Affect in art

When viewing artwork the general public will often react with and describe the kind of emotion a work makes them feel. This sort of personal emotional reaction does not tell us whether the work is ‘good’ or ‘successful’ as it only lets us know how one individual person feels when experiencing it. Emotional reactions are informed by the specific happenings and experiences that have directly impacted upon an individual’s life and their experience of the world around them. Generally this is not useful when critiquing a work in context of how it will be experienced by a wider audience, because it is purely subjective.

The term “affect” gives us a way to assess and analyse the aesthetic emotional impact of art works in a wider context. It allows us to take it away from the purely subjective to a more objective critique of highly charged works. Art can be used as a way to measure and explore aisthesis attached to an event, or the symbology associated with it in a way that traditional documentary media does not. The ‘atmosphere’ that an event can create is an effect of the transmission of ‘affect’ to the experiencer and can be used by the artist to allow the viewer access to the work.

“Whereas media assumes the function of witnessing and documenting what actually happens – and hence sets up the terms and conditions of aesthetic mediation – art (the critical, self conscious manipulation of media) has the capacity to explore the nature of the event’s perception or impression and hence to participate in it’s social and political configuration. In this sense, the aesthetic is not art’s exclusive province, but a method of engagement in which art specialises.” (Bennet, J.  Practical Aesthetics p6)
Bennet, J. (2012) Practical Aesthetics: Events, Affects and Art After 9/11. I.B Taurus and Co Ltd. London: England.

The change in aesthetic value from concern with the beauty and tastefulness of art to it’s practicality and effectiveness has shifted the method by which art can be expressed and measured. Affect becomes a more useful aesthetic tool to engage with the work because it imbues objects and experiences with emotion in a way that is un-concerned with beauty.

“‘Aesthetic Reflection’. as one notable encyclopaedia puts it, seemed to distract from more important consideration of art’s embeddedness in the social world; moreover art practice itself, from the 1960s onwards, reinforced the sentiment that ‘beauty was besides the point’.”(Bennet, J.  Practical Aesthetics p1)

How does beauty and the use of affect within the practice of art exist together? Is there an affect created by the very use of aesthetically beautiful objects and images? How does beauty fit within our modern social experience? I’m curious to discover more about how these two seemingly disparate aesthetic measures work together and what they generate in an art practice. Beauty might be ‘beside the point’ but does it imbue works with affect of it’s own due to it’s place within our social experiences?

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