Monday 12 July 2010

Grace, Genius and Outsider art

Went to a fantastic exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery on Outsider Art. If there's something challenging in these beautiful images and sculptures, it's that - following Kant's aesthetics - artistic beauty typically is associated with the concept of genius: that through engaging with the artwork, the 'grace' of genius is revealed.

Yet, the same powerful feelings of recognition and grace are produced with these outsider artworks. But these aren't socially constructed 'geniuses' - they are (for the most part) ordinary people expressing themselves in extraordinary ways. Grace would therefore appear to be in the recognition of a shared human experience.

Does the social construct of 'genius' actually mean anything? It used to be used to say that certain artefacts, certain people were 'worthy' of appreciation. Seeing appreciation as a more dynamic, playful experience - as Gadamer does - means that appreciating the genius in things like outsider art is a transformative experience for the observer, and that valuable transformations can be effected both through the appreciation of so-called 'great' art as well as less socially-recognised forms of expression. Seeing 'grace' in everything effects a transformation on the observer.

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