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YURI BOREV

AESTHETICS

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

AESTHETICS: FIELD OF OPERATION

Practical Aesthetics

The subject and the range of problems embraced by aesthetics is broader than just art in all its forms. It is no accident that in modern aesthetics, classification of the arts remains a controversial issue. Thomas Munro, the American theorist, ranks among arts not only literature, theatre, painting, music, etc., but also cattle-breeding, plastic surgery, beauty treatment, perfumery, cooking, wine-making, gastronomy, clothes designing, hairdressing, tattooing – around four hundred in all. Munro considers art boundless, an attitude which has a history almost as long as Aristotle's theory of artistic kinds.
In many languages, crafts and several other types of human activity are called arts. The Ancient Greeks had one word, techne, for both arts and craft, and the first artists were potters, masons, carpenters and members of other trades who produced articles for everyday use.
Munro's theory is essentially the same as that developed by the celebrated Central Asian scholar al-Farabi (870-950), who wrote in Arabic. Cooking, perfumery, tactfulness and fine manners which Munro classified as arts, as well as weaving, medicine and rhetorics, respected by al-Farabi for the craftsmanship they required, are not creative work proper but are means, forms and fields of cognitibn of the world which do contain an element of the aesthetic since they conform not only to the laws of the functional but of the beautiful as well. The views expounded by al-Farabi and Munro are to a certain extent rational. At the early stages of human history, tattooing, for instance, undoubtedly had both aesthetic, ideological and emotional meaning. As far as the present is concerned, in certain fields man is capable of creating things so aesthetically expressive that they can be considered specimens of art: for instance, a hair-style or an outfit may become part of the character portrayed by an actor in the cinema or theatre. However, such examples are too few to make a rule. Out of the 400 arts listed by Munro, many belong to the domain of aesthetic cognition of the world according to the laws of the beautiful; some of them, at least in their best achievements, belong to design, others – to applied and decorative art, and still others – to practical aesthetics.
The long-established tendency of aesthetics to expand the kinds and boundaries of art to include ever new forms of human activity shows that, first, besides art, aesthetics deals with all forms of cognition of the world which conform to the laws of the beautiful, even the practical and utilitarian ones, and, second, that no insurmountable barrier exists between artistic and practical aesthetic activity, architecture and applied and decorative art being borderline cases on the side of art, and design – on the side of practical cognition of the world.
Art is that established and firmly fixed form of aesthetic cognition of the world according to the laws of the beautiful which, beside aesthetic content, has an artistic concept of the world and personality, and a set of images filled with a definite ideological and emotional meaning. And since all the diversity of the forms of aesthetic cognition of the world can by no means be reduced to art, the subject of aesthetics is much broader than art.
Aesthetics embraces such little-developed problems as the aesthetic organisation of the environment, aesthetics of the "second" (man-made) nature, the social forms of human behaviour, the beauty of human relations (in this sense, aesthetics is the ethics of the future), and everyday life. Scientific research, sports, creative processes in various spheres of activity, games, festivities and group activities have an aesthetic side to them which has not yet been adequately explored by aesthetics but is nevertheless its concern.
Laying out parks, city planning, artificial seas, all types of communications, the biosphere which is being turned into the noosphere, and outer space, which has already become an object of exploration – all present or may present an interest for aesthetics.
In other words, it embraces the whole world, the processes underway in it, man, his entire activity and culture and its products in so far as they are of value to humanity as a race, i.e. have aesthetic significance.
All sections of aesthetics which lie outside art are divided into (1) practical aesthetics1 concerned with daily life, human behaviour, creative work in the field of science, sport, etc., and (2) technical aesthetics, or the theory of design.

