Volume 1, 2018
Aesthetics and Philosophies of Art
The Revival of Multimodal Aesthetics
One of the recent areas of discussion in aesthetics and the visual arts is the tension between the so-called “ocularcentric” tradition, on the one hand, and the tendency to move in a multisensory, multimodal direction, on the other. My aim in this paper is to bring out this tension by tracing it in a number of moments; firstly, in the late 19th-early 20th century discussion, concerning the “total art work” and the contribution of synaesthesia; secondly, the reaction to what Clement Greenberg called the modernist “reduction to the visual”, expressed in a variety of multimodal art forms in the latter half of the 20th century. The weight of my paper is given to two contemporary discussions with significant repercussions in aesthetics: a. the opposition between “disembodiment” and “embodied immersion” in the area of new media; and b. the debate between modularity and plasticity of perception in neuroscience. The conclusion to which I am led is that the possibilities of sensory integration offered by new media and of sensory plasticity - offered by synaesthesia - suggest new creative ways in which our senses may interact and enhance our experience of the world, as well as elucidate artistic creativity and aesthetic appreciation.