Here’s a tough question, but it came to mind as I was listening today to Benjamin Dickinson’s interview on The New York Times video channel. Dickinson was discussing his first movie “First Winter” , shown this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, and he said, “you know, I think aesthetics have values inherent in them…”, which struck a chord because aesthetics is a very slippery subject which is often confused with taste or style or beauty. All four having to do with photography and film I thought it would be interesting to think through this question once again.
My personal understanding brings me to differentiate between all four terms because each of these words does have a specific and separate meaning, even if they all are like electrons flying around a nucleus, which in my mind would be visual culture. I think this mental model is the key to understanding the relationship between the terms and their relationship to our own personal vision.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty of daily use, aesthetics, and all the other words mentioned above, influence how you use visual languages and what they might eventually mean. Of course, there is no regulation as to what aesthetics is, or should I say, as to what is aesthetic or beautiful or trendy or stylish but everyone in a certain historic period and in a certain geographical and psychological situation seems to agree quite easily on what is and what isn’t aesthetically accepted. Certainly, my fourteen year old daughter knows what is and isn’t aesthetic although I must admit, I couldn’t’ agree less.
I haven’t seen First Winter, so I can’t judge the conflicting comments already in the press about the film, but it’s easy enough to think about how precarious post-modern aesthetic judgment really is. Separating personal taste from aesthetic judgment is practically impossible and it brings us back to the mental model of an atom. Whatever meaning you give to an aesthetic choice (poetic or pathetic), the nucleus of the discussion lies within the values of visual culture shared. It’s like the meaning of fashion; it’s a question of culture and of groups. Some aesthetic choices are widely shared, others are far less so.
So if I can’t even agree with my fourteen year old daughter as to what is beautiful (obviously) then that brings me to the heart of understanding the slippery question, do aesthetics count? The answer is, obviously yes and in a very big way. The problem is that no one seems ever to agree on what we’re talking about.
Link dalla NYT:
Video Library Player: Benjamin Dickinson on ‘First Winter’
Benjamin Dickinson, the director of “First Winter,” discusses his film about a group of friends who become stranded while on a yoga retreat.