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Bending the rules: Aesthetics, popular culture, and creativity

Anthony Glen Farrington, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of this dissertation is to investigate modern aesthetics. Clearly, the function of aesthetics has a philosophical component. What is beauty? What is art? What is the relationship of art and beauty to the spiritual and material dimensions of our lives? The function of modern aesthetics has also adopted a self-conscious, psychological dimension. How is beauty perceived, received, and resisted? What are the origins and limits of beauty? What are the roots of aesthetic enjoyment? I argue that the modern definition of creativity—of artistry, beauty, inventiveness, refinement, cultivation—arises out of and because of this philosophical debate. ^ Creativity is a modern construct intimately tied to our concepts of democratization, capitalism, and freedom. However, the question “What is creativity?” is far less profitable than “Where is creativity?” Seemingly, the modern notion of creativity is often linked to “difference.” Specifically, that which is creative (according to most modern aesthetes) deals with new contexts, new situations, and new insights. Thus, what is creative is often linked to borders and frontiers. I argue that the limit of the frontier—both real and symbolic—can be seen as the origin of modern creativity. Further, those who inhabit the frontier—tricksters, monsters, and frontiersmen—become symbolic incarnations of such creativity. ^ The modern function of creativity in America is different than the function (or perceived function) of creativity in other times and cultures. Clearly, modern aesthetics have determined the shape and direction of the literary canon. But aesthetics themselves are limited by history, philosophy, and sociopolitical institutions. Over time, the artists and artistry that did not adhere to the tenets of the dominant aesthetic were ignored or forgotten altogether. Even the current structure of our educational system is shaped by modern aesthetics. What is perceived as scholarly, for example, is often completely separate from what is perceived as creative—as though the two were always autonomous entities holding differing jurisdictions altogether. This is an arbitrary separation that affects the academy itself and the pedagogy within classrooms. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Philosophy|Literature, American|Education, Philosophy of

Recommended Citation

Farrington, Anthony Glen, "Bending the rules: Aesthetics, popular culture, and creativity" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3074076.