adrift: custom made and ready made

Aesthetics and morality are not exactly the same thing. There is a popular view of Regency England as a period of endless rounds of shopping, traveling to the continent, parties, gaming and clothing. Beau Brummel was one of the symbols of this legacy, being a sort of modern celebrity of the time. A symbol of fashion and taste that has left a legacy of what a gentleman is: clothing, manners, poise, deft wit, and an air casual indifference. Not to mention a certain nostalgia for when men ruled and a kind of winking euphemism that rubs against some boundary situations. In other words, the value of the word “gentleman” is dubious since it ends up being a sort of pretext for vices while recommending against them.

---A group portrait of British middle-class men by Johann Zoffany from 1796. Their outfits indicate how 18th-century British men's fashion could be customized by using different colours, collar details, neckties, and waistcoats. It has been said that the "war of the Rebellion" and the death of Prince Albert (1861) in England had such a sobering effect on the world that men's clothing became much less flamboyant than it had been. We could see in the middle of the 19th century a more conservative fashion. Colours used for suits were limited to black, grey, blue and brown.--- Read More:

…Less known is that after a falling out with royalty,Brummel left London in debt and disgrace,spending sixteen years in exile in Calais and his ten years in Caen. Here he acted as Ambassador Consul, was jailed for debt, and finally succumbed to syphilis in an asylum. It was an incongruous end to a fastidious man who once educated his peers through showing them simple things like washing their body every day.

Robert Cruikshank.---Imitators followed but few possessed Brummel's sense of panache. Many, if not most, over-reached....Brummel also cut his hair short and was in the vanguard establishing what would evolve into the modern men's suit of jacket and trousers. Beau Brummel may have set the standard for elegance and style but not every man aspiring to Brummel's flair succeeded. The style soon went over the top. What flowed naturally and unselfconsciously from Beau Brummel all too often became affectation and pretension in others and it was this class of dandies that became the subject of caricature and ridicule. Read More:

Today, the influence of Brummel and the gentleman of the imagination is more of an escapist fantasy. There is a connection between aesthetics and morality as seen through manners, but once taste and money are mixed into the equation the nostalgia is more a form of anxiety for the Mad Men era and not the fluidity of post-modernism filled with multiple and sometimes contradictory roles. Yearning for a more simpler era is more of a quest for a re-attachment of aesthetics to a long reaching back tradition of art and culture; a craving for a kind of knowledge now eclipsed by a bombardment of popular culture most of which is of meager nutritional value, as Donald Kuspit has pointed out:

Donald Kuspit’s withering critique of postmodern art is an inspired defense of the great aesthetic formally known as high art, as well as a surgical exposure of the mocking, entropic cynicism which has ravaged this creative ethic for decades. His courageous book, The End of Art, makes the claim that ominous forces have overwhelmed the ancient understanding that art is purposed to serve our understanding of the transcendental….

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…Despite the ever-changing array of ephemeral art-theories and fashionable schools of strictly surface concern, Kuspit remorselessly outlines how what he describes as “postart” has purposely obliterated that unique gift which can relieve us of the agony of a stark materialism, and which alone enables us, mercifully, to exist with integrity in what is clearly a madhouse world. Kuspit begins where he sees the genesis of this relentless and willful obfuscation: with the famous readymades of Marcell Duchamp and the primal, pre-Adamic existentialism of Barnett Newman. Read More:

It was Duchamp who deliberately projected a sort of baffling double-mindedness onto his notoriously ordinary objects; who attempted to seduce the observer into the fantasy notion that his works of art were all and nothing at once—a simultaneous degradation-exaltation radiating from an elusive center which would vanish the instant it was conceptually apprehended.

Can one see such objects both ways—as everyday artifacts and elegant works of art simultaneously? That is exactly how Duchamp would like us to see his readymades. They have a double identity. They are socially functional artifacts that have been changed into sublime artistic masterpieces by the creative act of Duchamps’ psyche. But they retain their everyday functionality; they revert to it in the blink of a creative eye, or rather in the mind. In short, they embody aesthetic osmosis while remaining inert matter. Supremely ambiguous, they are supremely perverse; that is, they blur the difference between art and non-art, an act of differentiation all too often regarded as the gist of modern creativity. The tantalizing ambiguity that is the readymade precludes aesthetic idealization. When The Fountain, (1917) was praised as beautiful and tasteful, as occurred when it entered the museum, Duchamp became angry, for it was understood exclusively on the aesthetic plane, which destroyed its confused identity as art/non-art, that is, mentally art, physically non-art.

It was Duchamp’s attempt to dismiss the aesthetic responsibilities of the artist be feigning a sort of sublime indifference to it—by leeching it of emotion—and by therefore suggesting that a crippling ambiguity is the actual source-condition of existence; that indeed a kind of elemental confusion is the native and eternal condition of mankind. Duchamp intended to strike at the very heart of art itself, by denigrating aesthetics as a farcical absurdity. It is Duchamps’s insistence on a primal ambiguity that exposes his loveless nihilism—he retreated to the rigors of chess after relegating art to a sort of secondary concern—as well as his need to lay waste to the totality of culture which had co

efore him. Indeed Duchamp’s methods seem to embody what Blake decried as “ a pretence of Art to destroy Art” which has, not surprisingly, devolved over the decades into what Kuspit now dismisses as anti-art, or postart, or mere commercial entertainment and creative degradation. Read More: ( Wayne Owens)


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