Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Aztec Aesthetics and Nietzsche

My purpose in these notes will not be to give an accurate account of Aztec aesthetics but rather to see what can be said about aesthetics as a whole by way of looking carefully at Aztec aesthetics.  At the same time I am interested in what this exploration can contribute to the larger issues of philosophy and even those of the place of humans in the world.  This is not quite the same as Comparative Aesthetics:  the point at issue here is not to simply find similarities and differences between Western and Aztec aesthetics but to see what can come of a dialogue between us and the Aztecs by way of their most profound poetry.   

We know Aztec aesthetics mainly through the codices and in particular the poetry that now counts as the basis for an understanding of Aztec philosophy.  It is prominent that Aztec philosophy gives a much greater position to aesthetics than does Western philosophy.   

In looking at Aztec Thought and Culture by Miguel León-Portilla (1963), a major source for these comments, I first looked to the index under “aesthetics” and found no entries at all.  I then looked under "art" and found a few pages devoted to the concept of art, a few of those same pages to the artist, and a few to objects of art.  But this turns out to be the mere surface of Aztec aesthetics since there are multiple entries under the central concept of “Flower and Song” which itself refers to the arts very broadly speaking as well as to everything beautiful.

Very helpful in this regard is the discussion of Aztec aesthetics in a chapter of that name in Richard L. Anderson’s Calliope’s Sisters:  A Comparative Study of Philosophies of Art. (1990)  There, drawing mainly on later works by León-Portilla Anderson even describes a philosophical dialogue between several of the Aztec wise men, called thlamatinime (sing. thlamatini).  

Here, I am going to quote some lines from the poetry produced by the thlamatinime and make some comments.  The main tenor of my comments will be this;  that their general position, or the upshot of it in my view, is that there is an underlying divine or spiritual aspect to reality; that we must focus on the “now” of experience to make life meaningful in a world that is otherwise ephemeral; that whatever eternity is possible for humans is to be found not in an afterlife but in “flower and song,” which is to say in this dual-natured thing that combines natural beauty and the beauty of art; and that this view of human existence, which is deeply and fundamentally aesthetic, is not very far from the view offered by Nietzsche in the culminating moments of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, his greatest philosophical work, a work that, actually, goes beyond philosophy, and is, in an important sense, deeper than philosophy.  
So, what I look for, or seem to find (the extent to which I project this instead of finding it, or perhaps that León-Portilla  and/or Anderson do so first, and I just follow them in doing so, can never really be known by me) in Aztec philosophy is a deeply aesthetic philosophy that challenges not only Western aesthetics but also Western philosophy to the extent that it provides an aesthetic answer to the deepest skeptical questions we have.  Here are the passages in quote marks.

“Hence, I weep,
for you are weary,
oh God.
Jade shatters,
the quetzal feather tears apart.
Oh God, you mock us.
Perhaps we really do not exist.
Perchance we are nothing to you.”

This is followed in Anderson’s text by the idea that perhaps life :

“…is just a dream
And here no one speaks the truth.”

To this skepticism the answer is:

“Here man lives on earth!
Here there are lords, there is power
there is nobility….
There is ardor, there is life, there is struggle,
the search for a woman, the search for a man.”  (Anderson pp 148-9)

That is, our world might just be a dream, or our lives dreams in the eyes of God, or an illusion on some level, and yet we have our lives on this earth (even if I dream, my dream-world  is the world in which I live, i.e. as a live creature interacting with my environment), and we have the possibility of nobility and great accomplishment, and, probably more importantly, the chance of to love someone, a man or a woman, in the midst of all our struggle.  The things of beauty, jade and quetzal feather, fall apart and fade with time, and yet “flower and song” (which Anderson understands as art broadly speaking, all that is symbolic, and all that has meaningful beauty) remain and have a certain eternity, as can be seen in these passages:

“’Finally, my heart understands it:  I hear a song
I see a flower,
Behold, they will not wither!”


“They will not end, my flowers,
they will not cease, my songs…
Even when the flowers wither and grow yellow,
they will be carried thither,
to the interior of the house
of the bird with the golden plumes”

The house I take it is the house of Being, the essence of beauty, what Plato called Beauty itself.

And from the above-mentioned dialogue we get this clarification:

“From the interior of heaven come
the beautiful flower, the beautiful songs.
Our desire deforms them,
Our inventiveness mars them…
Must I depart like the flowers that perish?
Will nothing of my fame remain here on the earth?
At least my flowers, at least my songs.”  (181)

(Actually, this is also very close to what Diotima is saying in the Symposium…see my post on that.) 

We are inspired by the inner essence of things to express ourselves in flower and song, something that can be marred by merely human desire or inventiveness (e.g. by egoism), and yet if we create these works of art then something of our being, our essence, will remain, which is in the “as if” eternal nature of whatever about these works of art is truly deep. 

It is this commitment to depth that we have somehow lost sight of, at least in professional philosophy:  or perhaps it is just our secret story that many of us philosophers never tell others?  But it is the same story that Nietzsche tells when he speaks of his love of life, at the end of TSZ, where he says that we must be willing to say “yes” to life and be able to will our entire past lives again and again for eternity, as a love of eternity, the eternity he finds not in an afterlife but in “being true to the earth.”  Nietzsche’s new religion of the overman, then, correctly understood, is the same as the new religion of the thlamatinime, i.e. in response to the popular religion of the Aztecs. 

Another telling quote that shows the dynamic relationship between the aesthetics of nature, the aesthetics of art, and “religious” experience is:  [“religious is in quotes since, as an atheist, I reject theism, i.e. the belief in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God who created the universe:  that’s a myth, and yet it is a myth that hides a meaning captured in part by Heidegger’s idea that we have stopped listening to Being….there is a dimension, to or aspect of, human existence/human experience which is essential and deep and which is only captured mythically by the concept of a God.  This is my view anyway.]

“The Flowers sprout, they are fresh, they grow;
   they open their blossoms, and from within emerge the
   flowers of songs; among men
You scatter them,
You send them.
You are the singer!”  (152)

Of course on a literal level, this tells a story more similar to the one Socrates tells in the Ion than the one I tell:  the idea being that there is a God and He/She (the Aztecs believed in a sexual duality in God) speaks through us in our greatest art.  But if Nature (I am suggesting a kind of Spinozistic position in which Nature has two aspects:  material and spiritual) replaces God (as in Deism or in Transcendentalism) then we have something a bit more plausible, i.e. the “You” just being an anthropomorphic projection of Nature itself and our interactions with it.  This can be consistently read into the poem, for example, “The Flowers sprout….and from within emerge the flowers of songs…” captures this nicely.

And, as Anderson also observes, this happens only for those who “converse with their hearts” i.e. for those who seek out their own innermost nature. 

“The artist:  discipline, abundant, multiple, restless.
The true artist, capable, practicing, skillful,
maintains dialogue with his heart, meets things with his
    mind.”  (153)


“The good painter is wise.
God is in his heart
He puts divinity into things;
he converses with his own heart.”  (154)

We can only talk about “God” as a symbol of the capacity of the insightful artist to put divinity into the things he or she creates. 
There is, of course, also danger everywhere in philosophy, and not less when we try to seek out Being:  we have to always be aware of Heidegger’s self-seduction into Nazi ideology as well as the Aztec mass executions as evidenced by skulls in piles the Spanish found numbering in the 100,000s.  The search for “flower and song” is meaningless without an ethics based on empathy to shore up a social world in which it can authentically take place.

Monday, February 13, 2017

“Living dangerously,” Janet Norris at Far Out Gallery, San Francisco

Martha, I still Love You.    by Janet Norris

 “Living dangerously,” Janet Norris at Far Out Gallery 3004 Taraval @ 40th Avenue   This show opened on February 4 and will be up until Saturday, February 25, 2017.  The gallery is open Thursday - Saturday 12 - 6 pm, or by appointment. http://www.faroutgallery.com/new-page/

It is not enough just to live.  One must also take risks, like becoming something of a Surrealist after years of work that was more in the conceptual art/modernist mode.  I thought I might get your attention with the word “Surrealist” since Surrealism and Dadaism seem very much back in fashion: for example, the current show at the Cantor Museum at Stanford University.  And Norris definitely has surprising juxtapositions of objects:  housing interiors and woodsy scenes, to name one frequent type.  Magritte is the appropriate reference for a painting like “I go there,” which features an early 20th century chair in the middle of a birch tree woods.  But that was then (1920s-40s), and this is now. Norris is really dealing with the way we live now, in an increasingly dangerous world….but living still.  In this show, for example, there are a few paintings dealing with one very contemporary issue related to our world:  the plight of refuges.  The dominant images in each of these are taken from the many shots in newspapers and on the web of people from Syria, Iraq and many other countries, trying to find refuge.  My favorite of these is “The Refuges #1,” where a small group furtively moves forward against a simple, but strongly laid-out, landscape, perhaps in the early morning.   [Dates of painting are not listed, but most of the paintings in this show are from the last three years.]

