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Miško Šuvaković :: Aesthetization and aesthetic education of humanity: from pedagogy to artivism

Among the many didactic and pedagogic demands from ‘art’ was the role performed by ‘verbal’, eczema ‘visual’, visit this site ‘acoustic’ or ’scenic’ in upbringing, education and, certainly, entertainment of the free citizen of Europe from the Renaissance to the late Enlightenment and early Romanticism. Nevertheless, the XVIII century age of Enlightenment was fixated on devising complex practices of upbringing, education and entertainment addressing the young and the aging by way of models which are, naturally, liable to Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘biotechnology’[1]. Rationalization of practices of management – namely, of shaping human lives – was effective in converging upbringing (discipline), education (appropriation of knowledge and identification with particular lores or skills), and entertainment (regulation of life in regimes of leisure by way of anticipated, desired or sanctioned freedom). For instance, the XVIII century visual didactics (upbringing, education, entertainment) was not aimed at exclusive tutoring of artists or intellectuals, but at upbringing, education and entertainment of the common citizen who found himself in between contradictions of the private and public ‘employment’[2] of reason. In other words, during the age of Enlightenment ‘education through art’, or education in aesthetic regimes of representation of optimal social reality, had become a means of effective instruction on modes of human life in its ordinary form, as a new and fundamental cosmogony of modernity. Various ‘visual products’ (paintings, engravings) efficiently (this is the rhetorical component of the archi-matrix of mass media education) mediated different aesthetic situations: human dialog, dress codes, difference in public and private behavior, private closeness or public distance, age divides, casting of gender roles in private and public, or sexual modes of behavior etc. In fact, ethical and political rhetoric – rendered as spiritual and institutional visuality – lead the ‘exodus’ of mankind[3] from its ‘immaturity’. But this ‘exodus’ was devised on cunning instruction to follow orders obediently (‘Don’t think, just follow the orders’ – coming from family, father, master, teacher, commander, employer), emerging as aesthetized practice of education for the sake of tutoring through entertainment in leisure time – during the ‘empty intervals’ reserved for relaxation from the ‘full intervals’ of public deeds.

One of the first groundbreaking didactic-philosophical concepts of all-human aesthetization was established in the Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man[4] (1795-96) by Friedrich Schiller. The Letters ensued from a project of establishing and instruction of a new, or modern, free (male) citizen who, Romanticism hoped, would find a balance between the rational and emotional in life itself by way of ‘aesthetics’ and ‘aesthetization’. According to Stewart Martin,[5] Schiller’s aesthetic education of mankind addresses those who are already free, and accomplish actualization in the world by way of education. Here, education per se is not education for liberated art or education of artists with a view to freedom of creation, but a régime esthétique pertaining to life itself, supposedly life of a free citizen. Aesthetic education of mankind stands in critical resistance against the Enlightenment’s rigid devising of non-aesthetic rationalist didactics pertaining to sense and instrumentality of life. Schiller starts – as well – from Classicist and proto-Romantic references to classical Greek society and its conquest of freedom through play. Namely, a creature that plays (homo ludens) ultimately wins freedom beyond nature and state i.e. nature and morals. Instruction and learning allowing for sensuousness are vital for his philosophical and aesthetically bound pedagogy. Object of the sensuous is outlined in the universal idea of life. It refers to material survival and any immediate sensuous actuality.[6] Schiller’s project, summed up in the motto: „man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays”, addresses one of the paradoxes of aestheticism: aestheticism is postulated as the project of cultural and social politics of management of bourgeois life, nevertheless (at the same time) rendered in its effects and workings as appearing outside and beyond politics or any mode of sociality, whatsoever. Illusion of ‘the apolitical’ calls for political didactic contingencies of ‘aesthetic’ or ‘aestheticized’ world of humanity, as a realm of freedom from the political. The paradox of aestheticism lies in the fact that it is politics, but does not look like politics, since it appears as merely sensuous which nevertheless leads to freedom, conforms modern people to rationality, and brings them to discipline of the free will in a moral sense. A distinguishing political aspect of Schiller’s philosophical oeuvre is based on the premise that construction of true political freedom is a sublime work of art[7]. A strategic paradox of Schiller’s concept pertains to intricacies and aspirations to freedom through aesthetic play, in the midst of political instrumentalizations of daily life of the bourgeois society in the late XVIII, and early XIX century. Aspirations to autonomous art, disinterested aesthetics and free play, as it were, exceed political objectives and instrumental pragmatic claims of pedagogic preparation for the ‘real life’. On the other hand, gratification of claims for autonomy of art, disinterested aesthetics and freedom of play, comes only from the capacity of pragmatic political acts and selective political projects on freedom of the human individual and, indeed, of humanity immersed in material contradictions of the actual historical, foremost bourgeois society. Dynamics of concealing and revealing playfulness, or political stances of ‘aesthetization’, is an important aspect of all practices constructed from idealities of aesthetic exceptionality as opposed to life they are addressing.

