On the Autonomy of Aesthetic Experience

Rochelle Gurstein writes about the “Aztec Empire” exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in The New Republic:

The ideal of experiencing art in all its optical richness without any need of mediation is dear to me, but my radically unstable experience with the art of the Aztecs made me consider (not for the first time) the kind of distancing, moral and intellectual, that aesthetic autonomy requires. Which, in turn, led me to recall the history of ruins-gazing, which, in its picturesque phase beginning in the eighteenth century, provides the earliest example of aesthetic autonomy. Instead of falling into melancholy reveries at the sight of ancient Roman ruins, as was the habit of humanists, picturesque travelers, trained to see ruins as if they were discerning the artistic merits of landscape painting, were instead enchanted by the aesthetic wonders worked by time.

More here.