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Evolutionary aesthetics: rethinking the role of function in art and design

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In the first half of the twentieth century there was a remarkable convergence of art and design in De Stijl, Constructivism and the Bauhaus. But in the second half of the twentieth century fine art relinquished its liaison with design due to the influence of Dada and Surrealism's postromantic antagonism to practical-functionalism. Dada and Surrealism and postmodern fine art are characterized by a critique of the dominant social discourse of functionalism and the demand for a sublime poetics to be brought into everyday life. This article argues that the apparent antipathy between postmodern fine art and design can be ameliorated if we critically analyse interpretations of evolutionary theory by postromantic philosophers such as Nietzsche, Bergson, and Deleuze and Guattari. When Bergson notes that practical-functional reasoning was created by evolution he reveals a flaw in the pursuit of an aesthetics that is totally opposed to commonsense and practical-functionalism. And when we turn to Deleuze and Guattari we find another valuable concept in the form of their notion of the machinic, which assists further in reconciling the postromantic emphasis on the sublime with the practicality of mechanism. Moreover, Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the machinic is informed by chaos theory, which allows further elaboration in terms of complexity theory. Complexity theory can be understood as a process philosophy that has no need to figure the sublime in terms of a mysterious force of nature because the mystery is located within complex interactions among a manifold of components, what one might refer to as a cosmic, machinic, combinatoire that arises out of what Christopher Langton has called the edge of chaos. This makes it possible to replace the emphasis on desire as the fundamental force of nature evident in Nietzsche, Bergson, Deleuze and Guattari with a complexity-theoretical concept of a cosmicmachinic combinatoire. It is then possible to formulate a machinic, evolutionary aesthetics that can reconcile the postromantic demand for sublimity with the demand for practical-functionalism that lies at the heart of the discipline of design. In place of the modernist machine aesthetic that informed De Stijl, Constructivism and the Bauhaus we would have a postmodernist machinic aesthetic.
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Keywords: aesthetics; complexity; design; evolution; machinic; postromanticism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Staffordshire University.

Publication date: 01 May 2010

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  • Technoetic Arts focuses upon the juncture between art, technology and the mind. Divisions between academic areas of study, once rigidly fixed, are gradually dissolving due to developments in science and cultural practice. This fusion has had a dramatic effect upon the scope of various disciplines. In particular, the profile of art has radically evolved in our present technological culture
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