Art of the XIX and greater part of the XX century displays differences and almost conflictual divisions between aestheticism in art as creation of realms autonomous from the society, and aesthetization of life, culture and politics by means of art, or by means of various activist/artivist practices. Three artistic regimes in terms of aesthetization of life during the XX century may, nevertheless, be distinguished. Those three regimes pertain to three different instrumental and metaphysical functions of artistic education.

Avantgarde transgressive[8] aesthetization of social reality (Futurism, Dada, Constructivism, Surrealism, Neo-Dada, Fluxus, New Tendencies) based on trespassing and violating educational canons, norms and epistemological horizons of art schools and institutions. Certain artistic practices feature leftist self-organization and liberal self-education or leftist-anarchist micro-education outside the public education system or art production.

Aesthetization of social reality of totalitarian regimes[9] (USSR, Third Reich, Fascist Italy, Maoist China) based on politicization as didactic, functional and axiologic restructuring of modernist educational canons. Politicization of Modernist canons of art, in the case of socialist realism in USSR or China, refers to strategies and tactics pertaining to artistic practices with a didactic function of executing political-aesthetic interventions into daily life of the ‘working class’, or ‘working people’. Real-socialist politicization of art had lead to emergence of artists ready to engage in political practices and work towards clear political goals – optimal projections – of the working class, namely the Communist party as the avantgarde of the working community. Politicization of modernist canons of art, in the case of National Socialist art in the Third Reich and Fascist art in Italy, refers to strategies and tactics pertaining to artistic practices with a didactic function of political aesthetization, rhetorical presentation and ritualization of overwhelming Nazi and Fascist ideas in each aspect of the private and public life of the respective nation. Nazi and Fascist politicization of art had lead to emergence of artists ready to comply with aesthetic canons and politized rhetoric of classicist traditional styles, working towards an incontrovertible political and social reality. Artistic education in totalitarian regimes sustains the institutional, canonically established ‘academy’ or ‘art school’, bound to opening epistemological horizons of expertise to party instrumentaria.

Expansionist activist aestheticism pertaining to mass media art production in postmodern[10] and global[11]societies indicates strategies and tactics of interventionist art in systems and practices of social control and regulation of life, developed during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Nevertheless, art is being redefined as one of the practices of intervention, control and regulation of everyday life in the post-Cold War age of the totalizing media, economic, commercial, political, and military ‘integration’ of the contemporary world. Contemporary global processes of integration establish new social empires, in different realms of work and communication: computer networks, VR technology and, certainly, global politics, culture and society. Artistic tactics termed artivism by the Slovenian sociologist and theoretician of theatre Aldo Milohnić[12], addresses instable relations between political ‘left’ and ‘right’, indeed the relative status of activism in the contemporary Western post-Block world. Artivism is rather concerned with local contextualizations and decontextualizations pertaining to political acts as opposed to artistic or aesthetical, then with radical designs – for the ‘new worlds’ of the Left or the ‘old world’ of the Right. Procedures of ‘politics’ and ‘art’, or ‘aesthetization’ do not differ morphologically, but in orientation of performance and application of, or expectations from, ‘effects’. Artistic education takes place in different deployed regimes: in a) development of academic – university/scholar technical discourses pertaining to art production, b) incorporation of different forms of learning or exercising artistic work in institutional, non-institutional or global-network/Internet cultural systems, and c) self-education as indication of temporary liberalization and fragmentation of ‘artistic-collective’ in the art worlds, or as indication of temporary renewal of ‘artistic-collective’ through self-organization and pursuing a pluralist claim for direct democratization of education.

