Cynthia Freeland

It is not easy to say how we categorize things like red roses as beautiful. The beauty of the roses is not out there in the world, as the roundness and flatness are in the plates. If it were, then we would not get into so many disagreements of taste. And yet there is some sort of basis for claiming that the roses are beautiful. After all, there is quite a lot of human agreement that roses are beautiful and that cockroaches are ugly. Hume tried to resolve this problem by saying that judgements of taste are ‘intersubjective’: people with taste tend to agree with each other. Kant believed that judgements of beauty were universal and grounded in the real world, even though they were not actually ‘objective’. How could this be?

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3 Responses to Cynthia Freeland

  1. shinichi says:

    But Is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory

    by Cynthia Freeland

    Taste and beauty

    The term ‘aesthetics’ derives from the Greek word for sensation or perception, aisthesis. It came into prominence as a label for the study of artistic experience (or sensibility) with Alexander Baumgarten (1714–1762). The Scottish philosopher David Hume did not use this term but spoke of ‘taste’, a refined ability to perceive quality in an artwork. ‘Taste’ might seem completely subjective—we all know the saying ‘there’s no accounting for taste’. Some people have favourite colours and desserts, just as they prefer certain kinds of automobiles or furniture. Isn’t art just like this? Perhaps you prefer Dickens and Fassbinder, while I prefer Stephen King and Austin Powers; how can you prove that your taste is better than mine? Hume and Kant both struggled with this problem. Both men believed that some works of art really are better than others, and that some people have better taste. How could they account for this?

    The two philosophers took different approaches. Hume emphasized education and experience: men of taste acquire certain abilities that lead to agreement about which authors and artworks are the best. Such people, he felt, eventually will reach consensus, and in doing so, they set a ‘standard of taste’ which is universal. These experts can differentiate works of high quality from less good works. Hume said men of taste must ‘preserve minds free from prejudice’, but thought no one should enjoy immoral attitudes or ‘vicious manners’ in art (his examples included Muslim and Roman Catholic art marred by over-zealousness). Sceptics now criticize the narrowness of this view, saying that Hume’s taste-arbiters only acquired their values through cultural indoctrination.

    Kant too spoke about judgements of taste but he was more concerned with explaining judgements of Beauty. He aimed to show that good judgements in aesthetics are grounded in features of artworks themselves, not just in us and our preferences. Kant tried to describe our human abilities to perceive and categorize the world around us. There is a complex interplay among our mental faculties including perception, imagination, and intellect or judgement. Kant held that in order to function in the world to achieve our human purposes, we label much of what we sense, often in fairly unconscious ways. For example, we modern Westerners recognize round flat things out in the world, and we categorize some of these as dinner plates. Then we use them to eat our meals. Similarly, we recognize some things as food and others as potential threats or marriage partners.

    It is not easy to say how we categorize things like red roses as beautiful. The beauty of the roses is not out there in the world, as the roundness and flatness are in the plates. If it were, then we would not get into so many disagreements of taste. And yet there is some sort of basis for claiming that the roses are beautiful. After all, there is quite a lot of human agreement that roses are beautiful and that cockroaches are ugly. Hume tried to resolve this problem by saying that judgements of taste are ‘intersubjective’: people with taste tend to agree with each other. Kant believed that judgements of beauty were universal and grounded in the real world, even though they were not actually ‘objective’. How could this be?

    Kant was a kind of predecessor to modern scientific psychologists who study judgements of beauty by observing infant preferences for faces, tracking viewers’ eye movements, or hooking up artists to do magnetic resonance images (MRIs)—see also below in Chapter 6. Kant noted that we typically apply labels or concepts to the world to classify sensory inputs that suit a purpose. For example, when I find a round flat thing in the dishwasher that I recognize as a plate, I put it away in the cupboard with other plates, not in the drawer with spoons. Beautiful objects do not serve ordinary human purposes, as plates and spoons do. A beautiful rose pleases us, but not because we necessarily want to eat it or even pick it for a flower arrangement. Kant’s way of recognizing this was to say that something beautiful has ‘purposiveness without a purpose’. This curious phrase needs to be further unpacked.

  2. shinichi says:

    A democracy of images

    Everyone knows what the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s David look like—or do we? They are reproduced so often that we may feel we know them even if we have never been to Paris or Florence. Each has countless spoofs—David in boxer shorts or the Mona Lisa with moustache. Art reproductions are ubiquitous. We can now sit in our pyjamas while enjoying virtual tours of galleries and museums around the world via the Web and CDROM. We can explore genres and painters and zoom in to scrutinize details. The Louvre’s Website offers spectacular 360-degree panoramas of artworks like the Venus de Milo. Such tours may become ever more multi-sensory by drawing on virtual reality (VR) technology, which includes things like goggles and gloves. Lighting and stage set designers, like architects, already use this technology in their work.

    It is not just visual art that has been made more widely accessible by new technologies of reproduction. Operas, plays, and ballet performances are regularly broadcast on TV, and more people know the music of Bach and Beethoven from CDs or radio than from live concerts in churches or symphony halls. If I admire the movies of the late Stanley Kubrick, I can own copies in high-resolution DVD (letterbox format of course). And the new media make possible not just new interactions with ‘old’ art, but entirely new kinds of art as well: multimedia performances, Web-based art, digital photography, and more.

    Human experiences of art have been significantly changed in this postmodern age of the Internet, videos, CDs, advertising, postcards, and posters. But for good or ill? And how have artists responded? In this final chapter, I will consider the impact of new communications technologies on art. We will look ‘back to the future’ by exploring how art’s past is digitally disseminated by futuristic technologies across the global village. Three theorists will be our guides: Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, and Jean Baudrillard. Their attitudes range from enthusiastic endorsement to cynical doubts.

  3. shinichi says:

    But is it art?

    An introduction to art theory

    by Cynthia Freeland

    http://monoskop.org/images/e/ec/Freeland_Cynthia_But_is_it_Art_2002.pdf

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