aesthetics

art historical

In the late nineteenth century, with the rise of a philosophically oriented art history, the philosophical issues of how we perceive space gave way to the psychological problem of how we come to take delight in the characteristics of formand space. The philosophical art historians sought the "basic principles," (Grundbegriffe ) underlying the creation and appreciation of art, and their historical transformations. 

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avant-garde

For Poggioli, futurism defines one central aspect of the avant-garde, which in Ortega Y Gasset's words, is that the historical task of the contemporary artist is to "work in the present for the future". In this "historical mythology of contemporary art" the work of the avant-garde presents the shape of things to come. Poggioli differentiates between the actual artistic movement of Futurism and that movement's claim to the concept of the avant-garde. For Poggioli,Futurism "possessed in its name the most successful and suggestive formula thought up by the avant-garde" but the movement "was one of the lowliest and vulgar manifestations of avant-garde culture" (p.143) If real futurism is dead forever, ideal futurism is still living, precisely because it renews itself in the consciousness of each successive avant-garde. (p.223). Reyner Banham also enthusiastically described the Futurist example and its exaltation of speed while distancing himself from its politics. 

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bachelor machine

bachelor machine

The term "bachelor machine" was first used by Marcel Duchamp around 1913 in connection with pieces of work that would later be assembled in the Large Glass of 1915-1923. (Also known as the bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even) For Duchamp, the term refers specifically to the lower portion of the glass, the realm of the bachelors, which contains, among other things, the chocolate grinder, the cemetary for uniforms and liveries -- Priest, Delivery Man, Gendarme, Cuirassier, Policeman, Pallbearer, Footman, Stationmaster and Page Boy -- and the témoins oculistes. The Large glass consists of two distinct realms, the realm of the bride above, and the realm of the bachelors below, both desiring and imagining one another without any possibility of mutual comprehension. (one is here reminded of the real / imaginary distinction and the discussion of cyberspace)

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being / becoming

For Cassirer, " Form thinking" belongs to being, while "causal thinking" belongs to becoming. But strict knowledge is only possible of the always-being. That which is becoming can only be described, if at all, in the language of myth. Or rather, myth is already familiar with both the question of the "what" and the question of the "whence." "It sees everything that it grasps (the world as well as the gods) under this double aspect." (The Problem of Form and the Problem of Cause, in The Logic of the Cultural Sciences, p. 87) 

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body

body

Aristotle distinguished between the body and the soul. The latter referred not only to the principle of life, but to the form of a particular living body. Thus the soul is the organization of the body. (cf. organism) Aristotle rejected the doctrine of the Pythogoreans, according to which the soul can clothe itself in different bodies. (see clothing/garment ) Instead, a particular soul is the entelechy, or formative force of a particular body, and the individuality of a particular man. Thus every particular soul requires a connection to a particular organic whole. At the same time, he upheld a division between matter and form which describes, for example, the relation between the eye and sight. When the power of sight is absent, the eye is no longer an eye in the proper sense. After taking the position that "..there seems to be no case in which the soul can act or be acted on without involving the body," Aristotle goes on to suggest that thinking is the one specific activity of the human soul which is capable of separate and independent existence from any connection to the body. (see also subject )

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critical history

In The Critical Historians of Art, Michael Podro distinguishes questions that are "archaeological" from "critical" questions. The latter, which address the role and nature of concepts of art, "require us to see how the products of art sustain purposes and interests which are both irreducible to the conditions of their emergence as well as inextricable from them." (pxviii)

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empathy

In the late nineteenth century, the concept of Einfühlung , as "feeling into," was proposed by Rudolph Lotz and Wilhelm Wundt. E. G. Tichener, a student of Wundt, coined the English translation "empathy" in 1910, using the Greek root pathos for feeling and the prefix em for in. Empathy was developed as an aesthetic theory in the work of Theodore Lipps and others. 

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figure/ground

Gestalt psychologists employed the concept of figure and ground to study human pattern recognition, in which a figure (note the anthropomorphic aspects) or universal can be distinguished by its emergence from a (back)ground. One of the classic studies involves dual and contradicting readings such as the duck/rabbit or the two faces/vase. The same aspects of the images are interpreted differently as the guiding gestalt changes. 

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fold

"In the late work of the painter is the fold / of that which comes to presence and of presence itself / become simple, 'realized.' healed, / transfigured in an identity full of mystery. / Does a path open up here, that leads to the co- / belonging of poetry and thought?" From Martin Heidegger, "Cezanne." in Gedaches, quoted in Agamben, Stanzas, p 158, n.)

"A structure is a regularized infolding of an aleatory outside." (Brian Massumi, p. 58) (see inside / outside ) For Gilles Deleuze, the Baroque is an operative function endlessly producing folds. These operations occur on two levels: the pleats of matter and the folds of the soul. What is the connection between the two? Correspondence, communication, or a fold between two folds?

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form

Is there an independent problem of form, for which biology must develop its own concepts and methods of thought? The Pre-Darwinian project of rational morphology was to discover the "laws of form," some inherent necessity in the laws which governed morphological process. It sought to construct what was typical in the varieties of form into a system which should not be merely historically determined, but which should be intelligible from a higher and more rational standpoint. (Hans Driesch, 1914, p. 149) 

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Form / Matter

The Judeao-Christian account of creation is an account of the origin of form, not of matter. "In the beginning..the earth was without form, and void."... The passage deals at length with the origin of order.

 For Aristotle, the generation of each organism was the result of a male formal cause (conveyed by the semen) and a female material cause (the menstrual blood.)(see epigenesis)  cf body / soul.

 The "hylomorphic" model separates a form that organizes matter and a matter prepared for the form.  Gilbert Simondon bases his critique of the hylomorphic model on "the existence, between form and matter, of a zone of medium and intermediary dimension." 

