_Now with extended, later dates for submissions_
/Academic Quarter /Volume 19. June 2019.
Guest editors: Peter Allingham, Gorm Larsen and Henriette Thune.
Traditionally, aesthetics is related to high culture and attached to certain experientials domains for music, painting, literature, etc., and in connection with a judgement of taste characterized by – according to Kant – disinterested delight. However, within recent decades a departure from the Kantian aesthetic judgement of taste has taken place, in which not least the German philosopher Gernot Böhme has aimed at developing a new strictly phenomenological aesthetics that addresses sense phenomena such as atmosphere and affect. This project is also critical of tendencies in ‘aesthetic capitalism’ (Böhme 2016). Today, aesthetics is not only related to the world of art but permeates everyday life often aimed at creating or promoting special experiences.
Market communication is a field where aesthetics was employed quite early, e.g. in advertising and in branding. However, during recent decades aesthetics has spread outside market communication as such so that today, it increasingly affects both professional and private life. A number of researchers have been aware of this for quite some time. Among them the philosopher Wolfgang Welch. In 1997, he wrote:
Today, we are living amidst an aestheticization of the real world formerly unheard of. Embellishment and styling are to be found everywhere. They extend from individuals’ appearance to the urban and public spheres and from economy through to ecology. (Welsch, 1997).
These observations are currently supported by among others, professor of comparative cultural sociology, Andreas Reckwitz, who also points to the fact that contemporary capitalism and economy is aesthetic at its core. It is not primarily based on technological progress, but on the contrary, on permanent innovation and creative production of new signs, sense impressions, experiences, and affects (Reckwitz, 2012, p.139).
The aesthetic economy instigates a ‘new enterprise culture’ where the employed individuals develop a new entrepreneurial attitude. A consequence of this cultural ‘condition’ is a rising demand for individual creativity, professionally as well as privately. Working in e.g. a value-based organization it is up to the individual employee at his or her own initiative to unfold his or her creative skills within the framework of the basic values and objectives of the organization, and by virtue of an innovative effort to create surplus. Our private lives may well support our professional efforts e.g. through acquisition of creative forms of expression and compatible orchestrations of tastes and lifestyles. This is possible through choice of habitation, decoration, leisure activities, travels, etc. With creativity as a mediator, work and private life may coalesce.
However, aestheticization is not a new phenomenon. In modern history the appearance of the phenomenon and concept of aestheticization is often referred to the cultural sociologist Walter Benjamin’s seminal article “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Benjamin 1936). Referring to among others to Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti’s futurist manifesto from 1909, in which the beauty of war is praised, Benjamin writes:
[Mankind’s] self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. (Benjamin, 1969 , p.20).
Benjamin found the roots of the aestheticization of political life during fascism in the missing changes in the ownership of property. Instead of rights to changes, the masses were offered possibilities of expression within the framework of Fascism.
In the 1990s, the sociologist Mike Featherstone, among others, pointed to the fact that communication, management, media, body, and gender, etc. had gained increasing attention and been exposed to an intensified pressure due to postmodern simulations and the blurring of dividing lines between image and reality.
More recent theorists focusing on art and ways of life, among them the American art and cultural critic, Hal Foster, pointed at the beginning of the new millennium in several articles to an increased tendency toward totalizing design of life and the surrounding world on market terms and not on conditions of art.
Among recent editions on the subject of aestheticization the Danish the book /Aestheticization – connections and differences/ (Eriksson, et al., 2012) offers a number of thematized analyses, which examine how aestheticization influences various aspects of modern life.
With this call to the forthcoming issue of /Academic Quarter/ we ask:
What characterizes aestheticization of the lifeworld at present? We want to focus critically on aestheticization in relation to one or several of four intersecting themes: identity, nostalgia, politics, and consumption. With the division into themes, we want to introduce a delimitation of current fields and forms of aestheticization. However, historical accounts and arguments are most welcome.
Concurrently with the fact that identity is not given with family, religion, and nationality, and that late modernity implies a demand for the subject to form and realize itself, aestheticization seems in this connection to play an increasing role. On the one hand, the innovative and creative artist has become the paradigmatic persona of our time; on the other hand, aestheticization has become an essential factor in the creation of the self. For this purpose, everything from performance measures (on Instagram and social media as well as through cosplay and role-playing); over body inscriptions (piercings, tattoos, etc.) to special types of consumption may come into play.
