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lssues in Aesthetics

f Marxism, extensions of Wittgen-


m Philosophical lnuestigations. Those
d before the most far-out sorts of
in all the arts became familiar and
,hers. All of these developments, as
rnany other philosophers and art
lerstanding of various matters and
oints.
a strong central thread of concern
ny work in aesthetics since I first
ularly in
ry47;
and, looking back,
e articulation of the distinctively
rr with systematic solutions to the
on this enterprise. Several funda-
ld during the r95os have been oc-
et I have not found it reasonable-
,me have even (in my judgment)
rlopments, or at least have proved
necessary improvements, to those
their turn, seem to hold up under
fundamental views are mistaken,
.ve to be scrapped, I believe it is
ey can be carried, without being
rto tautology. They still commend
lking up into themselves ideas of
rnd present, and giving reasonably
the most serious questions in aes-
rot of course propose to review all
been interesting developments in
hich my views have been affected.
I issues that are still plainly basic,
rssion, and that I deal with in one
lhis volume. I welcome the oppor-
nore recent thoughts on these is-
time to criticisms or to altemative
ive manner that I hope will not be
: very many other writings I could
: Aesthetic Experience
fUOUCH
some members of each opposing party would im-
I pugn so balanced a judgment, it is in my opinion still an open
question whether it is possible-or, if possible, worthwhile-to
distinguish a peculiarly aesthetic sort of experience. The question
of possibility involves the debatability of the claim that there is a
common character that is (r) discernible in a wide range of our
encounters with the world and (z) justifiably called "aesthetic."
The question of worthwhileness involves the debatability of the
further claim that, once distinguished, this character is sufficiently
substantial and noteworthy to serve as the ground for important
theoretical constructions such as we shall come to in subsequent
essays.
Before we begin our own search for this character, or inquire
whether it has already been found, we ought to consider carefully
what it is we are searching for, and how we shall know that we
have found it. Our hope is to end up justified in saying that some
experiences are marked by aesthetic character and some are not;
and of those that have it, that some have it more markedly than
others. Experiences with such character need not be universally
associated with objects that belong to familiar artistic categories.
(It is convenient to have the term "artkind instance" to cover
poems, paintings, sculptures, musical compositions, dances, and
so on, without-at this stage-raising or begging questions about
the definition of art in general.) But to deserve the epithet "aes-
thetic," such experiences ought (r) to be obtainable commonly
through, or in, the cognition of artkind instances, (z) to be ob-
tainable in their most pronounced character from artkind instances
that have been judged to be outstanding examples of their kind,
and (3) to be obtainable in some degree from other objects or
situations (especially natural objects) that are often grouped with
artkind instances in respect to an interest we take in them.
285
286
It is not surprising that it has proved very difficult to distin-
guish and articulate an aesthetic character of experience. Accurate
phenomenological description, especially of common strains in so
richly varied a class of phenomena, requires more care and effort
than (I am afraid) many of us have been willing to make, and
perhaps were too easily discouraged because *e oJtetr had unrea-
sonable expectations of exactness in our results. It is also, and
consequently, not surprising that there has been a good deal of
honest difference of opinion about what the aesthetic-character
is,
even among those who agree that there is such a thing. But here
we must not follow those who have magnified and emphasized
these differences in order to cast doubt on the whole inquiry.
some features very widely and frequently found in experienes f
artkind instances have been noted by perceptive aestheticians,
and very often their divergent descriptions, when carefully ana-
lyzed in relation to_the examples offered, turn out to be quite
close in meaning. Moreover, if we do not insist a priori thai the
aesthetic character must be a single and simple o.,", b.,t look in-
stead for a set of central criteria, we may find that we can ac-
commodate and reconcile insights and discoveries from several
quarters.
This last conclusion, I must confess, is one that I have come to
only over a long period
of intermittent reflection on the problem
arrd after a gradual recognition that my earlier attempts to capture
the aesthetic character were defective and incomplete in way that
either became apparent to me as I tried to apply them an work
out their consequences or were thoughtfully called to my atten-
tion. My struggles with the problem have taken two forms, which
are not utterly hopeless, but which have not managed to satisfy
me fully.
For some time I tried working with the concept on aesthetic ex-
perience, trying to make the most of Dewey,s inipiring ideas (as
they have always struck me) by sharpening-them nd seing how
they_ can actually be applied to concrete u.lkind instances. L *y
Aesthetics,t I made a somewhat sketchy attempt to fix this concept
usably, and ten years later, in Essay
5,
I trid to revive and re_
new it, after it had wilted somewhat in the intervening climate of
opinion. I must say that I am still a partisan of aesthetic experi-
t. Aesthetics: Problems in the
philosophy
of Criticism, zd ed. (Indianapolis, rggr).
See "Postscript tg9o."
Some Persistent lssues in Aesthetics Aesthetic Exp
ence; I don't fully understand how
are clear and exemplary cases of r
Dewey's words (at least as supplem
And if there are such experiences,
one could reasonably refuse to call
come to see that, even so/ only ;
aesthetic life can be given in such I
one of Dewey's most insistent and I
have an unusually high degree of t
pleteness, and when you listen, fc
quartet, the experience has this cl
gree. But even if you tune in the qr
for a minute or two before you ar!
that something aesthetic has happer
ness or consummation. During tha
ence has taken on a character (and t
music-hearing experience) that is
was present before you tuned in t
some of it, of course, may linger er
telephone or the inopportune (evet
man at the door. So it seems impr
troduce a broader concept of the
reserving the term "aesthetic expe
rather special occasions.
