Blog: Art Gives Its Power Away

Christine Alfery

Posted on August 07 2017

Blog: Art Gives Its Power Away

Featured image: Building a Bridge

As an art educator, I used the teaching tools from the Getty a lot. One of the videos I used often was about aesthetics and how to come to know and understand how to think about the work aesthetics. The video was filmed in a classroom. The art education teacher had the students take an eye dropper full of color and drop it into a glass of water. All talking stopped, and you could hear the “a ha moment” happen. This instructor defined the notion of aesthetics as the “a ha movement.” To this day I believe that description still can be applied to the notion of aesthetics. Aesthetics is a subjective feeling one gets and later tries to talk about either visually or textually. The aesthetic is often described as sublime, mystical and invisible. It is hard to place a value on aesthetics because it is so mystical and invisible and subjective.

Art today cannot just be defined by the notion of aesthetics. Why, because it is hard to know art if you can only attribute subjective feelings to it. How does one come to know and understand art other than through aesthetics? Through critical thinking, which involves judgment. How should art be judged? Can it be judged objectively rather than subjectively? What are the elemental values that make up “art?”

Let me throw out a few objective values here that are important to me as I create. Does the work speak to reality? Does the work speak to life? Does the work approach the subject differently from the way others have approached it – or is the work original, unique, a thing in itself? Not all things that are created to be art are “art.”

Kantian philosophy believed that the phenomenal world, of the senses, is not real as it is something that is perceived by man’s mind and is a distortion of reality. Kant believed that man’s basic concepts such as time, space, existence are not derived from experience or reality but come from what man creates and that reality cannot be known. Reality is of another world that is the nominal world. Today the dominant philosophy that surrounds the concept of ‘art’ is Kantian. By placing reality in an unknowable world, a nominal world that is mystical and subjective art has no power. Art gives its power away to the subjective.

By giving art an elemental value of reality – the problem of ethics, is it good or bad cannot be used.

By giving art the elemental value of life – life in its fullness can be identified, both the good and the bad.

By giving art the elemental value of originality – the problem of ethics does not exist.

There is a difference between the concept of art and the concept of aesthetics. Perhaps it is time to remove the “aha moment” from the way we can know and understand “art.”

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