Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Fashion System Vs. Art Appreciation

Anna Wintour, The September Issue, 2009

Fashion as Social System
In his book The Empire of Fashion, 1994, Gilles Lipovetsky suggests that fashion is not about an object but is a social system. He explains that people existed for thousands of years “without a cult of fantasy and novelty, without the instability and ephemeral temporality of fashion.” He suggests that during the Middle Ages, ornamentation began to carry meaning within Western aristocracy. Aristocracy had freedom to indulge in variety and were constantly changing clothes for the theater of the court. The influence of aristocracy is still evident in the echelon of today's fashion but contemporary fashion has increased in speed of style turnover and in its wide scale influence.

Dolce & Gabbana, 2007

In The Fashion System, 1967, Roland Barthes suggests that modern fashion has become an open system of meaning. He explains that we find meaning in clothes through
-use, such as protection
-casual and suggestive associations, such as status
-the transitory, such as trend
-the circumstantial, such as appropriateness

The fashion system involves all of these meanings simultaneously. We can easily justify the meaning of clothes for use. Barthes gives the example of a rain coat protecting from water. We cannot however rationally justify the transitory meaning of clothes, such as why a Burberry raincoat is more fashionable. The transitory meaning is dictated by tastemakers like fashion magazines that affirm classics and style variations. Fashion according to Barthes is a relation between the visible, tangible use of clothes and the invisible social meanings.

A raincoat by any other name is not a raincoat! Burberry means protection and conservative status. The brand began in 1856 and has been integrated into popular culture, such as J.D. Salinger's story Franny for The New Yorker in 1955.

Art as aesthetic appreciation
If we regard fashion as a system, we can also think of the "art world," which is beyond one object to the network of fashionable artists, aesthetic trends and biennials. However even within the art world, the art object is still regarded as meaningful for aesthetic appreciation over use. Unlike fashion which gains meaning through a system of uses and understandings, art is considered meaningful for being out of function and admired.

In “Magic Flute” from 1935, in Minimia Moralia, Theodor Adorno writes about the power of the art object. He explains that “the disinterested pleasure that according to Kant is aroused by works of art, can only be understood by virtue of historical antithesis still at work in each aesthetic object. The thing disinterestedly contemplated pleases because it once claimed the utmost interest and thus precluded contemplation.”

Sylvie Fleury, Cristaux, 2003

We aesthetically appreciate things that previously represented power or meaning. He uses the example of gold and precious objects that were once considered magical while now they are simply thought to be beautiful. He concludes with “the bliss of contemplation consists in disenchanted charm.” In another essay “Art Object,” Adorno describes how a snow globe and post card put nature under the control of man through reduced scale. He suggests that the art aesthetic, according to Kant is “purposefulness without purpose.” And according to Adorno, art has a unique dialogue with truth and appearances but the best art never succumbs to trends in taste.

Jeff Koons at Versailles, 2008

In his essay “Aesthetics and the Work of Art,” from Transfiguration of the Commonplace, 1983 Arthur Danto suggests that art objects demand an aesthetic appreciation we do not give to natural or everyday things. Danto also points out that art appreciation can be negative. So then aesthetic appreciation is a full spectrum of beauty that includes the ugly. However, Danto also points out that the way something actually “gets” to be art is institutional, it is collected by a museum.

Jeff Koons at Versailles, 2008

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