Somewhat more characteristic of her recent work, but still with reference to modern day terrors, is “Homs Lullaby.”  Norris often divides up her paintings so that there is a panel on the right painted in a different style and space from the rest of the painting.  The right panel comments on the rest.  In this case, 4/5ths of the painting is a bucolic river scene with an empty row-boat in the center.  Dynamic brush strokes render the trees a little hairy though, almost Rastafarian.  The scene at the right might well be an abstraction of the rubble that remains of cities in Syria.  The calm scene on the left can be a kind of balm for the horror.  Or the scene of destruction on the right can be seen as a corrective for our desire to escape present reality. 

Nature and humanity’s relation to it is a frequent subject of Norris’s acrylics.  Often there is reference to environmental destruction.  A simple yet disturbing painting is “Waiting in The Wild,” which depicts a horse, standing forlorn in the shallows of a vast sea.  (Many of Norris’s paintings are vaguely symbolic:  is the horse us?)  Another painting, “Come from Far,” features a horse again, this time in a windowed room, although also standing in a field, and haunted by human figures and watching and waiting.  One thinks here of Edvard Munch or Peter Doig, influences she mentions in her artist’s statement.  At other times, the presence of nature is simply meant to be evocative of an Edenic world other than our own: for example in “A River Comes In.” [I think this last one was not in the show, however.] 

A favorite of mine is “Fear of Fire.”  It features three wolves facing a small river, in the woods, in greens and blue, and yet hovering above everything turns red and yellow – firelike.  In the right panel is a two storied building, not in the same space but somewhere else:  a figure seems comfortably moving about behind a window.   I like it mostly because of the harmonies and balances: for example the balance between Norris’s Fauvist handling of trees and the Ashcan School look of the urban part on the right. “Martha, I Still Love You, After a Tom Waits Song,” references fire as well, this time a literal blaze on the horizon, and this time posed against a panel on the right which contains a romantic dancing couple. 

Another painting, “Losing It,” features a realistically rendered bed (I love Norris’s furniture).  The bed is half nestled in woods of birch trees and half in a bedroom with a picture on the wall; and also juxtaposed against a mirror which windows onto a woman doing something outside, possibly chopping wood.  This painting re-asserts Norris’s interest in domestic life, in the manner of Bonnard, and nature together.  Speaking of taking risks (successfully), notice the strange circular patterns in the rug, and the gash of orange for a curtain. 

“Once Was” also takes risks with hues, reminding me a bit of Vlaminck.  I like the contrasts between the reds on the left, the purples in the upper skies, the orange-ish yellow above the horizon line, and the slash of blue for a tree in the foreground…again with a panel on the right representing a rickety house in its own space.  “Remembering Past Times” is another part-nostalgic look at nature with two small white figures on the right that remind of Matisse’s “Le Bonheur de Vivre.”   But what dominates the space is the radical transforming of trees from color to stark blacks and whites in their upper halves…it is all nature, but a bit post-apocalypse. 
This relates to another painting, “The Mother’s Mother,” in which leafless trees are rendered in ghostly browns over another rapidly-moving stream.  The right panel almost in the same space, but containing a more human scene of a wrapped older woman facing us.

I also very much like “The Ancient Empire.”  This time the leafless trees (the foreground ones topped as well) with emaciated gashes on the canvas set against a bleak background remind me of Anselm Kiefer and Clifford Still.  The much smaller right panel is a strong contrast since it is teaming with life.       

As we have seen, Norris, who originally came from Iowa, constantly revisits her past while exploring her present.  Over the last couple years she has showed widely in the North Bay Area at such galleries as GearBox Gallery in Oakland and Mythos Gallery in Berkeley.  She first started exhibiting in 1976 after receiving a BA and Master of Arts at San Jose State. One of her well-known teachers was Tony May.  She was also a founding member of Works Gallery in San Jose.  We look forward to many such future shows.

You can see images of many of these paintings at the gallery and also arthttp://www.janetnorrisartworks.com/slides.html

Monday, January 23, 2017

Is there a Rationalist contribution to aesthetics? continued

The German Rationalists thought aesthetic ideas were confused representations of that which is really perfect, and which can be seen clearly and distinctly by reason.  But, more likely, aesthetic ideas are ideas of something that can never be perfect in itself but which are experienced as if perfect.  Perfection is really two things, perfection as experienced and perfection in reality.   It is the wonderful con-fusion of the particular and the universal in the aesthetic idea that actually constitutes perfection as we experience it.   The particular by itself can never be perfect, and the universal by itself is never really experienced.  Perfection as idea is prior to its experience.  Perfection is an ideal, not the object of what Kant would call an Idea of Reason.  So we must distinguish between kinds of confusion, a good sort and a bad sort, although the good sort should probably not be called confusion, since “confusion” has such a negative connotation.   Let’s call it the fusion of the particular and the universal.  It is in sensual perception of the particular as also universal that perfection is manifest.   

In order to fully understand the notion of perfection however we need to understand the role of the sublime in aesthetics.  Actually, we need to go further and revise our notion of beauty.  Beauty should be subsumed under the sublime.  This is the opposite of the Rationalist tendency to subsume the sublime under the beautiful in the sense of the merely proportionate or harmonious.  Also it is in opposition to those who would see the beautiful and the sublime as very different.  Actually understanding one in terms of the other is very illuminating.  Both have what I called, in The Extraordinary in the Ordinary, “aura.”  So how is beauty so subsumed?   It is a mistake to see beauty just in terms of harmonious surface, or even in terms of a specific harmonious whole that is right in front of us.  Beauty is only beauty if it fits, and is harmonious with, something much broader than the object just in front of us.  So beauty too, like the sublime, has an unendingness to it.  When we fall in love and see our beloved as beautiful there is something sublime here as well.  Beauty partakes of the sublime.  Just as there is a pain aspect of the sublime, so too with beauty.   Beauty would not be beautiful without the potential of its loss.   The aura of the sublime is that which is behind beauty.   The sublime has an element of horror, but so too does beauty, i.e. as something in the background, something we are vaguely aware of.  In the 20th century we came to see the beautiful more and more in terms of the sublime, i.e. in terms of the mysterious and the wonderful.

Both the sublime and the beautiful have aura.   Aura unifies aesthetics: the sublime, the beautiful and the merely pretty.  This is all connected with Dewey’s idea of pervasive quality and infinite background to be discussed later.

In explaining the Rationalist position of Mendelssohn, Beiser writes, “We take pleasure in the sublime because it is immeasurable and unfathomable, but perfection is by its very nature measurable and fathomable, the structure by which we grasp an object as a whole.” (218)  But perfection is neither measurable nor fully fathomable, even though it is the structure by which we grasp an object as a whole, what the Rationalists called unity in diversity.    Beiser continues: “The aesthetics of perfection, as Baumgarten first defined it and as Mendelssohn later endorsed it, claims that all aesthetic pleasure consists in the intuition of such a structure, in its confused sensible representation.”  (218)  The problem for the Rationalists is that this cannot explain the sublime.  But it can, if we recognize the continuity between the sublime and the beautiful, and that perfection itself has been misconceived.  Of course to have unity you need to be able to grasp the object as a whole, and yet unity is constituted in the perception.  The object extends beyond the immediate unity, the organic whole of which it is immediately a part.  In having unity one could say that it participates in the larger unity of which it is part.  Organic wholes can be seen as self-contained and immediate organic wholes or as not self-contained and as parts of larger organic wholes. An important element of the properly beautiful object is not simply that it is an organic whole but that it is in harmony with other larger organic wholes of which it is a part.  “The problem with the sublime is that by its very nature it transcends the limits of beauty.  The pleasure of the sublime seems to arise precisely from our incapacity to grasp the object as a whole; it stirs out admiration just because it is immeasurable, unfathomable, and infinite.”  (219)  But this is true of beauty too, although in a different way. 

So, Beiser says, “All sensible pleasure is for [Mendelssohn] the intuition of perfection, which consists in unity-in-multiplicity.  He want all sensible pleasures, of which the sublime is only a species, to be the confused perception of the forms of reason, the sensible analogues of the purely rational pleasures we would have if we were completely rational beings.”  (220)  The last part is an unrealizable myth:  we are not and should not want to be completely rational beings.  Sensible pleasure is indeed intuition of perfection, of a unity in multiplicity, but this unity is an ideal, not an idea of reason. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Is there a German Rationalist contribution to aesthetics?

