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Mila – reaction to Benjamin’s Essay

October 22, 2009

I liked this essay. It made me think about art and beauty, which I like to do. I read it early in the morning while slightly ill and I think this was an appropriate and philosophically receptive frame of mind. These are the things I latched on to, dramatically formatted below:

The idea of artistic function – that art can be reduced to the societal and political environment of its production time and comes about as a direct result of these and therein lies its significance. It is a showcase of an environment rather than the expression of an individual. (right-brained people tend not to like this idea I think.)

Feeding into that is the fallacy of imagination – that true creativity does not exist, our experience is a set of chemical reactions and art arises from a particular set of neural activity. I love this idea of the intersection of art and science, or really, the dominance of science over everything and the transformation of a mundane and predictable series of reactions into a transcendentally beautiful (sublime) experience.

Who is in control, then of art? Has the rise of modern art has put the power in the hands of the audience (absorbing rather than being absorbed) or taken it away (‘I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images’). If we accept the idea of art as a function of environment, no-one has control. If we accept the idea of god, then god has control. And if we are Facists, we use the desire for control over aesthetic self-expression to achieve control over rights generally perceived as more fundamental.

Rarity; widely valued but also widely regarded as a desire that is not entirely wholesome and one that arises from greed and love of power (rare things have a certain power, because only a small percentage of the population can possess them). Does rarity occlude the true aesthetic experience of art and is this point the purpose of, for example: the Dadaist’s use of elements of little value in their work?

The seemingly primal and usually controlled urge for the destruction of beauty, which is part of the reaction to beauty. War is an example of a loss of this control. It is not a natural state, yet all humans understand the desire for violence and destruction. If we respond to and seek to bring about cyclical change, is destruction simply part of the aesthetic experience?

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