DFG Research Training Group 2477 - Aesthetic Practice

The Research Training Group 2477 “Aesthetic Practice”, funded by the German Research Foundation, examines the experience and practice of being aesthetically active, expanding the scope of traditional aesthetics and art studies to include a practice-theoretical component. Since the introduction of the concept of aesthetics in the 18th century, discourse on art has concentrated mainly on aesthetic experience, perception, and judgment. With our focus we propose a praxeological shift in the very questions of aesthetics toward forms of practice and performance that function as creative processes in their own right, since they enable and generate – though neither necessarily nor mechanically – the production and reception of works of art.

The research work of the group is focused on three areas: 1) The development of aesthetic and philosophical analyses will theorise the various art forms as practices, including work on theatre, performance, fine art, literature, music, and forms of popular culture. 2) From a comparative point of view, the integration of non-European, especially East Asian, aesthetic practices and associated theoretical innovations opens up an intercultural perspective, which will serve as a corrective to the neglect of practice in the European tradition that privileges normative conceptions of art. 3) Based on the theoretical combination of global perspectives as well as current debates in praxeology and the “practice turn”, we aim to develop a comprehensive social and cultural theory of aesthetic practice from an interdisciplinary perspective, including the relation between artistic and non-artistic activity.

Project term: 01.04.2019 - 30.09.2023

In the DFG Research Training Group "Aesthetic Practice", the DFG funds 10 doctoral positions. The job advertisement for the second doctoral cohort will take place in fall 2021.

Conceptual Framework

The Research Training Group investigates aesthetic practice as a sui generis phenomenon, expanding the scope of traditional philosophical aesthetics and art studies. Since the introduction of the concept of aesthetics in the 18th century, the latter have privileged the domain of personal aesthetic experience, perception and judgement. By contrast, we are interested in forms of aesthetic activity and performance that can – but need not – culminate in the production and reception of finished works of art. The praxeological change we are proposing to questions of aesthetics and art studies is motivated by phenomena that have been discernible since at least the period of late modernism: on one hand, an increasing self-reflexivity of the arts themselves; on the other, the newly awakened interest on the part of philosophy and cultural theory in forms of activity that go beyond those describable in terms of intentionality, instigated in part by a new awareness of non-European aesthetic practices. Accordingly, our research work is focused on three main areas: 1) The development of aesthetic and philosophical analyses will theorise the various art forms as practices, including work on theatre, performance, fine art, literature, music, and forms of popular culture. 2) From a comparative point of view, the integration of non-European, especially East Asian, aesthetic practices and associated theoretical innovations opens up an intercultural perspective. This will serve as a corrective to the neglect of practice in the European tradition that privileges normative conceptions of art. 3) Based on the theoretical combination of global perspectives as well as current debates in praxeology and the “practice turn”, we aim to develop a comprehensive social and cultural theory of aesthetic practice from an interdisciplinary perspective, including the relation between artistic and non-artistic activity. The focus on aesthetic practice is at the same time intended to establish a broader understanding of practice in general and to extend current praxeological debates beyond their largely socio-scientific framework. This approach is embedded in a qualification model tailored to the doctoral degree, which is based on the tradition of humanities research in a specialist field and, at the same time, integrated into the current transdisciplinary research of the university. In particular, the integration of theory and practice developed, tried and tested at Hildesheim, not only in research but also in teaching, forms an important background for the program of the Research Training Group.

The Research Training Group

On the basis of performativity- and event-theory aesthetic analysis, the working definition of aesthetic practice can be described as performance or enaction, which is to be understood neither in terms of intentional and rule-governed activity nor of passive experience, but instead refers to a “middle ground” or “in-between” (in the sense of the reflexive verb, which is both or in between active and passive), a relationality in which subject and object first take shape. The term aesthetic is used here to describe a practice that both allows its results to become visible in the light of their performative enaction, as well as its performance to become visible through its results. Focusing on this understanding of aesthetic practice, the Research Training Group pursues the following research objectives:

1) We place the focus on the irreducible specificity (“Eigensinn”) of aesthetic activity with respect to its subjects, institutional frameworks, and results. The production, performance and reception of institutionalised and professionalised artwork, but also aesthetic forms of activity outside established art institutions, are described and analysed from a cultural-studies and philosophical perspective on the basis of the forms of practice that facilitate them and are facilitated by them. Further, we aim for a practice-theoretical transformation of the aesthetics of philosophy and individual academic disciplines that would no longer be restricted to work-centred approaches nor primarily analyse aesthetic practices as preliminary to the production of works of art. We here understand the specific character of aesthetic practice to constitute an irreducibility of the practical to pre-given structures or agents.

