Problems of Aesthetics, by Szu-Hsien Lee


- Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the analysis of concepts and the solution of problems that arise when one contemplates aesthetic objects.

- The philosophy of art covers a somewhat narrower area than dose aesthetics, since it is concerned only with the concepts and problems that arise in connection with works of art and excludes.

- The philosophy of art should be distinguished carefully from art criticism. Art criticism is directed toward specific works of art or classes of works of art, and its aim is the enhanced appreciation and greater understanding of these works.



The Aesthetic


1. What is aesthetic attitude?

- Distinguished from the way of looking at the world.

1) The aesthetic attitude is most common opposed to the practical attitude. "Perceive for perceiving's sake." However, it might for the sake for something else, namely "enjoyment."

2) The aesthetic way of looking is also antipathetic to the personal. We must not make any personal involvement we may have with the charters or the problems in the play substitute for a careful viewing of the play itself.

3) Detachment. For example, we are detached only in the sense in which we know that it is a drama and not real life, and that what is on the there side o the footlights is a different world, to which we are not supposed to respond as we do to the practical world around us. We are "detached, but not in the sense of failure to identify with the characters or to be totally absorbed in the drama.

4) Disinterestedness: Impartial. It does not appear to be a very useful term when one is attempting to describe the aesthetic way of looking at things.

5) Internal and external relations: When we are viewing a work f art or nature aesthetically, we concentrate on internal relations only, and not on its relation to ourselves or even its relation to the artist who created it or to our knowledge of the culture from which it sprang.


- Distinguished from the cognitive. Knowledge (ability about some specific form) may not necessarily correlated with the ability to enjoy the experience of simply viewing the object itself. The analytical ability may eventually enhance the aesthetic experience, but it may also stifle it.


2. Aesthetic attention:

- Aesthetic attentionis always to the phenomenal object, not to the physical object. The range of the aesthetic cannot be limited to the perceptual. As the art of literature, it is not sounds or marks o paper, but their meanings that constitute the medium of literature, and meanings are not concrete objects or percepts. (The auditory and visual arts have been called sensory arts, as distinguished from literature, which is an ideo-sensory art)

- Attempts have been made to restrict the area of aesthetic attention by means of sense modality, to include vision and hearing as acceptably and to dismiss lower senses as unacceptable for aesthetic attention. There are various reasons for this:

1) It is more difficult in this instance to separate the practical from the non practical. The lower senses are so closed connected with the fulfillment of bodily needs that it is difficult to isolate the strictly aesthetic enjoyments derived from them.

2) Perceptually, the data of the lower senses are less complex, so that the perceived elements do not lend themselves to the complex formal arrangement that is so characteristic of works of art.


3. Denials of distinct aesthetic attitude:

- Although most aestheticians agree that there are distinctively aesthetic reasons, they go further and hold that these reasons presuppose a type of attitude or attention that is given to objects which does exist and distinguished this one mode of attention from all others.

- There is no special kind of attention to objects that can b called aesthetic; there is only "paying close attention t the qualities of the object" as against failure t do so.

- The distinction between viewing aesthetically and nonaesthetically becomes strictly a motivational distinction, not a perceptual one.


Philosophy of Art


1. What is art? What is fine art? What is useful art?

- The quality of being man-made constitutes one necessary condition for an object's being called a work of art.

- The objects of fine art are those which were created in order to be viewed, read, or heard aesthetically. The most plausible distinguishing mark of fine art is not what it was intend to do, but how it actual does function in our experience. So, works of fine art may be defined as those man-made objects that function either entirely or primarily aesthetically in human experience.

- As oppose to fine art, we call useful art. All objects of useful art serve some purpose in the life of man other than that of being viewed aesthetically, though as a secondary function they can also be viewed aesthetically.


2. Classification of the Arts: the kind of job that each art can perform depends primarily upon the nature of the medium. Although mixed arts combine more than one kind of medium, they have distinctive functions which art no duplicated by any of the other arts.

1) Auditory arts: include all the arts of sound, means music.

2) Visual arts: include all those arts that consist on visual percepts.

3) Literature, a symbolic art: it desires its distinctive mediumistic charcter from the fact that all of its elements are words, and words are not mere noises or pen marks, but noises with meanings that have to be known before the poem can be understood or appreciated.

4) Mixed arts: include all those arts which combine one or more of the above media.


