College Art Association Conference 2001

panel: "If one is good, why not two?, chair, Laurie Palmer

Abstract of the paper:

Applied Aesthetics

by Adelheid Mers ©

(the paper was presented with seven diagrams created to illustrate its content. For full paper or CD-rom with images, please send e-mail to amers at artic dot edu)

John Dewey proposed that the early Greeks fashioned philosophy analogous to the arts to embody a “spectator view of knowledge”: Understanding is distilled through reason from the observation of the world to give to “the eye of the soul” the immutable cosmos that yields its ultimate truths along with its beauty. Plato, portentously, proceeded to deny artists intelligent authorship of their works, submitting divine inspiration paired with physical skill instead.

By investigating the relationships of data, sixteenth and seventeenth century physical scientists abandoned the aesthetic character of the object for their emerging field. As active manipulators of inanimate nature, scientists replaced reason and the pursuit of theoretical certitude with intelligence and the search for practical certainty via the experimental method. Three expert realms crystallized following this defection of natural philosophy: the cognitive/instrumental scientifically sought (fallible) truth and enabled technology, the remaining moral/practical claimed rectitude (founded on theoretical certitude) applied to social administration, and the aesthetic/expressive judged and created beauty exercising taste and skilled genius.

When Darwin posited change as the only constant in biology, he eliminated a lingering buffer between inorganic science and moral considerations. Scientific reassessment of knowledge in the differentiating humanities intensified. Relativist considerations are now evident throughout academic pursuits and have migrated from the professional world into lay consciousness, mingling with relics of older views. I believe that the changed habit of popular thought (from which artists emerge as well) has affected post-Darwinian art production by directing a renewed focus onto what I experience as the inherent, central method of art production: intelligently directed experiment founded in perceived perception - applied aesthetics. Where Suzi Gablik discerned the Modernist artist’s precarious turn to rootless individuality, I see intelligence working through experimentation towards practical certainty -- with some interference by lack of self-confidence or its opposite, born from platonic/romantic assessment of the role of the artist.

Questions arise from the vantage point of applied aesthetics: What is the contemporary relation of art, philosophy, science and the moral/social/economic realm to whom? How are art objects, their meaning, and their valuation affected if artists and other viewers overtly adopt working standards? Can art objects be assessed as tools fashioned from examined experience for potential experience? How can consciousness study and aesthetics be linked? What is the role and the status of the intellectual artist-experimenter? How can Feminist thought be engaged? How does cooperation affect artistic experimentation?