Hofstadter, A., and R. Kuhns, eds. Philosophies of Art and Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.
A series of papers on the ethical dimension of art, the authors draw out the ethical significance of a particular art/literary/musical work or art form. It is worth noting that the lead essay by Paul Guyer argues that 18th-century writers on beauty did not hold any concepts incompatible with this approach.
A work-in-progress screening of Antony and Charles Atlas' tour documentary film TURNING is being presented at the closing night gala at on November 11th in Copenhagen. Click on the image above for further information on the screening.
In 2006 Antony and the Johnsons and Charles Atlas toured Europe with a concert and live video portrait of 13 women from New York City. The film TURNING explores the heart of that performance. Through its synthesis of Antony´s songs and unfurling video portraiture of the beauties who performed on stage, TURNING creates an intimate and cinematic experience exploring the themes of identity, transcendence and the revelation of essence.
Anthologies on beauty that bring together writers who, while they may discuss art, do so in the main only to reveal our capacity for beauty, include the excellent selection of historical readings collected in the one-volume and the more culturally inclusive collection . Recent anthologies on beauty can take the form of a study of aesthetic value, such as in , or more specifically on the ethical dimension of aesthetic value, such as in . Reference works in philosophical aesthetics today tend to focus on the philosophy of art and criticism. They typically include one chapter on beauty, and in this context treats beauty as an evaluative category for art; , a property of the natural world; and , a value compatible with naturalization. offers a brief but excellent summary of the history of concepts that underpin beauty theory and philosophical aesthetics more broadly, in addition to a dedicated section on classical concepts of beauty by Pappas and medieval concepts of beauty by Aertsen.
Philosophical interest in beauty began with the earliest recorded philosophers. Beauty was deemed to be an essential ingredient in a good life and so what it was, where it was to be found, and how it was to be included in a life were prime considerations. The way beauty has been conceived has been influenced by an author’s other philosophical commitments―metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical―and such commitments reflect the historical and cultural position of the author. For example, beauty is a manifestation of the divine on earth to which we respond with love and adoration; beauty is a harmony of the soul that we achieve through cultivating feeling in a rational and tempered way; beauty is an idea raised in us by certain objective features of the world; beauty is a sentiment that can nonetheless be cultivated to be appropriate to its object; beauty is the object of a judgment by which we exercise the social, comparative, and intersubjective elements of cognition, and so on. Such views on beauty not only reveal underlying philosophical commitments but also reflect positive contributions to understanding the nature of value and the relation of mind and world. One way to distinguish between beauty theories is according to the conception of the human being that they assume or imply, for example, where they fall on the continuum from determinism to free will, ungrounded notions of compatibilism notwithstanding. For example, theories at the latter end might carve out a sense of genuine innovation and creativity in human endeavors while at the other end of the spectrum authors may conceive of beauty as an environmental trigger for consumption, procreation, or preservation in the interests of the individual. Treating beauty experiences as in some respect intentional, characterizes beauty theory prior to the 20th century and since, mainly in historically inspired writing on beauty. However, treating beauty as affect or sensation has always had its representatives and is most visible today in evolutionary-inspired accounts of beauty (though not all evolutionary accounts fit this classification). Beauty theory falls under some combination of metaphysics, epistemology, meta-ethics, aesthetics, and psychology. Although during the 20th century beauty was more likely to be conceived as an evaluative concept for art, recent philosophical interest in beauty can again be seen to exercise arguments pertaining to metaphysics, epistemology, meta-ethics, philosophy of meaning, and language in addition to philosophy of art and environmental aesthetics.
. So that Wendy Steiner admits "It has taken me along time to admit that the thrust of criticism is the 'I like,' andwhatever expertise I have accumulated conspires in this admission." Seeespecially pp. 6-8, 80-90 for useful and forthright considerations of theimportance of artistic beauty and subjective pleasure.
The difference in the postmodern aesthetics of intensity, perhaps,is that we want somehow to the intensity, not to attribute it toaform. So we open up a gap between the intensity, which is us, and thepoem or art object, which comes to resemble a cultural husk. To put itanother way: theory and culture, as group projects, tend to excludesensibility; but poetry always has sensibility, which must be experiencedsubjectively. It was Hume, as we know, who took us from the object ofbeauty to its perceiving subject. In forming critical groups, we areforced to re-emphasize the of beauty: we write essays orbooksabout poetry, and our writings mediate between us as readers and writersand between us and the poetry, in a triangular objectification of poetry,critic, and (often critical) reader. We don't (sense) eachother, weread each other. Because this objectification--through the distancing ofboth poetic object and critical stance--is a false emphasis, the objectends up being emptied of its sensible beauty, which is always a questionof subjective human (though potentially shared) experience. So we end upsaying that the object has no beauty, and that we are wrong to speak ofbeauty, from a longing to solidify group perceptions in and about theobject. The subjective experience of beauty becomes closeted, off therecord. As Charles Lock puts it, "Perspectiveis the way out ofparticipation, our protection from confusion and involvement. Being leftoutside is the price of objectivity" (413).
We have at least not abandoned the modern urge to intensity, whichis another frame for the question of beauty. The common oppositionbetween modernism's urge to intensity and postmodernism's knowing betterseems to me false. Postmodernism's theoretical refusal of intensitybelies its practical embraces: trauma art, Sylvia Plath, bored violence,poetry slams, William Vollmann, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, celebratingfailure, all these rely on surface-to-depth intensity, cousin to theeighteenth-century Sublime. We might well find, for both modern andpostmodern versions of beauty, common ground in an aesthetics ofintensity.
The feelings with which the artist infects others may be most various very strong or very weak, very important or very insignificant, very bad or very good: feelings of love for ones own country, self-devotion and submission to fate or to God expressed in a drama, raptures of lovers described in a novel, feelings of voluptuousness expressed in a picture, courage expressed in a triumphal march, merriment evoked by a dance, humor evoked by a funny story, the feeling of quietness transmitted by an evening landscape or by a lullaby, or the feeling of admiration evoked by a beautiful arabesque it is all art.
So, what is the of poetic beauty? It is not simplythe neglect of beauty, or the denial of its existence; it is also theseveral for that neglect and denial. One reason for thefailure of interest in beauty is erotic repression. Beauty is always, to agreater or lesser extent, tied to the erotic. André Breton calls this"convulsive beauty": art he likes must "arouse a physical sensation . . .I could never avoid establishing some relation between this sensation andthat of erotic pleasure, finding only a difference of degree" (8).Jeffrey C. Robinson laments that "In denying ourselves the beautiful, wehave lost in addition the erotic experience that accompanies our access toit and our experience of it. This, in a society as neurotic about desireas ours, should come as no surprise" (7).
Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of mans emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.