Critique of Aesthetic Capitalism: a short interview with Gernot Bohme


Gernot Böhme, author of the book Critique of Aesthetic Capitalism (2017, Mimesis International), in conversation with Tonino Griffero,  Director of the book series Atmospheric Spaces

Tonino Griffero: What is the range of influence of Aesthetic Economy on our society? Does it really affect our daily life?

Gernot Böhme: Yes, indeed, it is mainly a matter of everyday life. The main part of industrial production is not for basic needs, but it meets - or even supports – our desires. Our environment today is no longer – as Heidegger called it ­– a Zeugzusammenhang (a multitude of things to be used) but it is rather a scenery of our appearances. This not only applies to our apartment or our garden, but also to the urban environment.

T. G.: What are the main topics and themes that you’d suggest to researchers who would like to further develop your approach to everyday aestheticization?

G. B.: Case-studies are to be recommended: a railway- or tube-station, waiting rooms for patients, places of sport-events and related performances, political sceneries, museums, but also private apartments.

T. G.: How can your diagnosis of a present horizontality of taste avoid to equate art and kitsch? Is there still such a thing as bad taste?

G. B.: Are you asking about the levelling of taste? Well, my approach was originally directed against the narrow-mindedness of Bildungsbürgertum (the “educated class”). Today this seems no longer necessary: the trivalisation of classical artworks is much more urgent. What does it mean that Van Gogh is now it to be found in hotel rooms of any kind? Yes, there still is “bad taste”, but this is not the same as Kitsch. Bad taste is to be found in comics, mangas, a certain kind of movies, etc. The question is what sort of demands are answered with such products. For more inspiration on this topic, see the catalogue of an exhibition on bad taste curated in Darmstadt by Prof. Kai Buchholz.

T. G.: You say that atmospheres are spaces with moods (Stimmungen). What do you suggest then for distinguishing between atmospheres and moods (Stimmungen)?

G. B.: Stimmungen and Atmospheres are almost the same thing. But if we talk about terminology, it might be well to distinguish the use of these two words: Atmospheres are “out there”, they a tuned space, while Stimmungen is about your inner “feeling”, your Befindlichkeit.

T. G.: You suggest that society and aesthetic workers normally generate atmospheres, thus amending the Schmitzian approach. But to what extent is this production really possible and effective?

G. B.: Well, the prove of effectiveness is the case of stage setting – this is one reason why I chose stage setting as a paradigm for the theory of atmospheres. But you can’t produce atmospheres like things because what they are, their character, is a subjective fact. You only can set the conditions by which atmospheres may arise.

T. G.: You think that better atmospheric competence (both in their reception and production) strenghtens our ability to escape aesthetic, mediatic and (generally) social manipulation.  But does not  this competence, which necessarily deletes the pathicity of our perception due to a high level of knowledge, make our affective atmospheric feeling completely impossible?

G. B. No, the competences to be developed do not lie on the level of cognition. They are – for the aesthetic of reception – a certain openness and receptivity, and – for the aesthetics of production – a much more tacit knowledge, even handicraft (the art of stage setting, dressing, cosmetics, gardening etc.)