Beyond Aesthetics: Returning Force and Truth to Art and Its Education

Article excerpt

This essay argues for a fundamental change in the direction of art, its education and research that draws on Alain Badiou's notion of inaesthetics and negative affirmation as well as Deleuze's reorientation of aesthetics. I draw on the inspiration of Vincent Lanier's critical spirit and Irwin Kaufmann's ideas on art, creativity, and research as they appear in the first issue of Studies in Art Education to argue for such a line of flight. A number of neologisms are introduced that develop this potentiality of the force and truth of art that are 'beyond aesthetics' as it is commonly understood.

Vincent Lanier, one of the first generation of post-World War II art educators, had an influence on the field of art education that still remains with us to this day. He was a provocateur who would challenge the field from the margins and hold court in hotel lobbies and foyer armchairs during NAEA conferences. Fact or fiction, that's how the legend goes. Vincent was certainly part of the ground floor that helped to establish NAEA and its journal, Studies in Art Education, in those formative years. He published "Implications of the Concept of Action Research" in the very first fall issue of 1959, where he questioned the division between pure and applied research, defending the necessity of scientific research for the field, a position he was to renege on later in his career. I was fortunate enough to attend several summer school courses Vincent taught at the University of Oregon in the late '70s. He was also my external dissertation examiner in 1980. I have held a long-standing affection toward him that is unlikely to go away.

For this 50th anniversary Studies special, I offer this article as a tribute to Vincent's audacity of spirit, especially in the vein of two influential essays that were written around the time I was finishing my Masters and Doctorate degrees: "A Plague on Your Houses: The Tragedy of Art Education" (Lanier, 1974) and especially, "The Misdirected Eye" (Lanier, 1978) that raised the social import of art and questioned the field's moral and social compass. There is approximately a 15-year gap between the thrust of Vincent's first essay in Studies on research and these two key essays that articulate his challenge to the field. The first essay ("Plague") is a historical review of the field that questions its overemphasis on creativity and studio practices, calling for an "aesthetic education" that addresses social transformation and expands art education to include the popular culture of film and television; the second essay ("Misdirected Eye") comes closest to my own project. Lanier admonishes aesthetic and environmental education for failing to address social and moral issues. However, "Some ait," he says, "speak[s] to the human condition" (p. 14, added emphasis). My orientation is similar but the stress is on ethics (not morals) and on art's ability to disperse power so as to reconfigure social relationships.

In a homologous fashion of renewed provocation, this essay addresses the contemporary field in order to displace "aesthetic education" to the affective realm of the pre-individual (to stand Immanuel Kant 'on his feet'). This is a turn away from the field's overemphasis on cognition; it is an attempt to rethink the limitations of visual studies of popular culture, and to steal back the 'organ of the eye' from its consumerist trappings by renewing the 'force' and 'truth' of some art so that its social transformative potential is not lost given the contemporary socio-historical context of designer capitalism. Creativity is not overemphasized but redefined, while research is rethought in a direction that has a number of affinities with Irwin Kaufmanns (1959) essay in the inaugural issue of Studies.

By assessing the contemporary state of art and its education, I hope to present a viable alternative for the field by shifting the axis away from its continued grip on aesthetics and representation - which, in their Kantian foundations are 'dead' and in need of repositioning to place him on his feet. …