A comment on personal aesthetics

If one is to believe Robert Dunbar’s evolutionary theories regarding communication, we have been intensely fascinated with each other since we were apes. We incessantly observe, spy on, judge and appraise one another for social intercourses relating to friendship, romance, vocation and plain old curiosity.

As a sensual species that is particularly visually critical, our aesthetic demands become aesthetic values when we – for instance – consider each other as possible mates. Initially, we are rather superficial and care a great deal about the appearance of our would-be partners. It follows logically that we must be visually pleasing ourselves if we are to arouse interest because, as an intelligent species, we know that others too have aesthetic ‘standards’. So we invented the wonderful world of fabrication – we change our hair, our colouring, our faces and even our bodies; whether to conceal blemishes or exaggerate assets; the truth of the matter is that the presented picture is often fictional.

Along came some clever people and began a media company…

Groys’ position (do read it, the man is brilliant! http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/68) on the suspicious value of self-design raises the question of why we aestheticise. What is the appeal in correcting, changing, and adapting ourselves according to social norms and expectations? Why do we feel compelled to change when everyone else’s true face looks just as bad, if not worse, than ours? Is it that our vanity requires it, while simultaneously we of the world-wide canvasses mean to deny our contrived selves regardless of the paradoxical obvious? Like a woman wearing ‘natural’ makeup or a conniving politician, we go to lengths to hide the methods by which we hide.

The inevitable dark underbelly of the media described (but not necessarily argued) by Groys parallels William Golding’s stance on the evil lurking in all humankind. If one found out where to look, many nasty things would surface. In Golding’s view, we savages merely have a handle on things now as victuals and livelihoods are mostly obtainable. For now that is...

In saying that it is better to be a dead author than to be a bad author, surely Groys suggests that as artists, we are better off conforming as judgement will be reserved due to our affiliates in the artistic world? Although a clever ploy on the artist’s behalf, it still evades a possible resolution as to the problem of dishonest self-design.

Aesthetic properties refers to an object’s appearance for its own sake, which is not sufficient criteria for meaningful expression; i.e. a work of art. Are we really assigning meaning to aesthetic appearance without the context – and purely based on the content? Being anxious about being subjected to the gaze of others (fellow competing artists) would assume this to be the case regardless of the relative status of the ‘artist.’

Comments 4 comments

Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California

Art is artifice, and life is as fictive as fiction. I think aesthetic manipulations may appear to be in response to the gaze of others, but really, it is in response to ourselves.

We are the narratives we weave for ourselves, so creating a fictive exterior is in keeping with the fictive interior that defines what "we" are. While not one to deconstruct all meaning or run off down some nihilistic something or other, I am willing to allow that, as spiritual creatures, or at the very least creatures of awe, wonderment and imagination living in a postmodern world, we can't help but try to make our aesthetics suit our internal narratives given that is all we really know. The context is ourselves as we see it, so it seems only natural to try to align the outside with the in.


Nadine Convery profile image

Nadine Convery 6 years ago Author

I believe that we ultimately do aestheticise in response to ourselves – but we are certainly initially encouraged to respond to the world. I do not agree that this is all we really know. Life is easier and more socially rewarding when we do conform in some way (as can be seen with groups/genres of people dressing in what sometimes seem as exactly the same manner). However, Groys is addressing aesthetics on a more political level:

"Now, every kind of design — including self-design — is primarily regarded by the spectator not as a way to reveal things, but as a way to hide them. The aestheticization of politics is similarly considered to be a way of substituting substance with appearance, real issues with superficial image-making. However, while the issues constantly change, the image remains. Just as one can easily become a prisoner of his or her own image, one’s political convictions can be ridiculed as being mere self-design. Aestheticization is often identified with seduction and celebration. Walter Benjamin obviously had this use of the term “aestheticization” in mind when he opposed the politicization of aesthetics to the aestheticization of politics at the end of his famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” But one can argue, on the contrary, that every act of aestheticization is always already a critique of the object of aestheticization simply because this act calls attention to the object’s need for a supplement in order to look better than it actually is. Such a supplement always functions as a Derridean pharmakon: while design makes an object look better, it likewise raises the suspicion that this object would look especially ugly and repellent were its designed surface to be removed."

