Systems Esthetics

The mention of Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions hooked me from the very beginning. I have read this book, but it was in the context of a historiography class. I hadn’t considered how Kuhn’s work could be applied to other areas beyond what’s traditionally known as “history” — that is, a more “event-based” approach to our past rather than a focus on a very specific genre like art history which is often not considered part of the “history” academia.

Kuhn’s thesis is an important theory in modern historiography. While it was applied to the study of science, it is widely studied in the history discipline. The paradigm shift is commonly understood by historiographers as a change in how historians perceive and interpret historical events. Now that I’ve read this article, I can see how Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts can be applied to art.

We see these paradigm shifts in the viewers’ approach to art as much as the artists themselves. Anyone who takes an art history course can recognize the paradigm shifts throughout the ages. But the most startling paradigm shift comes with the advent of New Media and other 20th century art forms.

Art has typically been regarded as something to be viewed and appreciated, but not something the viewer interacts with directly. Paintings, sculpture, and other traditional art forms are more static. While the art can evoke emotion from the viewers, it doesn’t invite the viewer to reach out and touch it or change it.

The modern paradigm now features art that does encourage the viewers to directly interact with it, transform it, and become a part of it. Some, like Rokeby’s Watched and Measured involve the viewer in ways they don’t know about or realize while others, like Electroland’s MetalMatisse encourage the viewer to consciously become part of the art.

It’s a fascinating new paradigm, and it seems to be growing. Formerly, this sort of interaction could only be gained through performance art. Now, we see “traditional art” becoming more interactive and we see art in new media never used before. If this trend continues to expand, the future of art promises to be incredible.

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