International Congress 2023
The Frontiers of Aesthetics
From 11.06 to 11.10 2023
Organizing Comitee
Bernardo Barros de Oliveira (UFF)
Cíntia Vieira da Silva (UFOP)
Fernanda Proença (UFOP)
Marcela Oliveira (UERJ)
Pedro Duarte (PUC-Rio)
Pedro Franceschini (UFBA)
Pedro Süssekind (UFF)
Rosa Gabriella Gonçalves (UFBA)
Vladimir Vieira (UFF)


Without overstatement, the idea of “frontier” can be considered one of the most fundamental notions in the field of studies that tradition has named “aesthetics”. It was by opening up its own field that the investigation of art and beauty was able to establish itself as an autonomous philosophical discipline, despite having its roots in much earlier times. The birth of aesthetics in modernity coincides with the demarcation of its limits in relation to moral and cognitive problems confined to the domains of goodness and truth; meanwhile the contemporary debate often points to the difficulty in drawing such limits.

An analogous movement can be observed when considering the objects investigated by this then infant discipline. The gestation of aesthetics – from the 17th century to the publication of Kant’s Critique of Judgment in the late 18th century – can be characterized by the tendency to establish boundaries between the categories of the beautiful and the sublime, which we find in the canonical formulation of Kant’s work. Not surprisingly, Edmund Burke had already recognized that the main obstacle his Enquiry had to surmount was the fact “that the ideas of the sublime and beautiful were frequently confounded; and that both were indiscriminately applied to things greatly differing, and sometimes of natures directly opposite”.

The reflection on the sublime itself involved a discussion about our human limits and the possibility of overcoming them. According to Schiller’s interpretation, the sublime would be an “object by whose representation our sensuous nature feels its limits, but our rational nature feels its superiority, its freedom from limits”. This dimension of aesthetic experience even paved the way for the emergence of a philosophy of the tragic in the modern era.

The discussion regarding the differentiation between art forms also involves the language of frontiers and limits, as witnessed by Lessing’s famous essay on the Laocoon: “On the limits of painting and poetry”. A longstanding theme dating back to Aristotle’s Poetics, the establishment of boundaries between different arts – whether based on their objects, their means, or the affected senses – is decisive in 18th-century art criticism. This topic would play a special role in the consolidation of aesthetics and extends into attempts to build a system of the arts, such as those made by Schelling and Hegel.

The problem already presented by art in Kant’s Critique of Judgment showed that these newly conquered frontiers were destined to be reopened and redrawn. When applied to most arts, the judgment of taste resisted being considered pure, and its connections with ethical judgments could not be entirely rejected. The theoretical path that passed through the elaboration of beautiful works, initially focused on the concept of genius, created ramifications whose consequences were explored by the Romantics.

One of these ramifications bore fruit in the 20th century. Walter Benjamin’s reading of F. Schlegel’s and Novalis’ notion of romantic art criticism highlights the continuation of works of art in the discourse that we make about them. “For the Romantics, criticism is much less the judgment of a work than the method of completing it. In this sense, they fostered poetic criticism, sublated the difference between criticism and poetry.” The figure of the art critic historically appears alongside that of the theorists of aesthetics, as a science of beauty; however, romantic thought reinterpreted by Benjamin denies him the title of “judge of art”. It is not about judging but rather about unfolding. This produced an approximation between what was traditionally deemed to be distant: reflection and creation, concept and metaphor, or even philosophy and art. Modern artists have often been theoreticians, with texts that comment on their works or integrate them. Since Georg Lukács, the artistic character of the essay form was also questioned, emphasizing the aspect of presentation in the language of theoretical ideas. Poetry and prose sometimes come together in poetic prose. “Literary forms of philosophy” were pointed out, calling attention to the expression in Plato’s Dialogues or Saint Augustine’s Confessions. If borders were important to mark the singularity of different discourses, crossing them also became crucial to respond to what Martin Heidegger called the “task of thinking”, by seeking a dialogue between philosophy and poetry.

The figure of Charles Baudelaire studied by Benjamin, a master himself of the essay, can be taken as a crossroads that shuffles another frontier involved in the aesthetic and studies in philosophy of art: that between life and work. If the way of life of certain artists of the 19th century composes a stylistic of aesthetically elaborated gestures, acts, and behaviors, the 20th century stages an intensification of the artistic treatment of vital movements, especially in performance. Typical actions of everyday life are transposed into an artistic scene, configuring themselves as works of art, with the artists’ bodies becoming both support and material for their productions – and this in a more explicit way than that of traditional performing arts, such as dance, theater, and singing.

Also in the 20th century, the blurring of arts’ boundaries extended to other discursive fields, such as psychoanalysis, politics, and ethics, prompting transformations in the formal composition of works and raising new questions to be unfolded on the thematic level. If, for example, the technique of stream of consciousness has been a revolution in literature, bordering on psychoanalysis, we see in the 21st century reflections on technology, environmental crisis, gender issues, and decolonization being accentuated in the art universe.

In this context, the aesthetic debate of the 21st century is literally confronted with the idea of borders and frontiers, when it criticizes the Eurocentrism that has traditionally defined it. How do national or cultural borders – as modernity had already made clear, for example, in the polemics between German Romanticism and French Classicism – alter the meaning of art? In Brazil, since the beginning of the 20th century with Modernism and other critical and artistic expressions, the country’s relationship to the West has been thought about either by the border that separates it or by the passages through this border that produce identifications. The most famous formulation for this question, although not the only one, was Oswald de Andrade’s anthropophagy: devouring and digesting what is foreign, instead of isolating oneself or copying others. It was also a matter of thinking about the unity and borders within Brazil, as in the travels of the “apprentice tourist” Mário de Andrade.

In Brazil, thinking about art was thinking (and crossing) the frontier between high art and popular art, the modern and the archaic, cultural industry and tradition, the coast and the hinterland, the country and the world, the inside and the outside – while often putting a country project at stake, or a “promise of happiness”, as has already been said about Bossa Nova. And when the frontier was used to guarantee some purity – whether of an art form, a cultural extraction, or a people –, much of Brazilian art responded, with Hélio Oiticica, that all purity is a myth.

Aiming to foster debate on issues concerning the notion of “frontier” in aesthetics, the International Congress proposes to address some of these aspects, independently or through possible dialogues between them.