Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Aesthetic Imperative: 1/20/09

In her article, “The Aesthetic Imperative,” Postrel makes a point of repeating several major claims about the role of the aesthetic in our daily lives. Among these is a claim that the aesthetic has become increasingly pervasive. She says, “Aesthetics is more pervasive than it used to be—not restricted to a social, economic, or artistic elite.” She uses examples of supermarkets, car dealerships and computers to restate her claim that aesthetics have become mainstream. Additionally, Postrel always speaks of aesthetics in a pleasurable way, and as something in which we enjoy. She states, “Aesthetic pleasure itself has quality and substance,” and “Aesthetics shows rather than tells, delights rather than instructs.”

Major data presented in Postrel’s argument is focused primarily on the architectural and theatrical. She uses examples of common structures being altered into aesthetically driven buildings such as a supermarket and items like household appliances. She says that while we may be skeptical of aesthetics, as we do not want to be manipulated, she argues “the look and feel of things tap deep human instincts.” That is, it is a very emotional sensory. Postrel says, “We enjoy enhancing our sensory surroundings. That enjoyment is real.” Where she delineates is recognizing aesthetics for what it is (emotion and the artistic), and not for what potential or individually created values it may encompass. It is pleasure and not values, put more simply.
Postrel presents a range of warrants. Substantively, she makes a disassociation with the preconceived notions of aesthetics—limited to the artistic, not mainstream, etc—and states a different view of it now. Additionally, and potentially her stronger warrant is the comparison between the world she represents as the aesthetic and the world in which we realistically live. To what extent do we need the grocery-shop experience or the comfortable coffee shop? She also makes mentions that aesthetics do have an impact on purchasing power.

Her ethos/authoritative is framed by two experts—David Brown, Ellen Dissanayake as well as consumers themselves. Finally her motivational warrants center around the emotional response to the aesthetic. She quotes a mid-century industrial designer who says “ ‘fundamentally the art of using line, form, tone, color, and texture to arouse an emotional reaction in the beholder.” This is to say that the well-designed coffee-shop may elicit a certain emotional response. Postrel also uses very emotional and at times poetic language to warrant her claims.

I believe that visual aesthetic is a good thing, because it ushers in an emotional response. The fact of the matter is, it is always more desirable to have an item or be in a location that is pleasing to the eye. Fundamentally, I think there is value in the aesthetic. Architecture, paintings, even a brand new Apple laptop sends a certain message—whether deep or simple. In contrast, however, one could make the argument that the perpetuation of the aesthetic is a response to misguided consumerism. Do we need all of this beauty surrounding us? We live in a culture of excess. In that sense, then, pervasive aesthetics point out our sensory experience as excessive and a response to blatant greed. In my opinion, it is difficult to keep aesthetics under control without trumping other values.

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