Introduction to the as yet unformed theory of Human Aesthetics


The following represents the formative ‘overview’ informing what I intend to become a more fleshed out theory, a less idealised and more concrete, theory of Human Aesthetics.

I will naturally be astonished as well as extremely pleased if anyone chooses to contribute to the architecture of this theory by commenting on these early cogitations.

The concept of ‘aesthetics’ from which I draw in forming the theory of Human Aesthetics is taken from Nelson Goodman’s ‘Languages of Art’ (first published in 1968).

Nelson Goodman’s discussion of ‘aesthetics’ is extremely instructive. He takes a view that is not necessarily normative in relation to the concept.  In his model of the term,  ‘aesthetic’ refers to that attention paid to the perception or the production of a thing in which absolutely every tiniest detail is attended to, and every detail is related to the larger whole.

It is a concept that fully meets with my approval and thus I am using it in relation to the idea of ‘Social/Human Aesthetics’ that I will be elaborating in this essay.

A few weeks ago I began to intervene in my working life by asserting the need for ‘femininity’ to enter the arena. Women, I’d noticed, had achieved the right to enter public spaces as nominally ‘equal’ to men.  The culture of femininity, however, I’d  noticed, in equal ration had been entirely ‘left out’ of the equation. Thus we women were entering public life as ‘damaged men’. We didn’t have penises, we didn’t have deep voices, we didn’t have paternalism, we didn’t have meetings organised around a hospitable culture for us. All in all we were simply pretending to be men and feeling pleased with ourselves the more accurately we managed to hide our true natures. Particularly since the more successful we were, the higher we climbed on men’s ladders.

[Although – I will say this – and it forms a part of my inability to work on this line – I have found that my inability and unwillingness to co-operate too much with this way of working has NOT harmed me in any way. I have noticed that, these days, the men I am around are endlessly accommodating, if at times a bit ruffled and other times amused, with my ‘eccentric’ approach to life. – It’s an eccentricity that loses such a noticeable quality the minute I find myself back in the kitchen with a couple of kids and a female friend round for a cup of tea or vice versa, so I definitely think that femininity is involved in it.]

This IS and remains, a pertinent issue.

However, my purpose was never to place men on the defensive or to add to the culture of guilt and shame which has often been the unintended, and sometimes intended, outcome of ‘feminist’ actions and movements.  Far from it.  I LOVE men.  Where would I be without men?  I have possessed so great a love for men that I have, over the last couple of years, recognised the absence of women friends in my life, and have been addressing that issue.  I need to love WOMEN more than I have done, and this is not only because only then can I truly love and accept and value myself, but also because, on  balance, – well, we won’t get true balance until we love both men AND women.

We aren’t loving women by asking of them that they learn the ways of men. We aren’t loving women by developing masculine subcultures of women behaving as men.

SO – the masculine/feminine culture debate is a rich minefield for exploration and elaboration and I’m likely to return to it again.

But I noticed that I was running near a danger zone by raising division in the work place. So I took a step back and meditated on what was in the hind of my thinking.

Human Aesthetics was the term I then selected to identify my zone of attention.

I am relating this term to the ‘Shared Humanness Model’ articulated by Tracey Holley in a Power Point Presentation three or four years ago.

The presentation was deceptively simple at first view.  When Tracey sent it to me I read it through and found myself entirely agreeing with everything she was saying – indeed, Tracey and I had ‘clicked’ on first meeting, at least, on my side that was the experience, I mustn’t speak for her.  Though she was quintessentially feminine and womanly with all the long, blonde, wavy hair and bodily curves that imply such identity, and the soft voice and soft manner that backed up such an appearance, whilst I was and am spikey, angled, sometimes fiery; a long way from my feminine ideal! Nevertheless, our essential natures were mirrored because of our shared value in empathy and ultimate gentleness.

I underestimated Tracey’s work initially. I thought ‘yes, absolutely,’ but I didn’t properly recognise the profoundly innovative potential in her thinking.  Her natural modesty somehow assisted me to under appreciate the significance of her work.

I found myself mentioning her ‘shared humanness model’ often when I was giving presentations, until this year, during my Collaborative Learning Initiative work at the University of Birmingham, I found myself insisting on a projection of Tracey’s first slide to provide the backdrop for my entire contribution, a background which I brought to foreground in my talking.

In fact, of course, I had become Tracey’s marketer. Not by request – I’m still waiting for a skype call to talk with her about this. But by passion. The thinking, in my view, evident in this presentation, is but the tip of the iceberg in relation to the thinking that may collaboratively emerge out of it between us.  Because, of course, I’m thinking of this ‘Theory of Human Aesthetics’ as a pillar of support and elaboration –expansion – within/of it.

So – what is ‘human aesthetics’?

I am using this term to draw attention to and to emphasise the micro, as well as macro, behaviours and settings in which human beings interact with one another.

I am also using this term to draw some confusion away from the ‘art world’.

I am going to attempt to design a model for clarifying the proper concerns of ‘Fine Art’ and for upgrading the activities of every day human existence. I am going to try to ensure that in so doing I gain sufficient agreement and support from sufficient a number of people that the theory starts to lean rather destructively on ‘inhumane’ models of production – not because they fail to be ‘efficient’, ‘powerful’ or ‘rapid’,  but because they fail to be ‘enjoyable’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘nutritious’.

Yes – to accommodate this theory of human aesthetics we shall need to revise our normative daily values.

We may prefer to slow down. We may prefer to scale down. We may prefer to spend some time decorating ourselves and our lives in ways that bend toward the pleasure principle. We may prefer to move toward honesty instead of hypocrisy, not because it is morally ‘better’ but because it makes us happier.  We may prefer to revise our Hobbes and Locke and discover that their convictions were borne of their circumstances, not of their unalterable genius in divining the core of human nature as infinitely avaricious and competitive.

We can be and will be these things for as long as we believe it is our nature.

As soon, though, as we believe that we are ‘naturally’ co-operative and supportive, and that we are ‘in-born artists, every one’ – then that is exactly what we shall be and become. And obviously we will see rapid alterations in the balance of life in consequence of such an alteration of conviction.

Don’t  be deceived. Hegel got it right – it is through the evolution of ideas and beliefs that our lives are altered.  Action follows belief.  Belief does follow action, of course, reactively – but on the whole, it is by far better to form an action plan upon belief and value than to act impulsively or ie in knee jerk manner to actions already taken by others – or even by oneself.

Funnily enough, this is a theory that could well assist an outcome not unlike that foreseen by Marx in his early idealistic phase, by the romantics in the 19th Century, typified by William Morris and so forth – it isn’t a revolution of blood and guns but an evolution enabled by the wondrous technologies made available to us by the humanly tragic phase of the industrial and post industrial revolution. Raymond Williams, was thinking along these lines in his ‘Long Revolution’ (1961) – it was a piece of work which attracted plenty of criticism at the time on the grounds of its ‘wishy washy socialism’ – but I think if we took another look now we might find that it was ahead of its time. I haven’t been back to it since I first read it in my late teens, and I think I might just check back now.

It’s true that some ‘levelling down’ will need to occur and that there will be those who resist the alterations for this reason.  But the levelling up of quality of life will be so enormous for such a large proportion of our world’s population that it is simply a matter of persuasion required to delimit any enthusiasm by the army to kill its own families, effectively to enable economic transformation to take place.

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