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Exemplarity and MediocrityThe Art of the Average from Bourgeois Tragedy to Realism$
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Paul Fleming

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780804758901

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804758901.001.0001

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Exemplarity and Mediocrity

Exemplarity and Mediocrity

(p.15) Chapter 1 Exemplarity and Mediocrity
Exemplarity and Mediocrity
Stanford University Press

This chapter examines aesthetics' long-standing abhorrence of mediocre quality, in which average art, even if it still can be sublime, is worse than artistic failure in a lot of ways. It differentiates this universal rejection of mediocrity by looking at a key reversal in aesthetic thought that takes place with the break from normative aesthetics (Aristotle, Horace) in the eighteenth century and the emergence of a genial notion of art (Immanuel Kant). Normative aesthetics strictly circumscribes the procedures, genre distinctions, and subject matter of art, hence locating mediocrity partially in the inability to follow the existing standards and genre determinations. This criterion is reversed by modern art under the imperative of originality, with mediocre art turning into imitative, derivative production. In this context, modern exemplarity sets a new rule for aesthetic judgment via originality, rather than adhering to canonical texts and established procedure.

Keywords:   exemplarity, mediocrity, aesthetics, Aristotle, Horace, Immanuel Kant, originality, art, genre

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