Aesthetics and the Sociology of Art by Janet Wolff

By Janet Wolff

Explores sociocultural affects at the building of conventional aesthetic theories and judgments

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Behind the aesthetic form lies the repressed harmony of sensuousness and reason - the eternal protest against the organization of life by the logic of domination, the critique of the performance principle. , p. 121) At least until recently, art was thus opposition (p. 122), although there remained the danger that, as a result of the separation of the aesthetic, people could continue to separate their experience in art from their experience in the real world. Later, Marcuse was (briefly) to identify a real oppositional culture in the art and life-style of the student movement (Marcuse, 1969b).

It does not lapse into total relativism or subjectivism, since value is construed as the historical and cumulative construction of successive audiences. A weakness in Jauss's account is that the originality which confounds or challenges expectations consists for him solely in literary form, or at least so his discussion of Flaubert (1970, pp. 17 -18) suggests; but it would certainly be possible to widen this to include the representation of ideas, plot, narrative, and so on, within this form. The question is whether even this is an adequate account of what is involved in aesthetic evaluation.

In one of his earliest essays he began by criticising the 'affirmative' concept of culture, which by one means or another simply confirms and supports the existing unequal order; against this he counter-poses a 'negating' culture, which can take issue with society (Marcuse, f968). , p. 156). In a society based on repression, art becomes or represents the possibility of freedom. Behind the aesthetic form lies the repressed harmony of sensuousness and reason - the eternal protest against the organization of life by the logic of domination, the critique of the performance principle.

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