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Weitz - The Role of Theory in Aesthetics

Weitz - The Role of Theory in Aesthetics

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Published by nihil_uy
estética, filosofía, arte, definibilidad del concepto arte.
estética, filosofía, arte, definibilidad del concepto arte.

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Published by: nihil_uy on Mar 08, 2011
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07/31/2011

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THE ROLE OFTHEORYINAESTHETICS*
MORRISWEITZ
Theoryhas beencentralinaestheticsandis stillthepreoccupationofthephilosophyofart. Its main avowed concern remainsthedeterminationofthenature ofartwhich can be formulatedintoa definition ofit. Itconstruesdefi-nition asthestatementofthenecessaryandsufficientpropertiesofwhatisbeingdefined,wherethestatementpurportstobeatrue or falseclaimabouttheessence ofart,whatcharacterizesanddistinguishesit fromeverythingelse.Each of thegreattheories ofart-Formalism,Voluntarism, Emotionalism,Intel-lectualism,Intuitionism,Organicism-convergesontheattemptto statethedefiningpropertiesof art.Each claimsthat it isthetruetheorybecause ithasformulatedcorrectlyinto a realdefinitionthe nature ofart;andthat theothersarefalsebecausetheyhaveleft out somenecessaryorsufficientproperty.Manytheoristscontendthattheirenterpriseis nomereintellectualexercise butanabsolutenecessityforanyunderstandingof art andourproperevaluation ofit.Unless weknowwhat artis, theysay,what areitsnecessaryandsufficientprop-erties,wecannotbegintorespondto itadequatelyortosaywhyone work isgoodorbetter thananother.Aesthetictheory,thus,isimportantnotonlyinitselfbut for thefoundations ofbothappreciationandcriticism.Philosophers,critics,andevenartistswhohavewrittenonart,agreethatwhatisprimaryinaesthetics is atheoryabout thenature of art.Isaesthetictheory,inthe senseof atruedefinitionorset ofnecessaryandsufficientpropertiesofart,possible?Ifnothingelsedoes,thehistoryofaestheticsitselfshouldgiveoneenormouspausehere.For,inspiteofthemanytheories,weseemnonearerourgoal todaythan wewere inPlato's time.Eachage,eachart-movement,eachphilosophyofart,triesoverandoveragaintoestablishthestated idealonlyto besucceededbya neworrevisedtheory,rooted,atleast inpart,intherepudiationofprecedingones.Eventoday,almosteveryoneinter-ested inaestheticmattersisstilldeeplyweddedtothehopethat thecorrecttheoryofartisforthcoming.Weneedonlyexaminethenumerousnewbooksonartinwhichnewdefinitionsareproffered;or,inourowncountryespecially,thebasictextbooksandanthologiestorecognizehowstrongthepriorityofatheoryofart is.InthisessayIwanttopleadfortherejectionof thisproblem.Iwant toshowthattheory-intherequisiteclassicalsense-isneverforthcominginaesthetics,andthat wewould domuchbetterasphilosopherstosupplantthequestion,"What isthenature ofart?,"byotherquestions,theanswerstowhich willprovideuswith all theunderstandingoftheartstherecan be. Iwanttoshowthattheinadequaciesofthetheoriesarenotprimarilyoccasionedbyanylegitimatedifficultysuche.g.,asthevastcomplexityofart,whichmightbecorrectedbyfurtherprobingandresearch. Theirbasicinadequaciesresideinstead inafunda-mentalmisconceptionofart.Aesthetictheory-allofit-iswronginprinciple
*OneoftheMatchetteFoundationprizeessaysfor1955(Editor).27
 
MORRIS WEITZ
inthinkingthatacorrecttheoryispossiblebecauseitradicallymisconstruesthelogicof theconceptofart.Its maincontention that"art"isamenableto realoranykind oftruedefinitionisfalse.Itsattempttodiscoverthenecessaryandsufficientpropertiesofartislogically misbegottenfor theverysimplereasonthatsuch a setand,consequently,suchaformula aboutit,is neverforthcoming.Art,asthelogicoftheconceptshows,hasno setofnecessaryandsufficientproperties,hence atheoryofitislogicallyimpossibleandnotmerelyfactuallydifficult.Aesthetictheorytriesto definewhatcannotbedefinedinitsrequisitesense.ButinrecommendingtherepudiationofaesthetictheoryIshallnotarguefromthis,astoomanyothers havedone,that itslogicalconfusionsrender itmeaninglessor worthless.Onthecontrary,Iwish toreassessits roleanditscontributionprimarilyinorderto show that itis ofthegreatest importanceto ourunderstandingof the arts.Let us nowsurvey brieflysome ofthe more famousextant aesthetictheoriesinorderto seeiftheydoincorporatecorrectandadequatestatementsaboutthenatureof art.Ineachof these thereis theassumptionthatit is the trueenu-merationof thedefining propertiesofart,withtheimplicationthatprevioustheorieshavestressedwrongdefinitions.Thus,tobeginwith,considera famousversionofFormalisttheory,thatpropoundedbyBell andFry.It is truethatthey speakmostlyofpaintingintheirwritingsbutbothassertthatwhattheyfindinthatartcanbegeneralizedforwhatis"art"intheothersas well.Theessenceofpainting,theymaintain,are theplasticelementsin relation.Itsdefiningpropertyissignificantform, i.e.,certaincombinationsoflines,colors,shapes,volumes-everythingon the canvasexcepttherepresentationalele-ments-whichevokeauniqueresponseto suchcombinations.Paintingisdefin-ableasplasticorganization.Thenatureofart,whatitreally is,so theirtheorygoes,is auniquecombinationofcertainelements(thespecifiableplasticones)intheirrelations.Anythingwhichis artis aninstanceofsignificantform;andanythingwhichisnotart hasnosuchform.To thistheEmotionalistrepliesthatthetrulyessentialpropertyofarthasbeenleftout.Tolstoy,Ducasse,oranyof theadvocatesof thistheory,findthattherequisitedefining propertyisnotsignificantformbutrathertheexpressionof emotionin somesensuouspublicmedium. Withoutprojectionofemotionintosomepieceof stoneor wordsorsounds,etc.,therecanbe noart.Artisreallysuchembodiment.Itisthisthatuniquelycharacterizesart,andanytrue,realdefinitionofit,containedin someadequatetheoryofart,mustsostateit.TheIntuitionistdisclaimsbothemotionandformasdefiningproperties.InCroce'sversion,forexample,artisidentifiednotwithsomephysical,publicobjectbutwithaspecificcreative,cognitiveandspiritualact.Artisreallyafirststageofknowledgeinwhichcertainhumanbeings(artists)bringtheirimagesandintuitionsintolyricalclarificationorexpression.Assuch,it isanawareness,non-conceptualincharacter,of theuniqueindividualityofthings;andsinceitexistsbelowthelevelofconceptualizationoraction,itiswithoutscientificormoralcontent.Crocesinglesoutasthedefiningessenceofartthisfirststageofspirituallifeandadvancesitsidentificationwithartasaphilo-sophicallytruetheoryordefinition.28
 
