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>>"relativist aesthetics (beauty is in the eye of the beholder) is not
useful for classroom critiques. standards of aesthetic worth are real and
necessary. do we all know how to establish a useful criteria for good?"
There has already been much response to this specific little paragraph.
It's a winner! As a relativist myself, relatively speaking of course, I
find myself replying: Yeah, maybe, but its not -always- appropriate. Maybe
even not usually.
First I should probably ask: "From which aesthetic position are you
and when you use the word 'useful'? I want to know: "Useful for whom and
in what way?" In one way it might be considered 'useful' if we could pare
down the philosophies of aesthetics to a single, universally agreed upon,
aesthetic touchstone. If it could be so that there were no exceptions in
such an agreement.. well the first real result would be that aesthetics
into the grand cultural assumption where everything universal is invisible
until a conflict arises. We would even not wonder why there was no
disagreement or argument about "what is art?" or "what constitutes 'good'
or 'bad' art?"
Now, in my experience, the class always starts with the assumption of some
kind of relativist aesthetic. Sometimes the "eye of the beholder"
represents a single individual and sometimes that "eye" is more
representative of shared culture, beliefs and understandings. Everyone
comes in with some degree of confidence in their outlook.
Aesthetics come in many sizes and flavors as do Relativisms. Beauty
perceived from a Utilitarian aesthetic is very different from beauty as
concieved by a Formalist aesthetic. When we add to that, the additional,
commonly accepted aesthetics of Institutionalism, Expressionism, and
Contextualism we can begin to see the extent to which relativism must be
considered. And this is just the beginning. Beyond these, thoroughly
Western, philosophical aesthetics there is a planet full of traditions,
theories and local aesthetics worthy of respect.
Finally, as an analytical exercise, IF there were, objective, inarguable,
aesthetic criteria for what is art and for what constitutes good art it
would seem likely that the degree to which a thing was good would become
even more of an issue that it is now. With objective criteria an an
established heirarchy of values it becomes possible for the artist to
realistically aim for the acme... the single 'ultimate' expression of art
in which all the criteria were met to virtual perfection. That, in turn,
would open up the real possibility (Perhaps only philosophically) of an
"end to art" based on the fulfillment of objective criteria. As in chess,
there would be an finite number of permutations within the objective rules
and values. With computers it becomes possible to speculate about when
chess will become no more than tic-tac-toe where the first move will
specify the outcome. So far the sheer quantity of calculations prevents
this but not for long. Are we all ready to go to the museum to see "The
Last Work of Art?" ;) But this was just an exercise, of course.