 A formalist concept presupposes a contrast between form and matter. Indeed, without this distinction the absolutization of form makes no sense. "When we look upon the work of art, the means and the materials are forgotten and it is satisfying in itself as form." (Gottfried Semper)

 In The Life of Forms in Art, Henri Focillon argues against the antithesis of form and matter. For him, art is bound to matter, and "unless and until it actually exists in matter, form is little better than a vista of the mind, a mere speculation on space that has been reduced to geometrical intelligibility." (p95) According to Focillon, "matter, even in its most minute details, is always structure and activity, that is to say, form." (p.96) and each kind of matter has a certain "formal vocation." But the life which inhabits matter undergoes a metamorphosis as it becomes a substance of art, and technique is a "whole poetry of action" as a means to achieve metamorphoses.

 Konrad Fiedler described the achievement of classical Greek architecture as the complete intellectualization of all the material elements of building. "We can speak of understanding a Greek building from the great period only when we perceive how the force that strives for a pure expression of form has taken command of every part of the building." ("Observations on Architecture, in Empathy, Form, and Space, p. 134) Still, Fiedler is careful to note that "Form has no existence except in material, and the material, to the mind, is not only the means by which form expresses itself but the medium in which form achieves existence."

 For Heinrich Wölfflin, the force of form (Formkraft ), the opposition between the tendency of matter towards formless collapse and the opposing force of will, life, or whatever, sets the entire organic world in motion and is the principle theme of architecture. 

 For Ferdinand de Saussure, "language is a form and not a substance." (Cours, p.169)

 For Deleuze and Guattari, the distinction between matter and form is characteristic of "Royal Science", the science of a society divided into governors and governed. For nomad science the relevant distinction is material-forces rather than matter-form. Materials for nomad science are not homogenous, and form is not fixed. The singularities or haecceities are already like implicit forms that are topological rather than geometrical, and that combine with the processes of deformation: for example the variable undulations and torsions of the fibers guiding the operation of splitting wood. "energetic materiality in movement" (see Thousand Plateaus, p 408)

 (see transcendent / immanent) (see also natural form)

 

 

formless

formless

This image of two inchoate substances ressembles Plato's accounts of creation in the Timaeus, in which earth and sky are separated by the gap of space, a gap which Eros tries to fill. (see philosophy / chaos ) While these accounts are about the origin of form, the informe is a counter-movement against the authority of form.

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Formalism

We can perhaps begin by describing formalism as the valorization of the purely aesthetic experience, as aestheticism. The principle work of formalism focuses on the techniques specific to a medium.

Michael Podro describes the critical historians of art as treading a tightrope between a sense of context in art and a sense of autonomy. He describes the concept of art as both inextricable from context and irreducible to it. When the former is elevated at the expense of the latter, art becomes a trace or symptom of context, when the latter is stressed, the position moves more towards formalism. For art, to be autonomous is to have a separate history. (The compromise solution for this tension has been to describe the "semi-autonomy" or "relative autonomy" of art.)

For the Russian formalist critics, such as Viktor Shklovsky, "estrangement" (or "defamiliarization”) was the central vehicle for a modernist aesthetics that sought to define the "literariness of literature". (although Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Cervante's Don Quixote written long before modernism, are often referred to as canonic examples of the technique)In "Art as Technique" (1917), Shklovsky claimed that the purpose of art was to force us to notice. Because of habitualization, "the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously...and art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. ...The technique of art is to make objects "unfamiliar", to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important." (Lemon & Reis, p. 12)

Formalism presents itself as moving beyond representation, and it thus moves out of the communicational social contract constituted in representation.

Russian Formalism was first attacked by Trotsky, in Literature and Revolution, in 1923. Trotsky saw Formalism as only concerned with the technical aspects of literature. In the following year, the first Soviet Commissar of Education, Anatoly Lunacharsky, renewed the attack, calling Formalism "decadent" rather than simply "narrow". for Lunacharsky, Formalism encouraged art for art's sake and promoted aesthetic sterility. (see Victor Erlich, Russian Formalism, p. 103-107)

The debate between the Marxist and Formalist critics continued for the rest of the decade and took a decidedly more frightening turn with the rise of Stalin. One of the more interesting attempts at going beyond both a-social pure Formalism and a-literary sociologism of pure Marxisms was the study originally attributed to P.N. Medvedev, but now thought to be principally written by M. M. Bakhtin, The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship.

In 1932, Sergei Eisenstein was one of the few active artists still able to defend the idea of form. In "In the Interest of Form", he wrote, echoing what Medvedev/Bahktin saw as "the main claim of European formalism" that "Form is always ideological ."


frame

If distinctions are "frames" for observing and describing identities, we will need a theory of frames, including, as Derrida would say, a frame for the theory of frames. In the Parergon quote, Derrida twists the theory of the frame to directly connect its inside and outside. The lack of a theory of the frame is directly connected to the place of lack within the theory. 

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genius

Kant's aesthetic is based on a distinction between reason's requirements for determinate concepts, and the indeterminate, yet universal quality of aesthetic judgement. For Kant, natural beauty is the prime paradigm, because it is not a product guided by concept (a design). Yet when we judge nature aesthetically, we impute the "mere" form of cognisibility to it. In Kant's terminology, the aesthetic judgement of nature requires that we think of nature as "purposive without purpose."

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idea

My dialectical method is, in its foundations, not only different from the Hegelian, but exactly opposite to it. For Hegel, the process of thinking, which he even transforms into an independent subject, under the name of 'the idea', is the creator of the real world, and the real world is only the external appearance of the idea. With me, the reverse is true: the ideal is nothing but the material world reflected in the mind of man, and translated into forms of thought." Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1,Preface to the Second Edition. (p.102) (see ideal / real ) 

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