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An Introduction to Philosophy
Lecture 09: Aesthetics
James Mooney
Open Studies
The University of Edinburgh

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  1. 1. Aesthetics An Introduction to Philosophy: 09 © James Mooney 2012
  2. 2. What is aesthetics?
  3. 3. What is beauty? Objectivism Subjectivism The view that values The view that values such as goodness and and properties beauty are not a (goodness, beauty) feature of external exist independently of reality but a product of human apprehension human beliefs and of them. responses to it.
  4. 4. ‘The Standard of Taste’ David Hume, 1757 “Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty.” –  Hume does believe however that, although beauty is a subjective quality, there is nevertheless a standard by which to discern between different tastes. –  Some great works of art, for example, will have such universal assent across time and cultures that their status as such will be unquestionable. –  If there are disagreements about such matters we are to acquiesce to the ‘good critic’ who will have ”strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice.
  5. 5. The Golden Mean Pythagoras
  6. 6. What is Art? •  Art as representation (mimesis) •  Art as expression (expressionism) •  Art as form (formalism)
  7. 7. Art as Representation
  8. 8. Plato on Mimesis
  9. 9. Aristotle on mimesis
  10. 10. Catharsis Plato Aristotle on Tragedy
  11. 11. Art as Expression (Expressionism) “The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another mans expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it. To take the simplest example; one man laughs, and another who hears becomes merry; or a man weeps, and another who hears feels sorrow… and it is upon this capacity of man to receive another mans expression of feeling and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based.” Tolstoy, What is Art?, 1896
  12. 12. “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.” Munch, The Scream, 1893
  13. 13. Art as Form (Formalism) •  Clive Bell, ‘Significant Form’ There must be some one quality without which a work of art cannot exist; possessing which, in the least degree, no work is altogether worthless. What is this quality? What quality is shared by all objects that provoke our aesthetic emotions? What quality is common to Sta. Sophia and the windows at Chartres, Mexican sculpture, a Persian bowl , Chinese carpets, Giotto s frescoes at Padua, and the masterpieces of Poussin, Piero della Francesca, and Cezanne? Only one answer seems possible - significant form. In each, lines and colours combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions. These relations and combinations of lines and colours, these aesthetically moving forms, I call Significant Form; and Significant form is the one quality common to all works of visual art.
  14. 14. Modern Art
  15. 15. They were asking me questions like: “is it art?” And I was saying “Well, if it isn’t art… what the hell is it doing in an art gallery and why are people coming to look at it?” Institutional Theory
  16. 16. Details James Mooney Open Studies The University of Edinburgh @film_philosophy