It was such considerations as thr
and z, to explore the possibility of
as a species of hedonic quality, w
ment," "satisfaction," and "pleasu
have a good deal of support from a
thinkers, especially in Great Brita
suaded that there is important trr
found any serious and cogent refu
tion that experiences with aestheti
joyable (which is not to say the
course; see Essay
3).
Examples of
been placed in galleries (for exampl
ing corpses by Gaetano Zumbo-b
they are not hard to find these days
ant objects have been placed in
argue (r) that our experience of th
(z) that, taken all in all, our experi
i Issues in Aesthetics
ras proved very difficult to distin-
ic character of experience. Accurate
especially of common strains in so
rena, requires more care and effort
s have been willing to make, and
raged because we often had unrea-
ress in our results. It is also, and
hat there has been a good deal of
rout what the aesthetic character is,
:hat there is such a thing. But here
: have magnified and emphasized
cast doubt on the whole inquiry.
frequently found in experiences of
roted by perceptive aestheticians,
: descriptions, when carefully ana-
ples offered, turn out to be quite
f we do not insist a priori that the
ringle and simple one, but look in-
ria, we may find that we can ac-
ghts and discoveries from several
confess, is one that I have come to
:rmittent reflection on the problem
that my earlier attempts to capture
fective and incomplete in ways that
as I tried to apply them and work
:e thoughtfully called to my atten-
rblem have taken two forms, which
vhich have not managed to satisfy
ng with the concept of aesthetic ex-
ost of Dewey's inspiring ideas (as

sharpening them and seeing how
r concrete artkind instances. In my
sketchy attempt to fix this concept
L Essay
5,
I tried to revive and re-
ewhat in the intervening climate of
still a partisan of aesthetic experi-
Ity of Crticisnt, zd ed. (lndianapolis, r98r).
Aesthetic Experience 287
ence; I don't fully understand how anyone could deny that there
are clear and exemplary cases of such experience, described in
Dewey's words (at least as supplemented and qualified by mine!).
And if there are such experiences, I do not understand how any-
one could reasonably refuse to call them "aesthetic." But I have
come to see that, even so, only a very limited account of our
aesthetic life can be given in such terms. Aesthetic experiences-
one of Dewey's most insistent and most eloquently made points-
have an unusually high degree of unity in the dimension of com-
pleteness, and when you listen, for example, to an entire string
quartet, the experience has this character to a very marked de-
gree. But even if you tune in the quartet in the middle, and listen
for a minute or two before you are torn away, there is no doubt
that something aesthetic has happened to you-without complete-
ness or consummation. During that stretch of time, your experi-
ence has taken on a character (and not just the property of being a
music-hearing experience) that is strongly different from what
was present before you tuned in or after you tune out-though
some of it, of course, may linger even as you turn to the jangling
telephone or the inopportune (even if welcome) television repair-
man at the door. So it seems important, indeed essential, to in-
troduce a broader concept of the aesthetic in experience, while
reserving the term "aesthetic experience," as a count noun, for
rather special occasions.
It was such considerations as these that led me, as in Essays r
and z, to explore the possibility of treating the aesthetic character
as a species of hedonic quality, working with the terms "enjoy-
ment," "satisfaction," and "pleasure." Here I believed myself to
have a good deal of support from a number of eighteenth-century
thinkers, especially in Great Britain. And again, I am still per-
suaded that there is important truth in this doctrine: I haven't
found any serious and cogent refutation, at least, of the proposi-
tion that experiences with aesthetic character are intrinsically en-
joyable (which is not to say they are intrinsically valuable, of
course; see Essay
3).
Examples of unpleasant objects that have
been placed in galleries (for example, the famous figures of decay-
ing corpses by Gaetano Zumbo-but choose your own examples;
they are not hard to find these days) only go to show that unpleas-
ant objects have been placed in galleries, unless we go on to
argue (r) that our experience of them has aesthetic character and
(z) that, taken all in all, our experience of them does not involve
an enioyment that encompasses or assimilates the disgust (the
small size of Zumbo's figures creates a certain detachment). Still,
enjoying is taking pleasure in, and a particular kind of enjovment
must in the end be a function of the kind of thing in which
pleasure is taken. There is something threateningly reductionistic
about taking the defining feature of aesthetically characterized
experiences to be a particular kind of pleasure; and there are
theoretical problems that arise in relating such a view to the justi-
fication of reasons in art criticism (see Essay z). So I have thought
it worthwhile to cast about for a promising alternative.
My present disposition' is to work with a set of five criteria of the
aesthetic character of experience. I suggest that we apply these crite-
ria as a family, with one exception of a necessary condition: an ex-
perience has aesthetic character if and only if it has the first of the
following features and at least three of the others. (But I am not
wedded to a particular formula, rather trying to open up a line of
further inquiry; it may be that the list of criteria should be ex-
panded or that the number of features specified for the applica-
tion of the term "aesthetic character" snould be decreased.)
-
r. Obiect directedness. A willingly accepted guidance over the suc-
cession of one's mental states by phenomenally objective prop-
erties (qualities and relations) of a perceptual or intentional field
on which attention is fixed with a feeling that things are work-
ing or have worked themselves out fittingly.
z. Felt
freedom.
