Art Beyond Aesthetics

Art Beyond Aesthetics March 31, 2014

Historically, “aesthetics” has had an accidental relationship to art. Aesthetics, from aesthesis, referred to perception through senses. In this sense, an “aesthetic” theory of art is a theory with a particular focus on the sensory experience of art.

If we put aside the peculiar theory of the senses embodied in aesthetics, Jonathan Ree argues, we need to revise what we say about art and beauty too. 

Looking at a mountain is not a matter of “gathering up a collection of subjective sensations” and then drawing the conclusion “that a mountain is facing us” (I See A Voice, 363). 

Whenever we look at a mountain, “we are already planted there in the landscape, ourselves and our futures and our pasts, together with everything that makes up our sense of town and country, of history and nature, of walking and running, murmuring and shouting, of earth and water and wind and sun, of the colours of the heather or the seasons of the year.” 

A painting of this mountain is not “an account of how the mountain happens to look to us subjectively” nor simply an “objective” depiction of the mountain. Rather the paining “will discuss how the mountain manages to be as it looks to us, and how it manages to look to us as it is in itself.” The painting will put the mountain into question, asking “how it is constituted as a reality in our experience.” Quoting Merleau-Ponty, Ree concludes that the paining “asks it to reveal the means . . . by which it comes to be a mountain before our eyes” (363).

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