Robert Ginsberg, in a paper to be given at the American Society for Aesthetics conference at the APA meetings in San Diego, raises several questions about the aesthetics of ruins. I am to comment on his paper, and these are preliminary notes towards those comments. Ginsberg has actually “written the book” on the looks of ruins.
I advise that readers of this blog to look at the excellent choices from that publication, The Aesthetics of Ruins, offered free of charge on Google books. For now I will cause some of his questions and my thoughts about possible replies. Before proceeding I will remember that I am currently teaching a seminar where we are studying the aesthetics of nature: many of the issues there are relevant to the aesthetics of ruins as well.
Also, as an initial, I shall describe an event of mine during a recent visit to Mazatlan, Mexico. The downtown area contains many early 19th hundred years and past-due 18th hundred years structures which are actually in ruins possibly. The walls there are still, however when you look through the windows the thing is open sky and random vegetation.
Other buildings have been renovated like the wonderful house of our friends where we remained. Moreover, an elegant new restaurant has been opened in this certain area called The Presidio. It is very modernistic in design but can be found among the ruins of the former grand house. The exterior is totally intact in what looks like its former glory. The inside however contains some crumbling walls, some of which still have the graffiti on them that was there when the area was renovated.
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The impact for restaurant-goers is that of being in a damage transformed. Eating there under the open up sky and looking out onto the many elements of the former house, now re-used, encased in glass sometimes, graced by minimalist fountains, with interesting art on some walls, is a fine experience. Its fineness is partially because of the ambiance created by its seductive referrals to old Mazatlan: the building has been possessed for several generations by the same family, and there are large blown-up portraits of two ancestors in one corner. What better way to determine that something is visually enjoyable than to discover that it is visually enjoyed?
But then your question is whether the ruin is a proper object of aesthetic enjoyment. It is thought by me is. One way that we can that contextualize a ruin so, in our seeing it, we see more than what our senses tell us is to find out about it immediately, especially about its history.
Ginsberg asks whether such information is “decisive in indicating its aesthetic identification?” Well, “decisive” is a strong term. Anticipating anything decisive in looks is to anticipate much too. Information regarding past background is important to the aesthetic connection with ruins certainly. But imagination is also important. Consider the experience of the owners of The Presidio as they wished for their future restaurant.