It seems strange to find myself sympathetic to some of the things the German Rationalists (I capitalize Rationalists since the reference is not just to people who value reason but to a specific philosophical school of thought) held in the 18th century, for example in their thoughts about aesthetics.  However I have been reading Frederick Beiser’s Diotima’s Children:  German Aesthetic Rationalism from Leibniz to Lessing (Oxford University Press, 2009) and I must say that the whole thing has given me some pause.  The Rationalists, for Beiser, are Leibniz, Wolff, Gottshed, Baumgarten, Wincklemann, Mendelssohn and Lessing.  Kant is not included, and, in fact, much of his Critique of Judgment is seen as a systematic attack on the aesthetic Rationalists.  (Beiser sees Kant as largely misunderstanding the Rationalists, particularly in assuming that the concept associated with perfection must be a concept of purpose.)  Baumgarten is important for aesthetics in that he invented the term "aesthetics." He is also important for everyday aesthetics in that Richard Shusterman has recently argued for revival of some of his ideas.  Winklemann is important as the father of Art History.  

My theme here will simply be Beiser’s list of the fundamental propositions held by the rationalists.    They are

1.    “The central concept, and subject matter, of aesthetics is beauty.
2.       Beauty consists in the perception of perfection.
3.       Perfection consists in harmony, which is unity in variety.
4.       Aesthetic criticism and production is governed by rules, which it is the aim of the philosopher to discover, and reduce to first principles.
5.       Truth, beauty, and goodness are one, different facets of one basic value, which is perfection.”  

There are ways in which I can see all of these as true, although interpreted in a manner way different from that of the Rationalists.  

(1)  I take the central concept of aesthetics to be “aura” (as described in my book  The Extraordinary in the Ordinary) and I take this to be the replacement concept for “beauty” which itself is still a paradigm of aura.  I would, however, not want to limit aura to things that are harmonious. There are many more things that have aura that are not particularly harmonious.  For example, something can be "new" in an aesthetic sense, and thus have aura, and yet lack any obvious harmony...for example the early works of a revolutionary rock band.     

(2)  I was not, at first, inclined to think of beauty as perception of perfection.  For one thing, perfection seems incredibly rare in this world.  However, when I think of the word "perfection" I think of something like a perfectly straight line, i.e. one in which no mathematical point deviates from straightness.  Such perfection is not even available in our world: only in the world of mathematics and logic.  

Yet this may be an overly narrow view of perfection and there may be other sorts of perfection.   Or, to put it differently, one should not necessarily reject everything associated with a word, such as the word "perfection," given that it may be used to do many sorts of things.  

Think of the experience of perfection on drinking a really great cup of coffee.   You take the first sip and say "Perfect!" “Exactly right” may be part of the experience, but the perfection of the cup of coffee is more than that.  Perhaps it is just ineffable.  In any case, it is very unlike the perfection of a perfectly straight line.  It it more like a perfectly aligned door or perfectly placed piece of furniture. Of course what we are talking about here may have a larger subjective element than what we find in mathematics:  "looks perfect" is perhaps the aesthetic quality we are really looking for here.    

(3)  The idea that perfection is "unity in variety" really surprised me.  Although I would agree that there is unity in variety in experiences and works of art that are organic wholes, one of the main problems with this phrase is that it seems to allow too many things to be beautiful.  It cannot be that every unity is beautiful. That would mean basically that every thing is beautiful, which is implausible.  The phrase "unity in variety" even seems redundant, since to have unity you must already have many different things that are unified.  What exactly is the force of adding the "variety" part?  This may be our clue to resolving the problem of limiting unity in variety.   Perhaps what is suggested is that beauty comes when there is unity of parts that are more different from each other than one would normally expect.  Here is another solution.  Websters says that unity in variety is "a principle that aesthetic value or beauty in art depends on the fusion of various elements into an organic whole which produces a single impression." Perhaps beauty is apprehension of unity in variety in objects that are not just unified but are also organic wholes.  This would still be too broad, however, since it is arguable that almost all works of art are organize wholes, and yet only some can be judged as beautiful. If, as another option, we add that there must be a feeling of perfection then we lose the economy of identifying perfection with unity in variety.   All of these parts of the conceptual field must fit together for the idea to work, but I do not know how.

Yet it strikes me that there is a lot in common between the early German rationalists and my hero, John Dewey.  His idea of a pervasive quality that dominates our experience of something in “an experience” seems to fit the idea of "unity in variety."  Sure, there can be beauty in imperfection, as the Japanese followers of wabi-sabi insist.  But is there beauty without the pervasive quality?   Perhaps the perfection referenced here is consistent with the Japanese notion of imperfection.   

Some everyday aestheticians have criticized Dewey for stressing the harmony of "an experience" too much.  I agree that there should be some things that count as "an experience" that are lacking in harmony, and that there are some things that should count as "aesthetic" that are not examples of "an experience."   So, harmony, unity in variety, and perfection, are not required for the aesthetic. But perhaps they still indicate an ideal.   

(4)  Of course both aesthetic criticism and production are governed by rules, e.g. when they are academic or when they exhibit a skill that has been passed down from generation to generation.  And yet they are also, it seems, not governed by rules, i.e. in the ways they are creative.  So, in one aspect or way they are, and in one aspect or way they are not, governed by rules.  Yet, Kant, who agreed that rules are important in fine art, also asserted that in fine art the genius gives the rule to art.  So, for Kant, the creative genius is someone who makes her own rules.  This would not be inconsistent then with the fourth principle.  Perhaps we can have rules that are not explicit. Another acceptable possibility would be that we do have rules but they are quite general and vague, for example "A work of art should have some sort of unity."  The existence of such rules would be no great constraint on creativity.  

(5)  One of the things I have never been happy with about Kant is his radical separation of truth, beauty and goodness.  This is one of the things that gives rise to his famous idea that art is autonomous.   There is something to the notion that truth, goodness and beauty are one, although I am not sure how that plays out. The idea goes back to Plato, particularly in his Symposium, although it might have first been explicitly stated by the Renaissance philosophy Ficino.  A similar idea, that Unity, Truth, and Good are one was promoted by Aquinas.  See this Wikipedia article on transcendentals.,  

Here, the Rationalists are followers of Plato, but also seem to be in line with the Pragmatists!   Dewey would not radically separate truth, beauty and goodness.  Sure, you can say that not all truths are beautiful, or even pretty, and not all beautiful things purvey or encourage the truth.  Sure, you can say that not all good things are beautiful or even pretty and also that not all beautiful things promote the good.  But the idea here is that there is a deep inner connection between the three.  I think there is, although it would be awfully hard to express.   

What if judgments of beauty that disagree with the good and judgments of the good that disagree with beauty are just problematic?  What if we could just assume that there is something wrong happening when beauty, good and true disconnect?  What if intuition of essences gives an experience of beauty which is here, also, truth?  What if intuition of essences gives us the good in a thing too?  My intuition is that there could be an identification of beauty, good and truth.  

With regards to Pragmatism, isn't it interesting that there is a quote from Peirce that goes "Logic follows Ethics and both follow Aesthetics." Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. Hartshorne C. and Weiss P. (Harvard University Press, 1931), Vol. 1, p. 311  [I owe this reference to the above cited Wikipedia article.]  If we took that quote seriously, wouldn't that upset the entire apple-cart of philosophy?  
Here are some other ideas from Beiser or from the philosophers he discusses and my thoughts about them.

Here is Beiser on Baumgarten:

"Following Wolff, Baumgarten's central thesis is that beauty consists in the intuition of perfection.  Much careful thought went into that definition.  Every feature of it is strategic, accounting for some aspect of aesthetic experience or some desideratum of aesthetic judgment.  Such a thesis attempt to explain both the subjective and objective aspects of beauty.  In making perfection essential to beauty, it makes beauty partially objective.  If there were no unity-in-variety in the object, there would be no beauty. But in making intuition also crucial to beauty, it also makes beauty subjective.  If there were no sensible perception of perfection, there also would be no beauty.  The advantage of the objective component of beauty is that it is possible to justify aesthetic judgment, to give some reasons for it, where these reasons point to some features of the object itself, chiefly features of its formal structure." (145)  He also observes that Baumgarten recognizes that "we cannot precisely identify and determine what it is that makes an object so pleasing or appealing."  (145) So, for Baumgarten, "As a direct awareness of a particular, intuition has an extensive clarity and liveliness that cannot be fully elaborated or explained by concepts."  (146)  That seems about right. 

See my follow-up on this here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Further thoughts on Liu Yuedi

I have previously posted on Liu Yuedi here but have new motivation to look at his ideas especially as expressed in his  "'Living Aesthetics' From the Perspective of the Intercultural Turn." [see previous post for reference] Part of the motivation is that I plan to teach my Philosophy of Art class this semester as a World Philosophy class.  The title in itself is interesting.  I am not entirely happy with the term "Living Aesthetics," because in English this would imply a distinction between living and dead aesthetics, and I am not sure of the value of that or that it meets Yuedi's intention.  A better title for his project might be "The Aesthetics of Life."  I think I have used this phrase before myself. 

Although mainly I have been writing in the field called "the aesthetics of everyday life" the appeal of "the aesthetics of life" is that it is broader and will definitely include the aesthetics of parties and ritual as well as more strictly everyday life phenomena.  

