A Running trail of thoughts and knowledge gleaming...

I've always had an interest in aesthetics (as I think most designers do) but it wasn't until my last year of graduate school that I started to have more than just a superficial knowledge of what the word really meant / means.  And to be sure I still don't have a comprehensive understanding.  The intention for this page was for me to one day write an essay on how I would define aesthetics, which I'd still like to do, but in the meantime I'm needing an outlet to preserve the small "ah ha" moments of understanding and learning I have.  So here we go...

"Aesthetic Consumerism"

16DEC - I'm reading Susan Sontag's On Photography and am blown away by how prescient it is.  On page 24 she writes, "Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is no addicted." 

And she died in December, 28th 2004 - six years before the invention of Instagram in 2010.

Relational Aesthetics and Pad Thai

When researching my thesis I was taking a class taught by Amy Kulper called Disciplinarity, where we tried to make better known what exactly the definition of Architecture/architecture really is.  As she warned in the beginning, the course wouldn't likely answer any questions fully but instead create a million new ones.  Fine by me! (:  Since I was on this aesthetics kick, I came across the work of Rikrit Tiravanija, specifically his Pad Thai exhibition in the 303 Gallery in New York City and the concept of relational aesthetics.

I'll be perfectly honest, I thought his work was totally pretentious and irrelevant.  I even criticized it, inferring that it was conflated and inflated, in my weekly submission for Amy's class:

I'm sure you can guess how it goes next...last night I was reading Log 34's issue on food and guess who was interviewed?*  Rirkrit Tiravanija!  As I was reading his explanation for his work, specifically the Pad Thai exhibit, I realized I had understood it (and therefore Relational Aesthetics) all wrong.  Here's his quote, bold is my own:

Daniel Birnbaum: A critique of the traditional art institution.
Rirkrit Tiravanija: Yes, a critique of display.  And a critique of the conventions of museums and of collecting and naming.  I was looking at things in the collection of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago because I was in school there.  They had a big collection of Asian artifacts, particularly Thai artifacts.  There was a doctor who had collected a lot of Thai art objects.  And at an art institute, everything is collected and presented as an aesthetic object rather than as an anthropological item.  So I was looking at these things and I thought about how everything was turned into aesthetics.  Every object was displayed as an aesthetic object...I thought that what was happening was that the life around the object was missing.  So I tried to do a project of cultural retrieval.  The idea was to take the pots and Buddhas and the objects that had been encased and entombed, to take them out of the case, and to use them -- to create life around the objects again and to point to this life in a way that shows that it is more interesting than the object itself. 

Thanks to Amy's class I learned that true aesthetic objects, like the ones Rirkrit talks about, require distance and autonomy.  It's this distance and objectification / de-contextualization that Rirkrit takes issue with when a museum presents a cultural artifact without also showing the cultural context.  Hence the term relational aesthetics.  I get it!


*I kind of find cataLog to be pretentious too but I'll reserve final judgement until I read a few more issues.

The aesthetic object should not mean but be. 
The aesthetic object should present it self as whole, it is self-justifying.  

The aesthetic object demands distance and autonomy. (1) 

“Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier.  Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed.” Aesthetics here no longer have distance and are entirely wrapped up in cultural consumption, preference, and lifestyle. (2)

While logica seeks to establish the principles that should govern the exercise of reason, aesthetica seeks to establish the principles that should govern judgements of taste.  A “World” with completeness and nothing missing or nothing superfluous. (3)

Within the Framework of my Thesis:

Aesthetics can be defined as the appearance of things and are created using form, scale, proportion, and material (color, texture, weight).

The architect / designer uses these as “building blocks” and manipulates their traits until the final design suits his or her larger purpose and intentions.

The aesthetics of the designed subject can then be interpreted or “read” by the audience of users or passersby, using culturally constructed knowledge, academic studies, contextual inferences, or capitalistic marketing ploys.   

It is then that a value association is made.  Good, beautiful, kitsch, sophisticated, gaudy, etc.


1   Kantian Aesthetics - Harries, Karsten.  The Ethical Function of Architecture (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997): p. 17
2    Bourdieu, Pierre.  Distinction - A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1979): p. 6
3   Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten - Harries, Karsten.  The Ethical Function of Architecture (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997): p. 21