The XXth International
Congress of Aesthetics took place at Seoul National University in South Korea, continuing the tradition of
international congresses of aesthetics that have been held for more than a
century (the first took place in Berlin in 1913).
Like the most recent congresses in Ankara (2007), Beijing (2010), and Kraków (2013),
this latest one was well-structured, open-minded in spirit, and academically
congress was hosted by the Korean Society of Aesthetics in cooperation with the
International Association of Aesthetics (IAA) through an organizing committee
led by Prof. Chong-hwan Oh. Seoul
National University provided an excellent site for the congress. The main venue
was conveniently located and the session rooms were modern and functional,
being equipped with air conditioning (which was certainly appreciated with
outside temperatures of about 90 ℉/35 ℃).
There were several restaurants nearby, and park areas
invited relaxing strolls. Seoul itself, with about 10 million inhabitants, is a
buzzing metropolis, and the calm campus area felt like a retreat within this
urban environment. Attendees with free time to spend in
the city appreciated the efficiency of the large underground system, which has
18 different lines and 311 stations. The city contains several important
museums, such as the National Museum of Korea, the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art
designed by architects such as Jean Nouvel, Mario Botta, and Rem Koolhaas, as
well as the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (designed by Zaha Hadid).
The online registration procedure and assistance worked efficiently,
which was also the case at the congress venue through the kind helpfulness of
student volunteers, who provided all participants with all relevant
information, including the programme, a book of abstracts, and general
materials about the campus and the city.
The topics for this congress included:
1. Issues of Art Theories in the Era of Mass Culture
2. New Media, Design, and Aesthetics
3. The Aesthetics of Body and Sports
4. Reflections on the History of Aesthetics
5. Values of Art: Cognitive, Moral, and Political
6. Scientific Perspectives on Aesthetics
7. Imagination and Emotion
8. Aesthetics of the Environment and Ecology
9. Aesthetics and Theory of Individual Artistic Genres
10. Aesthetics and Art Theories in Asian Traditions
presentations, most of them in English, were organized into plenary round
tables and (more or less coherent) general sessions. About 340 speakers from 37 countries participated, including
(not surprisingly) numerous ones from China, Japan, and, of course, Korea. However,
no speakers from the African continent or the Middle East participated, which
certainly is regrettable. This may partly be explained by difficulties in receiving
sufficient economic funding. For future congresses, the IAA and the host
organizers might consider finding means of providing financial support to
talented scholars from economically less prosperous regions, who otherwise
wouldn’t be able to attend. There were also somewhat fewer Chinese than
Japanese participants because of difficulties for the former to get visas (as
we were told). We may note, as well, that because of the political situation at
the time, all registered participants from Turkey were prevented from leaving
their country (except for one only, Jale Erzen), which we regard as deplorable.
of all presentations is provided by the “word clouds” below (Illustrations
The size of a word in each
of these visualizations is proportional to the number of times the word appears
in the input text, in this case the most common nouns and predicates in the
titles of all presentations.
In cloud 2, we have filtered out "aesthetics,"
"aesthetic," "art," and “culture.”
Click on the image to enlarge
In cloud 3, we have filtered out "contemporary,"
"Chinese," “Korean,” ”modern,” and "theory."
These word clouds can easily be
compared with those in the reports from the Beijing and Kraków congresses.
The main theme of the congress,
"Aesthetics and Mass Culture," proved to be a very fruitful topic, addressing
issues that traditional aesthetics seems to have neglected in comparison with extensive
discussions regarding the nature and value of the fine arts. Still, mass-
produced art works and activities in all kinds of media are undoubtedly that
segment of art production that, at least in quantitative terms, affects and
engages most people compared with the relatively small quantity of artworks
preserved and exhibited in art museums and galleries. The program covered a
number of subjects, from architecture, theater, film, computer games, digital
and internet media, political and cultural theory, music, everyday environments
and landscape, folk art, and kitsch to discussions of Asian art (especially
Korean, Chinese, Japanese), and many more.
Some of the topics addressed during
the congress were outlined by Noël Carroll (USA) in the first plenary paper entitled
“Affective Engagement and Mass Art: Reflexes, Emotions and Moods, Positive and
Negative.” By referring to numerous examples of mass art, Carroll argued that
the broad attractiveness of some art forms to a considerable extent could be
explained by taking audiences’ intersubjective, moral interests (such as
fairness, group loyalty, civility, etc.) and their artistic manifestations into
account. Professor Ken-ichi Sasaki’s plenary speech "On the Front:
Aesthetics versus the Popular Arts and Mass Culture" (the title, itself,
had thought-provoking implications) outlined some transformations of culture
and art in the twentieth century. Being an aesthetic scholar in the Japanese
tradition, with Zen-Buddhist inclinations, his subtle comparisons of Western
and Japanese popular culture, especially from the Edo period, offered new
perspectives. During the next plenary session, “Aesthetic Agency in Mass
Culture,” Dominic Lopes (Canada) argued that contemporary mass culture supports
socially-situated agents in forming larger cooperative networks through which they
pursue aesthetic projects that are not especially introspective compared to the
contemplative appreciation seemingly required by the so-called highbrow arts. Elie
During’s (France) plenary talk on "What Speculative Aesthetics Can Be"
led one to ask whether all aesthetic or evaluative thinking is not always in
one way or other 'speculative.'
