Research Interests and Central Tasks

The prominence of questions concerning aesthetics that we are currently witnessing especially in the social and natural sciences can be beneficial in two ways for art history, musicology and literary studies, especially within the CRC’s broad interdisciplinary collaboration that also includes archaeology, numismatics, history, theology, linguistics and rhetoric. The first gain concerns the reintegration of the artistic discourse into the wide-ranging debate on individuals and society. The second benefit lies in detaching oneself, in a more decisive manner than was previously attempted, from the fixation of aesthetic inquiries on the 18th and 19th centuries as the age of aesthetic theory. Thus, the most recent approaches suggest an additional and special reconsideration of the pre-modern period under the aspect of aesthetics. This very operation, however, according to the thesis and goals of the CRC, makes it possible and needful to develop a ‘different’ understanding of aesthetics – an understanding gained not only from a timeless anthropological and a contemporary societal perspective, but also from a historical-cultural point of view. For art history, musicology and literary studies, in association with other historical cultural studies, can make the following contributions to the current transdisciplinary discourse:

  • an explanation of what is conceived as ‘aesthetic’ in the first place – this requires a fundamental discussion of the type seldom conducted in the humanities nowadays, although it would be their role to introduce a new perspective from a cultural studies standpoint
  • a historical deepening and contouring which is mostly omitted, as the social sciences favour radical contemporaneity and the natural sciences instead accentuate anthropological continuity
  • a heuristically sound proposal on how pre-modern and contemporary perspectives could enter into a close, mutually enriching dialogue about how to determine the aesthetic and what its functions are.

The fundamental precondition for interlinking the different approaches and creating a productive dialogue between the various academic subjects is that our understanding of ‘aesthetics’ is put up for discussion again. For the time being, the CRC regards "aesthetics" as an open, heuristic term of inquiry. In order to become such an open and flexible term, it must first be freed of its normative restrictions, such as the suggestion of its systematic unity. This process is guided by three aspects:

(1) The CRC decidedly focuses on the historical diversity of aesthetic phenomena while concentrating on what is artificially produced and the practices, manifestations and concepts connected with it this.

(2) Our starting point is not an emphatic concept of "art" but aesthetic acts (performative actions like rituals, ceremonies, and performances) and artefacts (texts and objects like pictures, buildings, musical scores) whose "aesthetic" position between the knowledge of form and composition on the one hand and social practice on the other is first of all to be determined.

(3) The orientation framework that is heuristically necessary consists of a minimum consensus about criteria to be fulfilled by a meaningful inquiry: a sensory and material basis (body building material, colour, sounds, words, actions, etc.) as well as a certain diligence of configuration (e.g. specific use of material, reflected arrangements) which turns form and composition into statements of their own.