Wednesday, January 23, 2013

thoughts on the aesthetic

The philosophy of aesthetics is an amorphous, various, and perplexing thing. It can make your head spin. For better or worse, I've decided to just set out on my own little thinking journey. I'm going to write down what the aesthetic means to me.

And for me, the aesthetic consists of four extrusions from my assuming that reality itself is aesthetic:

1) dynamism -- the creation of and movement into a new space

2) shape -- the forming or crafting of time into a discrete object

3) subtlety -- the complex delving beneath phenomenal surface

4) the uncanny -- the bringing out of presence as the destabilized familiar

Music, painting, and poetry should be semblances of the basic aesthetic structure of reality. The world is comprised of the enigma of qualities. An adherence to the principle of quality is a necessary component of the aesthetic -- of the making and appreciation of real art.

All four of the above ideas are alive in the works of Beethoven, Van Gogh, and Gillian Prew. So these three will be good examples of what I'm talking about.

Beethoven's Grosse Fugue (Op. 133) pulses with spontaneous and energetic invention. It transforms time into an expressive mode according to the principle of intuition-guided-by-discretion. It moves beyond the quiddity of circumstance and goes into the fractal grooves of metaphysics and imagination. Finally, it extrudes from musical possibility an effect of haunting ambivalence.

Van Gogh's Langlois Bridge at Arles with Women Washing (1888) gives us color as the dynamic way we  humans invest the world with soul and personality. It holds the temporal in a shape of intense and eternal relations. It converts the ordinary into transparencies of the spiritual. Finally, it inspires the finest (most granular) sense of a melancholy eeriness, even in the brightful morning.

Gillian Prew's poem "The Dying Season (for Milo)" opens up much aesthetic space, blooming volumes of contemplative activity. It seizes an hour of experience, re-casting it into contoured lines of rhythm and peripheral dimensions. It allows images to deepen from normal encounters to symbolic fathoms. Finally, it construes the paradox of mortality and loss as horizons of the quiet-breathed ecstatic.

The Dying Season (for Milo)

Pink mouths

the fuchsias have fallen           open and glad
their plucked tongues fanned still on the wintering stone.
            And I,
tumbling upon them
with my day-heart and my needle lip
            ruffling them to wreathes.
            No griefs
in the quickening turn             the run of things
the birds fenced in by fog and wind
            the browning days
the dug-in sun.
            The dying season.       And the rain comes
loud as a twinning sound
                      pooling in the dents that absence has left.

Copyright © 2012, Gillian Prew
Gillian Prew's webpage

Were I to attempt a formal conclusion of this meditation on aesthetics, I'd probably say something like this: the beautiful is sometimes darkly veiled, but the ugly is always apparent.


  1. Give me a day or so and I'll understand.

  2. The ugly is not always apparent.. I think that is the first time I've disagreed with you. It can be veiled, insidious and sneak up on you. It is not always loud and in your face, but probably the tacky kind of ugly stands out the best. :) I think our minds have a tendancy to remember the ugly aethetic easier - beauty is harder to hold on to. It is fleeting until you catch it from a different angle or view. In that way we can always be surprised by it when we see it. It becomes special.

    Sometimes beauty can seem ugly until you get a closer look, too. You, Tim, have a sharp eye for beauty and can pick the best crafted poems, music and art out.

    You have sophisticated and refined taste, but it won't match everyone's taste. Unfortunately, you cannot teach the type of appreciation for the things you love to others - so that it will become as natural to them as it is to you. Some maybe, but everyone is different.

    Sometimes I wish you could teach people to love things the way you do and turn expression in any form into an elegant part of themselves.

    Anyway, I love to see your posts about WHY you love something/anything the way you do. It gives whatever you admire a fullness and makes me appreciate it that much more myself. There is an art to responding to art and you are so good at it! Not like me who decides "yes I love that" without really knowing why. It is sometimes enough for me to just to love things as I see them without delving into myself to share why with a creator and that is selfish in a way, but also a skill that I haven't developed yet.

    Not sure where I was going with my reply...LOL I just rambled on and on as I'm prone to do in weird moments. Anwyay, please keep sharing your appreciation and dislikes and WHY. It might be a different opinion from someone else, but that doesn't matter. It is important for us all to delve into that part of expression in any form (art, poetry, writing, music, et...). IMHO

  3. Thanks, Jen. I'm going to mull over what you said.

  4. Regarding the ugly in art -- music, painting, literature -- it tends to announce itself with immediacy to me. On the other hand, the beautiful in art is sometimes shy, revealing itself over time to me.

    I thank you very much for reading the stuff I write. I enjoy writing it, but sometimes I get the sense that few enjoy reading it. :)

  5. Also for me, the beautiful doesn't have that much to do with the pretty or the pleasing. It's about an overtaking, shadowing, and deepening of time and consciousness. Maybe there's a better word somewhere than "beautiful." Maybe the word "aesthetic" is sufficient, mysteriously so. I know it when I experience it -- it's a kind of mystical shock to the system.

  6. I doubt that is the case. I think you have more a cult following than you think. ;-D I bet your audience is full of internal musers who drop by and like what they read, but are not sure what to comment. Just keep doing your thing. It is awesome!

    On the ugly: I used to think certain things were ugly, until I understood why others felt they were beautiful - or the work that went into creating them.

    A lot of people can't stand Bob Dylan - but he speaks to my soul. I think he and his art is beautiful. They would consider his style ugly and noticably so up front until they heard someone else sing his songs or until they understood the poet in his soul. Maybe they still think his music is ugly. I don't know how many times I have heard the phrase "I can't stand Bob Dylan." Those poor people. LOL

    Anyway aesthetics seem to be subjective to the person conemplating it. One person's fugly is another person's gorgeous. :-D

    I am with you on the mystical shock, too. It is wonderful. :)

  7. You say good stuff. And I agree with you about Mr. Dylan.

  8. You're right about perception and valuation being subjective. All I ask is that the reader of a poem be presented with a conscious attempt at art and not an uncritical spewing of neurosis. :)