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can aesthetic experience be allegorized as the antithesis of instrumental reasoning,
where categorical thinking is taken as an index of instrumental reasoning?
Kant, of course, thought of aesthetic judgment as falling into two kinds: judg-
ments of free beauty and judgments of accessory or dependent beauty. Only the
former are issued without determinate concepts; the latter “ judgments of acces-
sory beauty “ require concepts. To judge something a beautiful car in Kant™s
dependent sense, we need the concept of the kind of car in question and the pur-
poses it serves.And similarly, a vast number of the judgments we make concerning
artworks involve situating them in the relevant categories.That is, even within the
Kantian scheme of things, the aesthetic experience of artworks is hardly devoid of
the cognitive deployment of the imagination and reflection in order to categorize.
And outside the Kantian orthodoxy, opinion strongly favors the view that the aes-
thetic experience of art is an affair involving categorical thinking as standardly an
ineliminable, generally constitutive element.
Taking something like the Kantian portrait of the aesthetic experience of free
beauty as the model for the aesthetic experience of art “ even of great art or what
might be called genuine art “ results in an extraordinarily narrow, revisionist, and
almost stipulative construal of the aesthetic experience of artworks, including
modernist artworks. Nevertheless, some such maneuver appears required by pro-
ponents of the allegorical account if their homology contrasting aesthetic experi-
ence versus instrumental reason is to click. But if the aesthetic experience of
artworks requires as much categorical thinking as I have indicated “ and not
exclusively imaginative free play, as is assumed “ then aesthetic experience is not
an apt figure for the allegorical role assigned to it.
One set of problems for the allegorical approach, then, is that it presupposes
that aesthetic experience is a matter of the disinterested free play of the imagina-
tion, untethered by determinate concepts. These features of aesthetic experience
must obtain if aesthetic experience is to be allegorized as a site of resistance
against exchange value and instrumental reason. However, arguably neither disin-
terestedness nor cognitive free play are necessary ingredients of the aesthetic expe-
rience of artworks, thereby compromising the allegory internally.
In addition to being skeptical about the premises of the allegorical account,
one must also voice reservations about its form. It appears to treat aesthetic expe-
rience as a symbolic figure. But how theoretically informative is this? Clearly it is
not being claimed that aesthetic experiences induce people who undergo them to
imagine utopia or to criticize the status quo on any regularly recurring basis. But
what exactly is being asserted?
I suspect it is that the aesthetic experience of autonomous art can be made to
symbolize freedom in an unfree world.This involves selectively hypostasizing com-
plementary mental processes like the free imagination and subsumptive reasoning
and then mapping them, in a manner that involves drastic simplification, onto con-
58 BEYOND AESTHETICS

flicting social tendencies, exploiting associative ambiguities in the relevant senses of
“freedom” all the way. That is, to get the relevant binary symbolic oppositions in
place, both the mental processes and the social forces they are correlated to will need
to be radically gerrymandered theoretically beyond empirical recognition.
Now I have no doubt that this can be done with great elan. However, I won-
der whether it wouldn™t be just as easy to tell alternative allegories about aesthetic
experience by selecting some of its other putative features and weaving them into
different social dramas, in which the aesthetic experience of art takes on a less
ennobling role. Imagine radical environmentalists who, noting the absorptive
quality of aesthetic experiences of art, castigate it as an opiate that stands for the
repression and degradation of our capacities for communing with nature. Aes-
thetic experiences of art, for them, will symbolize the epitome of the anthro-
pocentric narcissism that increases exponentially with the march of history.
Of course, as liberally educated folk, we will reject this allegory, preferring ones
that assign the aesthetic experience of art a more heroic role. But aside from being
uplifting for people like us, does the allegory of aesthetic experience that we encoun-
tered in Marcuse stand on any firmer ground than that of the environmentalists?
The problem with allegories, especially highly selective ones, of aesthetic experi-
ence is that alternative, different, and even incompatible allegories are easily available.
There seems to be no principled reason to accept one such allegory over another.
The allegory Critical Theorists offer us does not force us on pain of philosophical
necessity to accept it, since it rests on ideas of disinterestedness and on the concept of
free deployment of the imagination that themselves lack philosophical necessity.
Nor can the allegory be recuperated as an empirical reconstruction of the
rationale behind all genuine modern art, except by courting circularity, since
much modern art, such as Soviet Constructivism, rejects any commitment to dis-
interestedness. At best, the allegorical account provides useful insight into the
ambitions of some modern art, but it does not afford a comprehensive way of con-
ceptualizing the aesthetic experience of art, even in the twentieth century. It may
be an interesting story, but inasmuch as other interesting stories, including incom-
patible ones, are readily imaginable through other homologies, the allegorical
account is not finally compelling.
In summary, if the allegorical account is supposed to figure aesthetic experi-
ence as a metaphor for the possibility of noninstrumental, nonmarket rationality,
then, since the features of aesthetic experience (distinterestedness and the concept
of free imaginative play) it valorizes seem questionable, the metaphor is inapt. But
even if the metaphor were more persuasive, the question of its genuine theoretical
informativeness would linger, since alternative, nonconverging metaphors “ alter-
native allegories “ appear equally conceivable.

