Art, design, pink gold with diamonds and aesthetic taste

“When we come to cultural and artistic parallels [between our time and the Middle Ages] the scene proves far more complex. On the one hand we find a fairly perfect correspondence between two ages that, in different ways but with identical educational Utopias and with equal ideological camouflage of their paternalistic aim to control minds, try to bridge the gap between learned culture and popular culture through visual communication. (…)

 And over all reigned a total lack of distinction between aesthetic objects and mechanical objects (a robot in the form of a cock, artistically engraved, was given by Harun al Rashid to Charlemagne, a kinetic jewel if ever there was one); and there was no difference between the object of “creation” and the object of curiosity, or between the work of the artisan and that of the artist, between the “multiple” and the unique piece, and, least of all, between the curious trouvaille (the art nouveau lamp and a whale’s tooth) and the work of art. All was ruled by a taste for gaudy color and a notion of light as a physical element of pleasure. (…) 

 Huizinga said that to understand medieval aesthetic taste you have to think of the sort of indiscriminate reaction an astonished bourgeois feels when viewing a curious and precious object. (…) An art not systematic but additive and compositive, ours and that of the Middle Ages: Today as then the sophisticated elitist experiment coexists with the great enterprise of popularization (the relationship between illuminated manuscript and cathedral is the same as that between MOMA and Hollywood), with interchanges and borrowings, reciprocal and continuous; and the evident Byzantinism, the mad taste for collecting, lists, assemblage, amassing of disparate things is due to the need to dismantle and reconsider the flotsam of a previous world, harmonious perhaps, but by now obsolete.” 

Umberto Eco, Living in the New Middle Ages

excerpts

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