The concept of kitsch, i.e. "low-brow"
style of mass-produced art, usually used in a pejorative sense, was discussed
in a number of presentations. In her paper, “Kitsch Products On The Rise,”
Marcela Ganea (Romania) took a somewhat rigid stance against kitsch, describing
it as emotionally and aesthetically banal and dismissible. She claimed that
this should be countered by educational systems in order to “preserve the
standards in art and culture.” Another presentation concerning so-called low-brow
art by Norihide Mori (Japan) with the title, “Aesthetic Value of Bad Art: From
the Point of View of The Evaluative Approach to Aesthetic Experience,” had a
more nuanced approach. The speaker
argued that aesthetically bad art (and kitsch) does not necessarily lack
artistic or cognitive qualities. Damien Hirst’s installation Mother and Child (Divided) was mentioned
as an example, as well as works from the Museum of Bad Art.
One of the younger contributors
from the US, Emily Parker, gave an interesting new insight into current ecological
concerns with her presentation on "Anthropocene." In her paper,
“Aesthetics of Body Deformation,” Krystyna Wilkoszewska (Poland), who had
arranged the previous IAA congress in Kraków, presented and discussed numerous
forms of body modifications and deformations in the arts as well as in daily
life, many of them rather grotesque and clearly deviating from traditional
One interesting round table
concerned phenomenology where Aarto Happala (Finland) and Gerald Cipriani (Ireland)
contributed to our knowledge of the field, each from his perspective. Happala proceeded
analytically and Cipriani in a more poetic fashion with insertions of
beautifully spoken French terms. Daily life, or everyday environments, was the
theme of the round table session entitled “Extending Everyday Aesthetics.” Arto
Haapala, in his contribution “Longing for the Everyday in Everyday Aesthetics,”
promoted the aesthetically appealing aspects of the ordinary and the positive
feelings of familiarity with everyday environments and activities, rather than
the extraordinary, which aesthetics usually has tried to explore. During the
same session, Kalle Puolakka’s (Finland) paper, “Getting Excited about Familiar
Things,” directly addressed and countered Haapala’s proposal by questioning the
aesthetic status of such feelings of familiarity. Despite any possible objections
towards either of their stances, the dialogical interaction between them proved
to be very fruitful, also giving rise to a lively discussion in the audience.
To sum up, the Seoul congress
afforded an abundant, inspiring buffet of academic positions and
thought-provoking issues. Last minute cancellations did occur within the
various sessions and round tables, but they were relatively infrequent. As customary with all congresses, two
Executive Meetings were held, (dinner and lunch were sponsored by the Korean
organizers), which introduced new delegates from Spain and Brazil and which
approved the addition of a new regional aesthetic society from Russia,
represented by Boris Orlov.
several cultural events accompanied the congress. A well-appreciated bus tour,
with guides and many opportunities for informal discussion, took place one
afternoon. This was to an exhibition at the Gallery White Block in Paju, about
24 miles/39 km north of Seoul, and familiarized participants with
the Korean landscape around Seoul and provided a view to North Korea across the
river bay. Afterwards, the excursion continued
to the famous Changdeokgung Palace from the Joseon Dynasty and the Jongmyo
Shrine, both of them UNESCO-listed.
Korea is famous for its performing arts and musical and dance
performances, examples of which were offered during the congress. A concert performed by the Rageum Orchestra and
Dong-Rak Traditional Performing Arts Group during the opening ceremony was
impressive, as was a jazz performance by the Lim Mi-sung and Heo Seong-woo
Korean Jazz Project some days later.
Culinary aesthetic needs were also
met where Korean cuisine could be enjoyed during the lunches (including black
hamburgers, colored with squid ink), the coffee breaks, and the welcome &
farewell dinners. All in all, the congress was clearly a most successful event;
it was well-organized, friendly, and intellectually inspiring. The organizers
deserve much credit and many thanks. The next International Congress of Aesthetics will
take place in Belgrade, Serbia in 2019.
To see additional images of the Congress, please follow this link: https://goo.gl/photos/6XV8YSBPyMm5wzrQ9
Jale N. Erzen
Published October 19, 2016
 For a report on the Beijing
congress in 2010, see Michael Ranta, “Report: The XVIIIth International
Congress of Aesthetics - "Diversities in Aesthetics" (Peking University,
Beijing, China, 9-13 August 2010)”, Contemporary
Aesthetics 8, 2010. http://www.contempaesthetics.org/newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=604&searchstr=ranta
For a report on
the Kraków congress in 2013, see Michael
Ranta and Jale Erzen, “Report: The XVIIIth International Congress of Aesthetics - Aesthetics in Action” (Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland, 21-27 July 2013),
Contemporary Aesthetics 11, 2013.