The Art Kettle

This post is in many ways long overdue. I received a free copy of Sinead Murphy’s The Art Kettle last year, with the promise that I’d review it. The book made an instant impression on me, but for various reasons (personal and professional) the review went by the wayside. I returned to the book recently with the intention of finally finishing the review and submitting it to the British Postgraduate Journal of Aesthetics. However, I found it even richer than the first time I read it, and the piece quickly spiralled beyond the word limit of a short review (it was meant to be 2000 words, and is now around 6000). Re-reading the book and writing the review has helped me to focus and develop some of the ideas about aesthetics and beauty that I’ve been discussing for a while now, and which I discussed with a number of people at the recent Speculative Aesthetics event in London. It thus contains a brief, but reasonably thorough overview of my more mature thinking on these topics, and may be of interest to those who read this blog.

As such, I’m putting up the current draft for people to read: ‘The Ends of Beauty: Sinead Murphy’s The Art Kettle. This should get edited and adapted for publication soon (possibly in Pli, possibly elsewhere), and so comments are thoroughly welcomed. Finally, it should go without saying that I think you should all buy this book. If you’re interested in art-theory, and particularly if you’re fed up of the state of contemporary art, The Art Kettle will stimulate you and give you new theoretical tools to deal with it. Plus, it’s cheap, short, and well written. What’re you waiting for?

3 Responses to “The Art Kettle”

  1. Very, very well written. All I can really do is point out differences of opinion.

    The first problem I have is the notion that the aesthetic theories considered amount to much more than post hoc apologetics. So Kant, I would argue, is little more than a ploy used by certain art producers and art consumers situated within certain ingroups to rationalize (across an authority gradient they consider, surprise-surprise, to be universal) the parochialism of their aesthetic practices. Motivating very little, exculpating quite a bit.

    The second problem has to do with the communications revolution: the communicative context of artistic communication has transformed more profoundly more swiftly than at any time in human history. Given that art is nothing essential, this amounts to saying that art has been revolutionized. It no longer is what it was, and it certainly–almost painfully so–fails to accomplish any of its lofty rhetorical goals. The primary short-circuit arising out of this transformation, as I see it, is the confusion of emancipatory reception, art that transforms implicit assumptions into explicit questions, and emancipated composition, the imperative to eshew audiences and ‘create for oneself.’ The latter has always been a myth: to create for oneself is to create for those like oneself. But so long as monolithic mass media predominated, the ingroup excesses of the artistic class actually had the effect of challenging the masses: emancipated composition actually seemed to be of a piece with emancipatory reception. Now, however, the ever-accelerating efficiency with which markets connect sellers to buyers has revealed the contingent nature of the connection. The masses no longer have encounters with art forced upon them by the fact that PBS is only one of four channels they can receive.

    And now, all capital has to do *is support the arts,* provide the artistic class with the pittance it needs to indulge in the posturing and identity-exceptionalism that comes naturally to all humans, which combined with preposterous claims to universal authority (rationalized by the likes of Kant), allow them to accomplish the hard work of alienating the masses all by themselves.

    What you term ‘freedom,’ in other words, needs to analysed at a social-psychological level if it’s going to do the kind of work you want it to do. I have a couple pieces that go in depth on these issues, if you’re interested: http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/essay-archive/the-future-of-literature-in-the-age-of-information/

    And also: http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/alas-poor-wallace-a-review-of-infinite-jest/

  2. […] on this blog over the last couple years, most importantly my concerns with the concepts of Freedom, Beauty, and Justice, and the connections between them. The talk also contains some quick remarks on the […]

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