A sense of release from the dominance of some
antecedent concerns about past and future, a relaxation and
sense of harmony with what is presented or semantically in-
voked by it or implicitly promised by it, so that what comes has
the air of having been freely chosen.
3.
Detached ffect. A sense that the objects on which interest is
concentrated are set a little at a distance emotionally-a certain
detachment of affect, so that even when we are confronted with
dark and terrible things, and feel them sharply, they do not
oppress but make us aware of our power to rise above them.
4.
Actiae discoaery. A sense of actively exercising constructive pow-
ers of the mind, of being challenged by a variety of potentially
conflicting stimuli to try to make them cohere; a keyed-up state
e. Fist presented in a presidential address to the Eastern Division of the Amer-
ican Philosophical Association, December r78 ("In Defense of Aesthetic Value");
see Proceedings and. Addresses ofThe American Philosophical Association
5z(197):721-49.
See also Essay 6, sec. z.
Some Persistent Issues n Aesthetics
amounting to exhilaration in ser
cepts and between meanings, a s
intelligibilitY'
5.
Wholeness. A sense of integratioi
to wholeness from distracting
by inclusive sYnthesis as well
s"onding contentment, even th
ivolves-self-acceptance
and self
Each of these features calls for a I
one takes us back to a continuing cc
resume brieflY.
The first feature, object directedr
general agreement can be had. It i
quite broadlY. I have in mind not or
where we are intenselY absorbed ir
ing or paying close and undivide<
musicaf composition, but also oth
situation in question is merely inter
what is hapPening in the world o
tensely and seriouslY of the sYmbo
painting, or, confrontecl with an ir
art, we consider a
ProPosition
or
affairs the artist brings to our atten
instructions for apprehending it in
follow the waY it works itself out
covery; but even in the case of a
Pa
course the same
Process
of discov
nature as we exPlore it
ProbinglY;
i
controlling or emerging sense that
is accepted for what it is. This
I
actively engaged as it is, has often
our experience of artkind instance
seems to me
PlainlY Present
even
I
is a tragedy of horrors or a
Poigl
minder of real evils about us' If we
course there can be no claim thai
lasted, had aesthetic character (we
to, or ordered to, or in some other
we willinglY accePted the object's
If we choose to continue the exPet
lssues in Aesthetics
sses or assimilates the disgust (the
creates a certain detachment). Stitl,
., and a particular kind of enjoyment
ion of the kind of thing in which
mething threateningly reductionistic
:ature of aesthetically characterized
ar kind of pleasure; and there are
e in relating such a view to the justi-
:ism (see Essay z). So I have thought
rr a promising alternative.
o work with a set of five criteria of the
I suggest that we apply these crite-
ption of a necessary condition: an ex-
ler if and only if it has the first of the
st three of the others. (But I am not
rla, rather trying to open up a line of
rat the list of criteria should be ex-
of features specified for the applica-
raracter" should be decreased.)
ingly accepted guidance over the suc-
tates by phenomenally objective prop-
ons) of a perceptual or intentional field
:d with a feeling that things are work-
rselves out fittingly.
release from the dominance of some
rut past and future, a relaxation and
what is presented or semantically in-
>romised by it, so that what comes has
:ely chosen.
that the objects on which interest is
lle at a distance emotionally-a certain
hat even when we are confronted with
, and feel them sharply, they do not
rre of our power to rise above them.
of actively exercising constructive pow-
;
challenged by a variety of potentially
to make them cohere; a keyed-up state
rl addess to the Eastem Division of the Amer-
rmber 1978 ("In Defense of Aesthetic Value");
nerican Philosophical Association
5z
(rg7g\:723-49.
Aesthetic Experience
amounting to exhilaration in seeing connections between per-
cepts and between meanings, a sense (which may be illusory) of
intelligibility.
5.
Wholeiess. A sense of integration as a
Person,
of being restored
to wholeness from distracting and disruptive influences
"ut
by inclusive synthesis as well as by exclusion), and a cone-
sponding contentment, even through disturbing feelings, that
involves self-acceptance and self-expansion.
Each of these features calls for a little commentary; and the last
one takes us back to a continuing controversy that I should like to
resume briefly.
The first feature, object directedness, is one on which I believe
general agreement can be had. It is, of course, framed to apply
quite broadly. I have in mind not only the plain and obvious cases
where we are intensely absorbed in the contemplation of a paint-
ing or paying close and undivided attention to the course of a
musical composition, but also other cases where the object or
situation in question is merely intentional: we are concerned with
what is happening in the world of a novel, we are thinking in-
tensely and seriously of the symbolic significance of a figure in a
painting, or, confronted with an instance of conceptual or "idea"
rt, we consider a proposition or a theme or a possible state of
affairs the artist brings to our attention. When the work embodies
instructions for apprehending it in a determinate serial order, we
follow the way it works itself out, and this is a process of dis-
covery; but even in the case of a painting or a sculpture there is of
course the same process of discovery, of gradual revelation of its
nature as we explore it probingly; and thus there can be the same
controlling or emerging sense that something is worked out and
is accepted for what it is. This willing surrender, limited and
actively engaged as it is, has often been noted as characteristic of
our experience of artkind instances. And, as I suggested above, it
seems to me plainly present even when what we are dealing with
is a tragedy of horrors or a poignant and (by itself) painful re-
minder of real evils about us. If we are repelled and turn away, of
course there can be no claim that the experience, even while it
lasted, had aesthetic character (we looked because we were forced
to, or ordered to, or in some other way involuntarily, not because
we willingly accepted the object's control over our mental states).
