Aesthetics [section ed: W. Scott Clifton]
This thread will be for discussions related to the Aesthetics section. This top post will include:
- section goals
- section TOC
- chapter assignments
- author guide (length, style etc)
- how to participate
- section “team”
I just wanted to post here that I’m finalizing the outline and it should be posted in the next couple of days.
Here is an outline for the section on aesthetics. I should also point out that my familiarity is with “analytic” aesthetics. If we want “continental” approaches to aesthetics, we will need to find someone with the appropriate expertise.
Chapter 1 What is Aesthetics?
This opening chapter will be relatively short, since it will describe the discipline of aesthetics and should motivate the discussion using fairly familiar examples. Many introductory aesthetics textbooks use examples from the fine arts, like sonnets, classical paintings, and great novels, but the relevant issues can be illustrated effectively through the use of more contemporary and pop-culture examples. In this chapter it should be made clear that, while aesthetics is the philosophical study of beauty, most of the work done in the last three centuries has focused on aesthetic enjoyment of artworks. This is why the next four chapters deal exclusively with art, leaving the last chapter to discuss beauty and nature.
Chapter 2 What Makes Something an Artwork?
This chapter will consider the issue of defining art, and why such a project has been thought to be worthwhile. A discussion of necessary and sufficient conditions would be necessary in the introduction of this chapter, since most attempts to define “art” have been construed as the hunt to find the necessary and sufficient conditions for an object’s being an artwork. It’s also important to stress that this task is merely descriptive: the task is to determine what makes an object a work of art, not a good work of art.
There are roughly six approaches that will be covered:
- The Representational Theory
This theory says that artworks are, at a minimum, created (in a wide sense of the word) objects that are about something (and not necessarily something else, since some artworks might be intended to be about themselves). The oldest versions of this would be found in Plato and Aristotle, which construe artworks primarily as imitations. More recent versions take a more semantic approach and could be described in more or less detail, depending on how fine-grained we want this section to be.
- The Expression Theory
This theory says that artworks are, at a minimum, objects that express some truth about the artist—usually focused on emotional states of the artist. Two versions are the transmission theory and the solo theory. The transmission theory, advocated by Leo Tolstoy, maintains that expression of emotions is to be construed as transmitted to the audience member—that is, the audience member is intended to experience the same type of emotion—while the solo theory, advocated by R. G. Collingwood, maintains that expression occurs as a result of an intention to clarify emotion, without necessarily intending to transmit the emotion to the audience member.
This theory says that objects are to be classified as artworks based on their form. The most well-known version of this Clive Bell’s theory that says that artworks are distinguished from non-art objects by their possession of what he calls significant form.
- Aesthetic Attitude Theory
This theory says that artworks are distinguished from non-art by virtue of the attitude with which the audience member approaches the object. The most well-known advocates of this theory are Edward Bullough and Jerome Stolnitz.
- The Institutional Theory
This theory says that artworks are deemed to be artworks by the institution of the artworld. The most well-known proponent of this theory is George Dickie. The reasons for adopting this theory may also be effectively explained by discussing some of the work of Arthur Danto.
This theory holds that “art” is, by its very nature, impossible to define by the use of necessary and sufficient conditions. Maurice Mandelbaum argues that artworks bear family resemblances to one another, without sharing a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. Morris Weitz argues that ART is an open concept, since artists are always (appropriately) trying to push beyond the boundaries previously set, which implies that no boundaries could be permanently set in place.
Chapter 3 What Makes an Artwork Beautiful?
Two questions will be discussed in this chapter:
Question 1: Are artworks beautiful strictly by virtue of aesthetic or artistic properties—that is, properties located solely in or external to the work—or some combination of the two? An example of an aesthetic property would be the elegance of a painting which might be said to supervene on the colors and figures in the painting, while an example of an artistic property would be the religious symbolism of a child in the background, symbolizing Christ.