The other aspect of the title is also intriguing:  we have had "the linguistic turn" and then also I think "the pragmatist turn."  Is there, or has there been, an intercultural turn?   Perhaps there is one in the offing and if my decision to teach a course in world aesthetics is any indication then perhaps we have a trend, but who is to say.  In any case, it is at least interesting that Yuedi elaborates this thought in terms of the notion that the closely related fields of environmental aesthetics and art aesthetics are now gaining a sort of prominence that puts them up there with the philosophy of art as central to aesthetic theory in general. Rereading Yuedi's essay suggests that thinking in terms of world trends has its attractions. Some of the historical context he gives is familiar to me and some not:  isn't it fascinating to look at the rising field of everyday aesthetics from a very different perspective, i.e. from the standpoint in this case of Chinese aesthetics and contemporary art theory?   Yuedi says that "the dialogues between West and the East....are bound to be more frequent" and I hope that this is the case.

Yuedi says "with the boundaries between art and everyday life being dismissed by contemporary art and the environment turning into the environment of human life; contemporary philosophy of art and environmental aesthetics have taken on a tendency to fuse into aesthetics of living."  (14-15)  Yes, maybe.  Contemporary art does sometimes dismiss such boundaries, although to be frank, I seldom have trouble distinguishing between an object of contemporary art and an object of everyday aesthetic interest.  I usually find contemporary art in galleries, whereas I find everyday objects outside of galleries, for example.  Contemporary art is certainly interested in everyday life.  

The other claim about fusion of philosophy of art and environmental aesthetics into another broader field, an aesthetics of living, is intriguing.  Dewey long argued against separation of art and life.  Current debates in everyday aesthetics often center around whether we should understand it in terms of traditional categories of art aesthetics or in terms of something very distinct from art aesthetics.  Yuedi's solution is admirably to try to overcome the dualism between art and life implied in such debates.

Yuedi writes that "The aesthetic is acknowledged to be the 'profound standard' for the quality of human life and development of the environment and lifeworld."  If that were true then the aesthetic would be immensely important, far more important than philosophers in the U.S., at least, take it to be.  The word "the" here also seem to imply that the profound standard would no longer be religion or ethics, and that would be momentous.

"there is a deep-routed tradition of aestheticizing everyday life in Chinese culture and art." (15)  This seems to be so, and if part of the goal of the aesthetics of everyday life is to actually promote this, then the West has a lot to learn from China.  Yuedi uses this also to make the aesthetics of everyday life into a bridge between Chinese and Western aesthetics.  

Yuedi also observes different motives in the move to "living aesthetics" from the East and the West, where the move from the East is more a matter of appropriating what is already theirs, and the move from the West is to react against fine art-centric ways of looking at aesthetics that go back to Hegel, at least. (I would argue that the problem is even deeper historically, that it goes back to the dominance of dualism and rationalism and can be found in the Cartesian and even the Platonic violence against aesthetics, especially against aesthetics of everyday life, a violence which is often, however, deeply ambiguous and hence open to deconstruction.)

In another related paper Yuedi discusses what he calls Neo-Chineseness.  This is "Chinese Contemporary Art: From De-Chin eseness to Re-Chineseness" in Mary B. Wiseman and Liu Yuedi eds.  Subversive Strategies in Contemporary Chinese Art:  Western Criticism and Chinese Aesthetics (Leiden and Boston:  Bill Academic Publishers, 2011)  There he discusses the issue of natural or cultural identity in relation to matters of aesthetics and philosophy of art.  The specific danger for him is the Chinese art, as contemporary art, is "in danger of losing its identity" and must pass through a phase of "Re-Chineseness" as a necessary step to a "neo-Chineseness" based on the general principle that "The more ethnic features art reflects, the more universally acceptable it becomes." Back to the Living Aesthetics article, this move towards Neo-Chineseness is, in his view, "making important contributions to the two-way expansion of Chinese and Western aesthetics."  (15)  He calls for a "new pattern of development of world aesthetics" that goes beyond merely encountering and understanding "the Other."  

For Yuedi,  "art," "environment," and "lifeworld" are the "main trends of contemporary global aesthetics."  If so, this would mark a major shift in which concern for aesthetics of environment and aesthetics of life or lifeworld become much more important than they currently seem to be, at least in the West.  It is my view that some of the troubles of the marginalization that Aesthetics currently suffers from within philosophy is that (1) it is pushed aside by Ethics (why should Ethics eat up most of the realm of value?) and (2) it is ghettoized into the realm of high art, at least in the minds of other philosophers.  Contemporary philosophy just fails to recognize the centrality of aesthetics to any adequate philosophy of the person, philosophy of life, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, or even to and adequate epistemology or metaphysics.  The problem is mainly one of institutional structures, which is also related to the history of the discipline.  Any discipline that begins with an anti aesthetic anti-art bias will never be good to aesthetics.  The dominance within mainstream philosophy of a form of rationalism that gives priority to standard forms of logic over sensuous experience and intuition, the very problem that prompted Baumgarten to introduce the term "aesthetics" in the 18th century, continues today in this marginalization.  Chinese aesthetics, and perhaps world aesthetics, does not have this problem.

"aesthetics of everyday life is formed in breaking free of the confinement of art and returning to life."  (17)  Of course art is not always confining, but this sentence might be usefully rewritten to stress the confinement to fine art by a logic-centered rationalist philosophical orthodoxy and a returning to the aesthetics of life from that.

Yuedi has an interesting take on the evolution of aesthetics in relation to Danto's idea of the artworld, thinking that the end of art allows for a liberation which actually opens up to and is suggestive of an aesthetics of the everyday, and further, that defining art in terms of the artworld turns our attention once again to the world of human interactions (although, albeit, only one small part of it), the move to artworld being preliminary to the move to the lifeworld by way of the end of art.  Yuedi associates "the end of art" with specific artistic movements, e.g. conceptual art, performance art and land art, i.e. a continuation in which art does not really end but rather opens up to the lifeworld where art returns to body and nature, at least the second two instances, maybe becomes philosophy in the first, although Yuedi sees it as returning to "the concepts of real life." (19)

"These branches of aesthetics [conceptualism, somaesthetics, and natural aesthetics] further correspond to the conceptualism of the Chinese traditional Zen Buddhism, the syntheticism of Confucianism, and the natural aesthetics of Taoism."  (19)

Yuedi posits an important element of shift in the move within environmental aesthetics from the aesthetics of nature exclusively to a new concern for human environments, there being a radical change "in terms of the object of study."  I wouldn't say that this actually happened:  it was more that environmental aesthetics expanded to include human environments.  But I do like the his claim that "[w]hile aesthetics of everyday life is regarded by many as a part or a branch of environmental aesthetics, the inverse is also true.  That is, environmental aesthetics can also be considered a part of living aesthetics, in that we all 'live' in the environment." 

Yuedi himself favors the idea that "the environment is centered on human life" although he recognizes that this leads to the charge of anthropocentrism.  But without the human, he says, "who cares whether the environment exists or not?" and "The environment is always the environment for the human."  (21) However, I agree with those who would say that the environment is not always for the human, and that it is worthwhile for us sometimes to try to think outside of anthropocentrism.  Even though, as Yuedi has observed, our environment has been "humanized" over the last few thousand years, it still exists, for example, for the cat, when it comes to cat consciousness, and for the whale, when it comes to the whale.  Still, a recognition that we cannot ever entirely escape the human perspective does lead to the idea of environmental aesthetics fusing into the aesthetics of living.  Or as Yuedi also says, environmental aesthetics, ecological aesthetics (insofar as it also includes cultural ecology) and social aesthetics all lead to living aesthetics.  

"The Euro-American countries need living aesthetics because they want to go beyond analytic aesthetics, while China needs living aesthetics because it tries to rediscover the tradition of Confucianism, Taoism and Zenism."  Both seek to "underline the necessity of appreciating asrt by way of living aesthetics, and looking at everyday life by way of art."  (23)

Why?  "profound changes have taking place in contemporary culture and art, such that living aesthetics rises as a direct reaction against them" and "in an age of globalization, three is a two-way, pan-aesthetic movement sweeping the world" but "life as art" and "art as life" (the later happening when art loses its "aura" in Benjamin's sense).  This all is directed against "aesthetic disinterestedness" and "autonomy of art" so central to classical aesthetics, the former idea actually challenged by "the aestheticization of everyday life."  

"Chinese classical aesthetics is in essence a real living aesthetics, and provides an ideal of human life."  Confucianism for example centers on the concept of "qing" meaning emotion/feeling, the essence of Confucianism being a unity of li (rituals) and yue (music) the harmony of these being perfect beauty and goodness.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bibliography of Everyday Aesthetics since 2011

Below is my bibliography for everyday aesthetics since 2011.  If you are an author working in this field and you are not included, please let me know. Also, it is far from perfect, but I thought I would get it up in this state.

