Art and the Inhuman

Following on from the previous post, the way that paintings overcome the necessary limits of a single work attributable to a single author is through the objectivity of the aesthetic, but this is not well understood today because both viewers and artists tend to assume that aesthetic experiences are personal. On one side we have the likes of Rothko, who presents his subjectivity on a large scale; on the other we have Pollock, who places an objective fact into the public discourse. Formalism is the way that painting escapes the lyrical—the small and subjective. Not that it is necessary always to escape that—the point is not to feel constrained, or to suffer under limits. Limits should be turned to good use. Instead of a novelistic objectivity, produced by placing many perspectives in a larger context, we get an objectivity that has more to do with nature as ground of human activity. As I said earlier on this blog, not enough serious attention has been given to Pollock’s claim “I am nature.” Of course today “nature” is such a confused category, it’s really an aspect of society. Better is “the inhuman,” not least because it threatens. Even “the nonhuman” seems innocuous, appropriated by science fiction and animal welfare societies. All this brings us back to the beginnings of this blog, which is gratifying in a way. As Shep Steiner points out, close reading and attention to particulars leads us to philosophical aesthetics, a way to be theoretical without being abstract about it. Meanwhile, visual art has a natural form of objectivity that music and literature find hard to claim. So my literary analogies break down, which is also probably a good thing. Time to look at the series again.

Frank Stella, works from the Telluride series 1960-61

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