ROLE OF THEORY IN AESTHETICS
TheOrganicistsaystoall of this that art isreallya class oforganicwholesconsistingofdistinguishable,albeitinseparable,elementsin theircausallyeffi-cacious relations whicharepresentedin some sensuousmedium.In A.C.Bradley,inpiece-mealversions ofit inliterary criticism,orinmyowngeneral-izedadaptationofitinmyPhilosophyoftheArts,whatisclaimed is thatany-thingwhichisawork ofart isinits natureauniquecomplexofinterrelatedparts-inpainting,forexample,lines,colors, volumes,subjects,etc.,allinter-actinguponone anotheron apaintsurfaceofsome sort.Certainly,at onetimeat least itseemedtomethat thisorganictheoryconstituted the onetrueandrealdefinitionofart.Myfinalexampleisthe mostinterestingofall,logically speaking.This istheVoluntaristtheoryof Parker. Inhiswritingsonart,Parkerpersistentlycallsintoquestionthe traditionalsimple-mindeddefinitions ofaesthetics."Theassumptionunderlyingevery philosophyofartistheexistenceof somecommonnaturepres-entinallthe arts."'"Allthe sopopularbriefdefinitionsofart-'significantform,''expression,''intuition,''objectifiedpleasure'-arefallacious,eitherbecause,while true ofart,theyare alsotrue ofmuchthat isnotart,andhencefail to dif-ferentiateartfrom otherthings;or elsebecausetheyneglectsome essentialaspectof art."2Butinstead ofinveighing againsttheattemptatdefinition ofartitself,Parkerinsists thatwhat is needed is acomplexdefinitionrather than asimpleone. "Thedefinitionofart must thereforebeintermsofacomplexofcharac-teristics. Failuretorecognizethis has been thefaultofallthe well-knowndefini-tions."3Hisownversion ofVoluntarism isthetheorythat art isessentiallythreethings:embodiment of wishesand desiresimaginativelysatisfied,language,whichcharacterizes thepublicmedium ofart,andharmony,which unifiesthelanguagewith thelayersofimaginativeprojections.Thus,forParker,it isatruedefinitiontosayofartthat itis"...theprovisionofsatisfactionthroughtheimagination,socialsignificance,andharmony.Iamclaimingthatnothing exceptworks ofartpossessesall threeof these marks."4Now,allofthesesampletheories areinadequateinmanydifferentways.Eachpurportstobe acompletestatementabout thedefiningfeatures of allworksofartandyeteach ofthemleavesoutsomethingwhich the otherstake to becentral.Somearecircular,e.g.,theBell-Frytheoryofartassignificantformwhichisde-finedinpartintermsofourresponsetosignificantform.Someofthem,intheirsearchfornecessaryandsufficientproperties, emphasizetoo fewproperties,like(again)theBell-Frydefinitionwhich leavesoutsubject-representationinpaint-ing,ortheCrocetheorywhichomitsinclusion ofthevery importantfeatureof thepublic,physicalcharacter,say,ofarchitecture.Othersaretoogeneralandcoverobjectsthatarenotartaswell asworks ofart.Organicismissurelysuchaviewsince it canbeappliedtoanycausalunityinthenaturalworld as wellas toart.5
1D.Parker,"TheNatureofArt,"reprintedinE.Vivas andM.Krieger,TheProblemsofAesthetics,(N.Y.,1953),p.90.
2
Ibid.,pp.93-94.
3Ibid.,p.94.
4Ibid.,p.104.
6
See.M.Macdonald'sreview ofmy Philosophy oftheArts,Mind, Oct.,1951,pp.561-564,forabrilliantdiscussionofthisobjectiontotheOrganictheory.
29

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