Soft Boundaries: Re-Visioning the Arts and Aesthetics in American Education

By Claire Detels | Go to book overview

6
Soft Boundaries, Autonomist/Formalist Aesthetics, and Music Theory

The importance of new paradigms, or models of thought and action, has been a frequent theme in recent aesthetic theory. The value of a new paradigm lies in its ability to go beyond the traditional questions and answers of a discipline and challenge the underlying framework of values and practices that serve to produce those questions and answers. 177

Since the rise of the discipline of aesthetics in the eighteenth century, its dominant values and practices have developed around the autonomist/formalist position: that is, the view that art should be created and appreciated in a "disinterested," structurally oriented manner, apart from any considerations of cultural context or function. 178 The autonomist/forinalist position may be seen as an extension into the aesthetic realm of the general logocentric tendency in Western thought to contain, categorize, and hierarchize experience, so that the physical, emotional, and cultural aspects are viewed apart from the intellectual/ verbal aspects and devalorized as irrational or primitive. Although this tendency was recognized before the development of feminist theory, it has since been identified by feminist scholars as a masculinist tendency because the aspects of experience that it devalorizes have regularly been associated with women. 179 It is also a quintessentially hard-boundaried position, in that it leads to theoretical concepts and analyses that are strictly contained within the boundaries of an artwork, unconnected to its cultural context.

There are three main elements to autonomist/formalist aesthetics: (1) the definition of art as a distinct activity, apart from other cultural practices; (2) the isolation and reification of "artworks" (i.e., the physical objects of art), away

This chapter appeared in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism in the special issue Music 52 ( 1994): 113-26, under the title "Autonomist-Formalist Aesthetics, Music Theory, and the Feminist Paradigm of Soft Boundaries." This version has been revised to change emphasis from feminist theory to aesthetics and arts education, in keeping with the focus of this book.

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