If we choose to continue the experience because we must actually
289
290
see and feel the working out of what is there, and the rightness of
that working out, then our experience satisfies at least the first-
and necessary----criterion of aesthetic chafacter.
Felt freedom is perhaps the hardest feature to talk about very
definitely. I point to it as a notable ingredient in that experience I
alluded to earlier, of turning on the radio and suddenly hearing,
say, the first-movement second subject of Mozart's String
Quartet
in A: that lift of the spirit, sudden dropping away of thoughts and
feelings that were problematic, that were obstacles to be over-
come or hindrances of some kind-a sense of being on top of
things, of having one's real way, even though not having actually
chosen it or won it, Much deeper senses of "freedom"-meta-
physically and epistemologically speaking-have been invoked in
talking about the arts, by Kant and Schiller and others; I am
staying with what I take to be phenomenology here, however,
without moving to transcendental psychology (of course there is a
good deal of valid phenomenology in Kant and Schiller, too). It is,
I take it, this felt freedom that has been so feared and condemned
by the Puritan-religious or political-as a temptation to danger-
ous escapism and failure of nerve amid the actual trials of the
religious or the revolutionary life. And he is right to be con-
cerned. For it is in respect to this second feature that art has
affinities with certain drugs, which can also generate (though of
course not through their mere cognition) intense forms of felt
freedom. It is in this respect that art can be enervating and anti-
social, and many other unfortunate things it has often been ac-
cused of. I am convinced that this second feature is real and
significant. Nevertheless, I do not want to make it a necessary
condition of the aesthetic; in our encounter with artkind instances
that are intricate and puzzling and hard to make out, that offer
resistances and obstacles to understanding or perception, this felt
freedom may be absent or at a low pitch. Yet even such experi-
ences may have the aesthetic character if they meet the other
criteria.
The element of detachment in aesthetic experience, under var-
ious terms, such as "disinterestedness," "psychical distance," and
"will-less contemplation," has very often been remarked, and (at
least before the post-World War II avant-garde) has very often
been considered central to its nature. I do not wish to formulate
this feature so that it becomes enmeshed in the controversies
surrounding the terms in which it has been described, or in such
Some Persistent lssues in Aesthetics
Aesthetic ExP
a way that it is tied to anY
Particu
logical or ethical theory. The heart
'
viw, say, the Gaetano Zumbo sct
even violentlY we maY resPond, it
tant to add that we do not confusr
that we can avoid feeling full emoti
with corpses, that our feelings art
gently screened from direct contact
ures themselves' In manY differe
artkinds are designed to lend somt
affects they
Produce:
giving an ai
autonomy and reflexiveness,
of seP
so on. But of course this is not alw
been pointed out, there is often tl
mansip, coming close to the bol
riskingihe disappearance
of detac
ally try not to come as catastroPh
high-wire artist falls to his death, o
of a museum guard is asked for
Sergei Eisenstein remarks that wh
Ga{Masks
(tg4-4), about a gas f;
it was a failure-l take it, from the
it might not have been a failure
'
realistic to preserve detachment o
thing else to offer in the waY of ar
to mke even this imPortant and e:
experience a necessary condition'
It is extraordinarily
difficult to c
in which the practical or technolog
cannot enter into the exPerience o
this third feature of detached af
nomenologY of aesthetic exPerier
Zenzen-drawing
uPon Heidegge
these difficulties' For example, he
normal
PercePtion
where objects
tems of instrumentalitY,
in an ae
stripped of its instrumental
'valut
affect there is a lack of concern ab'
3.
M.
I.
Zenze, "4 Ground for Aesth'
Art Criticism 14 "976):47r'
I
Issues in Aesthetics
what is there, and the rightness of
rerience satisfies at least the first-
thetic chaJacter.
hardest feature to talk about very
rble ingredient in that experience I
n the radio and suddenly hearing,
subject of Mozart's String
Quartet
en dropping away of thoughts and
:, that were obstacles to be over-
kind-a sense of being on top of
y, even though not having actually
)eper senses of "freedo'/-1gf-
y speaking-have been invoked in
nt and Schiller and others; I am
e phenomenology here, however,
rtal psychology (of course there is a
ogy in Kant and Schiller, too). It is,
ras been so feared and condemned
rlitical-as a temptation to danger-
Lerve amid the actual trials of the
life. And he is right to be con-
r this second feature that art has
hich can also generate (though of
e cognition) intense forms of felt
rat art can be enervating and anti-
unate things it has often been ac-
rt this second feature is real and
not want to make it a necessary
rr encounter with artkind instances
;
and hard to make out, that offer
derstanding or perception, this felt
a low pitch. Yet even such experi-
: character if they meet the other
in aesthetic experience, under var-
;edness," "psychical distance," and
very often been remarked, and (at
y'ar
II avant-garde) has very often
nature. I do not wish to formulate
:s enmeshed in the controversies
h it has been described, or in such
Aesthetic Experience 297
a way that it is tied to any particular metaphysical or epistemo-
logical or ethical theory. The heart of the matter is that when we
view, say, the Gaetano Zumbo sculptures, however strongly or
even violently we may respond, it is still true and highly impor-
tant to add that we do not confuse them with genuine corpses,
that we can avoid feeling full emotions as we naturally would do
with corpses, that our feelings are therefore somewhat muted,
gently screened from direct contact with reality outside the sculp-
tures themselves. In many different typical ways, instances of
artkinds are designed to lend some degree of detachment to the
affects they produce: giving an air of artifice, of fictionality, of
autonomy and reflexiveness, of separation from other things, and
so on. But of course this is not always true, and as has also often
been pointed out, there is often the attempt at a kind of brink-
manship, coming close to the borders of the seeming-real and
risking the disappearance of detachment. Even so, artists gener-
ally try not to come as catastrophically close as, say, when the
high-wire artist falls to his death, or the realistic life-size imitation
of a museum guard is asked for directions to the men's room.
