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Bio-Aesthetics and The Artist as Case History


Bio-Aesthetics and The Artist as Case History

Gallo, Peter (2012) Bio-Aesthetics and The Artist as Case History. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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Recent critical reappraisals have undermined the coherence – and validity – of the principles defining modern art and artistic production. Traditional art historical categories, periodizations, sub-periodizations, even the very divisions modernism and postmodernism, while useful, are no longer sufficient to define a history of the artistic object, or artistic identity for the modern age. I propose that a biopolitical perspective, with a shift in focus away from the object and towards the artistic body restores, in part, a coherent narrative to a modern art history. This thesis sketches the contours of an artistic sub-category I have coined “bio-aesthetics” within the framework of biopolitics, drawing on the ideas of Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben and Roberto Esposito. I locate a set of clinical mechanisms within the domains of aesthetics, artistic perception, subjectivity and performativity. My primary thesis is that the drive toward embodiment, toward the referent, or perhaps more precisely toward the real, expressed in formalism’s zeal for medium specificity, and in the modern aesthetic project of grounding artistic experience within the somatic, was set into play by a clinical configuration that emerged from the eighteenth century’s laboratories and clinics, expounding a life science of bodies.
The corpus of my dissertation focuses on four significant moments within an archaeological schema spanning the eighteenth to the late twentieth centuries. Each chapter focuses on significant historical materializations of the bio-aesthetic, and together form a historical progression from a biological corporealisation of the sensate, to the psycho-medical individualization of the artist subject, or perhaps, the clinical performer. My corpus begins with the eighteenth-century formalization of a somatically-based aesthetics, culminating in the aesthetics of Immanuel Kant. By separating the action of aesthetic contemplation from rational logos, Kant positioned aesthetic experience and artistic creativity in a place of peculiarity or pathology. I then trace the repercussions of bio-aestheticization both in the emergence of the flat picture plane as an index of the clinicalization of artistic visual consciousness, and in the concurrent psycho-medical conflation of artistic subjectivity with pathology in nineteenth-century texts on degeneracy. I conclude with the development, in the later part of the twentieth century, of a new modality of clinical performativity, taking up the self-identification of artists with a psycho-medical identity, and the embracing of medical themes and ordeals as artistic subjects. This collapse of a metaphoric position of aesthetic difference with an actual medical history and body is explored on two levels: first, in a consideration twentieth-century high-modernist criticism and in an examination of minimalist and performance-based works, including those of Beuys, Wilke, Morris and Gober. The irony that emerges from my study is that coherence is achieved within the heroic modernist pursuit of purity of medium and individual genius by a corresponding a master narrative of illness.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Fine Arts > Art History
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Gallo, Peter
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Program:Art History
Date:15 October 2012
Thesis Supervisor(s):Huneault, Kristina
ID Code:975157
Deposited By: PETER GALLO
Deposited On:17 Jun 2013 15:05
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:39
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