From Aesthetic Theory, Theodor Adorno, (1970)
Contemporary aesthetics is dominated by the controversy over whether it is subjective or objective. These terms, however, are equivocal. Variously the controversy may focus on the conclusion drawn from subjective relations to artworks, in contrast to the intentio recta toward them, the intentio recta being considered precritical according to the current schema of epistemology. Or the two concepts could refer to the primacy of objective or subjective elements in the artworks themselves, in keeping, for instance, with the distinction made in the history of ideas between classical and romantic. Or, lastly, the issue may be the objectivity of the aesthetic judgment of taste… Still, the starting point of Critique of Judgment was not simply inimical to an objective aesthetics… Kant envisioned a subjectively mediated but objective aesthetics. The Kantian concept of the judgment of taste, by its subjectively directed query, concerns the core of objective aesthetics: the question of quality—good and bad, true and false—in the artwork… Kant achieves his goal of the objectivity of aesthetics, just as he does that of the objectivity of ethics, by way of universally conceptual formalization. This formalization is, however, contrary to aesthetic phenomena as what is constitutively particular. What each artwork would need to be according to its pure concept is essential to none. Formalization, an act of subjective reason, forces art back into precisely that merely subject sphere—ultimately that of contingency—from which Kant wanted to wrest it and which art itself resists… In the artwork the subject is neither the observer nor the creator nor absolute spirit but rather spirit bound up with, preformed and mediated by the object.
For artwork and thus for its theory, subject and object are its own proper elements and they are dialectical in such a fashion that whatever the work is composed of—material, expression, and form—is always both. The materials are shaped by the hand from which the artwork received them; expression, objectivated in the artwork and objective in itself, enters as a subjective impulse; form, if it is not to have a mechanical relationship to what is formed, must be produced subjectively according to the demands of the object…
By entrusting itself fully to its material, production results in something universal born out of the utmost individuation. The force with which the private I is externalized in the work is the I’s collective essence; it constitutes the linguistic quality of works. The labor in the artwork becomes social by way of the individual, though the individual need not be conscious of society; perhaps this is all the more true the less the individual is conscious of society. The intervening individual subject is scarcely more than a limiting value, something minimal required by the artwork for its crystallization. The emancipation of the artwork from the artist is no l’art pour l’art delusion of grandeur but the simplest expression of the work’s constitution as the expression of a social relation that bears in itself the law of its own reification…
Inasmuch as subject and object have become disjoint in historical reality, art is possible only in that it passed through the subject. For mimesis of what is not administered by the subject has no other locus than in the living subject. The objectivation of art through its immanent execution requires the historical subject… Subjectivity, however, though a necessary condition of the artwork is not the aesthetic quality as such but becomes it only through objectivation; to this extent subjectivity in the artwork is self-alienated and concealed.
Adorno, Theodor W. Aesthetic Theory. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. London: Bloomsburg Academic, 1997. Print.
The excerpt is from the “chapter” on Subject-Object.