Aesthetic Theory

August 9, 2009

concept6aStill very intrigued by the vision of the philosopher Adorno about art and beauty in his Aesthetic theory, I went searching further to what others had to say about that.

And I found an interesting article here, which was very interesting. I had very much trouble reading what it was exactly saying, but somehow I got the feeling it did express what I had been thinking about.

It will take some more (well, a lot more) reading to really understand it, but for now I try to write down my understanding of it all, at this point.

For Adorno, aesthetic theory is directed neither toward questions of taste and judgment nor towards questions of experience rooted in the subjective apprehension of forms. Rather, it offers a window onto a domain of works that are non-identical with both the concepts we bring to them and to the materials of which they are comprised.

So okay, what is Aesthetics not: It is not taste. It is not about judgement. It is not questions of experience in the subjective form.

But what is it then: A window into a a domain of works. Not identical with the concepts we bring to them. Not identical to the materials of which they are made.

So in other words Aesthetics are works of art that are not just the concepts and also not the material it is made of. But a combination of the idea with the material.

Artworks are things, and their “thingly” qualities ought to be respected; but artworks are not mere things.  Insofar as they are woven into the fabric of social and historical relations, Adorno regards artworks as the “social antithesis of society.”

So here he says that artworks are part of history and society. They are not just part, they are the same but just the other side of the coin.

But “content” as Adorno means it not just topic or theme; it is a name for everything that is communicative in art.  Moreover, phenomenology would hardly deny that art asks to be engaged on levels that are incompatible with the wish for pure essentiality.

Here he seems to say that it is about meaning. It is more than the form of the artwork.

The “essence” of art is hardly art itself.  Art is “essential” only in that it remembers and preserves a form of concreteness that has been lost from the abstract concept and its particular instantiations in the world.  That concreteness is “essential” in art to the degree that it is the abstract concept’s lost other half.

It is the form of the material that is the other half of the concept. So again the combination of concept and material. The same where one is visible and the other is invisible. One is matter and the other is the idea (or concept).

In contrast to phenomenology, Adorno’s dialectical model is one in which the abstract and the concrete continuously mediate one another in art:  “Highly mediated in itself, art stands in need of thinking mediation; this alone, and not the phenomenologist’s purportedly originary intuition, leads to art’s concrete concept.”

So art is not just what you see, it needs a context, a meaning to be understood. It is more than the parts it is made of. And there time plays an essential role I quess. Time in the sense of history and society.

If I read all this right (and I will have to read it several times more to know if I did) than it means several things.

The first is that art indeed provides a language. A language not in words, but in images.

Second is that art is the visible part of abstract concepts. The embodiment of ideas. So that would mean that it are not so much expression of emotions, but more the static form of inspiration.

Third is that it is the other side of the same coin as society.

And last but certainly not least,  that it all starts with the expression of the individual.

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2 Responses to “Aesthetic Theory”

  1. severnyproductions Says:

    Mabe aesthetics are all about how the visual influences your mind

  2. Annemieke Says:

    Yes and maybe about how your mind influences the visual.

    I looked it up to see a short definition about aesthetics and this one seems interesting: The branch of philosophy dealing with beauty and taste, emphasizing the evaluative criteria that are applied to art.


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