Sergei Eisenstein remarks that when he staged Tretiakov's play
Gas Masks (t923-24), about a gas factory, in an actual gas factory,
it was a failure-I take it, from the aesthetic point of view. Now,
it might not have been a failure even if the setting proved too
realistic to preserve detachment of affect, provided it had some-
thing else to offer in the way of aestheticity; so I do not propose
to make even this important and extremely common feature of art
experience a necessary condition.
It is extraordinarily difficult to capture in words the exact ways
in which the practical or technological aspect of an object can and
cannot enter into the experience of it if that experience is to have
this third feature of detached affect. Even so excellent a phe-
nomenology of aesthetic experience as that presented by M.
J.
Zenzen-drawing upon Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty-exhibits
these difficulties. For example, he remarks that "unlike the case of
normal perception where objects are always experienced as sys-
tems of instrumentality, in an aesthetic experience the object is
stripped of its instrumental 'values."'3 It is true that in detached
affect there is a lack of concern about the instrumental values, but
3
M.
J
Zenzen, "A Ground for Aesthetic Experience,"
lournal
of Aesthetics and
Art Criticism y
"976):47r-
292
there need not be a lack of awareness of such values-and in the
aesthetic experience of architectural works, for example, such
awareness ought to be present. Zenzen also holcls that in aes-
thetic experience of a painting the knowledge "that the work at
which I am looking can be taken as canvas and paint . , . must be
forgotten and transcended to the painting as art-work. . . .
[tl
must hide itself
jn
order for the art-work to show itself; but in
hiding itself the knowledge must not be lost."a Here the para-
doxical language, I think, helps to bring us close to a grasp of
the subtle difference between the way in which the knowldge
is present and the way in which it is absent.
It seems to me that I have always thought of the act of appre-
hending an artkind instance as basically a cognitive act, thou"h I
may have insufficiently stressed this point or failed to grasp its
consequences. Certainly I did not adequately understand the im-
portance of this fact until such thinkers as Gombrich, Goodman,
and Arnheim taught it to me in recent years. At any rate, I see
now more clearly than I ever did before that one of the central
components in art experience must be the experience of discov-
ery, of insight into connections and organizations-the elation
that comes from the apparent opening up of intelligibility. I call
this "active discovery" to draw attention to the excitement of meet-
ing a cognitive challenge, of flexing one's powers to make infel-
Iigible-where this combines making sense of something with making
something mke sense, In this aspect, experiences with aesthetic
character overlap with experiences of empirical scientists and
mathematicians; here is the link between them. There is a com-
mon thrill-speaking as always phenomenologically, and remind-
ing ourselves that the enjovment of emerging intelligibility or
order or system may be exactly the same, even for the scholar or
scientist, whether the order turns out to be empirically real (such
as the table of the elements, the taxonomy of animals and plants,
and the progression of artistic styles from r35o to 165o) or an illu-
sion (such as the classification of people according to the signs
they were born under, the distinction of autonomous Spenglerian
cultures, and the Baconian cypher). In some artkind instances on
the minimalist side, the experience is mainly, or at least primarily,
one of coming to see how some few things are related, and this
by itself doth not an aesthetically characterized experience make.
4.
lbid., p.
4V.
Some Persistent lssues in Aesthetics
ln other artkind instances, the inte
attribuie this feature of active dis<
must alwavs be something there to
always something going on that c,
understanding.s
The fifth feature, wholeness, is
ceptable account of the aesthetic
may well deserve to be ranked witl
to clarify this concept for myself a
fully) bowed to well-formed criticir
Dickie, and steered awaY from unit
ness in order to concentrate on ul
ence. And I want to keeP in viev
the coherence of the elements of
verse mental acts and events goin
of time; and the coherence of the
(which, again, may be illusory) ol
encompass its perceptions, feelin
integrated personhood. To a large
art experience may be a consequel
think, distinct. It is found, of cou
commerce with nature, in certain l
the exciting climaxes of games, an
tual activity, though in these latt
achieve unification of experience I
of focus and the pushing awaY of
through the widening and deePer
relations to take in contrasting ele
The legitimacy of this concePt r
phenomenological rather than a I
of contention between George D
bate that has continued intermi
years-part of a genuine dialogut
of my most cherished memories'
writing, has had the latest word,'
debate into another round, bY ret
interesting new criticisms he has
'
5.
See "Understanding Music," in On
spectiaes, ed. Kingsley Price (Baltimore, r9l
6. In the lst chapter of Art and the A
1974\.