From this perspective we thus look beyond the restriction of traditional aesthetic, art-studies and cultural-studies research to the artefacts and productions of high culture or the “fine arts”. Aesthetic practices of the past and present are not limited to the works that happen to have found their way into established cultural archives; hence they must also be investigated in other contexts, in the so called minor or applied arts as well as in popular and everyday culture. Based on research on agency in British cultural studies, for example, we are also interested in the varied forms of interaction between (classical) cultural archives and quotidian creative activity.

2) With the International Congress of Aesthetics in Japan in 2001, international discourse on aesthetics took on a global orientation. The subsequent international congresses in Rio de Janeiro (2004), Ankara (2007), Beijing (2010), Krakow (2013) and Seoul (2016) testify to the further globalisation as well as the decolonisation of aesthetic discourses. In order to expand the perspectives of the Research Training Group beyond the European/Western horizon, aesthetic practices and theoretical approaches to art from East Asia (Japan, China) are included. This focus promises, on the one hand, the potential for illuminating contrasts when it comes to the organisation of the arts and their practices; on the other hand, perhaps no other non-European region has made as noteworthy a contribution to the field of aesthetics in the last hundred years. In our perspective this contribution forms an essential part of aesthetic theorisation. The latent eurocentrism of classical aesthetics will be further sidelined by the selection of invited guests with special areas of expertise in the global orientation of aesthetics, which in Europe is still in its early stages. The Research Training Group works to pave the way here.

3) On the basis of developments in praxeology (Reckwitz 2003, 2008, 2016; Schäfer 2016; Klein/Göbel 2017) and the practice turn (Schatzki 2001; Schatzki/Knorr Cetina/von Savigny 2001; Bernstein 2010) in cultural studies, as well as a renaissance of the concepts of praxis and poiesis in neo-Aristotelian work on the interrelations of second nature, forms of life, and forms of practice (McDowell 2001; Thompson 2011; Stekeler-Weithofer 2010; Kertscher/Müller 2015), the members of the Research Training Group develop methods that allow aesthetic practices to be described on the basis of experience, in a conceptually differentiated manner and in a concise form. In doing so, we are guided by ways in which the enaction of aesthetic production, performance and experience is reflected in individual arts and the activities of daily life. We interpret works and performances as the expression of an implicit practical knowledge corresponding to them, a knowledge that involves their social context and reception. We investigate what knowledge we may have of both artistic and everyday aesthetic practices, where the limits of this knowledge lie, and how these activities in turn respond to the limits of this knowledge. By focusing on practice, a genuine mode of human activity comes into view that, as Aristotle already showed, has its end in itself, in its performance, which is contingent in not being necessitated by any preceding conditions and, at the same time, is shared and experienced as in itself pleasurable and collectively meaningful. As an example of such a practice Aristotle cites music, which he considers to be a model, in its autotelic performability, for all other kinds of practice, especially political practice: as he writes in Politics, only one who has learned through aesthetic performances not “to be always seeking after the useful” can become a good citizen – one who, on the basis of an aesthetically practiced sense of freedom, participates capably in political action.

In accordance with these objectives, the Research Training Group establishes a practice-theoretical approach to the arts and aesthetic everyday practices that goes well beyond the European horizon. It assumes that aesthetic practice as a form of activity cannot be adequately understood in terms of an intentionalist theory of action, nor can it be reduced to mere effects of the self-reproduction of art as an autonomous institution, as a social system, or as a cultural economy. Utilising the results of anti-reductionist practical theory, as well as classical concepts such as Aristotelian praxis and poiesis, the Research Training Group examines what happens when people are aesthetically active and experience themselves as such. Participants in the Research Training Group investigate ways of engaging with and theorising this activity, an activity that often – though by no means in all cases – emerges in the form of “works of art”.