Authenticity in Art


While the following four essays do not feature in the above symposium on William Morris, they nonetheless carry forward the theme of authenticity which wends its way through the special issue and reappears ever more prominently in this next sequence of enquiries. Interestingly, the contributions below have not been compiled as part of a thematic set, yet their shared preoccupation with the question of the “authentic” have spontaneously generated a cohesive unity, unanticipated when this AE edition was first conceived.  In this, the four essays gathered below speak to the ongoing currency and centripetal force of “authenticity” among a whole range of contemporary philosophers of art.

            In Michael Székely’s exploration of the musical group The Shaggs, the notion of authenticity in music breaks past the traditional views of transcendental truth and rigid evaluative judgements, opening up a qualified notion of immanence by which authenticity is grasped through a paradigm of experimentalism and progressive listening. If Székely’s conceptualization of authenticity hinges on the affectivity, dynamism and living moment of The Shaggs’s performance, his analysis harbours shades of Heidegger’s notion of the work of art as “a living being,” whose authenticity, as Ami Harbin argues, is engendered over time, in and through its growth and historical development, not as a fixed entity, seemingly consummated at the point of its completed creation.

            Grounding his ideas in Adorno's claim that natural beauty and art beauty should be construed as continuous with one another and not as essentially distinct phenomena, Nikolaus Fogle puts forward a theory of beautiful places (of architectural sites and settings) that satisfies Adorno’s notion of authentic beauty  (one that is apprehended in “the unconscious consciousness, in the midst of the work itself,” [i]) while challenging Adorno’s belief that architectural aesthetics are subordinated to identity-thinking. Fogle proposes a way of superseding that view both by working with Adorno’s aesthetic presuppositions and by drawing on the figure/ground relation in Heideggerian phenomenology.

            With equal novelty, Thorsten Botz-Bornstein develops a conceptual link between traditional Japanese aesthetics (wabi) and the aesthetics of kitsch, pointing to their common formal structure: a decidedly immediate type of aesthetic perception. Bringing out this unifying feature in two otherwise distinct cultural forms, Botz-Bornstein illuminates the paradox in a phenomenon that joins wabi authenticity and Japanese kitsch; it is this phenomenon that serves to account for the growth of kitsch in contemporary Japan alongside the persistence of traditional wabi forms.

Michelle Weinroth

[i] Theodor Adorno. Aesthetic Theory. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, 334.
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