Aesthetic Ex
lssues in Aesthetics
areness of such values-and in the
ectural works, for example, such
't. Zenzen also holds that in aes-
;
the knowledge "that the work at
rn as canvas and paint . . . must be
the painting as art-work. . . .
tltl
:he art-work to show itself; but in
nust not be lost."n Here the para-
ps to bring us close to a grasp of
the way in which the knowledge
:h it is absent.
rlways thought of the act of appre-
; basically a cognitive act, though I
ed this point or failed to grasp its
not adequately understand the im-
r thinkers as Gombrich, Goodman,
in recent years. At any rate, I see
did before that one of the central
must be the experience of discov-
ns and organizations--the elation
opening up of intelligibility. I call
attention to the excitement of meet-
lexing one's powers to make infel-
aking sense of something with making
aspect, experiences with aesthetic
iences of empirical scientists and
rk between them. There is a com-
; phenomenologically, and remind-
nent of emerging intelligibility or
y the same, even for the scholar or
rns out to be empirically real (such
re taxonomy of animals and plants,
styles from r35o to 165o) or an illu-
r of people according to the signs
inction of autonomous Spenglerian
rher). In some artkind instances on
:nce is mainly, or at least primarily,
ne few things are related, and this
rlly characterized experience make.
Aesthetic Experience 293
ln other artkind instances, the intellectual element is too small to
attribute this feature of active discovery, though of course there
must always be something there to be apprehended, and there is
always something golngon that can be ialled, in a broad sense,
understanding.s
The fifth feature, wholeness, is surely very central to any ac-
ceptable account of the aesthetic character-so much so that it
may well deserve to be ranked with the first as essential. In trying
to clarify this concept for myself as well as others, I have (grate-
fully) bowed to well-formed criticisms, especially those of George
Dickie, and steered away from unity in the dimension of complete-
ness in order to concentate on unity in the dimension of coher-
ence. And I want to keep in view two levels of this wholeness:
the coherence of the elements of the experience itself, of the di-
verse mental acts and events going on in one mind over a stretch
of time; and the coherence of the self, the mind's healing sense
(which, again, may be illusory) of being all together and able to
encompass its perceptions, feelings, emotions, ideas, in a single
integrated personhood. To a large degree this feature of the usual
art experience may be a consequence of other features; but it is, I
think, distinct. It is found, of course, in many other regions-in
commerce with nature, in certain kinds of religious experience, in
the exciting climaxes of games, and even in concentrated intellec-
tual activity, though in these latter cases there is a tendency to
achieve unification of experience and of self through narrowness
of focus and the pushing away of intrusive elements, rather than
through the widening and deepening of a pattern or network of
relations to take in contrasting elements.
The legitimary of this concept of the unity of experience (in a
phenomenological rather than a Kantian sense) has been a point
of contention between George Dickie and myself through a de-
bate that has continued intermittently and happily for many
years-part of a genuine dialogue between us that has been one
of my most cherished memories. Since Dickie, at the time of this
writing, has had the latest word,'I think it's my turn to carry the
debate into another round, by responding briefly to a few of the
interesting new criticisms he has offered.
5.
See "Understanding Music," in On Criticizing Music: Fiae Philosophical Per-
spectaes, ed. Kingsley Price (Baltimore, r98r).
6. In the lst chapter of Art and the Aesthetic: An Instittttionnl Analysis (Ithaca,
tgz.
My concept of experiential coherence is that of the elements of
experience having the appearance of belonging together: some
parts of the phenomenally obiective (perceptual
or intentional)
field with other parts, some feelings with other feelings, some
thoughts with other thoughts-and each of these sorts of mental
element with the others (see Essay
5).
The first d{figlty with Beardsley's view is that there are many
cases.regarded by everyone as aesthetic experiences but having n
affective content caused by a work of art. . . . I have in mind] for
example, the experience of a certain kind of abstract painting which
has a good but simple design and which can be take in, asit were,
at a glance.T
This comment is to the point, and helps me to clarify my view, as
well as to defend it. First, I should like to formulate my fifth
criterion of the aesthetic in experience so as to render it immune
to this criticism:
f
there are experiences with aesthetic character
that are affect-free-that include no feelings at all-then whatever
elements they do include may still more or less cohere. The crite-
rion can still be applied, only there will be less to apply it to,
fewer sorts of element to take into account. But second, and more
important, I cannot bring myself to accept the antecedent of the
above conditional. If the design of a painting is in fact "taken in at
a glance," I agree that there may be no affect, but I don't think
there is an aesthetically characterized experience, either----one
could do no more than scan and mentally classify, and that doesn't
give room for a buildup of the features I have described. If, on the
other hand, we stay with the picture-"such paintings frequently
repay continued attention," Dickie sayss-something more could
happen, an intensification of interest, an increasingly keen ap-
preciation of the color relationships, a feeling of uneasiness about
the violent hard-edge contrasts, a touch of vertigo, or an unanti-
cipated calmness. If Dickie is "inclined to think that many of our
aesthetic experiences are without affective content, not just a few
ones of abstract paintings,"e it may be, as his examples (from Goya
and Arthur Miller) of affective works suggest, that he thinks of
feelings as like full-fledged emotions, whereas I do not.
Finally, Dickie is still doubtful about the concept of a coherence
of emotions, when they vary and succeed each other. O Hamlet
7.
Ibid,., p. r89.
