What is dying while painting is turning itself into thought isn’t painting or art,
which are doing well, but aesthetics. Another name is going to have to be
found to designate this commentary on art, on painting and on visual art,
which seeks out the presuppositions, the undertones, the a priori, but in and
through painting, with its means, at the same level as the supporting line and
structure. Hegel when he wrote that it is too late for art and that aesthetic’s
moment has come, has put things back to front. (Lyotard 1991, p.17).
As Lyotard suggests, ‘aesthetics’ is about far more than a question of what may or may not fit into pre-existing philosophical or psychological theory. The actual aesthetic qualities of painting are often in advance of what theory can analyse or prescribe, and the theory in question may not just be philosophical, but psychological. Such aesthetic features are far more various and unpredictable than those prescribed by traditional aesthetic criteria; and scientific psychologies may also fail to take proper account of them. Furthermore, in the wake of Modernist and post-Modernist thinking, both the nature of aesthetic experience and the kinds of psychological effects that might accompany them have been radically redefined. If only for these reasons, the field of psychological aesthetics is something which could only recently have been established, and much work no doubt has still to be carried out in it.
This book began by charting the rise and fall of the ‘aesthetic’, tracing its career from its earliest links with truth and beauty, its spectacular climb towards sublimity and transcendence, and its subsequent fall into exaggeration and pretension in fin de siècle decadence. In the course of this history, ‘aesthetic’ came to refer not just to the philosophical justifications for artistic judgements, but first of all to the qualities necessary for the cultivation of taste, and eventually to the specific characteristics of our experience of art.1
At first it seemed possible to establish guidelines for what should count as ‘good’ aesthetic experience: this was what motivated attempts to draw up conventions of taste. But since the quality of originality in post-Renaissance painting usually involved some stretching or breaking of these standards whether in finish, choice of subject or colour palette – the yardstick of beauty became something less settled and more turbulent. Indeed, as the expressive aspect of art intensified, the association of the beautiful with harmony,