Technical Aesthetics

Technical aesthetics as the theory of design deals with the aesthetic cognition of the world by industrial means. It studies the process by which a useful and beautiful article is designed, produced by industry from some material and introduced to the consumer entering into certain relations with man and society. Technical aesthetics sums up the experience of the mass production of labour implements (machines and machine tools) and other articles combining utilitarian and aesthetic qualities, and assesses the experience gained in cognition of the world by application of the laws of the beautiful to modern production.
Many new branches of knowledge have grown on the borderline dividing some two sciences. A case in point is technical aesthetics, which has now detached itself from general aesthetics. Using the achievements of both art and technology, it brings together and examines the numerous social, economic, technical, psychic, physiological and hygienic factors taken in their interaction, as well as the data supplied by ergonomics, which studies the principles of the scientific organisation of labour and the psychological and physiological potential of man with a view to providing the best possible conditions for his activities.
Ideas of technical aesthetics originated in the mid-19th century, long before design. Lecturing in Manchester in 1857, John Ruskin, the English sociologist and art theorist, spoke about the aesthetically valuable fruits of production pointing out that that which is manufactured hurriedly is just as hurriedly consumed; that which is cheapest turns out to be the most expensive. Ruskin spoke about the art of ordinary things, placing it first in the hierarchy of the arts.
He believed that machine production has a disastrous effect not only on manufactured goods but on their producers and consumers as well, and offered to return to handicraft industry – a retrospective Utopia of sorts.
Ruskin's ideas were taken up by William Morris who maintained that machine production would be supplanted by new handicraft labour, since the products of the former, although cheap, were not worth producing. Morris made an attempt to put his ideas into practice setting up modern handicraft production units.
Technical aesthetics first came to be practically developed by Gottfried Semper. In 1860-63, he published a two-volume work Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Kiinsten oder Praktische Aesthetik. According to Semper, the shape of an article depends on (1) its function; (2) the material it is made from;(3) the technology of production; and (4) the social and ideological factor which is determined by a given society.
Franz Reuleaux, an engineer and a founder of the theory of mechanisms and machines, came out against a rigid division of art and engineering. In 1862 he published a book on style in machine-building, where he advocated introduction of architectural styles into that industry. On the brink of the 20th century, Henry van de Velde, an architect who worked in Belgium and Germany, said that it was necessary to bring the technical properties of an article in concord with its artistic qualities subordinating the latter to expediency, logic and "practical and reasonable beauty".
Following in his steps, Hermann Muthesius, sociologist and art theorist, advocated the introduction of artistic elements into technology.
In 1919 an institution known as the Bauhaus was set up in Germany which became a centre of technical aesthetics seeking to bridge the gap between art and technology.
In Russia, the ideas of technical aesthetics began to spread in the early 20th century. Much was said about a union of art and technology, and the idea arose that the industrial enterprise itself should be a thing of beauty.
Technical aesthetics continued to make headway. Its ideas found expression in the rejection of ornamental elements in technical appliances, production and its outputs and a desire to achieve a perfect blend of the functional and the beautiful. In the 1920s, it assumed the form of "industrial art". In their theoretical and practical works its adherents – A. Rodchenko, V. Tatlin, L. Lisitsky, M. Ginsburg, I. Leonidov et al. – advocated the concept of art as productive activity, in fact, as any vital activity. The National Art and Technology Workshops set up in 1920 carried on practical and theoretical research into design and technical aesthetics.
Summing up the achievements of design, technical aesthetics is called on to formulate its basic principles: the broadest possible field of association, and the reshaping of the initial objects. The success of artistic design depends on the distance between initial objects and the degree of their creative reshaping with a view to attaining new functionality and compatibility.
The basic social principles of aesthetics read as follows: a designer deals with objects, but his objective is man; the most aesthetically advanced forms are also the most economical ones. Developing the theoretical foundations of design, technical aesthetics channels man's efforts into humanising technology and the "second nature" and introduces harmony into a world full of machines.
The most immediate practical goal of design is to produce either a new object, or new properties in the initial object with a view to its function and beauty. The final goal of design is to attain better social conditions and improve the world from the aesthetic point of view.
An important aspect of design in creating industrial environment and determining its aesthetic level is colour. It is used according to the recommendations of physiology, psychology and aesthetics, as well as the experience accumulated by art. The latter testifies to the fact that the colour, form and purpose of an object are indivisible: that colour may either improve or worsen the aesthetic and functional qualities of an object.
Colour and rhythm are the leading and organising principles of constructive space. The aesthetic quality of a workshop or a rest-room is made up of lighting, the colour of the walls, ceiling and machine tools, and the spacing of equipment. The designer has to take into account the psychology and physiology of colour perception, its connection with the object's function, and the technology of the process of production.
Goethe was one of the first to notice that colour affects the mood: yellow cheers up, blue upsets, and green calms down. Indeed, the object's colour strongly affects the person psychologically. It turned out that the interiors of aircraft should not be painted a "joyous", sunny yellow: it upsets the vestibular apparatus, causing nausea. Hot shop floors are better not be painted red, orange or other warm hue but light blues or greens which contribute to man's physical well-being and increase his capacity for work.
Today, the colour scheme of a shop floor or a community or recreation centres has become a link in the chain "man-colour-space" and is chosen with due regard for the other links. Colour is considered in conjunction with sound, lighting, air and form and is regarded as a major component of the psychological climate at an enterprise.
Design implies (1) a new idea in the economy and planning; (2) the development of a new functional structure; (3) the rational implementation of this idea, and a harmonious and expressive style.
The combination in an object of all the three produces complete design; the presence of the last two means modernisation; when only the third is present, it means styling, i.e. aesthetic adaptation of already existing articles.
Commercial styling, which is a form of the existence of design under the conditions of competition, adjusts the shape of the product to make it more saleable regardless of its often vulgarising influence on the taste of the consumers. Commercial styling is frequently used as a means of getting rid of poor-quality goods. However, this does not mean that styling as a whole should be rejected. Ideally, design should meet truly human requirements and not those suggested by advertising.
Technical aesthetics formulates the requirements to be met by manufactured goods, by the environment in which these goods are produced and consumed, and by the means of their production. It gives recommendations concerning the creation of "technical landscape", the landscape of the "second nature", which have a great practical value resting as they do on experiment and the enormous experience accumulated by modern science and technology.

1 The use of term "practical aesthetics" in the present book differs from that of G. Semper's, who identified practical and technical aesthetics.

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