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YURI BOREV

AESTHETICS

AESTHETICS: THE THEORY OF AESTHETIC ACTIVITY
The Science of the Universal Aspects of Cognizing the World

AESTHETIC ACTIVITY

Aesthetic Activity: The Diversity of Its Forms

Any human activity, group or individual has, besides a purely utilitarian purpose, the grains of what makes it universally important for man. It is these grains which lend human activity its aesthetic flavour and even aesthetic content. In this sense, any human activity can be considered aesthetic, at least to a certain extent.
One may say that any human activity considered from the point of view of its universal significance can be regarded as aesthetic.
The universal form of aesthetic activity is creative work according to the laws of the beautiful.
Art is the heart of aesthetic activity. In it, the content of human activity is not only totally aesthetic but reaches the point at which the aesthetic turns into artistic activity producing immortal masterpieces of everlasting value to mankind.
However, aesthetic activity should not be reduced to its artistic form. It is much broader than art proper and embraces labour, everyday life and culture. A good example of this is landscape gardening. Gardens and parks are a product of man's cultural activity, which is directed at attaining harmony between man and nature.
They form a link between the ennobled nature and the man whose attitude to it is that of kindness.
Landscape gardening is not art proper, but it develops side by side with it and is affected by it. Its profound interrelation with art, especially poetry, is shown by the fact that the styles of parks and gardens follow the evolution of artistic trends. There exist Renaissance, baroque, rococo, classical and romantic parks and gardens. Within each style, national variations, and within the national variation – the individuality of the designer can be traced.
A typical park showing French classicism is Versailles, which was created by Andre Lenotre. Another style is that of Dutch baroque; the gardens of the Moscow Kremlin are a fine example. They are terraced, as was required by the style, walled in, and dotted with summer-houses. Moscow baroque gardens differ from, say, Renaissance ones through the clearly perceptible spirit of irony.
Like Dutch gardens, they abound in picturesque nooks with mock perspective views.
The element of irony inherent in rococo gardens proves that aesthetic cognition of the world outside art proper is conducted not only according to the laws of the universal aesthetic category of the beautiful but also rests on the whole range of other aesthetic qualities of life (the sublime, the tragic, the comic, etc.).
Aesthetic activity outside art – in labour, everyday life and culture – embraces the work of a designer creating a functional and beautiful article for mass production, the process of production, the article itself, and its consumption. Work according to the laws of the beautiful in the system of material production, an aesthetic approach to work, the universal aspect of its products' value, the role of labour in the formation of aesthetic sensations, tastes and views – all this is the realm of aesthetic relationships between man and the world.
Aesthetic activity according to the laws of the beautiful, taking place beyond the boundaries of art has been going on for ages but made greatest headway in the 20th century. For a long time, no adequate term existed for it. It was called industrial art, applied art, artistic constructing, aesthetics of labour (industrial or technological aesthetics), design. The group of names which identified, brought together art and aesthetic activity outside it, or treated the latter as a new art implied that aesthetics should directly apply experience gained through the laws of artistic creativity to a field which is quite distinct from it.
Attempts to identify aesthetic activity with art are just as fallacious as attempts to divorce and oppose them. It is scientifically more accurate to make a terminological distinction between the broader notion of aesthetic activity (the activity embracing not only the beautiful but also the sublime, the tragic, the comic, etc.) and the more restricted notion of "activity according to the laws of the beautiful".
Aesthetic activity in industry and technology came to be known as design. This term implies, first and foremost, artistic designing as such, but also covers the entire process of the industrial production of a functional and at the same time beautiful article. In the work of the artist, who thinks in images, aesthetic activity reaches its peak, becoming art.
Aesthetic activity can be practical (landscape gardening, industrial design) or artistic (creation of works of art) as well as spiritual-cultural, emotional and intellectual when it shapes aesthetic impressions, notions, tastes and ideals, and theoretical when it generates aesthetic doctrines and views. Aesthetic notions, tastes and ideals – the result of man's inner, spiritual life which serves to enrich his personality – find an outlet in the practical activity of a given individual and are embodied in the products of this activity.
Aesthetic perception and the formation of aesthetic notions means that the individual has understood and absorbed that which is universally valuable in the real world.
Aesthetic tastes add up to a system of aesthetic preferences and leanings based on historically conditioned aesthetic perceptions and notions.
The aesthetic ideal is the notion of harmony and perfection in life and culture which turns into a goal, standard and direction of man's activity towards changing the world and creating culture. The ideal does not always coincide with reality. But a nation which has a high national ideal produces geniuses who approach it.
Aesthetic doctrines are the historical experience of aesthetic activity of a given society which has been theoretically interpreted and formulated as a scientific system.
Aesthetic views are a system of aesthetic concepts prevalent in a given society or one of its divisions which determines its future aesthetic and artistic activity.
All varieties of artistic activity producing the wide range of kinds and forms of art and the institutions which govern this process and create conditions for it by educating creative individuals (art schools, colleges, amateur art groups, etc.) and by ensuring the social functioning of art (museums, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, etc.) add up to the artistic culture of the society. The latter plus design and the spiritual-cultural (shaping aesthetic tastes, ideals, etc.) and theoretical-aesthetic (formulating aesthetic doctrines and views, etc.) forms of aesthetic activity possible form the aesthetic culture of the society.

