Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ratiu on Mapping Everyday Aesthetics



Dan-Eugen Ratiu of Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania, recently published “Remapping the Realm of Aesthetics:  Recent Controversies About The Aesthetic Experience in Everyday Life,Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics, vol. 4, 2012.  This is a nice overview of the current state of the field and is worth reading by anyone interested in everyday aesthetics.  Ratiu argues for a form of everyday aesthetics (what he calls weak AEL, aesthetics of everyday life) that recognizes both similarities and differences between the aesthetics of art and everyday aesthetics.  Although agreeing with much of Yuriko Saito’s analysis, Ratiu argues that contemporary art and the analysis derived from it plays an important role in making us notice everyday aesthetic features and in approaching the ordinariness of the ordinary aesthetic experience (something Saito thought that fine art fails to do) without disregarding the features by which it should be considered aesthetic. This seems right to me.  As opposed to Saito and Kevin Melchionne, Ratiu argues that “extending the scope and realm of aesthetic(s) towards everyday life and those reflected or un-reflected aesthetic reactions that also prompt us toward decision-making and actions [such as cleaning a room] does not necessarily dismiss the concepts of the aesthetic, aesthetic experience, and aesthetic judgement as … shaped in relation to the arts.”  In defense of weak AEL he argues first that aesthetic experience is normative in the everyday aesthetic domain, second that the current fluid nature of art (after the postmodern turn) allows for a common ground of aesthetic theory (i.e. between everyday and art aesthetics), and third that the current “intermingling and hybridization of the art and everyday life in the continuous flux of experiences” further supports the weak form of AEL.  Basically, art and everyday aesthetics are not to be radically separated (which the strong form of AEL would require) due to changes in the nature of art.  Ratiu associates normativity with intersubjective engagement and thus holds that there is a normative dimension to everyday aesthetics.  He believes Saito, Irwin and Melchione are wrong  in holding to a strong AEL in which there is a radical distinction between the two aesthetic realms of art and everyday life. Saito is also inconsistent, he believes, because she argues for a strong moral dimension to everyday aesthetic experience, and this pushes in the direction of the intersubjective.  (I think this is unfair to Saito, for whom normativity and intersubjective engagement plays an important role in everyday aesthetics, as evidenced by the very moral dimension which he thinks causes an inconsistency.)

Ratiu also observes that if we consider the notion of fine art to be attached to a concept of aesthetic experience as disinterested and contemplative then the distinction between aesthetics of everyday life and aesthetics of art must be strict, and yet this notion of fine art has been much challenged in recent times not only within aesthetics but in artistic practice itself.  I agree that “maintaining a relation of exclusion between our life-world (private) and the art world (public), as AEL-strong did [does], is to miss the actual continuity and interaction between two social worlds.” 

Ratiu gets his impression that Saito is an “isolationist” in this respect (the two social worlds isolated from each other) from a passage in Saito where she insists that artist Tirajanija’s food-related work marks a disconnect between art and everyday life since here, a mundane activity takes place in a museum gallery.  So, as Saito puts it, we are “made even more aware of the difference between our eating experience as a part of a work of art and our everyday eating experience.”  The everyday-ness the artist tries to capture eludes him.  Calling eating food art elevates it out of the mundane.  (Everyday Aesthetics 38-9).

Ratiu prefers Vattimo’s idea that “through its exploitation in the everyday practical world, art evaporates into a ‘general aestheticization of existence’, disintegrating ‘into a world of hybrid artistic products’.” (Vattimo, The End of Modernity, 1988).  This evaporation is also evident, he thinks, in the practices of artification and aesthetization.  These “tend to efface the boundaries between experiences of art and everyday life.”

A nice sum up of Ratiu::   "new concepts of the aesthetic and aesthetic experience are employed in recent
debates about art, different from those related to modern/fine arts: they include practical concerns, literal engagement, multi-sensory and bodily experience, frameless character, transience and impermanence and so on, that were supposed to be non-art features. These concepts are useful in developing a consistent aesthetic theory able to accommodate both arts and everyday life and their interaction, thus undermining the sharp division between them presumed by proponents of AEL-strong."  (Ratiu, 404)

I agree with Saito that Tirajanija fails to dissolve the boundaries between art and everyday life.  At the same time, I think Ratiu is right that those boundaries are more permeable today than during the modernist era.  Tirajanija draws out attention to how ordinary eating of food can be more art-like even though his own art practice remains within the artworld.  Ratiu is right that Melchione’s emphasis on the social connection of everyday experiences to larger social practices, so that the aesthetic value is cumulative, should also be extended to the connections between such practices and art practices which themselves are social and cumulative.  We need to re-recognize Hegel’s idea of “spirit” of a culture in which art and everyday life are both manifestations.  It is unfortunate that Ratiu is rather vague in his talk of the importance of "the embodied
self, intersubjectivity and the ontology of everyday aesthetic life" in everyday aesthetics.  I look forward to further clarification in his future writings.

1 comment:

Dan Eugen Ratiu said...

Dear Professor Leddy - Thank you very much for the interest in my paper and the review. Please note that the revised and augmented version of this paper was recently published in Estetika. Central European Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. L (VI) No.1, 2013: 3-26.