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In conclusion, critics make a strong argument. They do not believe that the aesthetic experience is a universal part of human nature. All statements are ironic; no statement can claim identity with all possible truth. Aesthetics as a discipline should therefore be eliminated because of its universalistic pretensions. It is not a discipline that belongs in general education.


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In this cauldron of criticism, aesthetics becomes a discourse of many schools of thought with no general basis for judgement. Is this the end of the story? It encourages criticism, and it is a basis from which to assess the problem.

Theory of art

Below we note a few scholars who take this dialectical perspective on aesthetics and art. The British literary critic Terry Eagleton writes about the aesthetic: The aesthetic, then, is, from the beginning a contradictory, double-edged concept. Sociologist Arnold Hauser says art is dialectical. Art is like culture as it is based on contrast, opposition, and contradiction. Spontaneity and resistance, invention and convention: dynamic impulses born of experience break down or expand forms, and fixed, inert, stable forms condition, obstruct, and enhance each other.

Artistic expression comes about not in spite of, but thanks to, the resistance which convention offers to it.

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The artist must possess a formal language, which is not too flexible, so that others will understand him and he can understand himself. We will begin with this perspective.

A journey through the mind of an artist - Dustin Yellin

We think that art is part of the battle for emancipation while it remains equally a prisoner of institutions. If aesthetics is to develop as a legitimate field for discourse, it must speak to its politics of gender, race, and class. First, we will visit the established theory. Then, we consider a new agenda. II Theories of Art What is art? The answer has puzzled many thinkers for many centuries. Our review below is cursory, but essential to start our discussion.

Our focus below is on western thought; later we introduce views from eastern thought and other outlooks to build a new aesthetics. We begin with the ancient Greeks. Mimetic theories. Art is an imitation of nature. Plato said that art makes a copy of nature. This would seem simple enough, but it is really complex. Plato argued that artists make copies of nature, but nature is a copy of great Forms.

Forms refer to great Ideas or Principles hidden from sight, indeed, behind the creation of things as we perceive them. In other words, the things that people perceive in the material world are shadows of great Ideas that cannot be witnessed by human eyes. Aristotle revised this notion slightly. In the art of playwriting, for example, a specific work of art represented a higher idea.

A tragic play exemplified the more elevated idea of someone falling from a higher to a lower estate.

The work of art

The play gives particularity to this abstract idea. Aristotle also saw the higher Form in nature itself, as the form of an oak tree is hidden in its seed. Shakespeare correspondingly suggested that art imitates nature. Expressionist theories: Art represents the inner life of the artist. Many artists are in concord with this theory. The nineteenth-century expressionists and post-impressionists e. Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Munch took this position as they opposed the Realist and Impressionist tendency to copy nature.

Idealist theories: Art is based on intuition. In philosophical sense, art is an act of the spirit, going beyond the power of reason and the materials themselves. Psychological theories: Art is symbolic of a hidden nature. Art is an expression of concealed desires. For example, Freud argued that art was stimulated by the desire to win honor, power, riches, and fame. So, art could be the expression of neurosis.

These psychological theories assume that the writer, poet, and painter — like everyone else -- disguise their emotions. Then, they project them into their art. Frederich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey emphasized the intent of the artist. Formalist theories: Art is an organic unity, self-contained, self-justifying. Monroe Beardsley and William Wimsatt argue that the intention of the artist is not available with any accuracy or even desirable as a standard for judging a work of art.

Roger Fry and Clyde Bell argued this position in music theory and Eduard Hanslick made the same argument in visual arts.


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Observer theories: Art is in the eye of the beholder. It is found in the response of the onlookers and audience. The viewers are the real judges of art. A work of art may have its historical meaning, but each observer is the real and final interpreter. Beauty theories: Art is based on a sense of beauty.

philosophy of art | Definition, Theories, History, & Facts | Britannica

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Pragmatic theories: Art is explained by its function and consequence. A work of art is explained not by its beauty or form, but by its effect on the audience or its creator. In this sense, art is many things. Art is an escape from reality. Art achieves an ideal. Art is a source of pleasure and delight.

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Art promotes the community. Art is instructive, didactic, or propagandistic. Art is therapeutic, i. Art is a means of communication. All these theories carry truth. But they also illustrate the problem of a complex subject. Art cannot be defined by categories that separate its dynamics in society.

Representation and expression in art

A dialectical perspective includes these old categories but interprets their dynamics. The purpose of art in this view is to create an aesthetic field that is conscious of politics and related to emancipation. And we want to speak to the problem of universals. The philosopher D. Gotshalk points to the dynamic interaction between categories based on universal criteria. He sees these criteria in terms of the interaction of materials, form, expression, and the function of art in society. For art criticism, each of these aspects of art has its own dynamics, but they are also powerfully interactive, and they need to support one another.

Burke wrote about a "terrible sublimity" linked to notions of death, powerlessness, and annihilation and in doing so, like Longinus, likened it to the vast, uncontrollable, unknowable ocean. Artists such as Turner and Claude Joseph Vernet translated this in their depictions of shipwrecks, which pose not just fear of death but the fear of the unknown presented by drowning. Burke linked pain with death, explaining, "what generally makes pain itself, if I may say so, more painful, is that it is considered as an emissary of this king of terrors.

Contemporary artists have explored the terrible sublime in explorations of recent political events and their effects on our individual and collective psyche, while art critic Thomas McEvilley predicted at the turn of the century that "the culminating developments of capitalist globalization would be the terror-sublime of the next 50 years". At the turn of the century, artists began looking at the way changes in industry affected the human experience.

In Europe, the technological sublime was explored by the Italian Futurists , such as Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Umberto Boccioni , who used science and mechanics to unsettle the viewer and reject tradition and the past. More recently, cultural historian David Nye, in American Technological Sublime proposed that the admiration of the natural sublime, as experienced in dramatic landscapes, was replaced by the sublime of the factory, aviation, war machinery, and the sublime of the computer. More recently, artist Simon Morley has situated the contemporary sublime within the experience of modern life and its relation to science and technology as it hurtles into the unknown.

He connects awe and wonder with terror, writing, "The sublime experience is fundamentally transformative, about the relationship between disorder and order, and the disruptions of the stable coordinates of time and space. Something rushes in and we are profoundly altered. Conceptual artists have played with the notion of fear in a contemporary examination of the sublime. Anish Kapoor's Marsyas comprised vast sculptures that took up the entire Turbine Room at the Tate Modern, towering over viewers in a way that as the curators explain "permeate physical and psychological space.

Environmental artists such as Betty Beaumont and Agnes Denes meanwhile use the outdoor space to highlight the damage we are doing to the earth, and therefore not just the death of the individual but the death of humankind as a whole, and Andreas Gursky's photographs meanwhile look to Kant's mathematical sublime, as he presents complex and dizzying images that dwarf and confuse the viewer with repeated perspectives. The sublime has always been used as a vehicle to make sense of or communicate a failure to grasp world events, and this is no different in a contemporary context.

Julie Mehretu refers to the September 11 attacks in her abstract canvas Dispersion As artist Julian Bell explains, "Her melodramas of swooping vectors and nested graphemes, with their bravura, baroque complexity, seem to picture the dynamics of the age on a very large and general scale. The work depicted a fruit bowl on a vast canvas, representing an absolute nothingness and a monument to this inadequacy of language. A gaping magnitude of impotency, which neither words nor paintings could ever express. Lyotard's two influential essays "Presenting the Unpresentable: The Sublime" and "The Sublime and the Avant-garde" reignited the subject in public discussion and saw exhibitions that brought the debate back to the viewing public.