The Aesthetic and the Artistic

This is one of the more important problems of aesthetics, which has not yet been resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
Some theorists believe that the aesthetic is tantamount to the artistic, and that these terms are synonymous (Model 1).
But, making, say, a clock or a jacket, a person does not produce an artistically informative or conceptually loaded system of images; therefore, his activity cannot be regarded as artistic although it is certainly aesthetic. It is apparent therefore that Model 1 is fallacious.
Other theorists (e.g. Max Dessoir, a German philosopher and psychologist) regard the aesthetic and the artistic as unconnected parallel notions (Model 2). Proceeding from this premise, they distinguish between aesthetics (the theory of activity according to the laws of the beautiful outside the boundaries of art) and the general theory of art (the theory of artistic activity within art).
However, this division is hardly legitimate, since both in history and current practice aesthetic activity frequently develops into art. The two types of activity have a great deal in common; though of course they have certain specific characteristics, there are a large number of laws valid for both which should be studied by the same science.
The third group of theorists think that, on the one hand, aesthetic activity is broader than artistic and that the latter is a particular case of the former, since man creates beauty not only in art (although in art this is always the case); on the other hand, artistic activity is broader than aesthetic and the latter is only an aspect and a particular manifestation of the former, for, taken in the entirety of its content and forms, artistic activity oversteps the boundaries of creative work according to the laws of the beautiful only (Model 3).
Art creates not only the beautiful but also the sublime, the tragic, and the comic. And yet art is not the only field where one can create.
The sublime, the tragic and the comic are not the domain of art only, their existence in life is beyond doubt. Aesthetic activity does not conform to the laws of the beautiful alone and produces more than just the beautiful. The tragic, the comic, the sublime, the ugly and the base are equally able to decide the character, content and result of aesthetic activity.
Is not a great deed a heroic act from the point of view of ethics, and an instance of the sublime from the point of view of aesthetics?
Can heroic epochs not be traced throughout human history when mass heroism was an everyday phenomenon? The sublime relates to the actions of the hero performing a noble deed in just the same way as the beautiful relates to the work of a craftsman making a beautiful and useful object. It is equally legitimate to talk about the sublimity of aesthetic activity which results in a great deed and the ugliness and baseness of a mean act.
There certainly exists aesthetic activity producing that which is comic in character, content and result but which nevertheless lies outside art. Is not the social function of jokes, funny stories, witticisms and puns a form of aesthetic activity according to the laws of the comic? Of course, it contains an element of the beautiful which makes itself felt in the ideal perceptible in the witticism and in its polished form. Inthis sense, it is quite correct to say that in relation to aesthetic activity, the category of the beautiful is universal. But its aesthetic forms are still many and varied, and it is possible to proceed from aesthetic laws other than those of the beautiful alone.
In his work Francois Rabelais and the Folk Culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (1965), Mikhail Bakhtin, a Soviet literary critic, has done a great deal to clarify the role and place of the comic in aesthetic activity. He discussed not only the art of comedy, but of the culture of comedy typical of the people in the Middle Ages.
The carnival is an instance of aesthetic activity which lies outside art and follows both the laws of the beautiful and the comic.
Aesthetic activity at the carnival was truly mass and large-scale in the Middle Ages: considering that it lasted, all in all, for three months out of every year, man spent a quarter of his life at it.
Let us now consider the tragic. Unquestionably, it exists both in life and art including that aspect of aesthetic activity which is not art. The tombstones created by Michelangelo are tragic sculpture.
But the stamp of tragedy lies also on the tombstones which are artistically worthless. The correlation between the Medici tomb by Michelangelo and a cross at a village graveyard is the same as between a salt-cellar by Donatello, which is a work of art, and an ordinary salt-container designed with due account to the laws of the beautiful and the functional. An element of the tragic is present in a funeral rite, in the universal custom of showing respect to and remembering the dead, in the ceremony of laying wreaths on the grave, in the solemn and mournful gathering around it, and in bidding the last farewell and paying the last homage to the dead.
At the same time, these are also forms of aesthetic activity in which the beautiful and the tragic are interwoven and interact.
Art concerns itself with everything which is of interest to man as a human being, i.e. it approaches a phenomenon from the universal (aesthetic) point of view. True, that which is common to all mankind is understood differently during different periods of history and by different classes and nations, but the object itself – to produce something of significance to all mankind – shows that the notion of the aesthetic has a very broad meaning and that aesthetic activity has many forms.
There are no non-aesthetic values in art; it presents utilitarian, moral and religious values not as non-aesthetic but as universally, i.e. aesthetically significant.
We consider that the correct correlation of the aesthetic and the artistic is expressed by Model 4, which maintains that the aesthetic is broader than the artistic.
Historically, aesthetic activity precedes artistic activity – the latter has grown out of the former and become its highest, ideal expression which has consolidated its best achievements and trends.

