Friday, February 23, 2007
(3:36 PM) | Dave Belcher:
Art and Non-Art[This has been a "draft" waiting to be edited for a LONG time, so sorry for the hiatus. I just didn't take the time to finish what I started, and then one distraction led to another, etc. This may not be pertinent at all any longer].
So, in one of his comments Marc anticipated where I wanted to take this discussion of Adorno and "popular music" (I'm not attributing any of the rest of this to Marc, he was only pointing to an anecdote, but that story got my wheels turning). We cannot define the difference between art and non-art. If this is the case, then Adorno's description of popular music as: "a music that can scarcely be counted as art" ("Popular Music," 35), must be thoroughly problematized. I'm not so sure, however, that the above is really the case...that is, if we can't define the difference between art and non-art, then isn't everything art (or nothing is art, in which case everything is non-art)? Perhaps it is this very problem that prompts us in the first place to ask questions about human making ("What makes that art?"). But, these questions must quickly encounter the thorny distinctions the medievals drew between art [ars] as human "making" and the aesthetic [esthetica] as an object which elicits pleasure (or in some sense manifests "beauty"). In other words, as Umberto Eco says, "The experience of beauty does not necessarily have art as its object; for we ascribe beauty not just to poems and paintings but also to horses, sunsets, and women--or even, at its limits, to a crime or a gourmet meal" (The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, trans. Hugh Bredin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 3. So, although beauty can be elicited by the objects human art makes (I won't get into questions of mediation here, or what it is that actually gives the beauty), beauty is not limited to this making (nor is it found in every object made...this raises interesting and perhaps unanswerable questions about the objectivity of beauty over against subjective perception: sometimes boring, but necessary questions like, "Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?"). So, at least, it seems, we can say that art--as opposed to "non-art"--involves human making (we can only then have a basis for judging "beauty," or "non-beauty," which is really the question Marcuse saw at hand, I think).
All of this comes to a head in Brad's latest post over at An und fur sich. The most compelling sentences:
[T]he artisan’s attention is set beyond the productivity of her work; set beyond, that is, the work’s objectivity as a work (a chair, a rug, etc.). The artisan’s attention, rather, is on the ‘poietic’ value of her craftwork, whereby the very activity of her craftsmanship involves her in the opening of the world to something truly new. Craftsmanship, in short, is attuned to the creation of something whose value is precisely and fully the act of its creation, and not its productive capacity for exchange, consumption, or use. As such, the craftsman’s attention is directed toward the fashioning of a radically new existence, one incommensurate with the present order of reality and its existent horizon of expectationsI think that the distinction between art as "making" and aesthetics as an "eliciting of beauty or pleasure" is actually upheld, here, by Brad (even despite being a proposal "on craftmanship"!). In the comments, I believe Gabe misses--with all due respect--that the "making" Brad is discussing has to do with the subject's involvement in the eliciting of beauty (which is, I think, the constitution of a sort of "aesthetic subjectivity," here...and for that reason, also, "revolutionary subjectivity"), and not with "art" (Brad is careful to use the term aesthetics or "creativity" and not art, knowingly I'm sure of the medieval distinction)...to give Gabe a little more credit, though, it's quite possible that he is simply saying that there is nothing wrong with "use-value" or "commodification" in itself (along the lines of Graham Ward on Castoriadis?). I am not so sure this is the case in the way Brad seems to intend these terms, though. So, there is a kind of "making for the sake of making," in Ruskin and Morris, but the making does not reduce to the use-value of the object (and I think this would be a reduction); the entire point seems to be that the action of making is the aesthetic moment, one that could not be objectified. Perhaps I am wrong, but without some "subjective" engagement with the act of making, the act of making would itself be merely "art," in the medieval sense (one that is captive to "use-value," commodification, and ultimately capital).
I have to say, I'm still not so sure that this is all that different from either Milbank's reading of Ruskin (in "On Complex Space," I think), or Rowan Williams' reading of Maritain--I don't see the real difference between a "radically orthodox" aesthetic and the one Brad is proposing. Don't get me wrong, I think both are extremely necessary. And since what really matters is in the details, perhaps this burgeoning conversation in contemporary theology is a sign of very good thins to come.
This has been the most rambling-ass post ever.