Aesthetics Seminar (Monday - Week 3, TT23)

aesthetics seminar

Can we see aesthetic properties of artworks that depend on the historical category to which a work belongs? I will argue that we can. A few recent discussions in the debate over what properties we can perceive or visually experience have considered aesthetic properties. I examine a more specific issue: whether we can see aesthetic properties that depend on the historical category to which a work belongs. I focus only on some aesthetic properties of artworks – those that would typically be considered perceptible. The central task of the paper is to argue that experience of some aesthetic properties of artworks requires grasp of the historical categories on which those properties depend and to show how this makes a difference for explaining perception. I use Kendall Walton (1970) and Arthur Danto’s (1981) arguments for the historical nature of artworks and at least some aesthetic properties to suggest that if these views in aesthetics are on the right track, then approaches that restrict any grasp of categories in perception are at best incomplete: they cannot account for visual experience of historical aesthetic properties. I will focus specifically on influential relational approaches proposed by Charles Travis (2004) and John Campbell (2002) that explain visual experience in terms of an ‘acquaintance-like’ relation that is independent of what one understands. The paper will conclude by discussing some ways in which work in aesthetics can contribute positively or substantively to thinking about perception.

Aesthetics Seminar Convenors: Catharine Abell and David Collins