This paper examines the intersection of aesthetics and religion by looking at the aniconic impulse in contemporary art through the lens of Emmanuel Levinas’s essay “Reality and Its Shadow.” Levinas’s question as to whether a saturated, frozen and amoral artwork vies with ideas of divinity as being “neither language not knowledge” may not appear to share common ground with contemporary art practice but emerging forms of art that are intentionally created to interact with audiences proves the prescience of Levinas’s ideas. Since 1948, when the essay was first published, haven’t tensions in postmodern art undergone fundamental changes in assumptive powers regarding the role of the viewer? Of criticism, Levinas has said, “Is not to interpret Mallarme to betray him?” Today, in technologically responsive environments, interpretation has come out from under the shadow of the purely academic and professional and contemporary audiences have an absolute expectation of commentary and dialogue. Artists in the emerging fields of conceptual art, performance and installation, have responded to these expectations. Their work offers new ways to view Levinas’s ideas regarding problematic fixity in visual art. His Jewish reading of visual art meets contemporary aesthetics is not in the traditionally contentious areas of right or wrong image, but in ethical challenges to the artist’s silence where authority cannot any longer be presumed, intentionality hidden or responsiveness remain one sided.
|Keywords:||Aesthetics, Icon, Divine Image, Aniconic|
Portland, Oregon, USA