Sublimity in the Art of the Light and Space Movement

Megan Friel


In the 1960s art moved away from the idea of universal beauty towards a new aesthetic experience, a concept of the sublime which could accommodate the tensions of modernity.    A strong example of this new experience can be seen in the works of the Light and Space movement, which emerged in Southern California in the 1960s with the intention of bringing a heightened awareness to our own perceptions of light and space.   The movement’s artists accomplished this through large-scale installations that provided the viewer with an overwhelming sensory experience that can be characterized as the modern concept of the sublime. This paper explores the transition from an experience of the beautiful toward an experience of the sublime by applying the aesthetic theories of Kant, Adorno, Merleau-Ponty and Lyotard to the art of the Light and Space movement.    I examine the question of whether the aesthetic experience is still a factor in art, and what it was about the historic moment of the Light and Space artists that drew us to work that simultaneously invites us to lose ourselves and seeks to re-sensitize us to an experiential way of being.   

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