BODY ART AT EXIT ART
THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES
CYCLES OF CHANGE IN ART MOVEMENTS
THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
THIS WORK IS A POLITICAL ACT
SEX, RELIGION, IMAGE
ITS MY FAULT