The model is based on the idea that aesthetic acts and artefacts can relate to the autological dimension on the one side, and the heterological dimension on the other, both options being equally viable. By autological dimension, we mean the available knowledge of forms and composition in the sense of technical skills, which, following the tradition of classic rules of rhetoric and of poetics, is designated by the term ars. This term comprises explicit artistic teachings (poetics, rhetoric, laws of proportion) as well as the entire repertoire of prior or implicit rules, models, topoi and traditions which function as practical and technical points of reference for artistic production. Conversely, the heterological dimension is concerned with pragmatic aims and purposes, the social environment and contexts. It is crucial that both dimensions in principle are interdependent and not mutually exclusive. This seems crucial to an adequate and differentiated description of how pre-modern aesthetic phenomena in particular are embedded in everyday environments.
To identify the evidence in which artefacts mirror, display and discuss the autological as well as the heterological dimension, the CRC puts forward ‘figures of aesthetic reflection’. ‘Figures of aesthetic reflection’ are understood as configurations which become apparent or materialize in concrete objects, texts, practices or institutions, and in which the tension between the inner logic of aesthetic acts and artefacts and their entanglement with non-aesthetic realms and facts becomes visible, i.e. the dynamic relationship between the autological and the heterological dimension. By focussing on ‘figures of aesthetic reflection’, we become aware of a fine-grained device that complements theoretically grounded, explicit aesthetics. In this way, a different aesthetics can be heuristically explored and systematically described.