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[SNUMoA] Exhibition 〈Aesthetic Sense〉

Jun 13, 2024 - Aug 25, 2024

Exhibition Title: Aesthetic Sense

Exhibition Period: 2024. 6. 13. ~ 8. 25.

(Tue-Sun 10:00-18:00 [Closed on Mondays]

Place: Seoul National University Museum of Art

Artists: Kim Yong-sik, Kim Hong-joo, Park Geun-joo, Park Yoon-joo, Park Je-hoon, Yeom Ji-hee, Won Seong-won, Yoo Hwa-soo, Lee Na-ha, Lee Sang-yong, Lee Fe-ro, Jeon Ga-bin

Host: Seoul National University Museum of Art

Inquiry: 02.880.9504

About 미적 감각 (美的感覺)

“Nobody sees a flower really.”

What does the term '감각하다' mean? The meaning combines two core perceptual acts: ‘감’ () which means to feel, respond, or be moved emotionally, and ‘각’ () which means to realize, understand, and reveal. Namely, sensing involves feeling and intellectually knowing objects and stimuli of the world through the five senses of the eyes, nose, ears, tongue, and skin. In contrast, the corresponding English word 'sense' is thinner or lighter in two aspects: physicality, and the synchronicity of ‘감’ and ‘각’—their simultaneity and horizontality. The aesthetic sensibility that forms the basis of aesthetic judgment is similar.

Seeing encompasses far more at once than thinking does. Vision is the fuse that ignites emotions. When looking at something, all senses awaken. “Eyes excel at symbolic, aphoristic, and multifaceted perception. ... Even if something doesn’t seem significant to others, it stirs emotions in those who stand before it.” The heart fails to stir because it fails to see properly. And we do not see properly. As Georgia O'Keeffe once said, “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time.

Misuse and Confusion of the Senses

Prejudices and misuse of the senses have challenged modern intellectual systems ever since René Descartes excluded the senses from philosophy. There were, of course, Heraclitus, who called senses a trait of the barbarian soul, and Plato, who suggested removing eyes and ears to attain the wisdom of being. In 1641, Descartes stated in Meditations that all senses are prone to error, especially sight, which often only skims the surface, never reaching the essence. For Descartes, the senses were the primary object of doubt. His error lay in severing mind from body, a moment when the consideration of living beings was lost. Modernity has become preoccupied with authenticity and essence, yet these are authenticity without bodies and meaningless essence.

Now the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme. Gilles Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense has sparked another misunderstanding of the senses, a more modern misinterpretation claiming to detoxify Cartesianism. He separated the senses from the soul and attached them to mere protein masses. This dichotomy rehashes classical philosophy, almost to the point of tautology. As for now, it is not reason but the body that is idolized, no less problematic than classical philosophy. For Deleuze, acute aesthetic sense reduces being to the body (corps) and the body to meat (viande), exemplified by Francis Bacon.

Aesthetic Sensibility

Contrary to the prejudices continuously promoted by the philosophy of reason, the senses are not confined to mere feelings or emotions. They are more closely tied to the soul than the realm of reason. The eyes’ role is only to gather light. Scenes from dreams, vivid memories... seeing is an event occurring in the brain. Certain 'seeings' are genuine events that awaken our souls from slumber. These characteristics make the senses the essence of art.

Harold O. J. Brown emphasizes the importance of understanding the movements of one's innermost parts, suggesting that the life and energy of the five senses are derived from the soul, which supplies them with vitality and energy.

With this energy, William Blake felt "an immense world of delight, closed by [his] senses five", watching the birds fly to the heavens. The senses connect humans and non-humans, one soul and its many kin, individuals and the universe, all life on earth. This connection, even if it seems strange and unfamiliar, is more precise than any mathematics. Often melancholic but noble, it is the most concrete and yet mysterious.