Berleant, Arnold. "Aesthetic Sensibility," Ambiances [on line], Enjeux - Arguments - Positions, March 30 2015, Accessed Jan. 13. 2017. https://ambiances.revues.org/526

Berleant, Arnold.  Aesthetics Beyond the Arts (Aldershot:  Ashgate, 2012).

Berleant, Arnold.  "Tranformations in Art and Aesthetics," in Yuedi, Liu and Curtis L. Carter (eds.), Aesthetics of Everyday Life: East and West, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014): 2-13.

Berleant, Arnold.  "Negative Aesthetics in Everyday Life," Aesthetic Pathways 1:2 (2011):75-91. 

Bhatt, Ritu.  Rethinking aesthetics: The role of body in design (Routledge, 2013).

Carlson, Allen.  "The Dilemma of Everyday Aesthetics," Aesthetics of Everyday Life:  East and West ed. Liu Yuedi and Curtis L. Carter, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.

Carter, Curtis.  "Art Photography and Everyday Life," Yuedi, Liu and Curtis L. Carter (eds.), Aesthetics of Everyday Life: East and West, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014): 80-89.

Davies, David.  “Applied Aesthetics.” A Companion to Applied Philosophy, (Wiley Blackwell, 2016).

Davies, David. “Sibley and the Limits of Everyday Aesthetics.” Journal Of Aesthetic Education 49: 3 (2015): 50-65.

Davies, Stephen.  "The Aesthetics of Adornments," in 
Aesthetics of Everyday Life: East and West, Yuedi, Liu and Curtis L. Carter (eds.), (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014): 124-133.

Dowling, Christopher. “Thomas Leddy:  The Extraordinary in the Ordinary:  The Aesthetics of Everyday Life.”  Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. May 19, 2012.

Elkington, Sam. “Disturbance and Complexity in Urban Places: The Everyday Aesthetics of Leisure.” Landscapes of Leisure (Palgrave: 2015).

Farías, Gabriela.  “Everyday Aesthetics in Contemporary Art.” University of Guanajuato, Mexico  Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities 3:3 (2011): 440-447.

Feagin, Susan.  "Theatre and the Everyday:  Three Models." Yuedi, Liu and Curtis L. Carter (eds.), Aesthetics of Everyday Life: East and West, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014.):  96-114.

Fernández Gómez, M. Rosa. La estética de lo cotidiano y el ars contextualis en asia oriental. Suplementos de Contrastes: Revista Internacional de Filosofia 17 (2012): 109-125.

Forsey, Jane. “The Promise, the Challenge, of Everyday Aesthetics,” Aisthesis. Pratiche, linguaggi e saperi dell’estetico, 7:1 (2014): 5-2.

Forsey, Jane. “Appraising the ordinary -- tension in everyday aesthetics.”Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics 5 (2013) 237-245.

Forsey, Jane.  The Aesthetics of Design. (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Freeland, Cynthia.  “Jane Forsey, The Aesthetics of Design (Oxford U. Press, 2013).” Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.   Jan. 1, 2014.

Furrow, Dwight.  American Foodie:  Taste, Art, and the Cultural Revolution (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016.)

Highmore, Ben.  Ordinary Lives:  Studies in the Everyday.  (London: Routledge, 2011).

Iannilli, Gioia Laura. “Inter-facing Everydayness From Distance to Use, Through the Cartographic Paradigm” Aisthesis, Pratiche, linguaggi e saperi dell’estetico, 7:1 (2114).

Irvin, Sherri (ed.), Body Aesthetics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.)

Kaplan, David M. The Philosophy of Food  (University of California Press, 2012).

Kim, Kwang Myung. "The Aesthetic Turn in Everyday Life in Korea." Open Journal of Philosophy, 3, (2013): 359-365. 

Leddy, Thomas. “Aesthetization, Artification, and Aquariums,”Contemporary Aesthetics  (2012).

Leddy, Thomas. “Experience of Awe: An Expansive Approach,”Contemporary Aesthetics 13 (2015) http://www.contempaesthetics.org/newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=727

Leddy, Thomas.  “Shusterman's Thinking Through the Body and Everyday Aesthetics,” Contemporary Pragmatism, Author-Meets-Critics Symposium on Richard Shusterman’s Thinking Through the Body (2015). 79-99.

Leddy, Thomas.  “Everyday Aesthetics and Photography,” Aisthesis. Pratiche, linguaggi e saperi dell’estetico, 7, no. 1 (2014): 45-62. 

Leddy, Thomas.  “Everyday Aesthetics and Happiness,” in Aesthetics of Everyday Life: West and East ed. Liu Yuedi and Curtis Carter (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014).

Leddy, Thomas. Review “Stroud, Scott R. John Dewey and the Artful Life: Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality. Penn State University Press, 2011,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 71 (2):215-217 (2013)

Leddy, Thomas.  “John Dewey,” Aesthetics: The Key Thinkers ed. Alessandro Giovannelli (New York: Continuum, 2012).

Leddy, Thomas. “Defending Everyday Aesthetics and the Concept of 'Pretty',” Contemporary Aesthetics 10 (2012).

Leddy, Thomas.  Review: "Allen Carlson, and Glen Parsons. Functional Beauty," Philosophy in Review 31:3 (2011) 231-234.

Livingstone, Paisley.  “New Directions in Aesthetics,” The Bloomsbury Companion to Aesthetics (London:  Bloomsbury, 2015): 255-267.

Matteucci, Giovanni. “The Aesthetic as a Matter of Practices: Form of Life in Everydayness and Art” Comprendre  18:2 (2016)  9-28 link

Matteucci, Giovanni, ed.  Estetica e Practica del Quotidiano:  Oggetto, esperienza, design  (Milano: Mimesis, 2015),

Melchionne, Kevin.  “The Point of Everyday Aesthetics.” Contemporary Aesthetics 12 (2014).

Melchionne, Kevin.  “The Definition of Everyday Aesthetics,”Contemporary Aesthetics 11 (2013).

Melchionne, Kevin.  “Leddy, Thomas.  The Extraordinary in the Ordinary:  The Aesthetics of Everyday Life.”  Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 71 (3):296-298 (2013).

Melchionne, Kevin.  "Aesthetic Experience in Everyday Life: A Reply to Dowling," British Journal of Aesthetics 2011.

Moller, Dan. "The boring." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 72:2 (2014): 181-191.

Montero, Barbara Gail.  Thought in Action:  Expertise and the Conscious Mind.  (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2016).

Naukkarinen, Ossi and Yuriko Saito (eds.),  Artification, Special Volume 4 of Contemporary Aesthetics (2012).

Naukkarinen, Ossi.  “What is 'Everyday' in Everyday Aesthetics,”Contemporary Aesthetics  11 (2013).

Naukkarinen, Ossi.  “Contemporary Aesthetics: Perspectives on Time, Space, and Content,” Contemporary Aesthetics 12 (2014).

Naukkarinen, Ossi.  “Aesthetic Footprints.” Aesthetic Pathways 2:1(2011): 89-111.

Naukkarinen, Ossi. "Everyday Aesthetic Practices, Ethics and Tact" Aisthesis. Pratiche, linguaggi e saperi dell’estetico [Online], 7:1 (2014). http://www.fupress.net/index.php/aisthesis/article/view/14609

Ngai, Sianne.  Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting,(Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2012.)

Norton, Brian Michael.   Lumen: Selected Proceedings from the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies / Lumen : travaux choisis de la Société canadienne d'étude du dix-huitième siècle, 34 (2015): 123-136.

Norton, Brian Michael. "The Spectator, Aesthetic Experience and the Modern Idea of Happiness" English Literature 2:1 (2015).

Paetzold, Heinz. “Aesthetics of urban design.” Diogenes 59:1-2 (2013): 63-72.

Pahl, K.  “The aesthetics of everyday literacies: Home writing practices in a British Asian household,” Anthropology & Education Quarterly (2014).

Postrol, Virginia.  The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion (New York: Simon Schuster:  2013).

Potgieter, Frederick.  "On intersubjectivity in art and everyday aesthetics," De Arte 5:12 (2016).

Puolakka, Kalle. “The Aesthetic Pulse of the Everyday: Defending Dewey,” Contemporary Aesthetics 13 (2015).

Puolakka, Kalle.  “Dewey and Everyday Aesthetics - A New Look,”Contemporary Aesthetics 12 (2014).

Puolakka, Kalle.  "Getting Rid of Bad Habits:  The Proper Role of Imagination in Everyday Aesthetics," Aesthetic Pathways 1:2 (2011):  47-64.

Quacchia, Russell.  “The Aesthetic Experiences of Aura, Awe, and Wonder: Reflections on Their Nature and Relationships,” Contemporary Aesthetics 14 (2016).

