Aesthetics and Artifice

Most of my musings here on gnovis stem from my desire to address our everyday relationship to both the production and consumption of visual ephemera, often leaning on linguistic analysis in order to raise questions regarding the way sociocultural standards enter into our reading of visual materials; defining “what counts” as a legitimate visual move.

To contextualize further, in the fine arts the idea of “what counts” refers mainly to the process of a piece being recognized and incorporated into the cannon of the Art World, thereby being christened as a “legitimate” contribution to the dialogue; accepted as true and real work, not an impostor. While I, like most, readily turn to art, it is important to remember that aesthetics is manifested in a variety of forms. The formulation and construction of “normal” and moreover “real” structures every aspect of culture: food, even gender. the formation of categories, labels and the construction of what we read as real. Generally speaking, external aesthetics cue and evoke specific culturally learned (or conditioned) labels and conceptual relationships, and what counts is in a constant state of flux. The push and pull between exterior and object, over time, come to possess internal meaning: in other words, language has a look. That said, it is easy to see how identity and identifications go hand in hand.

Richard Avedon, Andy Warhol and members of The Factory. New York, October 30, 1969

So can (and is) this idea of “what counts” be extended to individuals; to qualities such as female-ness, to male-ness? Is gender legitimized? Certainly our visual perceptions of normativity directly affect our relationship with deciphering coded aesthetic cues. Moreover, the way we identify and separate entities linguistically (ie: the labels we assign when verbalizing our physical world, and whether or not within these structures something is aesthetically congruous) contributes to the construction of said categories themselves, and visa versa. In other words, with each internal or external (verbalized) linguistic, act we confirm and reaffirm the perceived object or objectified quality/traits.

In the coming months, between discussing museums, artists, and other happenings, I’d like to more generally explore the process of transferring meaning between artifice and ideals: how aesthetics are imbued with visual meaning and how these codes are amassed and absorbed within culture. With this in mind, I’d like to continue this dialogue specifically in relation to Richard Avedon’s portraits of Andy Warhol’s Factory, notably this iconic three frame panel. This series, featuring Warhol’s Superstars in various states of undress, is a rich source for the analysis of art, gender, identity as it exists in a particular (set) framework.

Alicia Dillon

Alicia is a former CCT Graduate Student.