by Rebecca O'Reilly
Art by its own definition is something that predetermines its own existence only within the plane of the aesthetic. When we consider it within the context of art, it acts as the principles of which artists make their work.
The term aesthetic is perhaps used very casually when applied as an adjective for an art piece or an art movement. It can be mistaken for only considering the conventional idea of beauty and how an example of art has interpreted this. However anyone in the know is aware of how much more there is to take in and understand when it comes to art and the aesthetics. Like the word visual, it encompasses more than implied. Visual is not only what can be seen, it is what’s heard, what is experienced and what we can feel emoted from any form of art. Aesthetics are more of the why; why has the artist manipulated the content of a piece to emote a certain quality; is this important and if it isn’t can it still be considered art?
So what happens when the aesthetic quality of a piece is not the primary function for an artist? When art is used as a tool with a purpose and functionality? Consider its use for problem solving. In a time of such technological advances art has to remould itself in order to survive and has to be perhaps, more cunning than previous adaptations throughout its lifetime.
Awareness through creativity is something photographer James Balog has been using in his approach to helping the spread of a stronger response to Global warming. A term that we are all very familiar with and known as a global issue; that there needs to some form of action towards and is a problem that needs solved. However the term has perhaps become too colloquial, we hear the term global warming and it rarely emotes something from us even though it is acknowledged as one of the biggest problems being faced on a global scale.
Balog has been working within the coldest and most dangerous parts of our planet for several years using photography in a long term fashion to create time-lapse images of melting glaciers. It has required years of test runs and collaborating with teams of engineers and scientists in an effort to simply make us more aware of what is happening around us.
“The Extreme Ice Survey provides scientists with basic and vitally important information on the mechanics of glacial melting and educates the public with firsthand evidence of how rapidly the Earth’s climate is changing. EIS is a voice for landscapes that would have no voice unless we gave them one.”
So the primary focus of Balog and his team is to address the harrowing effects global warming is having on glaciers. These are structures that have been around long before humans walked on Earth, and he is proving the negative effect human presence is now having on them. The glaciers are melting and this one man has decided to use his skill and understanding of visual and aesthetics to aid in awareness of a very modern and current problem. The images he captures are of a very interesting visual calibre; they are both captivating and startling and of course they do have an aesthetic quality in them because the person taking the photos knows how to apply this through experience.
However because the purpose of these photos is to aid the solving of a problem, their purpose is not to be aesthetic yet there is a value of that within the images themselves but not in the message they are trying to send.
So is this still art when the person (I would say artist but this is the point of debate here) has a purpose which is not aesthetic? Even though there is undeniably still a visual quality being presented. Perhaps our understanding of what quantifies as aesthetics is what is changing. Obviously as time has changed so has art. However as aesthetics are an integral aspect to defining art they have had to change in parallel with one and other in order to stay relevant.
It is always difficult to think that art confines to any form of guidelines but when those guidelines themselves have to redefine themselves constantly it is an easier idea to consider.
BALOG ,J., 2014. About The Extreme Ice Survey. [online]. Boulder: EIS. Available from: http://extremeicesurvey.org/about-eis/ [Accessed 04 November 2015]
Images are courtesy of the artist (James Balog)
Copyright © Rebecca O' Reilly & art plus thought. All Rights Reserved