Monday 20 September 2010

Aesthetics (philosophy of art) overview

Posted on behalf of Peter:

Aesthetics is normally seen as the province of the ‘fine arts’ i.e. painting, poetry, dance, music, drama and sculpture. In the twentieth century, art photography and film were added. This blog entry lists some of the definitions that have been put forward to explain what makes something ‘art’, and a sample problem for each definition when used in isolation. (Note: these ideas occur in many works on aesthetics, but a good source is ‘Philosophy of Art’, by Noel Carroll, used as reference here).

1. Art as Representation (Imitation).
Dating from the time of Plato and Aristotle, this view states that art is representation of life. (Problem: some things now regarded as art are clearly not representational e.g. abstract painting).

2. Art as Expression of Experience.
This view became popular during the Romantic period: it’s not so much reality that is important, rather the artist’s response to it. (Problem: just because something expresses feelings, however sincerely, does not make it good art).

3. Art as Significant Form.
This view states all art must have a significant form i.e. combination of lines, colours, space etc. (Problem: how does one distinguish between significant and insignificant form).

4. Art as provider of Aesthetic Experience.
This view states there is a category of emotional response specific to works of art. (Problem: is there an aesthetic response separate from an ordinary emotional response, appreciation of pattern etc).

5. Art as Family Resemblance.
This view states that something is art if it resembles artefacts that are already regarded as works of art. (Problem: how does it cope with things that break the mould of what has gone before).

6. Art as Institution.
This view states that if a member of the art world (critics, curators, gallery owners etc.) defines something as art, then it is art. (Problem: what criteria make you eligible to speak for the art world).

7. Art as Historical Definition.
This view states that something is art only if the intention of the artist was to exemplify an acknowledged historical, artistic perspective e.g. representation, expression. (Problem: something currently defined as art may not have had an artistic intention behind it when it was created e.g. tribal artefacts now regarded as art).

8. Art as Historical Narrative.
This view states that something is a work of art if it can be seen as part of a logical progression in a historical process (narrative) i.e. the evolution of the art context. (Problem: something currently defined as art may not have been part of an acknowledged evolution in artistic thinking e.g. tribal artefacts now regarded as art).

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