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The rejection of the "aesthetic" view on art has been around for a very long time.

Off the top of my head, there's at least Heidegger's "The Origin of the Work of Art", with rather vivid examples, that most people could relate to.

There's probably been similar views before that, and there's for sure a lot of works after that, among French philosophers for example (for example).

But it seems like society mostly treats art the same way it did approximately 70 years ago. We see the same levels of commercialization (actually, even worse), the same desire among "artists" to do something that the majority of people will appreciate, the same idea of gaining something out of what you do, and the same talk about the subject/object dichotomy, and so on.

How can that be?

Even if people in general don't care about philosophy and such, wouldn't those ideas be adopted through culture in general?

How come there's no resistance to modern art, considering there must be A LOT of smart people familiar with all this?

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    You may find 'my' two answers here of some use. 'my' because one is mostly Beethoven, the other mostly Gurdjieff
    – Rushi
    Jan 18 at 14:12
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    @Rushi thank you, that IS a interesting read! I might as well read it in russian.
    – Denis
    Jan 18 at 15:09
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    Why can't it be both? The art could appeal to our sense of beauty -- something that many would appreciate. It can also be a vehicle for communicating truth metaphorically, in riddles that are safe enough to share. Jan 20 at 20:44
  • Could you first define 'art'? Does rejection or acceptance of 'the aesthetic view on art boil down to the difference between what's 'merely decorative' and what carries 'meaning?' Jan 23 at 14:44
  • @RobbieGoodwin There's no simple definition. It depends on how you treat the world and how deep you are questioning what you do.
    – Denis
    Jan 24 at 12:30

3 Answers 3

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In your question, you lay out some qualities someone who accepts the non-aesthetic position on art might have.

  1. An artist who is non-aesthetic is not concerned with producing something the majority of people find appealing.

  2. Such an artist is not interested in "gaining" out of what they do - I'll assume this means financially, although one might argue it could include things like prestige and respect and social standing, either during life or after it.

So the question then looks like, why don't artists take those two viewpoints above? And the answer, I think, ought to be relatively obvious:

Artists are people, and people like money and prestige and popularity (and people also need money to survive).

That's the first point - the second point is SOME artists don't do art for money or fame or respect, and no matter how prevalent that type of artist is, you aren't likely to hear about them because they're much less likely to get that fame they care so little about.

It would be more surprising if artists, as a whole, DID accept the values you associate with the non-aesthetic. It would be surprising if an entire industry of people stopped caring about making money. It should not surprise you that we find ourselves in a world where people producing art do so to get the things almost everyone else needs, wants and values.

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  • I'm so glad that mothers weren't just in it for the money :-)
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 20 at 20:50
  • @ScottRowe mothers? Artists who make art out of moths?
    – TKoL
    Jan 21 at 21:50
  • You said, "It would be surprising if an entire industry of people stopped caring about making money." There is no bigger industry than getting us all here in the first place.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 23 at 0:22
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It's important to note that there do exist artists doing new and innovative things in art, and theorists are still creating new theories. But in general, your question is in some ways its own answer. People have not found philosophies of art to be compelling. The obvious reason is that philosophies of art have not largely been successful. Many of them amount to descriptions of the philosopher's own favorite art, and completely fail to account for other art forms (for instance, Adorno's notorious dismissal of jazz). Other theorists, like Danto, have been more successful in posing difficult questions about art than in providing answers.

Looked at from another point of view, aesthetic theories are a way of physicalizing a philosophy--art movements are part of how philosophies become disseminated across the culture. So, the atrophy of art theories is just a lagging indicator of the fact that it has been a long time since there was a widely influential new philosophical movement.

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You need to distinguish between professional artists and hobbyists.

If someone is trying to make a living through art, it has to have appeal to others. Otherwise, they won't get many sales and they won't be able to support themselves. As a result, they'll either have to find another profession, or they'll die. So there's a natural attrition of artists who produce non-aesthetic products.

On the other hand, hobbyists are people who earn their living in some other way, and make art on the side for their own enjoyment. These people do not need to be concerned about anyone else's opinion of their art, so they can do whatever they want.

There is a way for unappreciated artists to make a living: patronage. There are some wealthy people who believe in fostering art for its own sake, or want to support a particular artist for some reason (perhaps they see potential in them, or believe that their style will eventually be appreciated). Opportunities for this are pretty limited, though -- there aren't that many ultra-wealthy people who can afford to support people like this (the artist might also have a family to feed), although modern technology such as Patreon allows people to collaborate as patrons. However, most people who contribute through Patreon are probably doing it because they like the artist's esthetics, so it really reverts back to the earlier case of how professional artists survive. The main difference is that the artist receives money before they create new products, rather than selling things after the fact.

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  • Right, dying without selling anything like Van Gogh and then having your work sell for hundreds of millions a century later isn't much help. All of Bach's stuff was in a closet and nearly thrown away long after he died. There should really be a way to fund deserving people.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 20 at 20:46

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