Lambros Malafouris, Maria Danae Koukouti

Thinging Beauty. Anthropological Reflections on the Making of Beauty and the Beauty of Making

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Keywords: Aesthetic Consciousness, Aesthetic Misdirection, Material Engagement Theory, Neuroaesthetics, Pottery Making, Ceramics, Attentive Material Engagement, Situated Aesthetic Practices, Anthropology, Making.

What does it mean to create a beautiful thing? What is the beauty of making? This paper explores the process of affective attunement by which selected aspects of the world come to matter to our senses and acquire aesthetic agency (the ability to move us). Aesthetic consciousness (experience and judgement) is the product of that process. It can be distinguished from other types of consciousness in that it embodies a special mode of immersive attention, what we call attentive material engagement. There are many varieties of aesthetic consciousness. Our concern in this paper is primarily with the creative variety associated with processes of making, or what in the context of ceramics and pottery making that provides the empirical basis of our investigation, can be described as a feeling of and for clay. Our approach to the study of the above processes is grounded in Material Engagement Theory (MET) which argues for a radical continuity between mind (cognition and affect) and material culture. We base our argument on our comparative anthropological study of aesthetic becoming in pottery making. What it means to experience and appreciate a line of clay in aesthetic terms? We are interested in the ways aesthetic consciousness manifests in the potter’s entanglement with clay, as well as on how it emerges through specific processes of material engagement and forms of materiality. From such an anthropological perspective, the contextualization of aesthetic consciousness constitutes the condition sine qua non for its study. To build our argument, we review key insights from the anthropology of aesthetics and juxtapose them with current findings in neuroaesthetics, focusing specifically on embodied simulation theories. Is there a way we could bridge the distance between our neural ecologies and the material ecologies of our situated aesthetic practices? We propose that a deepened ecological-enactive conception of the aesthetic process that derives insights from participant observation and is concerned with the details of creative and attentive material engagement can prove beneficial for the design of new experimental research in situated and embedded aesthetics.

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