Aesthetics [part ed: W. Scott Clifton]
I am swamped right now with end of semester duties, but I would like to say that I think what some of you are suggesting–begin with a chapter on aesthetic experience–was what I envisioned the introductory chapter to do. That is, begin with examples of what it means to experience beauty and construe aesthetics as the philosophical study of that experience. So I think we are roughly on the same page here, though I didn’t expect that we would need an entire chapter on it. Maybe we would.
But I worry that if we split the focus between art, nature, scientific theories, concrete non-art objects, commercial products–i.e., any context in which we might experience beauty–we would be giving the impression that aesthetics as a contemporary discipline devotes its attention to all of these in equal amounts. While it’s certainly true that people have aesthetic experiences in almost all contexts of life, it’s not true that the field of aesthetics today gives each of these equal attention. For example, when we look at papers published in the two flagship journals in aesthetics today–the British Journal of Aesthetics and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism–almost all of them focus on aesthetic experience within the context of art. My guiding principle in constructing the outline was to give introductory students a glimpse into the contemporary field of aesthetics. If we want to accomplish a different goal–say, why the philosophical study of beauty is valuable in itself–then the emphases may need to be adjusted.
So I guess the relevant question is: what do we want students to learn from this section? Two options would be A. what contemporary aestheticians are investigating. B what aestheticians tout court would investigate.
@cliftows Thanks for your elucidation, I think I understand a lot better where you are coming from (and, as regards end of semester duties, I hear you!). I also think that it would be a bad idea to give separate attention to each and every context of aesthetic evaluation. Keep it simple I say: discuss the Kantian distinction between free/applied beauty and then maybe the contested status of artworks as exemplarily free or applied beautiful objects, this could also serve as a nice segue into the second chapter on art.
In chapter 1, we could also discuss diverse attempts to combine aesthetics with other disciplines (neurobiology? psychology/philosophy of mind? sociology/ (art) history?)
Chapter 2: I tried to see whether I could integrate my background knowledge of philosophy of art into your schema. Firstly, I would recast the general topic of this chapter so that it is not just about how to define art, but also about how we should think about the role that art has (or should have). Most philosophers I’m familiar with are less bothered by the first question and more by the second. Beyond that, integrating my background knowledge sometimes it felt like a square peg-round hole type of situation, but here’s my first suggestion:
- Representational theory: - we could talk about the criticisms that mimetic theories have received from Martin Heidegger and Jacques Rancière and, possibly a rejoinder from Theodor W. Adorno. (Though the latter’s philosophy of art is especially difficult to discuss in isolation from his other work in critical theory)
- The expression theory: we could talk about Kandinsky’s On the Spiritual in Art as well. Though maybe not so influential in professional philosophical circles, it was a huge influence among artists and artistic practice. Does that count for something? Artistic genius theories do also belong in this category, right?
- Formalism: Bell, if I remember rightly, thinks that all artworks have a unique/distinctive form, ontologically speaking. This idea sounds mad to me, are any formalists of this ontological variety still around? Surely not after Danto/Warhol? Else, if artistic form is an epistemological matter, they seem to fall under the rubric of aesthetic attitude, no?
- Aesthetic attitude: if I understand you correctly, Alexander Baumgarten, Jacques Rancière would rank among these. Criticism by Heidegger. Maybe Bourdieu?
- Institutional theories: criticism by Rancière, Heidegger, Adorno, pretty much all of them
- Anti-essentialism: I think Heidegger might belong in this category
As said, I’m not quite sure how to fit in my thoughts. I therefore thought that it might be helpful to add a category, possibly replacing the expression theory with this one (since you plan to discuss art and emotion in a separate chapter, right?)
- Artistic truth: this approach to art is more of a functional definition. It holds that, whatever they are, artworks communicate a unique, non-propositional kind of truth to their audience. This can be a truth about the artist (besides Tolstoy and Collingwood, I would say: Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian), a truth about society (Hegel and Heidegger, Adorno, Bourdieu maybe?), or a metaphysical truth (Alexander Baumgarten, Kandinsky, Hegel and Heidegger again, possibly Hölderlin). I also think that Deleuze’s cinema books would fall under this category, as well as Badiou’s writings on inaesthetics, but I am less familiar with these philosophers.
Considerations under this rubric might tie in with considerations as regards art and morality in chapter 5.
Chapter 3: I would add another question, “Has art anything to do with beauty at all?” Along a certain line of interpretation, Kant is quite skeptic of art’s capacity to inspire an experience of beauty. Here we can also discuss the difference between beauty and sublimity (and possibly Lyotard’s postmodern turn, ‘art has to do with sublimity not beauty’). Lastly, Adorno (beauty as a bourgeois concept and as an ‘apparition’) will become relevant again.
