Main Trends in Aesthetics and the Sciences of Art

By Mikel Dufrenne | Go to book overview

SECTION ONE: THE SITUATION AND MEANING OF ART TODAY

If we are to understand the development and the interest of theoretical research on art, we must first take a look at the ever-increasing volume of research carried out by art, as evidenced in the proliferation of styles and fashions. Emphasis will be laid on the most conspicuous and most violent aspects of the change taking place in the arts, because we feel that these aspects give rise to the studies which we shall attempt to survey, and even influence their findings. In respect of previous art forms also, they spur us to take a fresh look and to attempt new approaches.

This change is doubtless not radical: the old continues to exist alongside the new, sometimes contesting, sometimes stimulating it. In Japanese architecture, for instance, 1. especially over the past ten years, traditional forms and even materials have been employed to produce decidedly modern works. Tradition, thus placed at the service of invention, ceases to be constraining and becomes inspiring. This dialectic of continuity and discontinuity may also appear in some countries of the Third World, if tradition there becomes a source of innovation instead of serving as a pretext for stereotyped products intended for export. Mrs. El Calamawy, for example, reminds us that in the Arab world the Koran, sung five times daily, is still held up as the high model of literary style for contemporary writers.

However this may be, the art scene is rarely peaceful and in any event varies considerably from country to country, as do the attitudes of the public and scholars. This diversity must be taken into account. In dwelling for a moment on the more startling and aggressive aspects of the change in the arts, we give precedence to a certain practice and experience in aesthetics which is more peculiar to the Western countries. This experience may perhaps be tending to spread to all countries where art is alive. It may also help us to grasp certain features of art which are universal, even if they are not equally clear everywhere. The fact remains that this experience is not acquired in an identical fashion all over the world and that outside the West, art can traverse different adventures and acquire another meaning. Accordingly, after reviewing the situation of art in the Western countries, we shall examine the situation in the Socialist countries on the one hand, and on the other in those countries which are neither Western nor Socialist, at least officially, and which, as Mrs. El Calamawy suggests, might be called societies in transition. 2.

____________________
1.
This observation I owe to T. Akiyama.
2.
We are aware that this threefold partition is arbitrary, since the socio-cultural dividing line does not always coincide with the geographical. The West includes Europe, but also North America: it is not defined by mere geography, but by practice. The Western societies are the so-called advanced societies where, as a result of technological development, a consumer society becomes established. The U.S.S.R. and the peoples' democracies are also industrial societies, which in this respect can be identified with the West, especially as they are geographically contiguous, but their economic and political régimes forbid us to regard industrialization as tanta

-3-

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