Hunger for Aesthetics: Enacting the Demands of Art (Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts)
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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.
for the first time to approach photographs of the BaaderMeinhof history and to come to terms with that history—which I call the Richter Effect. How can this effect be explained, especially when it is extended to those who were not as directly involved in the Baader-Meinhof history? If the Richter Effect is extended to other viewers, does that mean that they are sympathizing with terrorists, as Richter has been accused of doing? Also, how can the explanation of the Richter Effect contribute to the
THE DEW EY EFFECT There are human needs outside art that drive the history of art and, in turn, the history of aesthetics. In Adorno’s words: “The concrete historical situation of art registers concrete demands. Aesthetics begins with reflection on them: only through them does a perspective open on what art is.”42 To clarify the role of such needs or demands in the regeneration of aesthetics, especially in connection with moral-political art, let me paraphrase John Dewey, a philosopher relevant
Photography of the history of photography and its present condition— technologically, ontologically, socially, and aesthetically. She explains both how all contemporary art aspires to the condition of photography and, at the same time, how photography aspires to be art. One gets a strong sense of the power of photographs beyond their sheer ubiquity, though that is one of the central facts that provoked her to write on this topic because it seems that “just about everything has been photographed”
sustain it through action instead of succumbing to the cynical (and, I would add, anti-aesthetic) stance. Of course, this is easier said than done— Sontag herself still says in Regarding the Pain of Others that “ethical indignation, like compassion, cannot dictate a course of action.”69 But the normative conditions for sustaining the moral-political power of images have been established: the transitivity of affect (moral demand that suffering be apprehended) must be followed by translation into
at them instead of then going on to look at the photographs. So what interested her in the paintings, which in turn allowed—even compelled—her to approach the photographs? Only if and when this question is answered can we ask the further question of whether the Richter Effect is confined to a surviving member of the RAF or whether other viewers more distant in involvement, time, and place can also be affected in a similar way. Richter’s paintings enact the Baader-Meinhof deaths, as well as the