3. Concepts and Media

1) Subject matter: A person who read a work of literature without attempting to interpret it could still state its subject matter. Not all works of art have subject matter: poems, plays, ad novels are always about something, but most musical works are not, some nonrepresentational paintings are not.


2) Representation:

(1) Visual art can quite literally be said to represent objects in the world, although not all paintings are representational. We may change the title (subject) without changing the work itself, but we don't change the representation at all.

(2) Music is only produced by man-made instruments. Music, presents us with a wide variety of musical sounds which do not represent.

(3) Literature cannot present visual representations as painting and sculpture do; anything that may be said to be represented must be represented by means of verbal symbols.


3) Meaning: What does a work of art mean? If we are not talking about conventional symbols, we may intend any of the following

(1) What is it about (subject matter)

(2) What is its theme

(3) We may be asking for the thesis, or central proposition stated or implied in the work

(4) What kind of effect does the work have on the audience


4. Aspects of works of art:

1) Sensuous Values:

- Sensuous values in a work of art are apprehended by an aesthetic observer when he enjoys or takes satisfaction in the purely sensuous characteristics of the phenomenal object.

- In the appreciation of sensuous values, the complex formal relationships with the work of art are not the object of attention, nor are any ideas or emotions which the work of art may embody.


2) Formal Values:

- Form: the relations among the elements which we've sensed.

- It is true that many works of art have certain structural properties in common, and in this sense we do speak of "form of art," such as musical compositions in the sonata form. But when we speak of the particular form of an individual work of art, we refer to its own unique mode of organization and not to the type of organization that it shared with other works of art.

(1) form in the large (structure): Beethoven was master of musical structure, although often the melodic material which constitutes his building blocks is extremely unpromising hand is unrewarding to listen to by itself.

(2) form in the small (texture): Schubert and Schumann were masters of texture and melodic material but often failed to unify these elements in an aesthetically satisfying over-all structure.

- The central criterion for form is Unity (organic unity).

(1) Dewitt Parker holds that the other principles are subsidiary t to the one main principle of organic unity. They are:

a. theme -- a theme or dominate motif which stands out in a work of art

b. thematic variation -- variation which introduces novelty, and which should be based on the them in order to retain unity.

c. balance -- the arrangement of the variations parts in an aesthetically pleasing order

d. development or evolution -- each part of a temporal work of art is necessary to the succeeding parts, so that if an earlier portion were altered or deleted, all later portions would have to be altered in consequence.

(2) Stephen Pepper: the two enemies of aesthetic experience are monotony and confusion; the way to avoid monotony is variety, and the the way to avoid confusion is unity. He invokes four man principles

a. contrast among the parts

b. graduation -- transitions from on sense quality to another that introduce change within a basic unity.

c. theme and variation

d. restraint - economy in expenditure of interest so that it will be adequately distributed over the whole duration and extent of the work of a and the "store of interest" of the spectator will not be used up too quickly.


3) Life Values: Sensuous and formal values are both mediumistic to concerned with what the work of art contains in its very medium. Life values are not contained in the medium but are conveyed through the medium. For example, works of art that are representative cannot be fully appreciated unless we have a certain amount of knowledge of the life outside art. The values here present are called life values or associational values.


5. Contextualism versus Isolationism:

- Isolationism is the view that in order to appreciate a work of art with the most concentrated attention, and that we need not go outsid it to consult he facts of history, biography, or anything else.

- Contextualism holds that a work of art should be apprehended in its total context or setting. Contextualism may be necessary in some kinds of factors.

1) Other works of art by the same artist.

2) Other works of art in the same medium by other artists.

3) A study of what one might call "external facts about the artistic medium".

4) A study of the age in which the artist lived -- the spirit of the times, the ideas then current, the complex influences that molded that artist.

5) A study of the artists life.

6) A study of the artist's intentions.

- Isolationists hold that a work of art should be self-contained and self-sufficient entity. The contextualist would say that it is simply self-limiting to reject information that might heighten an aesthetic experience, whether or not we fall into an "intentional fallacy."


6. Theories of art:

1) Formalist Theory:

- Clive Bell, a critic of visual art, argeud that formal excellence is the one timeless feature of art through the ages; it can be recognized by observers of different periods and cultures, despite varing subject matter, topical references and accidental associations of all sorts. He called this property of works of art "significant form."

- Formal properties along are relevant to aesthetic value, and other writes have discussed in detail such formal properties as organic unity, thematic variation, and development.