Ratiu, Dan Eugen.  “Remapping the Realm of Aesthetics: On Recent Controversies about the Aesthetic and Aesthetic Experience in Everyday Life,” Estetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics  Issue 1 (2013) 3-27.

Ruggerone, L. and Jenkings, N.  "Talking about Beauty: A Study of Everyday Aesthetics among Low-Income Citizens of Milan." Symbolic Interaction, 38(2015): 393–412.

Saito, Yuriko.  ”Body Aesthetics and Cultivation of Moral Virtues,” in Body Aesthetics, Sherri Irvin (ed.), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.)
Saito, Yuriko. “Everyday Aesthetics,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter Edition 2015). https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aesthetics-of-everyday/

Saito, Yuriko.  "Everyday Aesthetics in the Japanese Tradition," Yuedi, Liu and Curtis L. Carter (eds.), Aesthetics of Everyday Life: East and West, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014):  145-164.

Saito, Yuriko. “Everyday Aesthetics and World-Making.” Suplementos De Contrastes: Revista Internacional De Filosofia 17 (2012): 255-274.

Saito, Yuriko.  "The Power of the Aesthetics."  Aesthetic Pathways 1:2 (2011):  11-25.

Semczyszyn, Nola.  “Public Aquariums and Marine Aesthetics,” Contemporary Aesthetics 11 (2013). 

Scruton, Roger.  Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Shiner, Larry. “Blurred Boundaries”? Rethinking the Concept of Craft and its Relation to Art and Design. Philosophy Compass, 7 (2012): 230–244.

Shusterman, Richard.  "Transactional Experiential Inquiry:  From Pragmatism to Somaesthetics."  Contemporary Pragmatism 12 (2015) 180-195.  Shusterman there answers my own paper in this issue from pp. 183-186.

Shusterman, Richard.  Thinking Through the Body:  Essays in Somaesthetics (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Shusterman, Richard.  ”Everyday Aesthetics of Embodiment,” in Rethinking Aesthetics: The Role of Body in Design, Ritu Bhatt (ed.), (New York: Routledge, 2013).

Simpson, Zachary.  Life as Art:  Aesthetics and the Creation of the Self (New York:  Lexington Books, 2012).

Stroud, Scott.  John Dewey and the Artful Life:  Pragmatism, Aesthetics, and Morality (University Park, Penn.:  Penn. State University Press, 2011.)

Vihalem, Margus. "What is at Stake in Everyday Aesthetics? Looking for a New Perspective on Aesthetic Experience." Kunstiteaduslikke Uurimusi 25, no. 3/4 (2016): 38-61.  Studies on Art and Architecture (Kunstiteaduslikke Uurimusi) is the journal of the Estonian Society of Art Historians and Curators. This article is largely a critique of my book, The Extraordinary in the Ordinary from a Deweyan perspective.

Wiseman, Mary.  "Damask Napkins and the Train from Sichuan:  Aesthetic Experience and Ordinary Things."  Yuedi, Liu and Curtis L. Carter (eds.), Aesthetics of Everyday Life: East and West, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014.) 134-144.

Yuedi, Liu and Curtis L. Carter (eds.), Aesthetics of Everyday Life: East and West, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014.)

Yuedi, Liu.  "'Living Aesthetics,' from the Perspective of the intercultural Turn," in Yuedi, Liu and Curtis L. Carter (eds.), Aesthetics of Everyday Life: East and West, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014): 14-25.

Everyday Aesthetics as a New Direction in Aesthetics

The Bloomsbury Companion to Aesthetics edited by Anna Christina Ribeiro (2015) (but originally published in 2012 as the Continuum Companion to Aesthetics) features everyday aesthetics its last chapter titled "New Directions in Aesthetics" by Paisley Livingston (255-267).  The article focuses on Livingston's response to my own work on everyday aesthetics from 2005 ("The Nature of Everyday Aesthetics" in The Aesthetics of Everyday Life, ed. A. Light and J. M. Smith, New York: Columbia U. Press, 3-22) and to Yuriko Saito's book Everyday Aesthetics from 2007.  Of course I continued to develop my ideas on the nature of everyday aesthetics after that period, particularly in my The Extraordinary in the Ordinary (2012) but also in a series of more recent articles. 

Livingston rightly complains that in the 2005 article I proposed that everyday aesthetics covers, as he puts it "all aesthetic experiences that are not already included in 'well-established' domains of aesthetic theorizing" so that not only fine arts and the natural environment are outside everyday aesthetics but also aesthetics of mathematics, science and religion.  His complaint is that as disciplines get established in everyday aesthetics, for example the aesthetics of food, they then fall outside of it and "[t]he very success of everyday aesthetics as a branch of aesthetic inquiry would lead to the continuous expulsion of its own topics and results from this subfield." (259)   Nice.  Livingston, however, recognizes that the motive of everyday aesthetics has been to deal with material that has been neglected through emphasis on fine arts and nature aesthetics and so defines the field more simply than I did as "the aesthetic experience or aesthetic appreciation of things familiar or everyday, but not the aesthetics of the fine arts and scenic nature." (259)  Interestingly, although controversially, he seems to imply inclusion of non-scenic nature under everyday aesthetics, and it is not clear whether decorative and popular arts fall within or outside everyday aesthetics on this definition.  At best, his offer constitutes a necessary and not a sufficient condition for everyday aesthetics:  a partial definition that should probably be narrowed further.

I appreciate Livingston's next point which is in favor of my view that, as he puts it, "there have been valuable interactions between the aesthetics of the fine arts, nature, and everyday life."  He rightly observes, via a reference to Bryson, that still-life paintings can make us more aware of the aesthetic properties of everyday phenomena.  He also agrees with me that we should not see everyday aesthetics as a radical break from something negatively called "traditional aesthetics."  

Livingston's article gets interesting when he addresses what I have called a "tension" in everyday aesthetics.  This is a much-discussed issue these days, and Allen Carlson has his own solution, as does Saito.   I will be providing my own solution to what Carlson has called "the dilemma of everyday aesthetics" at the American Society for Aesthetics conference at Asilomar this Spring, and should also be posting on that soon.  Livingston, drawing on an article by F. Dretske, puts the issue somewhat differently than I would.  He observes that some experiences "do not cross the threshold into the domain of aesthetic experience...[but] satisfy behavior and motivation conditions on what should be recognized as perceptual uptake in the absence of awareness" (260) and that these often include "what is wholly commonplace and familiar." His example would be a person who makes a daily commute but pays little attention to the "complex flow of sights, sounds and smells along the way."  I am a bit confused about this line of discussion since the commuter is surely aware of her surroundings, including the sights of braking cars and smells of her engine burning oil.  I admit that there are some things that are beneath consciousness and yet involve some sort of perceptual uptake, but the question at issue is when something rises to the level of the aesthetic and I cannot see how unconscious perception is even relevant to that.  On the other hand, I have long argued that there can be low-level aesthetic experiences, ones that can be described, for example, by applying aesthetic property terms such as "pretty," or "nice," or "looks good."  It seems that once perceptual uptake reaches the level of awareness it has reached the domain of the low-level aesthetic. 

Still, we may be quibbling about terms here. Livingston can fairly argue that I am using "aesthetic" in an stretched way, that what he is really talking about is "aesthetic" is that which is attended to "for its own sake," and that the attention paid to the sounds and smells of brakes and so forth is "practical" (which is the word he uses later in the essay) and not aesthetic.  I suppose the issue for a Deweyan like myself is whether the "practical" can so clearly be delineated from the aesthetic, of which I will have more to say later.  

Livingston further thinks that the everyday aesthetician comes along (not the theorist here, but the person who practices her life in such a way as to focus on everyday aesthetic phenomena) and "reclassifies this part of the world as falling within the sphere of everyday aesthetics" by attending to the same stretch of road aesthetically.  But, and here is where the tension comes in, the worry is "that although the philosophical operation has been successful, the very 'object' of everyday aesthetics has somehow vanished or been vitiated as a result."  (260)  Well, the answer seems obvious to me since, if the commuter is not aware at all, if she is a kind of automaton, then she is not having experience anyway, and thus what happens to her is not a matter of any sort of aesthetics, and if she is aware and has low level positive or even negative aesthetic experiences, then no re-classification or philosophical operation is needed.  

I can see that there is a difference between the two commuters, but it just seems that the first is attentive to more practical-oriented aesthetic qualities than the second.  I do not know how other people experience driving, but my way tends to alternate between the two modes.  If I smell gasoline or hear knocks in the engine I am going to be more focused in the practical mode. (As you can see, I do not accept the practical/aesthetic dichotomy that Livingston apparent does.) On the other hand, usually I am attending mainly to the sights along the road, say on a drive up the 280 Freeway to visit my mom in San Francisco.  Alternatively I might be attending to the conversation of my companion, or to the music or other entertaining shows I get over the radio.  But these experiences have aesthetic qualities too.

