The Nature of Art

The Nature of Art

The Nature of Art

The Nature of Art


Although various aesthetic themes have preoccupied many major philosophers, from Plato to Goodman, the central questions of the philosophy of art have remained ill-defined. This book gives a concise and systematic account of the leading philosophical ideas about art and aesthetics from ancient times to the present day, and goes on to propose a new theory of aesthetic satisfaction and artistic abilities.


Art is anomalous

Artists are supposed to have the capacity to create beauty; and beauty, Plato says, inspires love. Yet no one seriously believes in love potions. Apparently an alchemy is possible in the realm of artistic imagination which is impossible in reality. How can this be?

Some thinkers have believed that artistic creativity is so remarkable that nothing less than divine inspiration can account for it. Others have been sceptical, regarding artists as impostors whose products have a seductive charm that obscures rather than reveals true beauty. (Both these lines of thought appear in Plato’s writings.) Still others, for example Tolstoy and Collingwood, have denied that art has anything essentially to do with beauty. Thus it has been held that artists are primarily concerned with expressing feelings or emotions, and that the true aim of art is not beauty or pleasure but to give knowledge of our inner experiences.

It remains that we enjoy works of art as we do things of beauty for their own sake. Art is not, except incidentally, a means to any further end. This creates an obvious and serious difficulty prior even to that posed by the existence of artistic creativity. In general, we explain our behaviour teleologically, that is, by describing how it helps us to satisfy our wants and needs. And our wants and needs are systematically interrelated. Indeed, many biologists would assert that all human behaviour, like that of any other species, can ultimately be understood in terms of its survival value. But if art is an end in itself it apparently makes no contribution, unless by accident, to any other aims. So from the standpoint of the usual teleological pattern of explaining behaviour, the existence of art is anomalous. Does this teleological pattern of explanation still apply to art? If so then how? If not then what are the implications of this?

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