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The German philosopher and aesthetician Wolfgang Welsch, in his essay „Aestheticization processes” [13], locates in actuality the co-called aesthetic boom! or boom! of aesthetization, informing individual lifestyles, urban planning and economy, all the way to contemporary cultural theory – but also, addmittedly, aesthetization of education in arts, humanities, and sciences. Being aesthetically informed, many elements of social reality appear as aesthetical constructs. Aestheticization, therefore, is not an intervention, enforcing or exercising aesthetical platforms upon the reality, but establishing the social and, consequently, natural reality as aesthetic. Welsch identifies the ’surface’ and ‘deep-seated’ aestheticization. Surface aestheticization [14] is based on decoration, animation and experience of being in contemporary world. Approaches to aesthetical design of reality differ, implying political will, economic power and technological capacity of major Western societies to arbitrarily transform entire urban, industrial and natural landscapes according to hyper-aesthetical scenarios. The world thus becomes a constructed and mediated form of life. Experience is central. Every shop or a café is designed to provide an active aestheticized experience of daily life. The world is designed in accordance to concepts of ‘active experience’ and thus becomes an organized domain of experience. In this respect, aestheticization is rendered as an instrumental technique or, even, technology providing gratification of life through pleasure, entertainment and consummation without consequences. Society of experience and leisure is represented in numerous institutions building up the infrastructure of the contemporary, postmodern world. It turns out, however, that these varying techniques of contemporary aestheticization usually advance economic purposes. Aestheticization is not only an instrument of catering to experience, leisure and economy – it nevertheless becomes their essential feature in conditions of ubiquitous surveillance and regulation of life. Education of artists in such contexts evolves from ‘creators in autonomous realms of art’ to ‘designers in dependent realms of art’ by way of productions pertaining to autonomies of high art. Deep-seated aestheticization[15] features in transformations of the contemporary world, determined by relations of hardware and software; namely, in the instrumental role of aesthetization in shaping new technologies and their effects on the material living environment.[16] The artist, however, as a designer of everyday life becomes a designer of mediated reality, or media-bound audiovisual enclosures of human existence. Aestheticization, therefore, becomes the substance and shape for life. And the artist is trained to become a designer of excellence in life. But, aestheticization is not ‘uniform’ and ‘dull’, like in the totalitarian regimes of the 30s and 50s of the past century. Quite the contrary – it is manifested in suprising, many and various ways. These pertain to different social strategies and tactics of life management in contemporary societies. In its broadest terms – Welsch insists – aestheticization implies that certain ‘non-aesthetical’, whatever that may be, is being recycled and rendered as aesthetical. The artist-designer is trained for an open and elusive capacity of ‘public contractor’ in regimes of existential, behavioral, psychological, social and cultural recycling and construction of space-and-time for an ordinary or exceptional, individual, micro-collective or macro-collective – human life.

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Stewart Martin, in his comparative discussion of ‘aesthetic education’ from Schiller to Marx, demonstrates that the present does not raise the question of recycling forgotten notions of ‘aesthetic education’, but an issue of confrontation with contradictions of ‘aesthetic education’ in actuality. Those contradictions manifest themselves in the fact that ‘aesthetic education’ is not a definite progress toward the truth of man, but a realm of contingent confrontations between the critical aesthetic education and apologetic, neo-dogmatic aesthetic education:

The contention here is not that Schiller or Marx offers a forgotten answer to the question of education today, but rather that they introduce the problem that still needs to be addressed: namely, the constitution of aesthetic education as both the critique and the embodiment of a neo-dogmatism of the law of value. This problem infuses, more or less consciously, current debates about the ontology of art, in particular the conflict between the anti-aestheticism generated by conceptualism and the neo-aestheticism that has emerged in reaction to it. Contemporary art’s constitution by this conflict over aesthetics enables it to reflect the profound ambivalence of an aesthetic education in a way that it could not do if it were limited to the aesthetic or, for that matter, to taste and the beautiful. As such, art becomes the location of an immanent critique of aesthetic education, an aesthetic education against aesthetic education. This would form a lesson in emancipation.[17]

Confrontations between apologetic and critical aesthetic education in specific artistic practices are essential determinants for performing the role of artist in the age of globalization and its totalizing instrumentalism.