A popular assumption is that the present time is characterized by “retro”, and that it can be difficult to find out what is concretely characteristic of our day and age. Moreover, it is true that nostalgic moments or motives often appear in numerous contexts. Not least in connection with media where ranges of programmes e.g. on TV are filled with reality programmes and programmes like /The Farm /(TV4, since 2001), /Bargain Hunt/(BBC, since 2000) or e.g. serials like /Heimat/ (ARD, 1984, 1993 and 2004), /Downton Abbey/ (ITV, 2010-2015) and more. These broadcasts focus on e.g. production methods or tools and agricultural machinery of the past, arts and crafts items, or culture and lifestyles of the past (see e.g. Niemeyer, 2014; Higson 2014).
Politics can seldom be restricted to being ideological or argumentative, but during recent decades, the relevance of aesthetics within the political field has become still more obvious, also in connection with the simultaneous medialization of politics. It appears from the way in which aesthetics enters into the profiling of political parties themselves, but also in the activist events of political organizations and parties. Furthermore, the fact that today identity politics plays an essential role in political life points towards an aestheticization of politics, where the rights, cultural artefacts, and expressions of certain groups have become the pivotal point in a political struggle for acknowledgement quite beyond thoughts of social classes and economic exploitation.
For many years, consumption has been marked extensively by aestheticizing staging, which has attempted to suspend the demarcation line between company and the surrounding world to a more or less totalizing extent. The aim has been – as in connection with corporate branding strategies – to bring the surrounding world and consumers ‘inside’ the company so that both could be managed and controlled. These strategies seem, particularly in relation to what the cultural sociologist Andreas Reckwitz has named ‘the singularized society’, to be seriously challenged. According to Reckwitz, a showdown with uniformity and conformity will take place in ‘the singularized society’, and the new benchmark will be the singular or the unique, authentic subject with original interests and curated biography (Reckwitz 2017). Therefore, there seems to be a conflict between, on the hand, a controlling tendency and, on the other, a singularizing tendency that both implies/involves aestheticization.
Benjamin, W. (1973 ). Kunstværket i den tekniske reproduktions tidsalder. In /Kulturindustri. Udvalgte skrifter/. København: Rhodos. English edition: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In Arendt, H. (ed.) /Illuminations/. New York: Schocken Books (1969 ).
Böhme, G. (2016). /Ästhetischer Kapitalismus/. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag.
Eriksson, B. m.fl. (red.) (2012): /Æstetisering. Forbindelser og forskelle/. Festskrift til Morten Kyndrup. Aarhus: Klim.
Foster, H. (2002): /Design and Crime (and other Diatribes)/. London & New York: Verso.
Featherstone, M. (1997 ). The Aestheticization of Everyday Life. In Lash, S. & Friedman, J. (eds.): /Modernity and Identity/. Oxford: Blackwell.
Higson, A. (2014). Nostalgia is not what it used to be: heritage films, nostalgia websites and contemporary consumers. In Hamilton, K. et al. (eds.). /Consumption Markets & Culture/, Volume 17 – Issue 2: Nostalgia in the Twenty-First Century.
Niemeyer, K. (ed.) (2014). /Media and Nostalgia: Yearning for the Past, Present and Future/. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Reckwitz, A. (2012). /Die Erfindung der Kreativität. Zum Process gesellschaftlicher Ästhetisierung/. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag.
Reckwitz, A. (2017). /Die Gesellschaft der Singularitäten/. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag.
Taylor, C. (1992). /The Ethics of Authenticity/. Cambridge, Mass. & London: Harvard University Press.
Welsch, W. (1997 ): Aesthetics Beyond Aesthetics. In: Honkanen, M. (ed.): Proceedings of the XIIIth International Congress of Aesthetics, Lahti 1995, Vol. III: /Practical Aesthetics in Practice and Theory/. Helsinki. Accessed 15.10 2016 on: http://www2.uni-jena.de/welsch/papers/W_Welsch_Aesthetics_beyond_Aesthetics.html