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Aesthetic Reassessment

Aesthetic Reassessment

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Published by Paul Henrickson
renewing aesthetic evaluations
renewing aesthetic evaluations

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Published by: Paul Henrickson on Sep 18, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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a process of critical andknowledgeable observation 
Paul Henrickson ©
2005 tm. © 2007
More than frequently and sometimes approaching constantly, I havebeen puzzled by my discomfort with prevailing thoughts of what theaesthetic experience really was.I do recall that when I was a young lad, a prepubescent organism, Ifreely interpreted musical rhythms in terms of bodily movement. Inadolescence, I distinctly recall the rare but exquisite sensation of recognizing the spontaneous response of my central nervous system tocertain operatic and symphonic phrasing. I am sure that there weretimes when I also intuitively recognized the connection betweenemerging sexual drives and these exalting sensate responses to sound.This may be one explanation why the music of Tchaikovsky is found soappealing to the somewhat ambivalent and not yet emerged man.Such a neural-morphological connection may also relate to thesupposition that the development of musical appreciation follows thepathway of the charkas and illustrates why the work of the AmericanRoger Sessions is presently the most respected among Europeancomposers for his structural ingenuity.Oddly enough, while I began as a colorist at three years of age, orearlier, I do not recall any revelationary episode that informed me aboutthe nature of color. Perhaps revelation is really nothing more thanhaving recognized that just awhile back one had taken the wrong turn.There have frequently been from time to time rewarding insights intothe exciting potentials of color. Together with my openness toexperiment with it and its characteristics to describe conditions and setmood my relationship to it seemed somewhat less subjective than tomusic and movement. Although by the time I reached my late ‘teens Ihad made that connection with music and dance as well.
However, and in fact, my entire system’s response to its reality seemedrooted in its function within my nervous system. Having finally come toaccept this condition, not without question but without argument, itremained until the beginning of the third decade for me to be startlinglytripped up by the inconsistency of language in describing theperformance of the sensate body to sensual stimulation.I will have to admit that the Bernard Berenson wording which firstand best described for me an aesthetic response was his phrase “lifeenhancing”. The phrase, which I first encountered when I was in myearly twenties, meant something to me only intuitively. Somehow I knewthat those words were the key to the secret of a life based on theaesthetic organization of sensual data. What this phrase did was tosuggest the connection between the neural structure of his (Berenson’s)organism and the symbolic equivalent of it in graphic arrangement.Since the graphic morphology of a work of art cannot sustain thephysical needs of the body, the body’s response to that work of artthrough its sense venues must be related to another set of needs…if “need” is the word for such. Perhaps the phrase “evolutionarydevelopment” comes closer to describing the experience, which earliercommentators (nineteenth century, primarily) seem to have recognizedwhen they used such amorphous terms such as “sublime”, “exalting”,or “life enhancing”.A parallel developed might be seen in what was begun by the Wrightbrothers, Orville and Wilber, which culminated in their registering their“flying machine” in 1903 and the landing of man on the moon in 1969.The inadequacy of our vocabulary thus becomes evident we do not, yet,have the verbal equipment to more precisely designate the meaningfulconnection between an aesthetic event and the vocabulary that describesit. We, as yet, do not know how to talk about our aesthetic experiences.At least, so it seems at the moment.Decades ago there was, as I recall, a day time radio drama serial called“Life Can Be Beautiful”, or something to that effect. I was toodisinterested in the lives of others to take a vicarious one in the fictionalcharacters that inhabited this kind of attention absorbing occupationand I probably suspected that the covering title was also hypocritical
since most of the involvements most of the characters found themselvesin most of their waking lives were anything but beautiful and that thisexpressed believe that “life can be beautiful” was truly an expression of faith. There is something rather comforting in shared tears, however,but that experience too is temporary, and the human being must moveon to something more completing than another’s sympathy. Perhaps,what I have said elsewhere continues to be true, that the aesthetic lifehas more to do with experience than experiencing the beautiful. Theaesthetic life must leave room for the horrible, the ghastly, ugly andrevolting, in short, we must be stirred. If life can be beautiful it is sobecause it can feel itself in the process of living and that includes allthose other things as well as those, which we conventionally recognize asbeautiful…as from a distance, without the visceral involvement.As for concepts of beauty, the late Dutch painter, Willem de Kooningraised, intentionally or otherwise, questions as to why and how thestylish female icon of the Western world found it obligatory to addattraction upon attraction to her person in order to capture theattention of the male…as if being female were not sufficient. The“beautiful” woman of mid-twentieth century as exemplified by MarilynMonroe and de Kooning’s “Woman” are, I think, cases in point.Marilyn Monroe

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