From the book:

Miško Šuvaković, Epistemology of Art, TkH – PAF – TQW – APT, Belgrade, 2008, pp. 38-46


[1] Michel Foucault, „The Birth of Biopolitics”, from Paul Rabinow (ed), Michel Foucault: Ethics – Subjectivity and Truth, Penguin Books, London, 1997, pp. 73-79.

[2] Michel Foucault, „What is Enlightenment?”, from Paul Rabinow (ed), Michel Foucault: Ethics – Subjectivity and Truth, Penguin Books, London, 1997, p. 307.

[3] ‘Mankind’ in Kant’s terms as employed by Foucault: Michel Foucault, „What is Enlightenment?”, p. 306.

[4] Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1982.

[5] Stewart Martin, „An Aesthetic Education Against Aesthetic Education“, Manifesta Magazines On Line Journal, http://magazines.documenta.de/frontend/article.php?IdLanguage=1&NrArticle=1504.

[6] Danko Grlić, „Fr. Schiller: čovjek je čovjek kada se igra”, in „Igra kao estetski problem”, from Estetika III – Smrt estetskog, Naprijed, Zagreb, 1978, p. 47.

[7] Dragan Žunić, „Fridrih Šiler. Estetički humanizam”, in „Od transcendentalizma do estetičkog humanizma”, from Estetički humanizam, Gradina, Niš, 1988, p. 37.

[8] S. C. Foster (ed), Dada: The Coordinates of Cultural Politics – Crisis and the Arts – The History of Dada vol. 1, G. K. Hall&Co, New York, 1996; Stephen Bann (ed), The Tradition of Constructivism, Thames and Hudson, London, 1974.

[9] Walter Benjamin, „The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, from Charles Harrison, Paul Wood (eds), Art in Theory 1900-2000 / An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2003, pp. 526-527.

[10] Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Verso, London, 1992; and Wolfgang Welsch, Undoing Aesthetics, SAGE Publications, London, 1997.

[11] Paulo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude – For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life, Semiotext(e), New York, 2004.

[12] Aldo Milohnić, „Artivism”, from „Performing Action, Performing Thinking”, Maska no. 1-2 (90-91), Ljubljana, 2005, p. 15-25.

[13] Wolfgang Welsch, „Aestheticization Processes – Phenomena, Distinction and Prospects”, from Undoing Aesthetics, SAGE Publications, London, 1997, pp. 1-32.

[14] Wolfgang Welsch, „Surface aestheticization: embellishment, animation, experience”, in „Aestheticization Processes – Phenomena, Distinction and Prospects”, pp. 2-4.

[15] Wolfgang Welsch , „Deep-seated aestheticization: transposition of hardware and software – the new priority of the aesthetic”, in „Aestheticization Processes – Phenomena, Distinction and Prospects”, pp. 4-6.

[16] Wolfgang Welsch, „Deep-seated aestheticization: transposition of hardware and software – the new priority of the aesthetic”, p. 5.

[17] Stewart Martin, „An aesthetic education against aesthetic education“, Manifesta Magazines On Line Journal, http://magazines.documetna.de/frontend/article.php?IdLanguage=1&NrArticle=1504.

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Deschooling Classroom

Deschooling Classroom is a project that addresses the contemporary independent cultural scenes in the region, researching and offering an alternative to the hierarchical models of education in the art and culture. Methodologically, the project moves away from the concepts of individual authorship and expertise, and advocates open collective educational structures where self-organised communities facilitate horizontal production, exchange and distribution of knowledge.