“Acts of Individual Talent”

Triangulation Series 225

Triangulation Scroll Series Nº 225, 49 x 68 inches; oil on canvas; 2008

Origins of Modern Western Aesthetics

The concept of Aesthetics comes to us out of a wide variety of different traditions: from those of the West, the Chinese, the Japanese, the African, the Polynesian, and so forth. The Western traditions, of course, have different qualities from the others with regards to origins, to evaluative criteria, either in opposing or defending approaches to the making of art.

From its beginnings Western aesthetic theory has developed in parallel with art criticism. The concept, however, of Aesthetics, but not the word, was first talked about by Joseph Addison (1672–1719), in a series of essays in The Spectator in 1712, as a “pleasure that is derived from the imagination.” Thus, pleasure forms the basis that will serve as the foundation of modern aesthetics. Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714–62) most likely read Addison, and he sought to define Aesthetics as a science of that which is sensed or imagined in his master’s thesis Aesthetica, 2 Vol. (1750-58) at the Royal Prussian University in Halle. He coined the word for the German language; Aesthetics is derived from the New Latin aesthetica (the feminine adjective), and it is related to the Greek aesthetikos/aestheta (perceptible things) and related to the verb aesthetai (to perceive). Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), however, took issue with aesthetics as a science. Nonetheless, the term remained controversial, and it was not until much later in the 19th century when it was finally accepted in academic circles.

Aesthetics is a specific valuation theory, or a distinct convention of what beauty is. It is an individualizing characteristic or a particular taste for, or an approach to, what is of interest to the intellect or pleasing to the senses: both visual or auditory (as in literature, the plastic arts, architecture, and music). By extension, the term Aesthetics may be applied to many varieties of human behavior–toilette, cosmetology, interior design, and so forth.

For the avant-garde Aesthetics and Originality can be at odds with established social or political norms. Aesthetics, as valuation, is normative. Art criticism is the way in which the norms are established. Art criticism is transmitted both to collectors and to institutions (e.g., museums, in the case of the plastic arts and the market place, in the case of music and architecture).

Although art criticism dates from antiquity, analyses of visual aesthetics or the plastic arts began as a journalistic effort. The art critic and the artist became mutually dependent, and what had once been new and refreshing by the closing of the 20th century, became academic, routine, and repetitive. Contemporarily, Harold Bloom (1930–2019) expressed that art criticism had become confused with questions of social justice and politics, and was no longer about the art product itself.

Nothing, however, is really new; the concept of Aesthetics itself, as a means of expression, may be said to be a dominant force dating as far back to the origins of human cave paintings. At the turn of the 21st century, there no longer seems to exist an adherence to one current aesthetic or approach; art criticism now appears to evoke a wide variety of tendencies of the formal, moral, social, and spiritual.

In the following excerpt, “Confessions of an ever emerging visual artist” from a YouTube and WordPress-audio-visual Manifesto entitled “Metaphors of Silence” (2010), I have given my own point of view[1], [2]:

The usage which the visual arts serve is a complex demonstration of varying dimensions whose expression seeks not to explain meaning but to express its intent; to bring about a clearly independent act of interpretation, over which the artist exerts no control as creator. From this, arises the sublimity of the psychological condition that is partly visual delight and partly passion that renews and nourishes a spirit of partnership with the medium. The intent expresses one is what one perceives: i.e., it is a quality of energy and a temperament independent of the intellect, separate from the craft itself, and apart from the residue of the images.

[1] Manifesto: Metaphors of Silence (https://rfmorin.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/metaphors-of-silence/)

[2] Autobiographical Statement: Ricardo Morin – Art – Paintings and Watercolors (http://ricardomorin.com/Statement.html)

Acts of Individual Talent

A harmful but enticing, state of affairs develops in the visual arts when the ethnocentric-artists align themselves with the adjuncts to commerce and their proxies (commercial institutions and art dealers on the one hand, and foundations and curators on the other), all of whom serve as instruments of indoctrination and publicity for the dictation of style, theme, and content, and in giving markets:  The entertaining ‘circus’ of mass culture.

The Zeitgeist of multidisciplinarity and the crossing of frontiers seek to justify the relevance of the visual arts- -in its sales and resales- -through their contortions of its contextualization and validation of its avant-gardism.  The study of the methodological principles of aesthetic interpretation gauges the importance of the arts and its place in the world of gimmickry and fashion, which are far removed from the dynamics of its origins.  As such the visual arts find themselves in approximation with the modalities of narrative but expressed in the language of commerce.  The artist now is succumbing to an ethos of expanding academic sophistry (the parcels-for-sale of commercial art history and the critics from the mass media).  The result is not so much a lack of insight but a desperate impulse to cultivate greed and to strive for status; this indication of a bourgeois, sentimental enlightenment and authority avert any negation notions of a therapeutic or hobby genre: as anything other than menial and disenfranchised dilettantism for dabblers of artistic pursuit.

