On Tuesday, we discussed the public sphere and where aesthetics falls into it – and in which way it does. We heavily discussed Michael Warner’s essay on publics – which is an interesting, albeit, difficult topic. Warner makes an argument to differentiate between the public and a public. According to Warner, the public is the general population; social totality. A public is a bit more complex. A public is made up of strangers; an undefined group. It is self organized, a social space created by the reflexive circulation of discourse (print culture).
Ok, so what, right? Where does aesthetics and art criticism fall into this, and why is it important?
We often think of aesthetics as concerned with nature and the appreciation of beauty; especially in art. However, looking back, we see aesthetics as the product of hegemony; formed through a power structure. In 18th century France, King Louie XIV decided he wanted to monopolize the “best” artistic talent and place it under state control. In doing this, the state was essentially deciding what the publics view of art was, and what constituted “good” art. King Louie XIV decides to hold “Salons” to showcase this academic perfection he had acquired. Interestingly, in doing this, King Louie XIV created a public. People began attending these Salon’s and what came of them was discourse. Debates and opinions were being expressed and lo and behold! art criticism begins to be written. The thing with a public is you can’t know the nature of what it will be. It is composed of strangers, which is a critical and undefinable aspect of it.
This idea of publics sheds a new light on the concept of art criticism. It highlights certain aspects we should keep in mind when approaching art criticism, and who our public is.