Admittedly, because of my strong love of visual arts, I am probably more attentive to what I would consider to be interesting features in the passing visual environment than most.  One point at issue here is whether everyday aestheticians are promoting an approach to the world that is more like mine:  i.e. what is sometimes called an aestheticization of everyday life.   (I want to add that there are differences between kinds of driving that are really significant to what one might call the aesthetics of road experience.  For example, it is particularly difficult to have high level aesthetic experiences during commute rush hours. I find commute driving stressful and quite the opposite of non-commute driving.  Some of my best road experiences have come when driving on 280 when there is no significant traffic.)  

In any case, if the worry is that, by making the ordinary extraordinary, or at least special. one harms the ordinary because one takes it out of the ordinary, I think that this is a misleading worry.  The person who is stressed by her daily commute is not helped by learning how to accept the boring, humdrum, or stressful nature of that commute. She needs a kind of therapy.  She needs to be able to experience things differently.  Her ordinary bad experience is not harmed by transforming it into something better! So I am at a loss to how rendering the ordinary extraordinary can be a bad thing, unless it causes moral problems.  I suppose that if the commuter has achieved a kind of aesthetic enlightenment and can only experience the commute in an aesthetically heightened way she might be less willing to support sensible measures to lessen congestion, and this would be immoral since she would not be considering the suffering of others.  

There is also the problem of neglect of everyday life phenomena, especially the most ordinary ones by theorists.  Such theorists forget that much of our lives operate at a low aesthetic level, both in terms of pleasures and pains.  I think all everyday aestheticians agree about this.  I think however that this is admitted by my talk of aesthetic property attribution that does not rise to the level of aesthetic experience and yet indicates an aesthetic aspect of our everyday lives, talk like "its a nice day."  

There certainly is a normative dimension to everyday aesthetics in that everyday aestheticians are trying to improve things in the world.  I agree when Saito stresses that "there is a pressing need to cultivate aesthetic literacy, so to speak, with respect to everyday objects and environments." (243) The call for change is ameliorative:  it is saying that this is one way that can lead us to better lives.  It says, "pay attention to this stuff at least some of the time."  It says that an aesthetically more attentive life is a better one:  try it!  In some ways the claim is like that of the enthusiast for meditation who recommends that we meditate every day.  To that extent, interest in everyday aesthetics could be a movement, one that calls on a new aesthetic literacy in a way much like previous calls for computer literacy or literacy in the fine arts.  (I think that what is called "life aesthetics" in China today has this flavor.)

Saito makes these calls partly because she sees this literacy as necessary for changes we need to make in our relationship with our environment.  That is probably true (no, it certainly is!), although one could call for the literacy even if it would not do much to save the whale or stop global warming.  Maybe we just need it to find a way to bear living in a world in which the global warming problem just won't be solved because of human greed and our inescapably corrupt social institutions.  In any case, I certainly agree with Saito that everyday aesthetics "has to be a part of the strategies for the project of world-making" where the world-making is a matter of trying to create a more healthy, humane and environmentally sound world. 

It is after this call that Saito, in the concluding chapter of her book, talks about the "tension" in everyday aesthetics.  (244)  She understands this tension as one between "descriptive function of everyday aesthetics and its normative function."  I will look at her solution and then get back to Livingston. 

One approach to everyday aesthetics, according to Saito, is to follow "traditional aesthetic theory" with regards to "aesthetic attitude," and this would be to free ourselves from a practical attitude, such normal ways of experiencing or reacting as "appreciating a utensil purely for its functionality or deploring a dirty linen that prompts us to clean it." Traditional aesthetic attitude theory, on her view, would rather closely attend to sensuous surfaces. In doing so, she admits, we can certainly find "hidden gems," for example in "the way in which the stain on the linen appears."  However we do not notice or appreciate these "because we usually do not engage with them as aesthetic objects."  In order to find these hidden gems we turn to art:  "we appreciate the help provided by photographs, literature..."  This is "one way everyday aesthetic functions normatively."

I agree with Saito that this is one way to appreciate everyday phenomena, and I have emphasized this in my writings.  However I wonder about a couple things here.  First, what exactly is "appreciating a utensil purely for its functionality" and do we ever actually do this?  I see a spoon and a cereal bowl in front of me that I have just used.  I like the way the spoon is shaped and how it works, and much prefer this spoon to a plastic spoon or one that has less of a soup-spoon look.  The spoon has fine lines, but it also hold cereal nicely.  The cereal bowl is one my wife and I purchased at a Frank Lloyd Wright museum and looks vaguely like the Guggenheim in New York:  I love this bowl which functions perfectly for my morning cereal.  I am not always contemplating these two utensils as I am now, and yet I choose them for my morning oatmeal because they look and feel right. Even now, as I am more conscious of this bowl and spoon, after I have eaten my cereal and am writing this blog post, I think of my life as a little better because of these utensils.  One point here is that my taking an aesthetic attitude toward the bowl (to stick with that one) is not radically discontinuous from when I just choose it from other bowls for my cereal:  I appreciate it for reasons pretty similar to why I chose it.  So, to go back to Livingston, the "below level of awareness" use of this bowl is pretty strongly related to the appreciative contemplative level.  You might say that the second level involves taking an aesthetic attitude, but it would be wrong to say that I take nothing like an aesthetic attitude when choosing the bowl for my cereal in the first place, even though that choice making is not in itself contemplative.  

Nor it it fair to say, as Saito suggests, that either in choosing the bowl or in contemplating it as an aesthetic object I am simply attending to "sensuous surfaces."  Actually, this point is a bit confusing for me.  Of course I am attending to sensuous surfaces: what else could I attend to in the physical object I am looking at and using?  Maybe the problem is with "surfaces."  But I do not think that in attending to my bowl aesthetically, even in the contemplative mode. I am just attending to its surfaces.  I also attend to how it feels in my hand, to its heft and weight and balance.  Surely these are not surfaces, although they are sensuous. 

I can also attend to things that are not sensuous but are related to the bowl, for example to conceptual matters, such as how it fits the definition of bowl, or how it could be used as an example in a philosophy paper, or how it fits into my overall taste, or how it fits into the history of modernism, or how my wife would react if I broke it.  I suspect that all of these things are "there" in the background although I am not currently consciously aware of them. There is a complex phenomenology of meaning that hovers around my bowl.  But if I attend to the complex phenomenology of meaning I am still not attending to "pure functionality."  There is really no such thing as that.

The case of the stained linen is interestingly different, and it is certainly true that there is a difference between the person who looks at it as if it were an work of stained art. Imagine an abstract painter who is not maintaining the linen in the house but is actually more interested in getting inspiration fpr her art, and contrast this to the person who sees it as marring the cleanliness in the house and who makes immediately to clean it as soon as she sees it.   I can see a source of house conflict here. 

My view is that both of these attitudes towards the stained linen are aesthetic:  they just focus on different properties.  To be honest, I always have trouble understanding what "normative" means. Websters says that it is "of, relating to, or determining norms or standards."  A norm is commonly considered a standard or a type, but is also associated with "normal" or "customary" and with "prescriptive."  So, when Saito says that everyday aesthetics functions "normatively" when we appreciate "hidden gems" with the help of art I wonder what she means.  She says that this is by way of bracketing out normal response, which is to, e.g., clean up the linen stain.  So the normative is not normal?  But which is more normative in this case:  cleaning up the stain or seeing it as a hidden gem by way of the help of art?  It seems that both are equally normative, or could be, if for example each advocate prescribed his or her own approach.   The society in which the artist looking for inspiration would be more normal might have a norm in her favor, and the other society might have a norm in favor of the linen cleaner.  Alternatively, cleaning up the stain is more normative because this is, after all, the more normal reaction...again, in most societies.

I grant that treating the stained linen as a hidden gem is rendering the ordinary extraordinary.  In my current view, however, cleaning the stained linen is also normative in that the very action of making it look better is intended to enhances a low-level aesthetic quality, i.e. "looks nice" or "is clean."  

Now there is the issue of whether we "lose something of the everyday life's everyday-ness or ordinary-ness" in taking the arts-based attitude, i.e. in seeing the stained linen as if it were an abstract painting.  (245)  I cannot see that anything is lost here except that one ought not to be spending time turning the stained linen into an imagined work of art if one's household job is to make sure that such things look nice.  Saito calls the "clean it up" approach "descriptive" rather than normative.  In my view, "descriptive" is not quite the right word either.  Sure, something is described, in this case, the attitude of the person who has the household job of making things clean, neat and nice.  But we were also describing when we described the artist who came in from her studio and was mesmerized by the interesting aesthetic qualities of the stained linen.  So, overall, I do not think that the distinction between normative and descriptive really helps resolve the tension in everyday aesthetics.  

