Sunday, January 31, 2010

(CR) Aesthetics

From the Columbia Encyclopedia:

"aesthetics (ĕsthĕt'ĭks), the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature of art and the criteria of artistic judgment. The classical conception of art as the imitation of nature was formulated by Plato and developed by Aristotle in his Poetics, while modern thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, F. W. Schelling, Benedetto Croce, and Ernst Cassirer have emphasized the creative and symbolic aspects of art. The major problem in aesthetics concerns the nature of the beautiful.

Generally speaking there are two basic approaches to the problem of beauty-the objective, which asserts that beauty inheres in the object and that judgments concerning it may have objective validity, and the subjective, which tends to identify the beautiful with that which pleases the observer. Outstanding defenders of the objective position were Plato, Aristotle, and G. E. Lessing, and of the subjective position, Edmund Burke and David Hume. In his Critique of Judgment, Kant mediated between the two tendencies by showing that aesthetic judgment has universal validity despite its subjective nature. Among the modern philosophers interested in aesthetics, the most important are Croce, R. G. Collingwood, Cassirer, and John Dewey."


  1. That's quite a remarkably concise summary. I wonder, though, if it uses the terms 'objective' and 'subjective' in precisely the sense outlined in the Philosophy Toolkit, or rather relies on their commonplace meanings and connotations. If I were taking the course, I would raise that as a discussion point in class.

  2. Wish you were taking the course! I think the use of O/S here is consistent with -- but of course different from -- the Toolkit's, since either could still be T or F.

  3. i don't think plato intended, or could even imagine the evolution of art as we now know it. the baroque period started as a rebellion against the popular art form at the louve (which can still be considered an imitation of nature). but the nonconformists weren't willing to conform themselves to painting nature as it existed; rather quickly impressionist, and expressionist painters sprung up painting not what they saw, but the overall experience of the scene and how the scene made them feel (expressionism), this was the shift out of objective technique and skill into the subjective representation. in the last 100 years the creative essence has lifted all boundaries, think of marcel duschamp's photo of a urinal called 'the fountain' yoko ono's performance piece of her standing on stage while men walk up and cut articles of her clothing off until she was nude, jackson pollack creating the 'intentional accident' through the artistic process... it is all art, i do not find it necessary to weigh technical skill vs artistic conception, but something has to be there, and not all of it is aesthetic in a physical sense. if art is to save the world it must transcend all modes and means as in the new visionary artist movement, it's almost a spiritual surrealism, it has deeply affected me, in reinforcing and encouraging me to keep 'fighting the good fight' and statements can be communicating without raising a fist (shepard fairey) can art save the world?

  4. Clive Bell: "in my giddier moments, I'm inclined to think that art might prove the world's salvation." (paraphrase)

  5. Greek art was indeed representational, and most of its subjects natural, but in many of its highly refined forms it was so intensely stylized that we can hardly let Plato off the hook because he hadn't seen the subsequent history of art. His suspicion of the arts was at least twofold: 1) that they were too powerful, acting directly on the emotions without reasoned mediation, 2) that in taking nature as their basis and "imitating" it, they were epistemologically perverse, directing us away from rather than towards the Forms.

    The latter point may well be a sophisticated joke, as Plato knew very well the way a stylized image could potently extract and emphasize an essential feature of an object. His own artistry with the written word, which employs images, stories, and myths at every turn, is a brilliant instance of the power of art to advance inquiry.