aesthetic perception as a mode of transcendence

You know; I’m interested in figuring out our common, everyday understanding of beauty. I’d like to know how we use and understand the concept beauty in contemporary art. But there is no way around the history of thoughts. We continue, whether we admit it or not, a long historical line of thinking, sometimes by contradicting it, other times by continuation.

Here are some words by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860):

through art and the aesthetic experience we can escape the suffering of our ordinary mental state

Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung

According to Schopenhauer the situation is like this: In our ordinary consciousness we see things in relation to ourselves; we have an egoistic view of the world. We do not see individual objects in the world in terms of their own intrinsic nature and qualities. Instead we see things in terms of utility, and specifically their utility to ourselves.

It is essential for us to see the world not objectively but subjectively, adding our own projections into experience in order to survive. It seems therefore fair to claim that our ordinary consciousness is acting in our best interest; it is allowing us to recognise threats and react to them. It also allows us to have desires that are needed in order to survive.

Art facilitates the transition “from the common knowledge of particular things to knowledge of the Idea.”

Great art should allow the non-genius, which is the vast majority of us, to temporarily transform from the ordinary mental state to that of the aesthetic mental state, which Schopenhauer calls the “aesthetic method of consideration”

Schopenhauer holds that aesthetics are a path to recognizing metaphysical truths and reveal the forms of will most objectively whilst avoiding the torment which the will inflicts.

One way to achieve a more tranquil state of consciousness is through aesthetic perception.

And this, I must admit, I find very – very interesting, and absolutely relevant. It’s as if we can se a parallel here between Schopenhauer and the “new” ideas of Alain de Botton, who writes about Art as Theraphy.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Rio says:

    I like what you have told me about his ideas.

    I feel about art the way some people feel about religion and that it can serve the same purpose. It reminds me to loosen the bindings of “dukkha” the state of basic unsatisfactoriness, and just let go of usual expectation. In Zen the actual state of being is Buddha, so I believe that realizing beauty is realizing what is, was and will always be.

    Beauty is something that engenders human genius, and art makes a safe place for both to flourish in expression, at least ideally. Some would say science also does this, but I am afraid it has become too corrupt; It is easier to manipulate for corporate purposes than art. But this I don’t know enough about really to say. Fractals are cool.

    I used to think of artists as the spiritual sherpas of a culture, that they traverse the dangerous unknown to take us to new vistas. I am not so romantic anymore as I have learned that they are often drunken narcissists who just happen to stumble on to stuff… but regardless, their existence is important to the health of a society. Perhaps they are more like the canaries in the coal mines…

    1. Sigrun says:

      Wonderful, thank you!
      I came to think of something; what if there is a parallel between the decline in traditional religiosity and the descending status of beauty in the western world?

      1. Rio says:

        Well, there are a lot more people on the planet than ever before and more stress and even for the “working classes” less and less time for reflection, perhaps the two are symptoms of a larger cause.

  2. Peter says:

    Such a huge topic I hardly know where to begin.( or end)
    The word ‘beauty’ for me has multiple overlapping meanings, like the word ‘ love’. Just as some cultures have words that differentiate many types of snow we say ‘snow’. We call things, actions, ‘beauty’ as a catch all.”What a beautiful day”.or referring to a baseball catch or soccer kick “wow that was a beauty” . Or could be a large trout that you just caught what a beauty”. I alway thought thermodynamics was “beautiful” or physical chemistry or the equations of electrodynamics. How about the physiology of animals? etc etc
    Then there is the Platonic ideal of beauty etc.
    Not mention ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’.
    I can not agree with your generality “the descending status of beauty in the western world” The artist and photographers , sculptors and some of the musicians I know have beauty in mind as they practice their craft. Granted I live in a rural area and perhaps we are backwards but we are not unaware of contemporary art. I personally see few people taking the path to increasing ugliness.
    Enough of the rant, thanks for bringing up a topic that engenders a lot of thought and emotion!

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you for commenting, Peter!

      The wideness is what interests me, and absolutely a part of my study. There are a lot of concepts like this; wide, imprecise, open to all sorts of interpretation – but we still use them, most often without specifying the meaning of what we say (e.g. what a beautiful landscape, a beautiful piece of music etc.).

      I think you are right, a lot of artists all over the world are interested in beauty, but the concept is a minor concept in discussions on contemporary art. Just yesterday I listened o a Manhattan gallery owner saying that most of the artists in his milieu were bad craftsmen, and I (as the gallery man) find this rather strange, viewing the craft as an utterly important part of the totality in a beautiful work of art.

  3. Arti says:

    We have a couple of old books in our home, bought by my son when he went on a European tour a few years ago. Never paid much attention to them until just recently. They are small, blue, hard cover, antique-looking German books, printed in Leipzig. A closer look I discover their author: Schopenhauer, one of them is entitled die welt als wille ind vorstellung I couldn’t find any number on it, but the other looking the same has a date 1891. So, hopefully I have a real gem in my hands. Of course, I can’t read any words in it since its in German. But thanks to your post, I get the idea. 😉

    1. Sigrun says:

      Lucky you!!!
      A collection of Schopenhauer, the world’s greatest misanthrope, this is absolute a good reason to learn German!

  4. Peter says:

    Back to Schopenhauer-you say”One way to achieve a more tranquil state of consciousness is through aesthetic perception.”
    I could not agree more/ The experience , for me of listening wholeheartedly to music can be transcendent .
    Transcendant of “dukka”. even after the often shocking applause, some of that falling away of “dukka” remains. Similar to what can happen in meditation. Hence the experiential connection of art and transcendence. That old German has some interesting ideas!!

    1. Sigrun says:

      A wise sourpuss …

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