Feminism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, and Marxism, among other critical approaches, have undermined traditional notions of aesthetics in recent decades. But questions of aesthetic judgment and pleasure persist, and many critics now seek a "return to aesthetics" or a "return to beauty." Janet Wolff advances a "postcritical" aesthetics grounded in shared values that are negotiated in the context of community. She relates this approach to contemporary debates about a committed politics similarly founded on the abandonment of certainty. Neither universalist nor relativist, the "aesthetics of uncertainty" provides a discourse on beauty that contemporary critics can engage with and offers a basis for judgment that is committed to assigning value to works of art. Wolff explores her position through a range of topics: the question of beauty in relation to feminist critique; the problematic status of twentieth-century English art, visual representations of the Holocaust, Jewish identity as portrayed by the artist R. B. Kitaj, refugee artists and modernism in 1940s Britain, and the nature and appeal of imagistic thinking in sociology.
She addresses the desire for certainty and the timeliness of doubt and concludes with a meditation on the intersection of aesthetics and ethics, arguing that ethical issues are very much implicated in aesthetic discourse.
Janet Wolff is professor emerita in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at the University of Manchester. She is the author of The Social Production of Art; Aesthetics and the Sociology of Art; Feminine Sentences: Essays on Women and Culture; Resident Alien: Feminist Cultural Criticism; and AngloModern: Painting and Modernity in Britain and the United States.
Acknowledgments Introduction: The Desire for Certainty-and the Timeliness of Doubt 1. Groundless Beauty: Feminism and the Aesthetics of Uncertainty 2. English Art and Principled Aesthetics 3. The Iconic and the Allusive: The Case for Beauty in Post-Holocaust Art 4. The Impolite Boarder: Kitaj's "Diasporist" Art and Its Critical Response 5. "Degenerate Art" in Britain: Refugees, Internees and Visual Culture 6. The Sociological Image Afterword: Aesthetics and Ethics in the Twenty-first Century Notes Index