8. Ibid., p. r9o.
9.
Ibid., p. r9r.
Some Persistent lssues in Aesthetics
he says: "During the course of the
anger, distrust, irritation, pity, indig
sadness,
not to mention the manY t
produce in a sPectator' How does tl
iute a unity?"'o This is a difficulty, bu
if we do not invoke the nonnecessit
emotions
directed to the events of
say, brought into coherence in the
thn they would be in ordinary life'
degree of detachment through the fi
thi helps to keeP them from flYing
"real" emotions. Second, to the exte
play are tied together by psychologi
no doubt not the best examPle of tt
can be felt to follow naturally upon
tions, when considered in their sPe
intensity
(as resPonses to the dev
certain
Patterns,
rhYthms of cont
Fourth, involved in all the differer
one emotional
Phase
to the next,
ences, there are other imPortant f
concern that Hamlet will not extric
without bringing tragedy to himself
ually growing feeling of acceptance
release from torment, and as an
Hamlet's brilliance and sensitivity
These pervasive feelings give the e
the unity that it has'
When we look again at the five c
their intended tentativeness-that
unuseful. TheY are vague, of cours
this stage, and
PerhaPs
to a conr
They cannot be used in certain cc
open if we had a set of necessary
seems that we must be content
I
show how, and in what waYs, aes
ence overlaPs with exPeriences ob
mote from art; theY allow for the
the aesthetic character in unexpet
ro. Ibid.,
P.
r9z.
Aesthetic ExPe
lt lssues in Aesthetics
coherence is that of the elements of
rrance of belonging together: some
rbjective (perceptual or intentional)
feelings with other feelings, some
;-and each of these sorts of mental
Essay
5).
dsley's view is that there are many
s aesthetic experiences but having no
work of art. . I have in mind, for
rertain kind of abstract painting which
and which can be taken in, as it were,
and helps me to clarify my view, as
I should like to formulate my fifth
<perience so as to render it immune
experiences with aesthetic character
Lde no feelings at all-then whatever

still more or less cohere. The crite-
ly there will be less to apply it to,
into account. But second, and more
'self
to accept the antecedent of the
;n
of a painting is in fact "taken in at
may be no affect, but I don't think
lracterized
.experience, either---one
rd mentally classify, and that doesn't
l features I have described. If, on the
picture-"such paintings frequently
)ickie says'-something more could
interest, an increasingly keen ap-
rships, a feeling of uneasiness about
ts, a touch of vertigo, or an unanti-
"inclined to think that many of our
Lout affective content, not just a few
may be, as his examples (from Goya
'e
works suggest, that he thinks of
notions, whereas I do not.
ful about the concept of a coherence
and succeed each other. Of Hamlet
Aesthetic Experience
295
he says: "During the course of the play I might have felt fear,
anger, distrust, irritation, pity, indignation, excitement, pity, and
sadness, not to mention the many other feelings the play might
produce in a spectator. How does this sequence of affects consti-
tute a unity?"'o This is a difficulty, but I think not a fatal one--!ven
if we do not invoke the nonnecessity of my fifth criterion. These
emotions directed to the events of the play are indeed, I would
say, brought into coherence in the playgoing situation far more
than they would be in ordinary life. First, they are all muted by a
degree of detachment through the fictionality of their objects, and
this helps to keep them from flying off in different directions like
"real" emotions. Second, to the extent to which the events of the
play are tied together by psychological inevitability (and Hamlet is
no doubt not the best example of this!), the emotions themselves
can be felt to follow naturally upon one another. Third, the emo-
tions, when considered in their specific quality as well as in their
intensity (as responses to the developments in the plot), form
certain patterns, rhythms of contrast and curves of strength'
Fourth, involved in all the different emotions, continuing from
one emotional phase to the next, and underlying their differ-
ences, there are other important feelings-a gradually growing
concern that Hamlet will not extricate himself from his situation
without bringing tragedy to himself and others, along with a grad-
ually growing feeling of acceptance of this tragic denouement as a
release from torment, and as an inevitable expression both of
Hamlet's brilliance and sensitivity and of his fatal limitations'
These pervasive feelings give the experience of the play much of
the unity that it has.
When we look again at the five criteria, we see, I think-for all
thei intended tentativeness-that they may well prove to be not
unuseful. They are vague, of course; but that is to be expected at
this stage, and perhaps to a considerable extent at any stage.
They cannot be used in certain convenient ways that would be
open if we had a set of necessary and sufficient conditions; but it
seems that we must be content with what we can find. They
show how, and in what ways, aesthetically characterized experi-
ence overlaps with experiences obtained in areas of life quite re-
mote from art; they allow for the evident fact that we even find
the aesthetic character in unexpected places. In a recent essay,
ro. Ibid., p. r9:.
zg6
Ioel I.
Kupperman has commented on my earlier remarks about
aesthetic experience, especially in Essay
5;
quoting my character-
ization of aesthetic experience,rl he writes: "This definition on one
hand appears too broad, since it could apply to a sexual experi-
ence as well as an aesthetic experience. On the other hand the
requirement of unity appears unwarrantedly to legislate a priori
that aesthetic experiences have firm boundaries."l2 I am not fully
convinced of either of these charges. But if my earlier wording
does admit sexual experience, I hope that the new criteria reveal
both the ways in which aesthetic experience differs from, and
some features it may share with, sexual experience, Moreover, if
the earlier formula did insist too much on completeness, that
insistence has been properly withdrawn.