Question 2: What is the nature of aesthetic evaluations—in particular, can they be universally correct or not? Both Hume and Kant argued that aesthetic evaluations are subjective, yet universal—Hume through his use of the true judge and Kant through his notion of aesthetic judgments being constituted by the free play of the faculties of imagination and understanding.
Chapter 4 What is the Connection Between Artworks and Emotion?
This chapter would have some overlap with the expression theories of art found in Chapter 2. Two questions will be discussed in this chapter:
Question 1: How can artworks express the artist’s emotions? Discussing this question would likely involve Tolstoy and Collingwood, along with the work of some contemporary aestheticians.
Question 2: Can artworks be said to express emotions themselves—sad music, joyful poetry, etc.? This might also be a good opportunity to discuss the role of intention in art, especially in regards to the intentional fallacy—that is, the supposed error in trying to ascertain meaning from an artwork based on the intentions of the artist.
Chapter 5 What is the Connection Between Art and Morality?
Two questions would be investigated in this chapter:
Question 1: Can there be legitimate moral evaluation of artworks? Oscar Wilde famously argued that it cannot—art exists for its own sake and for no other purpose. But contemporary aestheticians have argued that there can be legitimate moral evaluations of artworks and, in some cases, these moral evaluations have genuine effects on aesthetic evaluations. A discussion of this contemporary work could proceed from here.
Question 2. Can artworks have genuine positive moral effects on audience members? There are two ways that artworks might be said be able to have genuine positive moral effects on audience members: 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. Some contemporary aestheticians have argued that this is not likely to be the case—that there is no unique cognitive value connected to art. Second, we may learn new skills or improve on existing skills that would be relevant to morality from our engagement with art.
Possible third issue: We might also consider whether art can have genuine negative moral effects and, if so, whether this would represent a justification for banning certain works of art.
Chapter 6 What Makes Nature Beautiful?
This chapter tackles the question of what explains beauty we find in the natural world. In particular, does this beauty have its source exclusively in the objective features of nature or, partially at least, in the knowledge possessed by the observer?
All feedback is welcome.
- The Representational Theory
Hi all. I would like to also mention here that I would love to participate in this project. I also have some knowledge of “continental” developments in aesthetics (Benjamin, Adorno, Heidegger, Rancière). I would love to help out trying to integrate these aesthetic philosophies with your approach, @cliftows
@cliftows Thanks for this outline! My thoughts:
Currently, the approach is very outspoken in combining the study of aesthetics to the study of art, leaving only the last chapter for different approaches (and it then only focuses on beauty and nature). I don’t know if this is really the most helpful approach: whether aesthetic experience is most obviously or exemplarily the experience of art seems questionable. Whether aesthetic experience is an experience of beauty has been contested ever since the 60s.
If I may, my own approach would be to start precisely from aesthetic experience, rather than the definition of art, and an examination of the various and (possibly) contradictory ways of conceiving of said experience.
I think that this a more logical approach because, the etymological origin of the word ‘aesthetics’ aside, at some point (preferably at the beginning of the entire section), one has to explain what aesthetics is, as a discipline, what sets it apart from other philosophical disciplines. The idea that it studies a special way of relating to the world is far more able to capture the wide variety of approaches in aesthetics, than just the idea that it is a philosophical questioning of artworks. Of course, the fact that art has been historically the focal point of many aesthetic philosophies, is important, but the reason why this is so, seems to me to be precisely because art exemplarily enables forms of experience not so readily encountered elsewhere.
Secondly, if one starts from the idea that aesthetics studies a particular form of subjectivity, one is enabled to better draw cross-connections to other disciplines of philosophy. E.g., if one focuses heavily on art, one is quickly led to believe that the connections between ethics and aesthetics are all captured by questions of art and morality. But this actually leaves out of consideration a whole range of philosophies (of which Kant’s is only the most famous).
EDIT: misplaced an apostrophe, now fixed.
@cliftows I would be interested in working on this section if needed.