phd research


my research:
The title of my project is 'The Concept of Aestheticization and Its Significance in the Digital Age'. More specifically I am interested in the way our use of new technologies and digital media affects our aesthetic experiences, our undertsanding of art and the social and political role that cultural institutions play in this new development. Currently, I am working on a paper about the connection between the concept of aestheticization and the concept of positive freedom. If you want to know more about my research, if you are interested in a collaboration or if you have any other questions, please send an e-mail to J.T.M.Straczowski@liverpool.ac.uk.

my areas of interest are: 
aesthetics, political philosophy, art history, critical theory, structuralism, post-structuralism, continental philosophy,  postmodernism, weird theories... and of course Andy Warhol

concepts that keep me busy:
aesthetic education, Bildung, Kalokratie, autonomy, heteronomy, heautonomy, positive freedom, perfection, beauty, sublime,  transaesthetics, de-aestheticization, anaestheticization... and of course aestheticization

some of the philosophers and theorists relevant to my research:
Immanuel Kant, Isaiah Berlin, Friedrich Schiller, Walter Benjamin, Byung-Chul Han, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Rancière, Jean Baudrillard

publications:
'The Sublime of Machine Produced Art', International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Volume 13, Number 2 (July 2016)

conferences and talks:
This is a long abstract of the paper that I will present at the BSA PG Conference 2016. I will also present an almost identical version of this paper at the ESA Annual Conference 2016.
What Is Wrong with the White Cube?  
White walls, what do we associate with them? The hallways of hospitals and mental institutions, unfurnished, uninhabited, empty apartments, open-space offices, restrooms and… art galleries. Specifically the concept of the white cube gallery has become predominant in the way modern cultural institutions have been designed in previous decades. In a recent article in The Guardian, journalist and art critic Jonathan Jones laments this state of affairs with the pointed title ‘White cube galleries are beautiful. They bore me rigid’ (2015). His frustration is not only generated by a certain out-datedness of this particular style of art display; Jones furthermore contends that it is also not the most stimulating way to present art. The white cube has become a means to an end, he claims, to bestow further ‘verification’ of artistic value upon objects and it deprives art of the possibility to interact with surrounding architecture. Of course, Jones is not the first one to criticize the monotonous aesthetics of the white walls. In 1979, Brian O’Doherty’s critique of the white cube gallery, published in a collection of essays in Artforum, already sparked lively debates. Both Jones and O’Doherty seem to suggest that the white cube is not a good way to allow the artworks displayed in them to be aesthetically appreciated in their own right. Still, what exactly is wrong with the white cube? Is the critique of such galleries warranted?  
In this paper I evaluate the criticism brought up against the modern aesthetics of the white cube gallery and I argue that such spaces do indeed have some shortcomings regarding the aesthetic experience we derive from the works displayed in them. First, I claim that the concept of the white cube is directly connected to Immanuel Kant’s theory of disinterested aesthetic pleasure. With their window-less walls, artificial lighting and exclusion of any distractions from the outside world, these galleries are exemplary cases for an attempt to empirically represent a very specific theory of how pure aesthetic pleasure is allegedly elicited. I furthermore argue that no matter how well designed exhibition spaces are, ultimately they face the same dilemma as artworks: they cannot guarantee the occurrence of such pure aesthetic pleasure. Aesthetic experiences do not rely on calculated designs and standardized spaces and contexts. The feeling of beauty is not dependent on a neutral container and even a white cube cannot guarantee which kind of experience we get from the artworks displayed in it. 
Moreover, I question whether the conformity that dominates modern art galleries truly allows for the kind of autonomy that Kant’s judgment of taste and the human ability of individual aesthetic reflection demands. In the Critique of Judgment, Kant makes it very clear that aesthetic judgments and taste cannot, or rather must not be guided by others. Attempts to influence our aesthetic judgments, or simply adopting someone else’s taste, would impede on this autonomy. Yet, as O’Doherty points out, white cube galleries are used as a means to ratify a very specific taste of a small group of experts who use the established white-wall aesthetics as a tool to bestow any object with aesthetic value and to declare it to be worthy of our appreciation. Does this not impede on our individual capacity to reflect upon the sensation that aesthetic pleasure elicits and to formulate our own judgments of taste? Is the universal sensus communis which, according to Kant, allows aesthetic judgments to be shared and communicated by all human beings not ‘artificially limited’ in these instances? 
Ultimately, under no other circumstances are artworks ever presented in this secluded and abstracted way. Yet, we do experience feelings of beauty when confronted with, for example, street art, urban landscapes, land art or artworks set in historic buildings. Do less sterile art displays possibly allow for more and richer aesthetic experiences? If artworks are not only allowed to communicate amongst themselves, as in a highly controlled environment of the white cube, but if we also allow them to engage with the architecture or the public sphere that surrounds them, is there not something to be gained? The possibilities are endless and a willingness to experiment might open up new perspectives on art’s aesthetic value and allow the viewer to form aesthetic judgments in less imperious settings. Therefore, I conclude that the critique brought up against the white cube aesthetics is ultimately justified and, since the issue of art display is highly relevant to all cultural institutions, it is necessary to discuss whether other forms of art display may be better suited, as Jonathan Jones, Pam Meecham, Julie Sheldon and Brian O’Doherty suggest. In this sense, I will finish my presentation by passing this question on to the audience, hoping to stimulate a lively debate. 

