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  • 1.
    • Sociology, Art & Culture
  • (SOCY100012)
  • Lecture 2:
  • Philosophy and art: the aesthetic, beauty,
  • and the end of art?
  • Neil McPherson
  • School of Social Sciences
  • Room: A820
  • Tel:01698 283100 x8479
  • Email:

Pablo Picasso Guernica (1937) Oil on canvas (349 x 776cm) Dec 2, 2011 2.

  • Philosophy and art
    • Art tends to rebel against scientific images of the world, while sociology tends to thrive on demystifying the enchanting in social life. Art tends to revolt against materialistic explanations of life, while sociology tends to exult in exposing singular and unique as socially constructed and socially reproduced
  • (Harrington 2004: 9)
  • The philosophical understanding of art pre-dates the sociological conception of art that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
  • The philosophers constructedmetaphysical conceptions of art that did not consider the historical and social nature of art
  • In these conceptions art is seen as timeless and asocial

3. Metaphysical Conceptions of Art Art as beauty From Plato, philosophers have argued that art exists as beauty that elevates the mind, allowing individuals to gain knowledge of the beauty and unchanging nature of the cosmos Compositions were hierarchised historical, mythological and biblical scenes portraiture & landscape realistic scenes of daily life Plato viewed beauty as eternal, absolute and transcendent a view that is not compatible with modern concepts of beauty 4. Metaphysical Conceptions of Art Art as the imitation of nature A conception of art in which nature exists as the image of perfection and art imitates that perfectionthe doctrine of mimesis Reproduction of reality trompe doeil & the doctrine of illusionism (influential during the Renaissance) However, in the same way that ideas of beauty change historically, so to different cultures represent nature differently As the Enlightenment grew in influence, the aforementioned doctrines became less influential and the focus shifted to a humanly subjective understanding of beauty & engagement with art.(see Harrington 2004) 5. Metaphysical Conceptions of Art Art as aesthetic experience Derived from the Greekaisthesis the study ofpleasure in perfection Aesthetics a branch of philosophy focused on the concepts of beauty and tastefocused on experiencing pleasure in sensory objectsconcerned with judgements of taste in relation to works of art The Age of Enlightenment and Romanticism human rationality and emotion The external world engaged in the mind rather than directly through sense perceptions (we know more than the objects around us value, belief & tradition) Ideas & idealism search for objective, universal knowledge in human thought (see Grenfell & Hardy 2007; Harrington 2004) 6. Kant: Aesthetics & Art Immanuel Kant(1724-1804) The Critique of Judgement(1790) Can we have knowledge of art that is prior to experience? Taste & beauty part of Kants wider philosophical system Nature is Gods unfathomably great art (Kant 1987: 334) For Kant beauty is a judgment that is, it is not a fixed concept Taste individuals subjective feeling of pleasure of the object sensory pleasure judgments of taste are produced by pleasure, unlike moral judgements or judgments of fact 7. Kant: Aesthetics & Art Where Hume sees the experience of beauty as merely subjective, Kant sees it as a logical judgment (this differs from his early discussions of beauty and taste) Exercise of rational judgment Act of sensuous feeling Expression of personal feeling Act of the mind AESTHETIC JUDGEMENT ART 8.

  • Kant: Aesthetics & Art
    • [W]hile it is true that beauty needs to be appreciated subjectively, when we see beautiful things we are aware that the pleasure we derive from them is not a function of something peculiar to us, some personal condition to which our subjective self might alone be party
  • (Graham 2005: 18)
    • Aesthetic judgment is thus to be distinguished (1) from a judgment of fact because it is subjective, (2) from the merely subjective because it commands the assent of others, (3) from a judgement grounded in practical rationality because the beautiful has no practical purpose, and (4) from the fanciful or superficially attractive because it has the mark of purposefulness
  • (Graham 2005: 18)
  • Sensus commnis common sensitive nature


