An Essay On Aesthetic Formaism
  Aesthetic Formalism In Contemporary Architecture
by Peter Leifer
  When Emanuel Kant analyzed the nature of human perception, in his Critique of Judgement published in 1790, he unveiled a piercing analysis of the way reason leads us to subjective conclusions about our experience.
That critique would have a profound impact on future generations who would no longer be bound by eighteenth century restraints on free expression. Aesthetic formalism was born in Kant’s vision of individual empowerment and over two hundred years later is now being revisited as a contemporary affirmation of purely aesthetic thought.
In his speculations about aesthetic judgements that apply to all art, from ballet to painting and sculpture to architecture, Kant proposed that our sense of beauty, in our use of the term art, rests in what we naturally perceive as something free of inflexible design and rigid intention. In essence art like nature is unpredictable in its outcome.
Our sense of beauty in its essence, he theorized, rests in our appreciation of form in all the gratifying sensations it provides to our psychic. Those forms that constitute an eventual work of art are delineated or played out in the same way nature evolves a mountain or the waves of the ocean. He proposed that our sense of beauty is derived from those forms we find naturally intriguing and magnificent, that profoundly affect our spirit and will to reason and speculate.
In architecture those forms must enter a play with one another that is as unpredictable as any event in nature’s creations and the hint of color added to those free flowing structures provides a playful appeal that enhances our gratification and sense of the innate beauty of the intermingling objects.
Unlike Plato who saw form as the reality behind the curtain of life’s facade Kant saw real forms in their naturally flowing interaction as the source of our sense of all beauty and the mechanism through which an idea of art enters our consciousness.
Van Gogh and Gauguin just a few of the immediate benefactors of this legacy of thought as they confronted the cultural elite with forms and delineations that confounded and angered their establishment adversaries. They bent shapes to conform to their own natural instincts as they laid paint to canvas and argued over the limits of those extremes. They defied the comfort of conformity, line to line and shape to shape and paved a tortured pathway to a vision of art we now accept as the true challenge of that medium to our senses and expectations.
Music, ballet and literature also evolved in the 19th century under the umbrella of Kant’s suppositions that the sense of an objects beauty was completely subjective, but not without the qualifications rational impulses and that art was the ascribed outcome of that sensation. A new generation of artists like Stravinsky, who dared to confront the objective rituals of conformity, debuted The Rite of Spring to a chorus of critical ridicule and disgust as did Kafka whose works were long denied publication until well after his untimely death.
Kant’s observations regarding the naturally subjective appreciation of art also acknowledges an interesting pluralist outcome that could be called a paradox. The sensibilities and theories governing the results of divergent artistic endeavors coexist and overlap. Very often curves and lines work their way into fascinating, but clearly predictable forms resulting in highly acclaimed results.
Yet this is not what Kant meant when he talked about true beauty and our perception of art conforming to a naturally unpredictable delineation of forms in a play of interaction affected by color and unrestrained imagination. Figure, play and delineation had to be married together on a three dimensional canvas with nature as a guiding force. This imperative would provide the truest resource for fundamental creativity in aesthetic formalism, a design that does not seem to be designed and a sense of its art that is intuited and not objectified.