He goes on to discuss the “symbolic death of the author” (i.e. symbolic suicide). Aestheticization becomes a collaborative and democratic effort (as there is no author...) where the ‘public’ is encouraged to join in. This is suggestive of an artist who is attempting for an indiscriminating worldview of her ‘art’ – or – one where she does not have to take full responsibility for her creation.

I must say that I prefer your view of personal narrative, although I think it a bit romantic.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California

Wouldn’t Derridean thought challenge "the object's need for a supplement in order to look better than it actually is” to begin? By whose standard does the "need for supplement" come into play. This assumes a standard aesthetic by which something is judged, and being found unworthy, that something NEEDS aestheticization. Given that there is no official aesthete or quorum or aesthetic canon, in my romantic opinion :), the decision to aestheticize is a product of our fictive nature and the internalized relationship we have to ourselves as in tune to or juxtaposed with how we perceive externals (which include other people doing the exact same thing we are). If we don't buy into the canon, there is no need. The decision to do so or not is entirely internal.


wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 6 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

Good Day Nadine Convery

Your writing was recommended to me -- and quite rightly I might add -- by Shadesbreath, you know the disembodied brain you were arguing with in this comment section. As you are relatively new to HubPages, let me start by offering you a belated welcome. I'm sure you'll make your mark here. You are certainly off to a strong start with this sober and methodical meditation on personal aesthetics.

For my part I would say that both you and Shadesbreath are "right." Sometimes it happens that two people are arguing over something, in seeming disagreement -- but closer inspection often reveals that they are insistently (and again seemingly stubbornly) focusing on two separate but equally valid, and indeed, complimentary tracks!

Its like, for example, with two people in conversation with one person saying "A," and the other person declaring "B." Guess what? It takes both "A" and "B" to get to "C." This, I think, if you'll forgive me for being so presumptious, is what we have here with your conversation with Shadesbreath.

For my part, therefore, I would simply combine the two tracks you and he are running along. Why do human beings aestheticize in the way you have alluded to, Nadine Convery?

To answer this I think we need to consider the nature of our species -- both the aspect that is animalistic (driven by biological "urges" and the imperative to get our genes into the next generation) and the aspect that is, due to evolution, somewhat, to use an imprecise term, supra-animalistic (the degree to which we can reason abstractly). In developing this formulation, Nadine Convery, I am indeed COMBINING yours and Shadesbreath's analysis, nothing more really.

Deception (oversimplification of your view, Nadine Convery), I think stems from the animalistic biological imperative to mate and get our genes into the next generation. We want a "good catch" and we therefore "put our best foot forward," as it were in order to drive up our "stock price," if you like to use some Wall Street parlance. We want the most attractive lover we can get, to put it crudely and so we represent ourselves (based in part on a superficial media standard to be sure) to be as attractive as possible.

Internal Self-Expression (oversimplification of Shadesbreath's position). It is no doubt a fact that the way we represent ourselves externally at least in part, reflects the way we think of ourselves (either in present actuality or in aspirational terms of what we would like to be) internally. This is so with clothes, tatoos, etc. It represents an image we want to present to the world (again this supposed image either reflects the way we have come to feel or it reflects the way we would like to come to see ourselves internally -- either way the internal self-expressive drive is indeed operative).

Why do we aestheticize, then? I would say human beings do this to: A) roughly attract the highest "caliber" of lover we can based on some kind of, shall we say, self-esteem upgrade (the image projected is either real or aspirational); and B)to both maintain a level of no doubt artificial aesthetic pleasing(ness) to one's partner, which therefore both facilitates and strengthen's the human animalistic biological bonding process.

Blah, blah, blah. Yada, yada, yada. Sorry to blather on like that. This is an excellent hub, which I voted up for useful and awesome. Thank you for sharing it!

See you around.

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