A Hunger for Aesthetics

A Hunger for Aesthetics: Enacting the Demands of Art

Michael Kelly
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  • Book Info
    A Hunger for Aesthetics
    Book Description:

    For decades, aesthetics has been subjected to a variety of critiques, often concerning its treatment of beauty or the autonomy of art. Collectively, these complaints have generated an anti-aesthetic stance prevalent in the contemporary art world. Yet if we examine the motivations for these critiques, Michael Kelly argues, we find theorists and artists hungering for a new kind of aesthetics, one better calibrated to contemporary art and its moral and political demands.

    Following an analysis of the work of Stanley Cavell, Arthur Danto, Umberto Eco, Susan Sontag, and other philosophers of the 1960s who made aesthetics more responsive to contemporary art, Kelly considers Sontag's aesthetics in greater detail. In On Photography (1977), she argues that a photograph of a person who is suffering only aestheticizes the suffering for the viewer's pleasure, yet she insists in Regarding the Pain of Others (2003) that such a photograph can have a sustainable moral-political effect precisely because of its aesthetics. Kelly considers this dramatic change to be symptomatic of a cultural shift in our understanding of aesthetics, ethics, and politics. He discusses these issues in connection with Gerhard Richter's and Doris Salcedo's art, chosen because it is often identified with the anti-aesthetic, even though it is clearly aesthetic. Focusing first on Richter's Baader-Meinhof series, Kelly concludes with Salcedo's enactments of suffering caused by social injustice. Throughout A Hunger for Aesthetics, he reveals the place of critique in contemporary art, which, if we understand aesthetics as critique, confirms that it is integral to art. Meeting the demand for aesthetics voiced by many who participate in art, Kelly advocates for a critical aesthetics that confirms the limitless power of art.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52678-4
    Subjects: Philosophy, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
    (pp. 1-24)

    The anti-aesthetic stance may have been productive at times when, for example, it opened up space for conceptualism in contemporary art, as we saw with Robert Morris in the preface. But it is clearly problematic when it is dominant for too long, as has been the case since the 1960s. To some extent, the dominance of the anti-aesthetic stance began to diminish in the 1990s when the contemporary art world renewed its engagement with aesthetics, often under the guise of a return to beauty. But I do not yet share the optimism of James Meyer and Toni Ross, who believe...

    (pp. 25-55)

    Contemporary artists since 1960, at least, have been very theoretical and self-critical, or, as Susan Sontag claims in the epigraph, they are now “self-conscious aestheticians.” This means that aesthetics is deeply embedded in artistic practices, making it a partner in the production of contemporary art and “new modes of sensibility.” So we should expect aesthetics to be an ally in our efforts to understand contemporary art, whether historically or theoretically. In this light, the prevalence of the anti-aesthetic stance in the practice and theory of contemporary art is especially puzzling. Making this puzzle even starker, the current stage of the...

    (pp. 56-83)

    Susan Sontag’s writings since the 1960s are, in the spirit of the Pop Effect, mainly concerned with the aesthetics, ethics, and politics of contemporary art. At the same time, she is an invaluable ally in the critique of the anti-aesthetic stance. She defends certain claims associated with this stance in On Photography (1977), especially regarding the alleged impossibility of art’s having any sustainable moral-political power in contemporary society, yet she later repudiates these very claims in Regarding the Pain of Others (2003).¹ Her writings in the intervening decades reflect both a critique of aesthetics and a hunger for aesthetics, making...

    (pp. 84-128)

    The ultimately positive resolution of Susan Sontag’s ambivalence about the moral-political power of photography opens up discussions of cases in which this power seems to be realized in art, again despite anti-aesthetic claims to the contrary. The transition from nonartistic photographs to art, whether photographs or works in other mediums, is facilitated by Sontag’s claim that photography and art share the same condition. But we now need to examine art that makes moral-political demands on us to see whether her claim is accurate and justified. There are many cases and kinds of contemporary moral-political art, which would seem to make...

    (pp. 129-174)

    Doris Salcedo is a contemporary artist who has created contemplative, public, affective spaces that elicit compassion for human victims of violence, suffering, or death and who, through her artistic practices, has successfully resisted the anti-aesthetic stance even while being identified with it. A Colombian sculptor who has exhibited worldwide, Salcedo constructs social sculptures and installations aimed at “giving form to society through art” and integrating political awareness with art.¹ The major political focus of her early work was the violence in Colombia perpetuated by death squads, drug cartels, and terrorists, which has been excessive by any standard for several decades.²...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 175-224)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 225-242)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-246)