The Creation of Art : New Essays in Philosophical Aesthetics

Suggests, in addition, that Hogarth's aesthetic criteria, "fitness" in particular, introduce a direct relation between Newtonian science and art.]James Beattie, Essays: On the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in Opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism; On Poetry and Music as they affect the Mind; On Laughter, and Ludicrous Composition; On the Utility of Classical Learning, Edinburgh, 1772.

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But if we cannot judge which aesthetic properties paintings andsonatas have without consulting the intentions and the societies of theartists who created them, what of the aesthetic properties of naturalitems? With respect to them it may appear as if there is nothing toconsult except the way they look and sound, so that an aestheticformalism about nature must be true. Allen Carlson, a central figure inthe burgeoning field of the aesthetics of nature, argues against thisappearance. Carlson observes that Walton’s psychological thesisreadily transfers from works of art to natural items: that we perceiveShetland ponies as cute and charming and Clydesdales as lumberingsurely owes to our perceiving them as belonging to the category ofhorses (Carlson 1981, 19). He also maintains that the philosophicalthesis transfers: whales actually have the aesthetic properties weperceive them as having when we perceive them as mammals, and do notactually have any contrasting aesthetic properties we might perceivethem to have when we perceive them as fish. If we ask what determineswhich category or categories natural items actually belong to, theanswer, according to Carlson, is their naturalhistories as discovered by natural science (Carlson1981, 21–22). Inasmuch as a natural item’s natural history willtend not to be graspable by merely seeing or hearing it, formalism isno truer of natural items than it is of works of art.

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The claim that Walton’s psychological thesis transfers tonatural items has been widely accepted (and was in fact anticipated, asCarlson acknowledges, by Ronald Hepburn (Hepburn 1966 and 1968)). Theclaim that Walton’s philosophical thesis transfers to naturalitems has proven more controversial. Carlson is surely right thataesthetic judgments about natural items are prone to be mistakeninsofar as they result from perceptions of those items as belonging tocategories to which they do not belong, and, insofar as determiningwhich categories natural items actually belong to requires scientificinvestigation, this point seems sufficient to undercut the plausibilityof any very strong formalism about nature (see Carlson 1979 forindependent objections against such formalism). Carlson, however, alsowishes to establish that aesthetic judgments about natural items havewhatever objectivity aesthetic judgments about works of art do, and itis controversial whether Walton’s philosophical claim transferssufficiently to support such a claim. One difficulty, raised by MalcolmBudd (Budd 2002 and 2003) and Robert Stecker (Stecker1997c), is thatsince there are many categories in which a given natural item maycorrectly be perceived, it is unclear which correct category is the onein which the item is perceived as having the aesthetic properties itactually has. Perceived as belonging to the category of Shetlandponies, a large Shetland pony may be perceived as lumbering; perceivedas belonging to the category of horses, the same pony may be perceivedas cute and charming but certainly not lumbering. If the Shetland ponywere a work of art, we might appeal to the intentions (or society) ofits creator to determine which correct category is the one that fixesits aesthetic character. But as natural items are not human creationsthey can give us no basis for deciding between equally correct butaesthetically contrasting categorizations. It follows, according toBudd, “the aesthetic appreciation of nature is endowed with afreedom denied to the appreciation of art” (Budd 2003, 34),though this is perhaps merely another way of saying that the aestheticappreciation of art is endowed with an objectivity denied to theappreciation of nature.

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