I believe that it is Saito's important contribution here to make us more aware of how action in response to what we see in the world is as important aesthetically as experience that is more detached and contemplative.  So I wholly endorse her position when she says that everyday aesthetics "should not be exclusively concerned with discounting ordinary and seemingly pragmatically directed reactions that often result in various actions, such as cleaning, throwing away, purchasing, and preserving..." (245)  It is noteworthy that Saito herself begins to doubt her critique of the normative approach when she recognizes that she herself makes normative claims with regard to aesthetic reactions that have "environmental ramifications."  (245)   

Saito's concern seems to be summed up in the opposition between de-contextualized aestheticization and everyday practical concerns. (245)  I will want to pursue this issue further since I think this is the core concern in the tension of everyday aesthetics.  But it depends on the nature of the practical and also on whether a firm dividing line can be maintained between the two.  It depends on whether there is no role for de-contextualizing in the practical realm and whether there is nothing practical going on when we de-contextualize.  We might need to de-contextualize something to use it for a new purpose for which it was not intended.  Again, there is a big issue as to when we should make the ordinary extraordinary and when we should focus on achieving the low-level aesthetic results indicated by "neat," "nice," and so forth, i.e. results that are not always associated with the term "aesthetic" (which is why Saito calls them "seemingly non-aesthetic"). The problem as she sees it is with "indiscriminate aestheticization."  This returns us to what I once called the LSD problem although it could also be the problem of Zen Enlightenment.  What happens if everything is experienced as extraordinary, as a hidden gem?  Well, the result could be pretty disastrous!  The dirty linen doesn't get cleaned up if everyone is spaced out on incredible relations of lines and colors.  So yes, there is a problem with indiscriminate aestheticization.  Yet, Zen Buddhists seem to get on even after enlightened.  And how bad is it really to promote more art-like experiences of everyday life?  

Livingston interprets Saito's descriptive side as the goal of representing "familiar, everyday life and experience faithfully" (261).  I think that representing everyday life faithfully is not just a matter of representing the need to clean up stained linen but also the experience of seeing the stained linen as if it were art.  These are both sides of everyday life.  I suppose the problem is that you have to stop seeing the linen as needing a cleaning to see it as an aesthetic gem.  But there is nothing to keep us from alternating between the two perspectives, or even combining them to some extent, or even allowing some people to focus on one and others on the other.  Combinations are possible too.  Consider that in washing dishes one can enjoy the qualities of cleanliness as they emerge in the cleaning process in an intensified way quite different from the ordinary experience if one practices "mindfulness" in the Buddhist tradition described by Thich Nhat Hanh (which is not to be confused with the earliest Buddhists who were deeply anti-aesthetic insofar as they rejected all sense experience).  

Livingston's own solution to the tension of everyday aesthetics is to move to the level of aesthetic properties.  On this view "everyday aesthetics would then be the subfield that investigates the aesthetic properties of items not falling in the categories of scenic nature or the fine arts."  (261)  I actually think this is the approach I have taken in my book and in my comments above.  However Livingston develops this in terms of the kind of strict distinction between the practical on the one hand and "intrinsic valence" of experience on the other that I have questioned. This, he believes, is the clear dividing line between that which is everyday aesthetics and that which is not.  The intrinsic valence is seen to be positive but always instantaneous, as when the nose of a fine wine "is instantly rewarding," or the immediate sensation of pain has "a negative valence."   I have a lot of trouble understanding how this distinction is going to help solve the problem Saito raised (and that I raised in my 2005 article). 

But let's see. Livingston thinks that "what is wanted in thinking about everyday aesthetics is a broad contrast between two kinds of experiences," where, in the first, "means-end rationality prevails" and the primary object of attention is the agents goal:  these are "instrumental experiences," and they are "predominantly anticipatory."  They are contrasted to experiences that focus on intrinsic valence which is described as "whatever makes the experience positively or negatively valued intrinsically or for its own sake."  (He is following C.I. Lewis in this).  So aesthetic experience is when the intrinsic value is predominant over the instrumental value.  Value by way of contemplation is "inherent value" of which aesthetic value is one type.  It follows that the relation between aesthetic and non-aesthetic is "a matter of degree."  (262)  Also value/valence need not be reducible to pleasure and it can be a matter either of first-order content of the presentation or of second-order evaluation.  "Contemplation of what is immediately presented" is, finally, crucial to aesthetic experience.  (263)  As Lewis puts it, the "pause of contemplative regard...suspends the active interests of further purpose."  (263)  This all depends on the kind of radical distinction between the practical and the contemplative that Dewey, my hero, would reject.

Livingston explicates his solution in terms of a story of three fictional characters ironically named Yukiko (I suppose he is thinking vaguely of Saito, who's first name is Yuriko...but that is of no importance for the example.)   We need concern ourselves only with Yukiko 1 and 2 since Yukiko 3 who focuses on negative aesthetic qualities raises no new problems.  Yukiko 1 receives a gift of wa-gashi from a suitor and considers what his choice indicates about his discernment and taste.  She then attends to the "practical problem" of undoing the package without damaging the materials, which is "the only proper way to do it" and then sets it aside. Yukiko 2 by contrast "experiences a mild pleasure as she examines the exquisite packaging" and "relishes the cakes."  Livingston then says, and this is the crux of this entire post, "it strikes me as uncontroversial to observe that our second Yukiko has an aesthetic experience, while the first one does not."  (264)

But it is not uncontroversial!  Again, I may be accused of overextending the term "aesthetic" here, but in the Deweyan tradition I see continuity where others see radical division.  As Yukiko1 looks at the wa-gashi gift she considers issues of taste: although she may not be focusing on the surface qualities of the item as such, she needs to take these into account as she evaluates the taste of her suitor.  So she is more focused on background considerations than Yukiko2, but these are also aesthetic! Moreover, she engages in an activity which is done in "the only proper way."  Is not "proper" being used here in an aesthetic way, much like "clean" in the case of the dirty linen?   Livingston is correct that both Yurikos are responding to the same object, but they are responding to different features of that object.  Livingston, anticipating, writes, "It might be of concern that the first Yukiko's reaction is more typical of everyday life with its emotionally and cognitively entangling web of social and practical concerns, whereas it is only the everyday aesthetician who would have people slow down and appreciate everyday packaging 'for its own sake'....yet the second...Yukiko's experiences are by no means so very extraordinary."  (264)  

I agree that they are not extraordinary: actually I think that both Yukikos' activities involve a hightening of significance which I have called in my book "increase of aura," while perhaps the second Yukiko attends to this in a different way or in a more intensified way.  Perhaps she is at a "higher level," although frankly I am loath to judge in this case without further information: Yukiko1 may be having a very sophisticated experience in her evaluation of the taste of her suitor by way of evaluation of aesthetic qualities of the gift.  Livingston says that "in describing such experiences, we do not render the ordinary extraordinary" (265) and, although I am willing to concede that point, I have no idea why that is an issue, since the description of either Yukiko's experience doesn't seem to change it at all!  

Key to this discussion may be the following quote:  "In her concern for social distinction, the first Yukiko misses out on an aesthetic experience, even if she accurately classifies the packaging's place in a hierarchy of goods."  (265)  She would be missing out on one aesthetic experience, in my view, but might be having another.  We miss out on things all of the time.  Is she living a bad life because she is "vain, self-absorbed and sadly obsessed with her relations to other" even though she is "a young woman of leisure with ability to attend to objects around her with discernment..."  Argggh.  I feel like I am reading a novel that is way too short...I need a lot more information to judge Yukiko's life. 
Right now I see now reason, despite her negative character traits, to not grant her aesthetic experience with the gift.   

Livingston stresses that "the key content of this postulated, intrinsically valued experience on the part of the first Yukiko is her own proud sense of her status or identity in relation to the suitor;  in short, her social distinction," and such a self-directed attitude cannot be included in aesthetic experience.  My only question here is, why not?  

Another mark against Yukiko1 seems to be that her pleasure seems not aesthetic but rather "immediate delight in acquiring an expensive object."  (265) By contrast, the second Yukiko is focused correctly on the quality of the packaging, which concern is not "overshadowed" by practical considerations (i.e. how expensive the object is).  The first Yukiko's experiences is. according to Livingston, "instrumental," and she "fails to appreciate the inherent aesthetic value of the packaging..."  I cannot help but feel that Livingston has a puritanical judgmental attitude towards Yukiko1 who seems to me rather impressive in her Machiavellian way.

Ironically, Livingston ends his essay by stressing that "relational properties can be relevant to the objects's inherent value" and these relational properties include background knowledge about the item of appreciation. (266)  This is ironic since Yukiko1 is especially sensitive to relational qualities, for example the relation of the gift to the taste of her suitor.  

So, in general, I do not think that the example and the use of Lewis's theory has laid to rest the "fundamental tension" of everyday aesthetics as Livingston believes.  One just can't solve the problem by making a clean break between the merely instrumental and contemplative appreciation of surface qualities, particularly given that background considerations are taken into account anyway.