The Research Training Group examines what happens when people are aesthetically active and experience themselves as aesthetically active. In this way, we are expanding the scope of traditional philosophical aesthetics and art studies which have focused on the specifics of aesthetic experience, perception and judgement since the introduction of the concept of aesthetics in the 18th century. With our focus, we propose a praxeological change to questions of aesthetics and art studies and we are interested in forms of aesthetic creation and performance that can – but do not have to – culminate in the production and reception of works of art.
The Research work of the group is focused on three areas: 1) the artistic and philosophical analysis of different art forms, such as theatre, performance, fine art, literature, music and forms of popular culture, as practices. 2) From a comparative point of view, the integration of non-European, mainly East Asian arts, aesthetic practices and the accompanying theory construction opens up an intercultural perspective, which will serve as a corrective to the neglect of practice in a European tradition of norm-building aesthetic concepts. 3) Based on the theoretical combination of both fields of research as well as current debates on praxeology and the turn to practice, a comprehensive theory of aesthetic practice will be devised and developed with an interdisciplinary perspective.
Project term: 01.04.2019 - 30.09.2023
The Research Training Group investigates aesthetic practice as a sui generis phenomenon. In this way, we are expanding the scope of traditional philosophical aesthetics and art studies which have focused on the specifics of aesthetic experience, perception and judgement since the introduction of the concept of aesthetics in the 18th century. In contrast, we are interested in forms of aesthetic creation and performance that can – but do not have to – culminate in the production and reception of works of art. Our proposed praxiological change to questions of aesthetics and art studies is motivated by the increasing reflexivity of the arts, which since the late modernity have been directed towards the practical contexts of art, as well as by the newly awakened interest of philosophy and cultural theory in forms of activity that go beyond actions describable in terms of intentionality; this interest is motivated by a new awareness of non-European aesthetical practices. Accordingly, the research work of the group is focused on three areas: 1) the artistic and philosophical analysis of different art forms, such as theatre, performance, fine art, literature, music and forms of popular culture, as practices. From a comparative point of view, 2) the integration of non-European, mainly East Asian arts, aesthetic practices and the accompanying theory construction opens up an intercultural perspective, which will serve as a corrective to the neglect of practice in a European tradition of norm-creating aesthetic concepts. 3) Based on the theoretical combination of both fields of research as well as current debates on praxiology and the turn to practice, a comprehensive theory of aesthetic practice will be devised and further developed into an interdisciplinary constellation. At the same time, the focus on aesthetic practices will help to establish a broader understanding of praxis in general and to expand the current praxiological debates beyond their largely socio-scientific framework. This specific approach is embedded in a training-concept tailored to the doctoral degree, which is based on the tradition of humanities research of the specialist field and is, at the same time, integrated into the current transdisciplinary research of the university. In particular the combination of theory and practice, which has been shaped in Hildesheim and which is tried and tested not only in research, but also in teaching, forms an important prerequisite for the research program of the Research Training Group.
On the basis of an analysis of performativity- and event-theory aesthetics, the working definition of aesthetic practice can be described as performance or execution, which is not to be understood in terms either of intentional and rule-governed action or of passive experience, but instead refers to a “medium” (in the sense of the grammatical medium), or relational, relationship, in which subjects and objects first take shape. Aesthetic is here particularly used to describe a practice which allows its results to become visible in the light of their performative execution and which allows 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 wilfulness of aesthetic activity towards its subjects, institutional framings and results. The production, performance and reception of institutionalised and professionalised art, 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. Similarly, we are aiming for a practice-theory transformation of the aesthetics of philosophy and individual academic disciplines that are no longer restricted to work-centred approaches and do not primarily analyse aesthetic practices as preliminary to works of art. We here understand “wilfulness” to be an irreducibility of the practical to previous structures or agents.
Using the perspective described above, we thus go beyond a restriction of aesthetic, art-studies and cultural-studies research to artefacts and stagings of high culture. Aesthetic practice of the past or the present is not merely concerned with artworks that have found their way into the established cultural archives (cf. Groys 2007). Thus, aesthetic practice is also researched in day-to-day and decidedly non-artistic contexts. Based on, for example, the research on agency in British cultural studies (cf. Winter 2001), we are thus also interested in the varied forums of communication between (classical) cultural archives and day-to-day aesthetic practices.
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 and also the decolonisation of aesthetic discourses. In order to expand the research perspectives in the Research Training Group beyond the European/western scope, aesthetic practices and theoretical approaches to aesthetics from East Asia will be included in the research. This focus promises, on the one hand, a great potential for comparisons and contrasts with regard to the organisation of the arts and their practices and, on the other hand, no other non-European region has made so many noteworthy contributions within the field of aesthetics – developed in the last hundred years – than Japan and China. These contributions will also be incorporated into the theorisation presented here. The latent eurocentrism of classical aesthetics will be deliberately disrupted by inviting guests with special areas of expertise. Global orientation in the theoretical discourse on aesthetics in Europe is still in the early stages. The Research Training Group is trying to pave the way here.
3) On the basis of the 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 practice concepts in neo-Aristotelian thoughts on the relationship of second nature, life form and practice form (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 how the execution of aesthetic production, performance and experience is reflected on in individual arts and practices of daily life. We read works and stagings as an expression of a knowledge of the activities corresponding to them, as an expression of a knowledge of their social efficacy and reception. We investigate what knowledge we can have of artistic and day-to-day aesthetic practices, where the limits of this knowledge lie, and how art and day-to-day aesthetic practices in turn deal with the limits of this knowledge. By focusing on practice, a genuine mode of human activity comes into view, which, as Aristotle already showed, has its end in itself, in its performance, which is contingent insofar as it is not anchored in any of the preceding conditions of its potential and which, at the same time, is shared by many and is thereby experienced as pleasing. As an example of such a practice, Aristotle cites music, which, in its autotelic performability, he considers to be a model for all other kinds of practice, but especially for political practice: As Aristotle writes in Politics, only someone who has learned in aesthetic performances not “to be always seeking after the useful” (Aristotle 1995: 287) can become a good citizen, that means someone who, on the basis of an aesthetically practiced sense of freedom, participates capably in political action.
In accordance with these objectives and topics, the Research Training Group establishes a practice-theory approach to the arts and aesthetic everyday practices that goes 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, of a social art system (cf. Luhmann 1995) or of a cultural economy. Using the results of non-reductionist practice theories, as well as classical concepts such as Aristotelian praxis and poiesis, the Research Training Groups examines what happens when people are aesthetically active and experience themselves as aesthetically active. The participants in the Research Training Group investigate forms and ways of talking about this activity which often – although by all means not in all cases – manifests in “works of art”.