Aesthetics has been defined in various ways. For the purposes of this chapter, we shall define the term as referring to the study of how stimuli defined as being artistic or beautiful induce disinterested pleasure. Philosophical aestheticians (e.g., Burke, 1757; Stolnitz, 1960) have argued for centuries that aesthetic pleasure is different from other sorts of pleasure in that it is disinterested. By this, they mean that one is not interested in possessing or using the stimulus. Another way of putting this is that aesthetic experience is phenomenologically mild and subtle, and strong emotions and motives are not involved. The emphasis on disinterestedness is meant to distinguish aesthetics from the more general study of hedonics, where motives and emotions may come into play. If aesthetic experience is disinterested, then cognitive science as opposed to other branches of psychology should be important in its study. In fact, one might argue that aesthetics is--or, at least, should be--a subdiscipline of cognitive psychology. As Miner ( 1979) has pointed out, the proper study of aesthetics is the work of art as it is perceived and understood by an observer rather than the work of art as a physical entity. Given this, cognitive science, which deals with how stimuli in general are perceived and understood, forms the logical foundation for aesthetics. While hedonic tone has been neglected by cognitive psychologists, a plausible theory of aesthetics can, it will be argued, be derived from what we already know about cognition and the determinants of hedonic tone.
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Publication information: Book title: The Foundations of Aesthetics, Art & Art Education. Contributors: Frank H. Farley - Editor, Ronald W. Neperud - Editor. Publisher: Praeger Publishers. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1988. Page number: 7.
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