  • Kant: Aesthetics & Art
    • [For Kant] a judgement of beauty is a disinterested, universal, and necessary judgment concerning the pleasure that everyoneoughtto derive from the experience of a form of purpose
  • (Dickie 1997: 22)
  • Disinterestedness focus solely on appearance of art object itself no attempt to locate meaning in wider context
  • Universality since the experience of beauty is not subjective beauty is evident to all
  • Necessity when we identify something as beautiful we demand that everyone agrees as its beauty is identifiable to all although not everyone will agree
  • Form of purpose focuses on the object purposiviness without purpose


  • Kant: Aesthetics & Art
  • What is important is form not content this avoids criticisms of subjectivity therefore the aesthetic beauty of the art work is ahistorical (timeless) and asocial
  • For Kant the art object is an end in itself and is without purpose its aesthetic beauty is inherent in the form of the work itself and evident through judgments of taste
  • The possession of true genius allows the exhibition of aesthetic ideas innate ideas of imagination and understanding not constrained by other thoughts or concepts the capacity to create new rules and not follow existing ones to create art outside of external determination and constraint
  • (see Gaiger 2002)

11. Kant: Aesthetics & Art Kant argued that in affirming a judgement of taste, the individual making the judgement was not making any claim as to the objects value, or its moral worth or practical use He was simply referring to the pleasure it brought to the senses through disinterested contemplation Building on Kant, Clive Bell(1914)argues that artistic quality is located in the significant form of the art work, rather than any narrative or representational content Greenberg(1986-93)adds historical concept he states that by continually removing and excluding all links to external conditions and concerns, art can be purified only accessible through the aesthetic beauty of its form 12. Philosophy and Art: Kant Kant has been used to explain the aesthetic value of post-impressionist art, such as the work of Cezanne and Gauguin, where form is emphasised over representational depiction(Bell 1914; Fry 1920) Paul Cezanne -Chteau Noir (1900-04)Oil on canvas(73.7 x 96.6 cm) 13. Kasimir Malevich Black Square and Red Square(1915)Oil on canvas (71.4 x 44.4cm)Georges Braque Woman with a Guitar(1913)Oil and charcoal on canvas (130 x 73 cm) 14. 15. Hegel: The Aesthetic and the End of Art Georg W.F. Hegel(1770-1831)Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) ,Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817)Rather than individuals response to beauty (Kant), Hegel focused on content and meaning of art works Art operates on the level of sensuous experience and reveals comprehensive truth of position of humanity like religion & philosophy Art is externalised human self consciousness Focuses on artistic beauty as above natural beauty it can be philosophised Hegels aesthetics provide the cornerstone of the discipline of art history(Geczy 2008: 107) 16. Hegel: The Aesthetic and the End of Art For Hegel, the human spirit manifested in art in an evolutionary manner The history of art represented of the history of manArt identified the progression of the human spirit towards self-awareness Art, therefore, was teleologically progressive working towards an endpoint where man would fully know himself as the true nature of the spirit was revealed Productive tension in the idea and form of the art work each can be inadequate in themselves and in relation to each other 17. Hegel: The Aesthetic and the End of Art Early civilisations symbolic art tension between ideaand form (distorted representations of God) form didnot fulfil idea Classical (Greek) unity of idea and form the idearepresented through the idealised human form unity of religious awareness and artistic expressionhighest level of art 18.

  • Hegel: The Aesthetic and the End of Art
  • Romantic (all art since Greek times)
    • growing tension between religious awareness and
    • artistic expression (idea and form)
    • growing inwardness and self reflection (understanding
    • of humanitys relationship with God located in realm of
    • thought rather than physical expression)
    • the image can no longer truly represent the idea
  • Art can no longer articulate the content it aspires to

Carl Gustav Carus (1869) Das Kolosseum in einer Mondnach Caspar David Friedrich (1818) Chalk Cliffs on Rgen 19. Hegel: The Aesthetic and the End of