Art, Aesthetics, and Thought


I am consistently guilty over my lack of knowledge of contemporary art and aesthetics. Particularly in relation to Speculative Realism it seems that artists, curators, and media practitioners of various stripes are far better than philosophers or theorists at addressing art. This seems particularly evident in events such as The Matter of Contradiction (the video of which has recently been posted here). Part of this stems it seems from an ostensible difference between practice and theory or at least a group who stays generally more immersed and theory and moves towards practice or pragmatism (though not necessarily) versus practitioners who work in theory but work centrally in practice. This is an obvious simplification but the demands of the respective fields at least institutionally fuels this skew (as their respective disciplinary histories).

Another reason for my apprehension at the thinking of art and aesthetics is the relation between politics and art that is validating through philosophy and critical theory in a way that seems to benefit nothing. Whether Adorno, Ranciere, Badiou or countless others, the meaning of art becomes that fuel for politics, or for philosophy, that is already politco-philosophical. It may be that the question centers on simply whether art can escape the heavy didacticism and still be as useful for thinking as we want it to be. Badiou’s inaesthetics appears to only to worsen the problem, simply formalizing the connection that art has to philosophy in terms of being a field of truth and registering truths separate from their conditions.

Art and Aesthetics appear fundamentally as problems, not in any small regard due to the capitalization of the artistic. This takes on another twist with ecology as there is (as I’ve discussed before) a multi-faceted problem with the aestheticization of nature and ecology. Not only is there a bias to save cute nature but we only save nature as we can see it, as nature is messed up visually by industry. This also crosses over into design, into the trouble of producing massive amounts of artificial objects that are not wasteful in their function and creation. In many ways this is what haunted Schelling’s philosophy of art which attempted towards a kind of critical indifference between the transcendental and and the natural. This pull between the transcendental (or the regulative or the form though naturally produced) and the natural (both in terms of existent actual things and potencies which are meontological) art or design becomes as difficult as thinking itself is trying to balance the scales (or perhaps drop the scale to one side depending on the operation which you would like the piece to perform).

This is not to disregard the work that the object does on you, to acknowledge the contingency of one’s materials, as Reza Negarestani puts it in “Contingency and Complicity.” But one must also not forget that one cannot simply be open to contingency as to do so what be a relation of affordance, of the artist or theorist or whomever only being open to the degree they can afford the materials. This turns around one of the central problems for Iain Grant’s reading of Schelling regarding the division of the logical and the natural fields of any ground. If synthesis can occur without thinking then it becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain not only what thought does but how thought operates through us and to what degree thoughts are ours. That is, if the ontological demand of a heterogeneous monism makes the most sense for the world as we know it, then this puts enormous pressure on any attempt to formulate an epistemology that has anything other than an unground or symmetry break between nature and its functioning as that which spawns normative spaces (logics). This is the crucial point where Grant’s system seems very much like Adrian Johnston’s or Zizek’s transcendental materialism but where I think transcendental dynamism is a better name in order to show that nature’s role is more asymmetrically causal then their systems. Representation remains the troubling problem.


2 Responses to “Art, Aesthetics, and Thought”

  1. I was recommended this website via my cousin. I am not positive whether or not this publish is written via him as no one else understand such targeted approximately my difficulty. You are incredible! Thanks!

  2. This is a really important difficulty, Ben, and it’s worth the criticism that you give. Since most of my work is on aesthetics, I find myself worrying over the problem that maybe thinking about politics in art really does “benefit nothing,” Most of my thinking is about politics in its various shades, and giving it application in aesthetics can sometimes be very exciting. Though other days I have a trouble thinking that it matters, in the most general sense of the political.

    But what I do find excitement in thinking about aesthetics is its indeterminacy, or what I usually describe it as undecidability (Marjorie Perloff uses the former, and Ranciere uses the latter term). This might be a characterization specific to modern art, perhaps. But when art has a politics that is indeterminate, rather than prescriptive or didactic in making some particular kind of intervention, the politics of a work of art bring it much closer to the everyday forms of politics that I try to think about. I think that this also bears some useful consequences for the way that Badiou situates art, and overcomes that situation he gives to it as an evocation of truth. An indeterminate politics brings out (for me, at least) different ways to think about art’s relations to history, language, the concept of the political/revolutionary event, and the systematics of broader forms of discourse–and perhaps also the negotiation between artifice and nature that you’re discussing. The materials that are used have (at least a slight bit) less importance, since the question is no longer only “what can this material do?” but “how will this material be taken up?” How will the political relevance of the work extend beyond its materials?

    And I have to agree with the robot who commented above me: “You are incredible! Thanks!”

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