16 August 2006

On Aesthetics

I’m not sure how I would define aesthetics, so I’ll talk about it, or around it. I much prefer descriptions and philosophical meanderings to definitions. What if I get the definition wrong? What if I leave something out? It’s just too stressful.
So aesthetics. Basically excellent art containing content and craft of some sort of medium.
Content: aesthetics should make some statement that relates to life, whether it be beauty, suffering, hope, laughter, evil in this world, evil in our lives, Creator, creation, philosophies and worldviews. The list is endless. But I think art should reflect something or say something. I don’t mean this in the utilitarian aspect of it needs to be practical and “how to” and leading toward success. I just mean that it should touch something familiar somewhere, whether recognizing evil or celebrating beauty (or redefining beauty). This could come from life experiences, from a harsh childhood or a happy childhood, from marriage or singleness, from traveling the world or a walk in your local park. This could come from studies and books and lessons and those late-night coffee and brandy conversations.
Craft: it should be excellent. Maybe it bends or breaks rules (although in my opinion, that requires having some knowledge of the rules first). It should be able to communicate the content with brilliance. It’s hard to state universal principles for this since different cultures have different purposes and rules for their art and music and writing and dancing. In the Western culture, we tend to frown on the copy-cat. We tend to look toward those who can take everything they have learned and read and heard and seen and present it in a new and fresh way. And still a good way. I think (warning: biased opinion that will offend many) that this is why in the past 50-100 years Christian art has been considered bad. Where once the church patroned the greats such as Bach and Mozart and Michelangelo, the church now wants to protect from the world, use art only to teach in a defined spiral paper ways. The church wants it to be safe (which is not an accurate reflection of, and perhaps leads to a denial of, the evil in the world and in us).
Since the Romantic era, there has been a gap between “high” art and “low” art (art of the masses). It does not necessarily mean that everything in the high art camp is good or everything in the low art camp is bad. And being popular doesn’t necessarily mean you are either good or bad while being rejected doesn’t necessarily mean you are good (unappreciated and unrecognized in your own time sort of thing) or bad. It just means what is popular.
Sometimes I may think a craft is bad because I don’t understand it. For example (and I am about to embarrass myself here), I didn’t like a DuChamp exhibit the first time I saw it. These are just random objects collected for no reason! Where’s the beauty. Then an artist friend of mine explained the Dadaist philosophy. I connected it with the musique concrete and John Cage that I knew from the music world. I understood the craft to be good, and I understood the message to be good.
One more thought: the idea of truth. I believe that lies can reflect truth. When I am writing fiction, I am writing lies, although I never think of it that way because the characters and their lives are real to me. But I am hopefully reflecting truth. When I read fantasy, I am lost in a world that may not exist, although I don’t recognize it as not existing because in my imagination every nymph and fairy and mermaid converse, but I may be reading truth all the same.
So those are my ramblings, the ramblings of a musician and writer seeking truth.


J Hearne said...

My wife is an artist and art teacher so we've had this discussion many times. The trouble is that my philosophical bent is towards Analytic Linguistic philosophy so I do like definitions.

After all those discussions, I find myself quick to defend people like Duchamp and Pollock.

Erin said...

On craft: I used to tell my art students, "Prove to me first that you understand the rules of the language of art, and THEN you may bend and break them." No one appreciates bad artists continuing to crank out poorly conceived and executed art and then demanding/ commanding public respect (or monetary compensation).
But then, there's the rub... what we consider to be "good" art is so subjective on so many levels. I don't care much for rap music, but certainly within that genre there are artists breaking new ground and bending conventional rap with skill and acumen. They are skilled in their craft, it just so happens that I don't "get" what their craft is about and what it's trying to accomplish.

I used to think of Piet Mondrian the same way until I saw his early paintings and followed his progression. Wow. (The Dallas Museum of Art has a very nice collection of his work. Both early and late.)

R.G. Ryan said...

Just thought such a well crafted post deserved more than two lousy comments! :)

Heather said...

Thanks for the encouraging comments!
Erin, I love Mondrian. Kimball had an excellent exhibit of him a few years ago (or sometime fairly recent). We should do a double date for one of the DMA Friday night date nights.

Michelle Pendergrass said...

Oh my. That is some heavy reading for the first cup of coffee. :)

I'll have to revisit this.

Erin said...

Oh, I wonder if it was the Kimball where I saw Mondrian... ??? It was one of those DFW area museums. ;)

Jennifer said...

Oooh--this was really good. I have thought a lot about writing as art and this sums it up nicely.

I went to Paris with dh in April. Neither of us are museum art-y types, but I find that when I have a book or audio tour and can learn more about it, it does make it easier to appreciate.