Design

Design is the principal, broadest and most advanced form of human non-artistic activity which conforms to the laws of the beautiful.
It embraces the preparation, production and existence of things manufactured by industry to meet the requirements of utility, convenience and beauty.
The international seminar on design (Belgium, 1964) worked out the following definition of design:
Design is creative work whose goal is to determine the formal properties of manufactured goods, including both their external characteristics and, most important, the functional and structural interrelations which turn the article into a single whole both from the point of view of the producer and the consumer.
Design is the world of objects created by man by means of industrial technology which meet the demands of the beautiful and the functional.
It is a new, industrial type of aesthetic activity, a way to humanise the means and results of production and the environment. Design has been called into being by mass production and consumption and the technological revolution, especially automation in industry, which has made it necessary to introduce standards into production. Machine production multiplies a specimen or sample which must be aesthetically superb thus anticipating and shaping consumers' tastes according to the latest styles, the function of the manufactured article, the cultural tradition of its social functioning, and the universal goal of humanising the outside world, the entire "second nature" surrounding man.
Design creates a visual language (the term has been introduced by Walter Gropius, the German architect and art theorist) – the language of form which gives visual expression to ideas. In the visual language of design, the role of signs is played by proportions, optical illusion, colour and size, the relationship of light and shade, hollow and volume, colour and scale. The form here is the sign of the material, the technology and the quality of production of an article indicating its purpose (function) and social being in the system of culture.
Industrial development has put an end to the work of an individual producer, an artisan when the same person began and completed the process of production. Today, any article is a result of the labour of many people: workers, technologists, engineers, designers, etc.
Hence the narrow specialisation of each of the many participants in manufacturing the article, which threatens, on the one hand, to break up man's universal creative potential and, on the other, to render null the aesthetic value of the manufactured article. This has been pointed out by the German architect and theorist of art Gottfried Semper, the founder of "practical aesthetics", when he summed up the results of the first great industrial exhibition
(London, 1851). He noticed that despite the advance of science and technology, the artistic achievements of modern civilisation were inferior to those of the previous ages.
The process of manufacturing things has been speeded up and become truly large-scale; as a result, unique articles made by artisans came to be replaced by mass-produced, identical ones. The articles of production have ceased to be a luxury, but they have also ceased to be luxurious since they no longer bear the stamp of the personality of their creator. It was at this point that the constructor, whose responsibility lay in making the object functional, came to be assisted by the artist, who was responsible for the object's aesthetic aspect. Ideally, the two should be united in one person – a designer, a member of the new profession, an aesthetically educated engineer-cum-artist.
The encroachment of the aesthetic element upon production is gradually spreading to all its sections-automobile-building, radio engineering, and even manufacturing the means of production, such as tools and machine-tools. In industry, the utilitarian and the aesthetic are being rapidly and thoroughly blended. A search for the convenient and the useful is becoming also a search for the expressive and the beautiful. Today, not a single industry can do without design.
Modern technology modifies man's notions of the beautiful. Manufacturing an article necessitates inventing, constructing, putting together and working out an adequate method of production. In this chain of creative events the role of design is putting together and determining new links between parts of the article. Conjuring the aesthetic picture of the future article, the designer seeks to make it not only useful and beautiful but also constructively expedient and technologically profitable.