And so it is that the ensuing adaptation of analytic discourses into politics, philosophies, semiotics, linguistics, psychologies, and mathematics outline the obvious while absorbing the seeds of self-destruction.  In other words, the universal urge of a visual necessity finds itself transmogrified into commercial success.  Self-expression compares to commodification: Personal fulfillment is to be equated with making money.  Can we suppose this mercantilism arises out of the Genre paintings of the 17th century (petit genre: still-life, flora and fauna, landscape, and scenes from the lives of the middle-class) with the emerging power of the bourgeoisie being able to decorate their homes with this style of painting?  With a still bleaker legacy, these merchants of taste and consumerism seem to have missed the point that one’s perception of an image cannot be replaced by its description.  To do so is to replace a jargon–piece of gossip with the visual intent.  As visual meaning derives from internal intent, an encoded tag for a work of art can never replace the joy of experiencing it.  Art is a manifestation of observation; as such, it is basically immeasurable.  Passion and quality of energy need not require explanation, or, in particular, its manifestation should not be interpreted either for its worth or for its valuation- -or enrichment- -of a given elite[1].

Ultimately, there is a tendency on the part of any artist in his/her approach to consolidate the supremacy of their egos and minds, with the verbal and the visual in a hieratic creative process; at this very moment this rationalization extinguishes both probability and logic (in other words, it becomes dead!).  The lame allusions to the Conceptual, self-aggrandizing conceits, or to the simplistic Kitsch of popular iconographies – biases turned into cliché – to the orientation of Gender or Identity – affirmations of self-discovery -, or to the flaunting of Geo-Environmental Installations – with their fixed dimensional constants, all fall short of their promise to deliver something new or important: Declarations of approval, however, abound.

Many of today’s mainstream artists mythologize uprooted specimens derived from the trivial and the prosaic.  Coming from a world we know about and live in, instead of a world we don’t know yet; these agents celebrate derivatives of tyrannical forms of erudition.  Rather than enhancing our sense of perception, they extend an alienation that comes out of ambition and ownership, and make ubiquitous the desire for the object, which surrounds our ordinary lives.  This gregariousness and massive consumerism disconnects and puts us to sleep in a technological era of purveyors of everything except sensitivity and human interconnectivity.

Collectors, museums, and galleries- -today’s greedy usurpers of culture- -welcome the glitz by which they turn art into a commodity and their power as plutocrats to satisfy the ignorance created by their Circensian parade of market indices. By definition the mythomania of stardom promotes only the few; every selection of one is a rejection of many [The Rise of the Meritocracy[2]].  The result of complacency fuels the alienation of 90% of active artists and creates therein an artificial shortage of resources, thus giving value to those market indices which ultimately result in the excessive struggle for survival.  Rather than art giving strength to the collective unity, a sense of sectarianism separates everyone into a race of competing ideologies over commerce.  The truth of art is left to search among competing opinions over what is relevant.  These unstable times of ours, of victimizers and victims, of plunderers and the exploited repeat themselves in the annals of history.  

Conformity, indifference, defining ourselves by the supremacy of personal success obscure inquiry on the disadvantaged.  It is an empty gesture for one to defend the free market progress in the arts of today, or of any other given period. There have been innumerable artists whose accomplishments did not depend on a resplendent financial support or an irrefutable explication of competing narratives; sometimes, their ultimate measure of accomplishment came about despite the obstacles they had to endure – as well as the mores and instability of cultural vanities which opposed them.  Their works may have come to have a great deal of recognition either towards the end of their lives (as in the case of a Paul Cézanne, who preempted 20th-century Modernity throughout his first forty years of obscure labor before landing a first one-man-show); or after their deaths (as in the case of Vincent Van Gogh, recognized for his sublimely “outsider” creations): When the capricious dictates of fashion made them relevant.  And then, there are those who lose or regain their relevance, as in the case of François Boucher during the French Revolution, whose reformulation waited until the end of the 19th century.  In the same way, we have the banal chasing after the new in the late 20th century.  And finally, there are those in 21st century who are first praised only to be soon forgotten.

The answer could be found by the rejection of a collector’s system of greed, or by the recognition that the quality of artistic creations cannot be pursued as a commodity. The answer cannot be found by their taxonomy.   The answer is to be found in the recognition that any form of exploitation is undesirable and destructive to our collective being.  The answer is to be found in the cultivation of all the arts, not as a commercial testimony of our sense of humanity.

If support for the arts were to be sought after, would we not need to assess the irrationality of our system of valuation, perhaps even our own cultural rationality?  

Ricardo Morin– Academic advisor Billy Bussell Thompson.


[1] It is hard to recognize nascent art forms when they are on the rise, and  by the time they are widely appreciated their best days are behind them= a pertinent excerpt from Blank  Slate: the Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker; 2002

[2] Michael Young, Rise of the Meritocracy, 1870-2033: The New Elite of Our Social Revolution, (New York: Random House, 1959), p.12 [London: Thames & Hudson, 1958].  Young’s pejorative conception, set in a dehumanized [dystopian] future is based on the existence of a meritocratic class that monopolizes access to merit and the symbols and markers of merit, and thereby perpetuates its own power, social status, and privilege.

Triangulation Series 555

Triangulation Scroll Series Nº 555; 49 x 33 inches, oil on canvas, 2008

One Response to ““Acts of Individual Talent””

  1. A Conversation in Twelve Days: Reliquary of Remembrances | Observations On The Nature of Perception Says:

    […] already shared with him a number of testimonials on aesthetics, which became crystalized in my post Acts of Individual Talent (2009).    These had evolved over our conversations in the course of thirteen years, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: