Date of Submission

Spring 2012

Academic Program


Project Advisor 1

Garry Hagberg

Project Advisor 2

Marina Van Zuylen

Abstract/Artist's Statement

This project focuses on the connection between evolutionary psychology and the function of the aesthetic. That which is experienced as aesthetic, I will argue, in some way relates to either a new recognition of, a way toward overcoming or a celebration of having overcome an inhospitability within the human condition – be it ontological, social or psychological. That which is aesthetic, I will argue, is advantageous to us, either consciously or unconsciously, as a means of communication with others or ourselves toward the end of greater satisfaction of instinctual needs. Art is the beginning of hospitability realized. It serves to reintroduce modern man to the inextricably linked and artificially separated others outside of his individual consciousness. Art denies isolation in any of its unconditional definitions. Aesthetic experience’s social function is felt as profound in response to the modern disintegration of accountable, satisfying social connections and is celebrated as vital in each person’s remembrance of these connections. Art, I entertain, may well be a step toward the kind of interdependency or absolute intimacy that was essential to pre-historical social functioning and survival, and it is for this kind of absolute intimacy that we today may still yearn. In the modern social condition, where the need for communication and accountability remains but the conditions for personal intimacy are more strained, art serves as a midwife for coordinated thought and action. The work of art serves the desire to overcome. To argue this position, I will look at the prehistoric social conditions of man as compared to, in brief summary, the prevailing ‘state of nature’ thought experiments conducted by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. From here, I will introduce Freudian notions of instinctual needs in relation to prehistoric conditions and argue that Freud’s waking dreamer, the artist, holds a more active political role in civilization then even Freud himself seemed willing to allow. To see exactly how this role is assumed, the focus will shift to the mechanisms of aesthetic experience as delineated by John Dewey. Through a close reading of his writings on the live creature within it’s environment, we will see how aesthetic experience is constructed from all forms of human activity. Synthesizing Freud’s ideas on instinct with Dewey’s ideas on experience, we will turn finally to Herbert Marcuse and the modern political implications of what he calls the Aesthetic Dimension. This dimension is one in which the artist and viewer formulate a world yet unrealized through art. This dimension brings us full circle to the latent notion, held by all three thinkers, of a liminal realm which the aesthetic creates; one between instinctual need and political action. To maintain its status as aesthetic, I will finally argue, the work of art must necessarily speak to this unrealized condition from within the Aesthetic Dimension. If we accept that modern social arrangements do not satisfy the fundamental needs for intimacy - needs which developed necessarily for man’s survival over the course of evolutionary time - then art’s attempts to restructure these arrangements toward renewed intimacy are not only valid but necessary.

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