TW for photo of dead guy (no blood or anything)
My holiday experience was based almost entirely on consumerism. I ate, watched TV, played video games, and received gifts. I turned into an amorphous blob on my couch. On one such night, I had an aesthetic night of Netflix. Mr. Jackson, if you’re reading this and shaking your head, hang on. That night’s itinerary was: Minimalism, a documentary discussing the impacts of a minimalistic lifestyle in terms of your worldly possessions. I found it mainly to be more of a promo for the ‘life-changing’ accompanying book than any real revelation. It was a little pretentious and lofty at times, and despite my enjoyment of minimalism, I would give it a 6.5/10.
Next up on the list was a documentary I found truly inspiring and possibly life changing. The film Dior and I follows fashion designer Raf Simons as he takes charge of the eminent fashion house Dior, tasked with creating a ‘haute couture’ (high fashion) runway lineup in just eight weeks. The stress and constant time crunch, the teamwork of such creative and skilled people, and most of all, the beauty of what Raf and his team create. What he creates is a phenomenal collection, at times shocking or traditionally unattractive, but with so much craft that I couldn’t help but love it.
I ended my evening with two episodes of Bob Ross painting, and melted with joy into my couch at about 3:30 am. My mom came downstairs, yelled at me, but then quieted down and sat down with me when Bob Ross’ pure joy connected with her.
This was my aesthetic experience. Thanks Netflix.
In class we have been asked to identify our personal aesthetics. Mr. Jackson emphasized this wasn’t answered “mainly streetwear but swapped in with dressing like a J. Crew model wannabe”, but rather, “what makes an experience an aesthetic one, for you?”. I have given this a lot of thought, especially during our discussions of art and it’s purpose.
I asked whether all art had to be beautiful. Does an aesthetic experience need to please (everyone/anyone)? In Dior and I, it outlines the differences between ‘haute couture’ collections and ‘ready-to-wear’ collections. When Dior, or Vetements, or Comme des Garcons makes a haute couture collection, they are not intending for people to look at the clothes on the models and buy them for themselves. There is a reason that every dress Dior made for Raf Simons’ collection was one of a kind. They are recreated to order, normally for an enormous sum of money. This begs the question: what is the point of making clothes almost no one wants to wear? In the same way, what is the point of art if it does not have a practical use? I would ask anyone who feels this way about any medium of art to watch Dior and I and try not to have an aesthetic experience. Raf rents a Parisian heritage home, and covers every wall of every room entirely in flowers, floor to ceiling. Models in bold and striking makeup walk with purpose through the house, clothed in a beautiful dress that you would never see anywhere except for at this runway. Dior’s haute couture collection that year was simply art, using the medium of fabric on human bodies.
High fashion is often accused of being pretentious and intentionally and unnecessarily complicated. When a fashion house creates a piece that is shocking, traditionally ugly, or in some other way not what one expects from fashion, I would say they are showing off their own creative skill. This clicks with my aesthetic question, does some art exist purely to show off the artist? Does this context of where the art came from make a richer aesthetic experience, or is it just vanity? I want to explore art’s quality with and without context. Here is a photograph that I really like:
If you don’t know the story of this photo, you might think it’s a still from a Jason Bourne trailer. It has excellent composition, lighting, and clean lines of the subjects. Independent of the context, it’s an excellent photograph, aesthetically speaking. However, things begin to unravel upon learning that this a photograph of the real life assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. In the context that you are now looking at a real dead body, does it not have a certain shade of ugliness? I would say it does, and with context, my morals don’t allow me to enjoy this as much on aesthetic grounds.
A contrasting example is this photo:
When I first saw this photo, without context, I did not like it. It wasn’t to do with the composition like in my last example, but with the subject. I found the model’s outfit to be ugly and uninteresting. However, I was provided context afterwards, and found out that it was a piece from Comme des Garcons’ F/W 2012 haute couture collection, I gave it more credence. “CDG knows what they’re doing” I thought to myself, so I took a second look and looked for things to like about it. Now I think it’s a creative, unorthodox piece that really shows what CDG can do creatively. I gave this piece more aesthetic validation because of the context of the creator. Now, I could be influenced by my lust for high fashion brands and my overall reputation as consumerist hypebeast trash, but I consider this to be an aesthetic experience nonetheless.
Identifying my personal aesthetic comes down to just a few things: what do I like? What interests me? In the context of the aesthetic realm, nailing down exactly what makes an experience for me becomes easy. I am attracted to, and simultaneously detracted from pretentiousness in art. On one hand, a lack of modesty on the part of the creator gives it a certain ugliness, but it also shows confidence, and when the quality of the art merits pretentiousness, I find myself coming back to art that seems to be aware of it’s quality. It’s like diet coke, I hate it, but I keep drinking it. In more natural aesthetic experiences, I find myself immediately attracted to simplicity, but what end of the beauty scale that simplicity falls on seems not to matter. I find myself endlessly fascinated by the unflattering and bizarre silhouettes of haute couture, in the same way I can’t take my eyes off more traditional beauty like a sunrise or a mountain range.
This blog post has expanded into a huge mess, but I’m only now really enjoying aesthetics. I’ll close with who I identify with in aesthetics. Baumgarten judges an aesthetic experience on its ability to create vivid experiences in its audiences. It’s the most simple and least exclusive definition, but I like it the best. Other ostentatious criteria that judge whether or not you’re really enjoying something get in the way of pleasure. I disagree with philosophers like Bullough who say that a degree of disinterest is required for more pure aesthetic experiences, in fact I fully believe that it’s the other way around. When it comes to aesthetics, in my books it comes down to a simple question of whether you like it, or not. What makes you interested to look at? Does the interest change with context? If these questions have made you think of anything, anything at all, I recommend I get you some of that the next chance you can. I bet it will make you happy.