UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

La beauté est dans la rue : art & visual culture in Paris, 1968 Scott, Victoria Holly Francis


Removed from its artistic origins in the French avant-garde during the interwar period, the European based group known as the situationist international is often represented as being solely occupied with politics to the exclusion of all else, particularly art and aesthetics. In what follows I argue that throughout the sixties the anti-aesthetic position was actually the governing model in France obliging the avant-garde to adjust their strategies accordingly. Artists and artists' collectives that placed politics before aesthetics were the norm, enjoying widespread popularity and recognition from both the public and the French State. These overtly partisan groups and individuals sapped art of the power it had enjoyed in the fifties as a venue removed, or at least distanced from, formal politics. In response, the situationists officially rejected the art world, turning to the popular and vernacular culture of the streets in an attempt to get beyond both classical aesthetic principals and the overt propagandistic objectives of groups such as le Salon de la jeunePeinture. Turning to the climactic moment of 1968 I track the ways in which these debates informed the posters and graffiti which marked the unfinished revolution, sorting out the various aesthetic positions and political persuasions that dominated the events. My thesis contends that the situationists were not anti-aesthetic, that they simply advocated a different kind of aesthetics: one that rejected traditional notions of beauty for the more active and open concept of poiesis or poetry. Beyond words on a page, this notion implied art as a way of life, emphasizing production, creation, formation and action and can be traced back to the groups prewar origins in the Dada and surrealist movements. Moreover, this concept of poetry was not adverse to issues of form being highly dependent on the materiality and physicality of the urban centre, specifically the streets. Finally my conclusion expands upon the similarities between this notion of poetry and the 17th century understanding of beauty, the latter concept being associated with a subtle criticality and strategic wit. It was this interpretation of beauty that defined and produced the art of 1968.

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