No Aura

A critic should be judged by the quotient of pain he or she can inflict. Here again is Boris Groys:

“For those who devote themselves to the production of art documentation rather than artworks, art is identical to life, because life is essentially a pure activity that has no end result. The presentation of any such end result—in the form of an artwork, say—would imply an understanding of life as a merely functional process whose own duration is negated and extinguished by the creation of the end product—which is equivalent to death. It is no coincidence that museums are traditionally compared to cemeteries: by presenting art as the end result of life, they obliterate life once and for all.”

The admission that one’s work gives one’s life a shape and even a meaning forces the realization that there really isn’t such a thing to begin with, and then the further insight that art is at best a lie and at worst just another aspect of a society in which all living things are means to an end. But then the idea is to make an art that offers precisely that insight.

Benjamin’s concept of aura is mystical to say the least, and as such in keeping with his entire critical method. It is very difficult to say exactly what an aura is, or even if it really exists. The natural tendency is to define it according to one’s own experience; whether it’s possible to arrive at an objective definition is an open question. One thing I know is that on contemplation some artworks do seem to glow. The nature of that radiance is variable, but one source is focus and attention, the shedding of everyday distraction when one begins to work. So the pleasure of work can have an aesthetic component, for some people in some lines of work, such as art for example. That may enhance the pleasure, and that may be worth living for. A focused attention may be enough to give life a meaning, whatever that means.

Robert Linsley, Islet 2000

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