Design implies the regrouping of objects, as well as borrowing components from a wide range of fields – from the use of the expedient forms suggested by nature (the realm of bionics) to discovering the development trends of these forms and making prognostications concerning their future. But while bionics borrows directly from living nature, design first subjects what has been borrowed to "cultural processing". In fact, the store of shapes for design is culture, which puts all impressions of existence through the sieve of human experience.
The application of updated cultural forms in a totally new field produces a tremendous effect. For example, wireless sets, radiograms and tape recorders can look quite dramatic when shaped like dominoes: a black lacquered board is divided in halves by a white fluorescent vertical stroke. To the left and right are large round opaquely gleaming spots, for instance, 6:3 or 5:4. The fluorescent stroke can serve as the scale of the wireless, and the gleaming spots as knobs for band switch, volume control, etc. The number of the knobs (gleaming spots) depends on the technical requirements and, as in dominoes can be varied on each part (the left or the right) from 0 to 6.
In a sense, design is a result of the boundless expansion of the sphere of applied art and its development in industry, a product of aesthetics founding its way into technology and of art encroaching upon production.
Design seeks to make the article not only convenient and functional but also emotionally expressive and aesthetically valuable. The designer creates such objects and means of production which acquire an ability to appeal to man, i.e. possess aesthetic value. Design ensures a humane relationship between the object and the man, its consumer. And since there is another man, its creator, behind every object which becomes a sort of an intermediary between the producer and the consumer, design helps "humanise" human relations. Using artistically designed objects, man as it were contemplates himself in the world he has created deriving profound aesthetic pleasure from the process.
Design makes possible mass-scale cultural and aesthetic communication transmitting a certain artistic taste through the objects of everyday use, work tools and household articles manufactured by modern industry.
Design penetrates all fields of human life and activity. The force and scope of its impact are comparable only to those of the cinema and TV. In a sense, design is even more powerful. To go to the movies, one has to find the time and get the ticket; to become a member of TV audience, one has to buy a set and have some leisure time. But to come under the aesthetic influence of design, it is enough to live in the modern world. It is impossible to remain unaffected by it even if one were to set oneself such a goal, for no one has been able to exist outside the epoch's culture or do without its attributes, such as furniture, household utensils, transport, books, etc., which are all products of design and bear a stamp of a distinctive style.
The impact of style on human consciousness is particularly profound and direct. A certain shape of a spoon, hammer, car or TV set serves more than just utilitarian purposes – it also exercises an aesthetic influence. The latter is linked with the way of life of a given society and the type of thinking and activity characteristic of a given epoch.
Design carries the artistic tradition and taste into the sphere of everyday things and utilitarian consumption. It reflects the level of scientific and technological development of the society materialized in consumer goods, household utensils, work tools, transport, and products of culture. Design contains the secret of mass production (the technology of creation) of a given article which is aesthetically perfect and convenient to use. It is the meeting-ground for the constructor and the artist, the producer and the consumer, thanks to the transformation of the product of labour made aesthetically valuable into an object of utilitarian and aesthetic consumption.
In other words, design is mass communication within society uniting people by consumption of the same industrially produced and aesthetically valuable goods and their style, and by the way of life.
Design blends spiritual and material, and humanitarian and industrial culture into a single whole; it combines art and the scientific, technological and industrial-technological culture thus ensuring the cultural unity of modern civilization.

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