2) Art as expression: a work of art must in some way be expressive, especially of human feeling.

- Eugeen Veron, Tolstoy, Benedetto Croce, Collingwood, etc..

- The works of art may be said to have specific feeling property when it has features that human beings have when they feel the same or similar emotion, mood, etc..


3) Art as symbol: According to the signification theory, works of art are iconic sighs of psychological processes taking place in human beings, -- sighs of human feeling.

7. Art and Truth: Works of art, particularly works of literature, do have some connect with truth.

1) Stated and implied propositions: Only literature has worked a its medium. Since every proposition is either true of false, and since literature contains may true propositions, the art of literature does contain truth in this obvious sense. Some propositions are implicit rather than explicit stated. Inferences concerning the author's motives, particularly his unconscious ones, are far less secure but with increasing psychiatric knowledge there is no reason why they cannot be made.

2) Truth to human nature


8. Art and Morality:

1) The first position: The moralistic conception of art dates back to Plato's Republic and has its most vigorous modern defense in Tolstoy' s What is Art. It is the official view of the Soviet government . According to this view, art is the handmaiden of morality, acceptable and even desirable when it promotes morality, but unacceptable and undesirable when it does not.

2) The second position: Aestheticism which is exactly opposite to the above one. The experience of art is the greatest experience available to mankind, and noting should interfere with it

3) The third position: Interactionism. This the view that aesthetic and moral values have distinctive roles to play in the world. Art and morality are intimately related, and neither functions fully without the other.


9. Question the definition of Art: Many definitions for art have been arising *problems.

- What is not man-made may be an aesthetic objet, but is not to be classified as art.

* In the case of fine art, the primary function is aesthetic. It offers little basis for distinguishing good art from bad art, but it is doubtful whether a definition of arts should be this.

- Art is an expression of feeling thugha medium.

* Is art an expression of feeling at all? Is it always feeling that is expressed? Is every medium an art medium?

- Art is an exploration of reality through a sensuous presentation.

* In what sense is it an exploration? Is it always concerned with reality, and if so, in what sense? In what way are the words in a poem sensuous presentations?

- Art is a re-creation of reality.

* Is all art a re-creation of something, even music? In what sense does music deal with reality?

- Dewitt Parker's defintion for a work of art:

1) It must provide a source of satisfaction through the imagination.

2) The object must be social: it must involve a real publicly available physical object that can be a source of satisfaction to many people on repeated occasions.

3) All art must have aesthetically satisfying form (harmony, pattern, design).

*Is it a definition of art or an attempt to describe good works of art? Is it necessary that the artist's creative faculty be embodies in some publicly vailable object?



Aesthetic Value


- Truth, goodness, and beauty constitute the principal triad of concepts with which philosophy was traditionally supposed to deal.


- A theory of aesthetic value: objectivestic or subjectivestic .

1)Subjectivist theories:

- If the theory holds that what makes something aesthetically valuable is not its own properties but it is relation to aesthetic consumers.

- There are no beauty-making properties of aesthetic objects, but only various responses to these objects, and that the attribution of aesthetic value can be made valid on when the viewer responds to the object in a certain way. All such judgments are mere autobiographical.

* Problems: "I like it" is quite different from "I think it is aesthetically good ". In order to overcome some of these difficulties, one might adopt the "sociological" view that "X is good " means not that the speaker aesthetically enjoys X, but that the majority of people do. The fact that the majority prefers A to B tells us nothing about A or B; it only tells us that more people like A than B.

2) Objectivist theories:

- If the theory maintains that the properties which constitute aesthetic value, or make an object aesthetically valuable, are properties of the aesthetic object itself.

- When we attribute aesthetic value to a work of art, we are attributing value to the work itself. It has aesthetic value and this value is grounded in the nature of the object itself, not in the fact that must observers favor it or enjoy it.


- Monroe Berdsley: attempted to devise set of criteria for judging aesthetic value. According to his view, there are " specific canons" of aesthetic criticism as well as "general canons."

1) The specific canons are applicable to certain art media or even to certain kinds of work with give art medium.

2) The general canons are applicable to all aesthetic objects. There are three general cannon.

(1) unity

(2) complexity

(3) intensity

- To say that an object has aesthetic value is therefore to say roughly that it has the capacity to produce an aesthetic experience of a fairly great magnitude.