You are on page 1of 2

The distinction between aesthetic and artistic value:

These seem to overlap rather than coincide: for example, a particular landscape might have
aesthetic value, but since it is part of nature rather than a work of art, it cannot be said to have
artistic value. Conversely, not everything valuable about a work of art is aesthetic an artwork
might be valuable because it contains moral insight, or helps us to understand historical events,
or has therapeutic value.
Nevertheless, most contemporary discussion focuses on the aesthetic value found in artworks
rather than in nature.
Two different kinds of theory of art:
(i) a theory of what art is, i.e. of what features something must have in order to be a work of art.
(ii) a theory of the value of art, i.e. of what it is about artworks which makes them valuable to us.
Not every theory of art will attempt to answer both questions. Some theories of what art is leave it a
complete mystery why we should value it, while a theory of the value of art cannot distinguish art from
non-art if it allows that there can be failed works of art works which both are art and have no artistic
merit whatsoever.
Some theories of art:
1. Representational theories see art as a kind of copying activity (mimhsij). Plato (428-347BC)
claimed that what was copied might be a Form rather than a physical object. Thus a play might
be a representation of humanity rather than one or another particular human.
2. Schopenhauer (1788-1860) proposed what is now known as an aesthetic attitude theory: the
value of art is that it brings about a distinct state of consciousness in the observer, in which he
ceases to treat the object as a means to an end, and ceases to see himself as separate from the
rest of the world. (Schopenhauer also thought that this kind of contemplation provided a special
kind of knowledge of underlying reality.)
3. Expressivism is the view that the value of art is its ability to express emotions. It can be
worked out in two ways:
causal expressivism might claim that what matters is the feelings experienced
by the artist which made him make the kind of artwork he did. Alternatively, it will
claim that what is important is the feelings which the artwork produces in the
audience. Tolstoy and Wordsworth held a theory of the former kind. However, it is
difficult to see why value should attach to the emotions rather than the work itself.
inherent expressivism claims that emotions are somehow encoded in the
artwork itself. (These might be very different emotions from the ones actually
experienced by the composer and listener imagine Mozart writing a cheerful
symphony while miserable, and the same symphony being listened to by a chronic
depressive.) This view requires us to view art as having a quasi-linguistic ability to
convey emotion, and so is much more plausible for music than anything else.
4. Formalism is a view which gained popularity with abstractionism in painting. Clive Bell argued
that all works of art possess significant form, and in general formalism sees artistic value in
virtues of organization, unity, harmony, variety and complexity.
5. Institutionalism is the view developed by George Dickie, a work of art is an artefact which has
had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by the Artworld. It abandons any
attempt to find some inherent quality which all artworks share, and so cannot serve as a theory
of the value of art.
Objective, subjective, intersubjective.
A major problem for aesthetics is the objectivity of aesthetic judgements. If aesthetic qualities
are objective features of the world around us, this conflicts with physicalism the view that a
complete description of the world may be given using only scientific terminology. Alternatives to
this extreme view are:
Humes (1711-76) view that good art is what the good judge prefers. Since whether
someone is a good judge is an objective matter, aesthetic judgements acquire a kind of
secondhand objectivity.
If objectivity is unattainable, it has been proposed that intersubjectivity might be an
acceptable substitute. A proposition is intersubjectively true if it is something which
everyone could be expected to agree on if they shed their own prejudices and limited
points of view.
Postmodern theory emphasizes that even which work you experience depends on your
response to a text. Thus reader-response criticism suggest that the reader collaborates
with the author in producing a unique artwork.