Monday, August 27, 2012

Beyond Aesthetics

Bas Jan Ader, I'm too sad to tell you, 1970

In Either/Or, Kierkegaard offers us a choice between the aesthetic and the ethical. Here the aesthetic is not necessarily confined to art, being instead the locus of perception, of experience or sensory immediacy. The aesthetic life is one of appreciation or deliberate enrichment of experience.

By contrast, to choose the ethical life is to go beyond self-interest and gratification, beyond the moment and its acquisitiveness, in the direction of the other, for the sake of the other. Freedom is the ability to break loose from self-concern. The ethical subject is capable of commitment, of postponing pleasure in response to a call.

While the life-time art project is hardly a commitment to the ethical life, it does seem to go beyond aesthetics, in Kierkegaard’s expanded sense of the term. Unless the project is glimpsed beyond its products or moments, the latter make little sense. The project rescues the artist from senseless immediacy.