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img582 The book Aesthetics a Critical Anthology by George Dickie and Richard J. Sclafani  was published in 1977 and despite the date still a useful  anthology, especially for the many bibliographic references it contains.img585img586The subject matter does not lend itself to a quick reading but the overview is very clear from the index and explains the principle tenants.The best of the philosophers cum authors on Aesthetics are assembled in this publication.

In the first chapter we find the British art critic Clive Bell about whose theories one can debate at great length, another one is the British philosopher Richard Wollheim, again in the first chapter we meet yet another British philosopher R.G.Collingwood.

Better known to some perhaps in the US is Professor Danto who contributes also in the first chapter.

img583img584Interestingly, I did not find references to any of the books by Jean-Paul Sartre or Susan Sontag, that I would consider important, but again it is all about the editor’s choice after all and as the saying goes; mustard after the meal.

Edward Bullough’s concept of Psychical Distance is expanded upon and explained in the anthology at length. Part of this concept used in a very concise non abstract manner we find back in Sartre’s essay on Giacometti.

img587 img588This English edition of Essays in Aesthetics by Jean-Paul Sartre was published in 1963. I cannot believe it was not known to any of the experts in the aesthetics study field. Sartre appears with one mention only in Aesthetics a Critical Anthology by George Dickie and Richard J. Sclafani by author Allan Casebier in the chapter titled “The Concept of Aesthetic Distance” where he mentions Sartre’s play No Exit.

It is precisely in Sartre’s book Essays in Aesthetics that the philosopher  explains his ideas about “distance” in the chapter starting on page 46 on the paintings of Giacometti:

” I first understood what distance is one evening in April 1941. I had spent two months in a prison camp, which was like being in a can of sardines, and had experienced absolute proximity; the boundary of my living space was my skin; night and day I felt against my body the warmth of a shoulder or a bosom. This was not incommodious, for the others were me.

That first evening, a stranger in my home town, having not yet found my old friends, I opened the door of a cafe. Suddenly I was frightened- or almost; I could not understand how these squat corpulent buildings could conceal such deserts. I was lost; the scattered patrons seemed more distant than the stars. Each of them could claim a vast seating area, a whole marble table while I, to touch them, would have had to cross over the “glossy floor” that separated us.

If they, these men who  seemed in accessible to me, these men who were scintillating comfortably in their bulbs of rarefied gas, it was because I no longer had the right to place my hand on their shoulders and thighs or to call one of them “knuckle-head”. I had re-entered middle-class society and would have to learn once again to live “at a respectable distance”. My attack of agoraphobia had betrayed my vague feeling of regret for the collective life from which I had been forever severed.The same applies to Giacometti. For him distance is not a voluntary isolation,nor even a withdrawal. It is something required by circumstances, a ceremony, a recognition of difficulties. is the product-as he himself said- of forces of attraction and forces of repulsion. He cannot walk a few steps across the glossy floor that separates him from the nude women because he is nailed to his chair by timidity or by poverty; and he feels at this point that the distance is insuperable because he wants to touch their lush flesh. He rejects promiscuity, the fruit of close proximity, because he wants friendship, love. He dares not take for fear of being taken.His figurines are solitary, but when placed together, no matter how, they are united by their solitude and transformed into a small magical society:

On observing the figures which, to clear away the table had been set at random on the floor, I discovered that they formed two groups which seemed to correspond to what I was looking for.I mounted the two groups on bases,without the slightest change.

One of Giacometti’s  scenes is a crowd. He has sculptured men crossing a public square without seeing each other; they pass,hopelessly alone and yet together. They will be forever lost from each other,yet would never loose each other if they had not sought each other,He defined his universe better than I possibly could when he wrote, concerning one of his groups,that it reminded him of apart of a forest observed during the course of many years…a forest in which trees with barren, slender trunks seemed like people who had stopped in their tracks and were speaking to each other.

What is this circular stance- which only words can bridge- if not negation in the form of a vacuum? Ironic, defiant,ceremonious and tender. Giacometti sees space everywhere.”- end quote

What an eloquent word power and what superb, at the same time tender observation of life’s laws and ethereal quality of the work of Giacometti, used as an example here for the meaning of distance,by Sartre.

The other author who should or could, in my opinion, have been included in an anthology of this kind is the sometimes controversial Susan Sontag (1933-2004).

A good start today would be with this 1983 book A Susan Sontag Reader shown below.

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img399 Sontag’s fabulous essay “The Aesthetics of Silence” or the book On the Photographic Imagination could have been included. Another favorite of mine would be Against Interpretation.

From here on out, in my opinion read Sontag’s or Sartre’s book, don’t bother with the rest until you have to, in this life you are aesthetically on your own.

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