Archive: Æsthetics

Victoria & Albert do graffiti

Æsthetics · Society ·· More from December 2004
An exhibition on “Black British Style” at the V&A has a page that allows you to make your own graffiti. This means, of course, that graffiti are irredeemably not cool.
(Strange to think that the graffiti phenomenon is to my younger students roughly what bebop & abstract expressionism were to me: something whose heyday occurred before you were old enough to know, but not so long past that you couldn’t regret your belatedness. If only my parents had been hip enough to buy all the Blue Note albums and a first edition of Howl…)


LinkDecember 21, 2004

Les nuages… encore une fois

As I said earlier, the Midwestern sky is a nepheophile’s delight. A multitude of forms, gradations of color, perspectives, shadings, ever-changing as the sun travels across the sky & the winds reshape them & carry them off. A tranquil delight on a calm, clement morning like this.
Yet why should the eye find pleasure in that sight? I know that evolutionary psychology has an explanation for this as for so much else. The æsthetic sense, if I may call it that, offers no doubt some benefit. I see in my cats a feeling for “rightness”, for the suitability of a place to nap in, survey the yard from, or wait for prey. If that feeling is reliably attuned to the fit between the cat’s ends and the means that, on the basis of its feeling, it chooses, then (working backwards) we may conjecture that having such a sense was “selected for”, that it gave to the proto-cats who had it some reproductive advantage.
Something similar guides our choices in arranging things around us (when we take the time to do so: it often happens, of course, that convenience or laziness is the principle), and likewise the hand in drawing, the ear in putting sounds together in music. SpencerHerbert Spencer (1820–1903). Best known as an early proponent of Darwinism to human affairs, although in his early work (Social statics, 1851) his theory of development was Lamarckian. The ten volumes of his System of synthetic philosophy (1862–1892) begin with a “developmental metaphysics” (anachronistically, a theory of the origins of complex systems) and then followed out the consequences of the “developmental” style of reasoning in biology, psychology, and sociology. Spencer coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’, which was adopted by Darwin in later editions of The Origin of Species.
thought that judgments of the beauty of the human form were effectively judgments of fitness to reproduce. There is probably something to that. But even if such explanations are sound, there seems to be a kind of surplus value attaching to natural beauty. Kant wrote of “beauty as a symbol of morality”, as an intimation that the moral order, the noumenal realm of freedom, was or could be realized in the natural order, the phenoumenal realm of physical law. I don’t think one must be a theist to acknowledge that something extra is given in experience beyond what a strictly scientific account provides for.


LinkAugust 25, 2004

Iris visits

A fragment of rainbow over downtown, northeast of here. Thunder in the background, on its way to Chicago. The damp of fresh rain carried through the upstairs windows by a languid breeze from the northwest. A few minutes later the rainbow has dimmed, but by way of compensation it now extends over a sixty-degree arc.
It’s not difficult to understand why people thought that the rainbow must be a sign. Spectral hues, in order, set against the heavens: how often does inanimate nature offer such a spectacle? Even level-headed old Kant could not resist the interpretation of colors:


LinkMay 23, 2004

The Cat is in the Window

Æsthetics · Cats ·· More from May 2004
No philosophy here—unless you think cats are intrinsically metaphysical


LinkMay 12, 2004

L’art pour l’art

Æsthetics ·· More from January 2004


LinkJanuary 14, 2004