I am currently using my stay at home time during the Covid-19 pandemic to do some reading. At the moment I am working through the Adorno on Mimesis in Aesthetic Theory article by Amresh Sinha at the School of Visual Arts in New York, plus other texts in relation to this subject matter that I have come across whilst writing this blog post. The photos of the sculpture trail on Granite Island in this post link back to this earlier post. This reading is research for an essay for the third road-trip section of the Bowden Archive and Other Marginalia book that I am currently working on.
The essay is a defence of realism at a time when the anti-naturalist cast of much modern aesthetics (eg., modernism and postmodernism) was the dominant aesthetic in the art institution. Since the Bowden photos are part of a realistic aesthetic I have been looking for a way around the modernist/postmodernist reduction of realism to a simple copy, reflection or mirroring of reality, and the subsequent dismissal of realism as an outmoded, obsolete aesthetic. A realist aesthetic also underpins photographs of nature in its different forms which have also been sidelined by the art institution.
Mimesis in relation to art or aesthetics is a difficult concept to grasp as well as being an elusive one. It is a concept that I have struggled to understand with respect to expression in modern art. Traditionally ( ie., in Plato's Republic) mimesis has been used to describe the relation between an original object and a representation that attempts to imitate that original, and in doing so produces a kind of pseudo-reality--a mirage (a counterfeit reality) that may deceive. I understood that mimesis refers to a “cognitivist” account of art that was coupled to classical ideals of truth-telling, which in modernity had been replaced by romantic concerns with self-expression and originality, which underpinned the American style formalist modernism celebrated by the Museum of Modern Art in the 1970s-1990s.
What I have grasped so far is that the root of mimesis is imitation (of nature as object) and artistic representation, and that it refers to a tactile experience of the world. Aristotle rejects the Platonic conception of mimetic transparency, and in his Poetics mimesis is held to be a fundamental expression of our human experience within the world. Aristotle links it to children’s mimetic behavior (make-believe or play-acting) and to animals. Mimesis is a natural human propensity toward imaginative enactment of hypothetical realities, with a concomitant pleasure in learning and understanding from mimetic activity.
Rather than being imitation in the sense of a copy, mimesis has a productive dimension (poiesis).The notion of mimesis interpreted as poiesis—as a world-creating activity, opens up the possibilities of the real within the imaginary. Mimesis is a way of doin,- a bringing forth of actions, a bringing to light, bring forth a creative action that is unified within itself. Images, poetically arranged, generate and open up a sense or experience of a world. Moreover, it is in poetic structures, not in their authors, that Aristotle locates the cognitive value of poetry, whilst his concept of mimesis, in the Poetics
and elsewhere, entails the interlocking functioning of three elements— pleasure, understanding, and emotion.