A Work in Progress
The following draft is for local critique and discussion.
A Critique of Art and Aesthetics
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that examines the nature of art and
our experience of it. It emerged during the 18th century in Europe and developed
in England as philosophers grouped together such fields as poetry, sculpture,
music, and dance. They classified all the arts into one category and called
them les beaux arts or the fine arts.
Philosophers began to say that reason by itself could not explain
beauty. Beauty may have some rational properties, such as “order, symmetry,
and proportion,” but it is really an experience not explained by reason alone.
It is understood through intuition and experienced with human feeling and
emotion. An aesthetic experience could include a mixture of feeling, such
as pleasure, rage, grief, suffering, and joy.
Immanuel Kant interpreted aesthetics as a field giving priority to form
over function. Beauty, he said, was independent of any particular figure
with which it was attached. A horse might be beautiful apart from whether
it raced well. He asserted that knowledge is not something that is created
merely by outside institutions but also by our natural constitution. The
seat of judgement now moved from medieval reasoning toward the idea that
human intuition could be a source of knowing. And aesthetics began to develop
as a university discipline.
But in the minds of many critics today aesthetics does not belong as a university
discipline. Art historians have claimed that there is no such thing as art,
there are only artists. And postmodernists question whether aesthetics should
exist as a university subject, whether it is a legitimate inquiry. As we shall
see, some would deny that any universal criteria exist for judging art in
all cultures and historical epochs.
Many questions are under scrutiny by postmodernists and other critics.
What is art? What is an aesthetic experience? How can an aesthetic
value be distinguished? What is so important about this experience? Why does
an object become beautiful? How do we define beauty? How is art to be judged?
How is a judgement the expression of an epoch? Is art independent of politics?
How is a work of art produced?
Is aesthetics a legitimate discipline for the university? This is the subject
of our inquiry. We will suggest that the answers come slowly as we learn more
about our nature and the universe.
First, we will look at a critique of aesthetics from the standpoint of race,
class, and gender. The critique below proposes to eliminate aesthetics as
a subject in the university.
Second, we will examine how a new aesthetics could be constructed as a university
discipline. We will set forth a basis for its new agenda. The agenda begins
with what we call theoretical and general aesthetics.
Third, we will conclude that art is a vital discipline for development in