I’m going to try do do something a little bit different with this post; I’m making a pass over the reading this morning before class, and then post a followup after I’ve had a chance to read other’s responses. – J

Attempting to take apart Folkmann’s excerpt on aesthetics is an exercise in patience, more than anything else. By the time I reached the end of the reading, it dawned on me that it is actually very well organized; the topic is just divided into so many sub-classifications, it can be difficult to hold the whole concept of the paper in one’s head at once. At the outset, Folkmann makes a concerted effort to identify aesthetics “as a relationship between subject and object rather than an essence that can be physically grasped, determined, and circumscribed,” (Folkmann, p27) which to me suggests that his appreciation of aesthetics is closely tied to perception of an artifact. However, he also elaborates that his discussion of aesthetics in design “will not go through the traditional discussions of art as a medium of aesthetic appreciation and communication,” which separates it from simply a curatorial critique of a collection of designs. (Folkmann, p28) By scoping his examination of aesthetics in this way, Folkmann is able to explore the space of aesthetics as it relates to experience.

Folkmann divides his overview of aesthetics in design into three key distinctions (or dimensions) of aesthetics;

…I claim that design is important by virtue of its sensual effects (the sensual-phenomenological platform), its ability to challenge our understanding (the conceptual-hermeneutical platform), and its capacity for creating and construing meaning on the level of society (the discursive-contextual platform). (Folkmann, p32)

The first of these, the sensual-phenomenological, is centered around form and appearance, and how our sensory perception of an artifact influences both ourselves and the objects that are observed. But Folkmann criticizes the dichotomy between subject and object, and instead embraces the idea of ambience. The key tenets of ambience involve the subject/object relationship, but as a coherent whole rather than distinctly separate entities, and also can be manipulated through aesthetics. (Folkmann, p36) Taken holistically, the sensual-phenomenological allow us the “means of structuring the appearance and the surface that signify ‘world’ in our perception and cognition.” (Folkman, p38)

The conceptual-hermeneutical platform is the construction of “meaning” in aesthetics. Meaning in this sense is comprehension; whether a design or design aesthetic makes it easier or more difficult to understand its intended purpose. With this follows the opportunity for aesthetic objects to provide us with new lenses for understanding the world in an artifact-mediated way, “as schemata for a new kind of perception and understanding that transcends everyday perception.” (Folkmann, p46) Folkmann goes on to demonstrate this idea through a series of examples of chairs, which although they contain a large amount of “meaning” in their physical forms, nevertheless retain some degree of utility and function inasmuch as they are objects to sit on.

The final category of aesthetics Folkmann identifies is the Contextual-Discursive (or Aestheticization) platform. This is the “ethical aesthetics” approach to design, which incorporates the means of “distribution [of] the sensual with an emphasis on the overall impact of aesthetic media” (Folkman, p57). To me, this is the part of aesthetics that deals with the “ecology” of design: where and how the design situates itself in the context of the world around it. It is also viewed here as a mediator, through its material and sensual impact, to guide a person towards its intended experience. I found it interesting that Folkmann chose to include the critical design movement within his discussion of aestheticization, as a form of disruption; this to me raises questions not only about sensual and materiality, but also about proposing new models of structuring experience. (Folkmann, p66)