Cosmosis

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Posted by Andrew - January 24, 2007 - 21:18

cave!

I have not yet addressed aesthetics here, and although David's posts are informed by discussions we've had, they are not particularly representative of my views. I'm reluctant to write about aesthetics since I've never studied them formally ... however, I have very stong feelings about the power of aesthetic sensibility to elevate the soul (as it were), and can stay silent no longer.

Aesthetic response has precious little to do with the acquisition of knowledge. Reading critical analyses of artworks may be interesting, but the knowledge can not induce the experience, it can only reflect on it, and generally quite ineffectually since it does so through expository language, and the most acutely aesthetic art forms are not discursive. Giving them a narrative context, even if it was actually the artist's own, does not even in the best case add much to the aesthetic experience, and as often damages it.

It is true that the seeker of knowledge by keeping an attentive mind and fresh impressions may be more receptive to new or deeper transports, but this is an indirect (and far from necessary) tool. Let us consider three of the most immortal and universally admired artists in Western history:
  • Music: Beethoven ("Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world ... which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.")
  • Poetry: Emily Brontë (or Dickinson as you like!) ("Stern Reason is to judgement come / Arrayed in all her forms of gloom: / Wilt thou, my advocate, be dumb?")
  • Painting: Constable ("Painting is but another word for feeling.")
None of these were highly educated or cultured, although their irresistable greatness has finally won them perpetual recognition in such circles. If anything, there is an inverse correlation between creativity and acquired knowledge. (Obviously I'm not talking about experience and technical excellence though -- these are building character and honing expressivity, and are inevitable with predilection and practise.) And indeed, most artists who achieved greatness had scant patience for intellectualisations. Some outright scorn to write about their art, others do so in a way which appears to be a mockery of our critical expectations.

I definitely maintain that modern scientific attitudes, and art-critical ones, are a threat to aesthetic sensibility and anyone who values art deeply should be wary of knowledge-mongering and polemics. Not everything is enhanced by rationalisation, great art being a prominent case in point.


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