This is the abstract of the paper I presented at the Dutch Association of Aesthetics Annual Conference 2015.
Sublime Perfection
This paper discusses the question of sublime materiality/immateriality as it has been proposed by Jean-François Lyotard, claiming that his theory cannot account for the sublime effects of mechanically produced artworks. Lyotard states that whether or not the sublime, the Thing, presents itself through an artwork is a question of how artistic material is harnessed. He agrees with Edmund Burke that only imperfection in artistic techne and incompletion of an artwork offer a possibility of ‘presenting the unrepresentable’, i.e. the sublime. However, I want to question this notion by drawing on Jean Baudrillard’s theory of a mania for perfection and completion. I argue that, especially with regard to contemporary art, the sublime may also present itself when our desire for perfection is carried to its extremes.

First, I will briefly outline Lyotard’s theory claiming that there is a ‘loophole’ in it which allows to construct a new theory in which imperfection in artistic techne is not the only possibility for a sublime sentiment to occur. Then, I will focus on Baudrillard’s theory of our mania for perfection. I suggest that in contemporary art (e.g., the works of Jeff Koons) the sublime can present itself when perfection, which is primarily a striving for beauty, turns against itself by drawing human desire beyond its limits (sub-limen). The desire for the unattainable Thing, which is perfection, can lead to extremes which lie ‘beyond the pleasure principle’ and it equally allows the sublime, a simultaneous sensation of pleasure and pain, to present itself. When we are faced with objects which appear perfect and beautiful (e.g. digital or mechanically produced art), we experience pleasure because beauty and perfection are desirable to us. Yet, these objects also have an uncanny quality because machine produced artworks confront us with an absence which presents itself through the unattainable Thing (i.e. perfection). They make the unattainable seem attainable, thus evoking pleasure, while at the same time making us realize that these objects are ‘too perfect’ illusions and that perfection is still the elusive Thing we can never have, thus evoking pain.

This is a very brief abstract of my Philosophy in the Gallery talk at Tate Liverpool, in context of the Transmitting Andy Warhol exhibition, in 2014.
The Superficiality of Art 
Warhol radically redefined the way we understand art and the role of the artist in the production of artworks. Through the use of mechanical reproduction techniques and mass media imagery, Warhol eradicated every trace of ‘the artist’s touch’ from his works, leaving us with mere ‘surfaces’. But what happens to art when the artist is ‘not present’ in their work? In an age of mechanical reproduction, are artworks more than surfaces?