When this class began I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, I really didn’t, and maybe that was a good thing. I might not have taken the class. I took a philosophy course before, back at community college. It had been fascinating, and it has illuminated ideas that had, for me, been hitherto ill-defined, and above all it had been easy. Raised as I had been in a catholic family with intellectual tendencies (possibly not the first of its kind, but I cant say for sure), I had a very hierarchical view of a world that I “knew” to contain nearly un-graspable truths. Comprehension of Plato came easily, like finding an old well-worn glove that fits just right, in a thrift store bin. This class has been different: it has been a challenge. Challenge is a good thing.
I apologize if I seem to wander too far from the point, but the question of a personal aesthetic requires, to my mind, a rambling reply. I don’t think that my personal aesthetic is solely any of the three presented to us, and so I must re-explore them here to find the components of my whole.
I distrust things when they seem bizarre simply for the sake of being bizarre. Making an image solely for the sake of making an image seems to me a childish desire, and about as suited to serious art as Kinkade’s gingerbread homes. I don’t believe for a moment that art must teach in every instance, but it should never be a hollow image, devoid of its own voice. Art should be aimed in a generally reasonable and good (or rather positive) direction, not ignoring the negative, but excising them, in a cathartic manner. These are the useful notions I glean from Classical Humanism, plus one more: the assumption that people (i.e. the audience) are decent, rational, and intelligent. This is an important assumption in my mind, because I think that if more artists kept this in mind it would cut down on the creation of bad art.
At this point, I will step from the marble colonnades of Classical Humanism, to the living green and flowered terrain of Formalism. From the Formalist perspective there is far more for an artist to take (I say take because I have no intention of returning any of this when I am done). The desire to judge a work on its own virtues and vices (or weaknesses if you prefer) is an extremely admirable aim. After all, who among artists (or indeed writers or musicians) would not want our works, the metaphoric children we have birthed, to be treated as a unique entity? If anyone can show me a more constructive way to discuss art, I invite them to. If one takes the art as an individual then the critique is no cold dissection of line, form and harmony, but a discussion of the piece’s identity (not to be confused with the contemporary obsession with the artists intent). Also, implicit in that individuality is the ultimate indescribability of (great) art, and certainly the sense of that concept must certainly be one to hold close. Who can describe a Monet, a Degas, or an Ansel Adams and truly convey the image?
Sadly here I must leave the green lands of Formalism and enter the disused parking garage of Post-Modernism. The desire to drag in outside sources to “deconstruct” the work of art is a tiring approach, something to be exercised sparingly if at all. Their attitude of art as an unconscious product of the culture (not even of the artist’s unconscious) is not only depressing but appalling. As one who finds great sense in Plato and Aristotle, the thought that life has no meaning, has no appeal to me.
So I think my own aesthetic must be among the arcades of Classical Humanism, and yet overgrown by the unified multiplicity of Formalism. I treat my work and the work of others as unique beings unto themselves, to be discussed intelligently without a great deal of proletariat penises, unless there seems a sensible call for it. All great art has a voice unto itself, a voice that is as complex as a human life and just as precious (perhaps even more so). Art must never be thought of as merely art. It is so much more than that. Art is not necessitated by the world, but it is necessary, why? It is because art necessitates itself. The viewer (or reader, or listener depending on the work) is generally rational and intelligent (sometimes they are even decent too). An artist should be most concerned with, not high-minded obtuse concepts, but with creating their art to be the best art that it can be. If the work rises to that “conceptual” peak (or gully depending on how you look at it) then so be it, but it is not necessary until then.
In the end, I make simple images for myself. My work is not made with the museums in mind, or the critics, galleries, or even the end of semester show. It is made by my hand for my eye, and yet it is something other than me. I make it for me, yet its nice that others seem to like it too.