chapter  5
20 Pages

Aesthetics and Culture

CRITIQUE OF AESTHETIC JUDGEMENT Take aesthetics first (in part because one of the curiosities of cultural studies is how little attention has been paid to having a critique of judgement, but partly because all of cultural studies has ultimately been a debate with aesthetics, whether it recognized it or not) and, to begin with, some once prominent cases which ultimately might be seen as dead-ends. In 1971 John Berger produced a series of programmes for BBC Television called Ways of Seeing, accompanied by a book of the same name (Berger 1972). In part it was influenced by Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay ‘The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (Benjamin 1970:219-53) and in part it was a reaction to Kenneth Clark’s BBC Television series Civilization. The message of Berger’s essay was clear enough:

The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. Its authority is lost. In its place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose A people or a class which is cut off from its own past is far less free to choose and act as a people or class than one that has been able to situate itself in history. This is why-and this is the only reason why-the entire art of the past has now become a political issue.