Chapter 5: “First, we may learn some new information from art that we did not know and may not have been able to learn from other sources.” Exactly the approach to art/aesthetic experience I was trying to spell out above, right?
Chapter 6: I would also elaborate here on the distinctiveness of the aesthetic experience of art. I don’t know. I’m familiar with Seel’s influential book on this, but I don’t know much other literature.
@wturgeon I like this idea of case studies or examples … it seems to me that this could be helpful as places to support students in reflection and also things instructors could use if they want to generate discussion in class or online.
If we do that, we’d want to include them in each of the sub-sections, I think, for uniformity’s sake.
Glad to hear you can help over the summer! I just finished my marking for the term so now I’m available to do more myself.
Hi - I am keen to write the following chapter: “Chapter 2 What Makes Something an Artwork?” My PhD was on the definition of art. I have put my name in the spreadsheet and have sent my CV to Christina Hendricks. Please get it touch if you would like me to proceed.
@senddanemail Hi Daniel! I think you’ve had some email contact with Christina and Scott, but I thought I’d welcome you here as well. Thanks for volunteering, it’s great to have you join us. I’ll let @cliftows talk details on the content side of things, but let me know if you have any questions at this stage.
(p.s. It’s nice to see another Kiwi around these parts – I’m from Hamilton originally and studied at AUT )
Hi to all on this thread, including @c-p-verdonschot and @wturgeon: We are currently looking for chapter authors for this section of the text! If you’re interested, please see the documents in the sticky post at the top of this thread–a chapter outline, a place to sign up for chapters, and an author guide (what does it mean to author a chapter?).
@hugh the link for chapters is for the Ethics text…
@wturgeon Whoops! Sorry about that, have corrected it now. Thanks for flagging it.
@clhendricksbc Hi Christina, I would love to author a chapter. But I get the feeling that not much has been done with my feedback on the outline above. As it stands, I’m still a bit puzzled by some of the guiding questions from the outline. E.g., the chapter “What makes an artwork beautiful?” seems to be mostly about beauty and aesthetic judgment, not art (is beauty an objective or subjective quality? If subjective, how to judge beauty?). Then again, the introduction states quite clearly that the whole section should be about art, not aesthetic experience in general. That is why I can understand why the distinction between artistic and aesthetic qualities is introduced, but the distinction itself I can’t quite wrap my head around (“a painting’s elegance is aesthetic, its symbolism is artistic” ? And one of those qualities is internal to the work and the other ‘supervenes’ on the work, whatever supervenience means?). If I were to write this, I would chuck the whole connotation with artworks, broaden the scope of the article so that it is about aesthetic judgment rather than merely beauty (sublimity is also an object of aesthetic judgment, no?), and then discuss various ways of conceiving of what it means to take on an ‘aesthetic attitude’. What are the preconditions of this attitude? Are they trainable (Hume, Baumgarten)? Universally available (Kant)? Sociologically determined (Bourdieu)? Politically emancipating (Ranciere)? Then, in the context of certain theories (e.g. the role of art as a medium for cultural reproduction, for Bildung, etc. etc.), I would think about introducing art as a special kind of objects of aesthetic appreciation.
Long story short, I could write chapter 3, but I fear I would take it in a direction completely differing from what @cliftows imagines it to be.
@c.p.verdonschot Hi! Just wanted to say I’ve read your message and looked over the outline and am thinking…and Scott is too. We’ll get back here on these ideas soon!
@c.p.verdonschot I will be in touch in the next couple of days with some ideas for a gameplan for writing this chapter.
@zoe Hi Zoe - thanks for your message. I’m looking forward to pulling a submission together. I’ll definitely let you know if I have any questions. Thanks! (p.s. I originally lived in Thames and the Hauraki Plains areas though I now live in AKL and walk past AUT nearly every day.)
@cliftows Thanks, looking forward to hearing from you!
@senddanemail Small world! Great to be working with you, and we look forward to seeing your chapter come together.
@cliftows I have been teaching an aesthetics component of an introduction to philosophy course for (roughly) 18 year olds for around 4-5 years. In the course of this I have come to the conclusion that the whole ‘what makes something an artwork’ question is a bit of a dead end.
Instead I now go straight to the question of what makes something a good/really good/great work of art.
This is a far more interesting question, for a start it allows us to sidestep a lot of rather tedious or more-or-less sociological stuff, yet allows us to introduce most of the theories you list here. But now with more ‘oomph’. ‘Does a focus on the expressive aspects of a work permit us to fully appreciate all great works of art, or are there clear counter examples; works that are unquestionably great, but which have very little expressive clout?’ &c.
Happy to share my curriculum materials if interested.