In any case, the proposed account of aesthetic character does
enable us to admit numerous clear-cut cases of artkind instances
to the class of things capable of providing experience with this
character (it would be absurd if it turned out that a competent
hearing of Mozart's A-major string quartet had no aesthetic char-
acter after all). And it shows us how to rule out other phenomena
that either have some pretensions to provide aesthetic character
or may be expected or mistakenly believed to do so. I cite two
examples.
Commenting on an exhibition of "color-field
optical paintings,,
by Wojciech Fangor, David L. Shirley writes:
If Mr. Nangor has masterfully used space and color to create a very
special experience, albeit at times unpleasant, the experience is n
more than just that. Attempts to dazzle, blind, overwhelm, even in
such a spectacular way, are still attempts to dazzle, blind, and
overwhelm. Even when the canvasses are generating their own
particular environments, they are much closer to artiice than to
art.
13
I make no assumptions, of course, either about the paintings,
which I have not seen, or the critic, whom I know little about. But
if he is right in his account, the experience of viewing these paint-
ings does seem not to be an aesthetic one, by my criteria. (Whether
the paintings are art is another question, to be taken up in the
following essay.)
rr. See p. 8t above.
tz. "Art and Aesthetic Experience," British
lourml
of Aesthetics 15
jg7)34.
13. Nao YorkTimes, December :r9, tg7o.
Some Persistent lssues in Aesthetics
Aesthetic Ex1
Somewhat later, commenting
or
same critic saYS it contains
a sustained, sinister threat of immin
that Pose a threat to the viewer al
stackd up on a glass plate that lear
elass benh that; if sat uPon, coulc
oo.*uy stretched tight with rubb
when ybu try to go through therr
Iights et uP on door
iambs
so as I
vu
pass
them. There is no
ot.ryot belt that sweePs through
oezist- and the bricks that have a k
'movement.
If the other works haP
Ievel, they never challenge us on al
This is the sort of discrimination
make-distinguishing
as clearly as
that push aesthetic experience intc
range of qualities it can encompass,
their interest in aesthetic experiel
something else, something quite
for example, is also described bY
review, a "Destruction
in Art SYr
lege, in which a live chicken was I
arid "seveal artists scratched, br
until their clothes were in shred
blood"-these
"realizations"
accol
membered mannequins, slit and
ture, defaced books,
Plastic
dress
violins that had been shattered in
:..4. New York Times, January
21, 7977'
Issues in Aesthetics
:nted on my earlier remarks about
I in Essay
5i Quoting
my character-
1'
he writes: "This definition on one
: it could apply to a sexual experi-
rxperience. On the other hand the
unwarrantedly to legislate a priori
: firm boundaries."l2 I am not fully
:harges. But if my earlier wording
I hope that the new criteria reveal
hetic experience differs from, and
th, sexual experience. Moreover, if
too much on completeness, that
ithdrawn.
lccount of aesthetic character does
clear-cut cases of artkind instances
of providing experience with this
if it turned out that a competent
tring quartet had no aesthetic char-
s how to rule out other phenomena
rions to provide aesthetic character
renly believed to do so. I cite two
rn of "color-field optical paintings"
Shirley writes:
rsed space and color to create a very
res unpleasant, the experience is no
:o dazzle, blind, overwhelm, even in
;till attempts to dazzle, blind, and
:anvasses are generating their own
are much closer to artifice than to
ourse, either about the paintings,
:ritic, whom I know little about. But
l experience of viewing these paint-
;thetic one, by my criteria. (Whether
er question, to be taken up in the
Aesthetic Experience
297
Somewhat later, commenting on a show by G. E. Moore, the
same critic says it contains
a sustained, sinister threat of imminent destruction' . . . The works
that pose a threat to the viewer are a pile of rough-hewn bricks
stackd up on a glass plate that leans out toward the viewer, a low
glass bench that; if sat upon, could splinter into painful pieces, a
oor*ay stretched tight with rubber strips that pinch and press
when you try to go through them and two sets_of blinding.hot
lights #et up-on dor jambs so as to cause great discomfort when
y.t pass tirem. .'There is nothing visually exciting brrt the
ionnyot belt that sweePs through the air with the lan of a tra-
pezist and the bricks tht have a kind of power in their potential
inovement. If the other works happen to threaten us on a physical
level, they never challenge us on an esthetic level.'n
This is the sort of discrimination that critics are called upon to
make-distinguishing as clearly as possible between those works
that push aesthetic experience into new directions, expanding the
range of qualities it can encomPass, and those works that renounce
their interest in aesthetic experience and abandon it in favor of
something else, something quite different. Such an alternative,
for example, is also described by Shirley, recalling, in the same
review, a "Destruction in Art Symposium" in t96g at Finch Col-
lege, in which a live chicken was beheaded with a pair of scissors
an "several artists scratched, beat, and punched one another
until their clothes were in shreds and their flesh running with
blood"-these "realizat,Lons" accompanying an exhibition of "dis-
membered mannequins, slit and gouged canvases, gutted furni-
ture, defaced books, plastic dresses burnt full of holes, and new
violins that had been shattered into splinters."
t4. Nau YorkTimes,
January
23, 1977.
' British
lournal
of Aesthetics 15
"975\:34
.970.

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