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Brand, Peg Zeglin. Revising the Aesthetic-Nonaesthetic Distinction: The Aesthetic Value of Activist Art
2010, In Peg Zeglin Brand & Carolyn Korsmeyer (eds.), Feminism and Tradition in Aesthetics. Penn State Press.
Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir
Introduction: This essay will explore the role that the aesthetic-nonaesthetic distinction plays in assessing activist art by women and artists of color. First, I shall review one traditional line of philosophical thought and show how it serves as the foundation for three types of reasons typically given for artworks reputed to lack aesthetic value. I develop two of the three reasons by examining the recent writings opposed to the aesthetic value of activist art by well-known art critic Donald Kuspit, pointing out his aberrant use of 'obscene'. Kuspit's examples of activist art - the work of Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, and Adrian Piper - are presented in light of his charges. I then explore Piper's art in depth in order to outline ways of expanding the notion of aesthetic value beyond its traditional confines. Finally, I suggest moving beyond entrenched, traditional patterns of assessment and invite underrepresented voices to contribute to the emerging discussion of the multiplicity of aesthetic values.


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