T H E D E F L AT I O N A RY AC C O U N T

So far we have not had much success attempting to characterize the aesthetic
experience of art. But the problems with the preceding accounts provide us with
FOUR CONCEPTS AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE 59
OF


clues about how to proceed, if only by flagging some of the pitfalls in our path.
Attempts to portray aesthetic experience in terms of disinterestedness fail because,
rather than focusing on what goes on during aesthetic experiences, they empha-
size the beliefs in intrinsic value that putatively attend such experiences, in terms
of causing them and sustaining them. So one way to repair this shortcoming may
be to take note of what goes on during the aesthetic experience of art “ to attend,
that is, to the content of such experiences.
The pragmatic account does do this, of course, as does the emphasis on the
concept-free play of the imagination. However, in both cases, there is a tendency
to overgeneralize “ to treat certain kinds of aesthetic experience or certain aspects
of some aesthetic experiences as the essence of all aesthetic experience. Thus,
given this background of difficulties, a promising line suggests itself, namely, to
characterize the aesthetic experience of artworks by focusing on the content of
said experiences without overgeneralizing.
But what goes on “ what do we do “ during what, with respect to artworks, are
typically called aesthetic experiences? Two things spring to mind immediately. One
is that we attend to the structure or form of the artwork, taking note of how it
hangs, or does not hang, together.The formalists were wrong to think that this is the
only sort of thing that counts as aesthetic experience. But surely it is one of the pos-
sible ways of attending to artworks that we standardly refer to as aesthetic experi-
ence. We can call it design appreciation. Where our experience of an artwork
involves an attempt to discern its structure or form, that is a case of design apprecia-
tion.And if our experience of the artwork or part of our experience is dedicated to
design appreciation “ if our experience is in whole or in part preoccupied with dis-
covering the structure of the work “ then that is an aesthetic experience.
By calling this activity design appreciation, I do not intend to imply that it
must involve liking the work or admiring it, though a frequent consequence of
design appreciation may be a feeling of satisfaction. All I mean by design appreci-
ation is that we are involved in sizing up the work, in attending to how the work
works “ that is, we are trying to isolate the ways in which the relevant choices the
artist made realize or fail to realize the point or purpose of the artwork. Someone,
the content of whose attention to a work concerns its design or form, is, during
the pertinent time span, having an aesthetic experience of it.
But design appreciation is not the only type of experience we typically call
aesthetic. Also paradigmatic is the detection of the aesthetic and expressive quali-
ties of an artwork “ noticing, for instance, the lightness and grace of a steeple, or
the anguish of a verse. This sense of aesthetic experience is very close to the
notion that Baumgarten had in mind when he introduced the neologism aisthisis
in the eighteenth century as the label for a species of sensuous cognition.Attend-
ing to a vase, not only observing its weight, shape, and size, but its appearance of
elegance is an aesthetic experience.
That is, an experience whose content is the response-dependent, qualitative
dimension of the object is an aesthetic experience. Explaining the ontological and
psychological conditions of such experiences is, of course, still an enormous pro-
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ject. Nevertheless, that such experiences obtain is a fact of human existence, and
where responses to artworks involve them, they are uncontroversially called aes-
thetic experiences.
So if an experience of an artwork is a matter of design appreciation or of
the detection of its aesthetic and/or expressive qualities, then it is an aesthetic
experience. Design appreciation and quality detection are each disjunctively
sufficient conditions for aesthetic experience. Moreover, neither of these expe-
riences requires the other. One could apprehend the aesthetic qualities of a
work without scrutinizing its form, or examine the structure of the work with-
out detecting its aesthetic qualities (perhaps because it has none). Yet, design
appreciation and quality detection often come in tandem: frequently, the search
for structure involves isolating the artistic choices on which salient aesthetic
qualities supervene, while attention to the aesthetic qualities of an artwork is
generally relevant to discovering its design. Thus, we may at least hypothesize
that design appreciation and/or quality detection are aesthetic experiences “
that, independently or together, they provide sufficient conditions for classify-
ing an experience as aesthetic.
This way of characterizing aesthetic experience avoids overgeneralization,
since it does not take one kind of aesthetic experience for the whole phenomena.
At least two discriminable kinds of experience belong to the concept: design
appreciation and quality detection.The formulation also allows that there may be
other kinds of experience that also deserve the label “aesthetic experience,”
though these two, disjunctively or in concert, command our immediate attention,
since it seems perfectly uncontroversial to call the activities of design appreciation
and quality detection aesthetic experiences.
A ruckus might be raised were we to say that only design appreciation is aes-
thetic experience; but calling design appreciation a major mode of aesthetic expe-
rience should raise no hackles. Moreover, other candidates can be added to this
list, where they track the ordinary and traditional application of the concept of
aesthetic experience as unproblematically as do design appreciation and quality
detection “ that is, with the same intuitive fitness and convergence on precedent.
This account of aesthetic experience is deflationary. It identifies aesthetic expe-
rience in terms of the content of certain experiences whose objects it enumerates
as, first and foremost, the design of artworks and their aesthetic and expressive
qualities. It does not propose some common feature between these two kinds of
experience, like disinterestedness, that constitutes the essence of aesthetic experi-
ence. On its behalf, one can say of the deflationary, content-oriented, enumerative
account of the concept aesthetic experience that calling an experience an aesthetic
experience because it involves either design appreciation, quality detection or both
(1) accords with a tradition of usage that has recurrently selected form and/or
qualitative appearance as its primary conditions of application and (2) that such
usage is unobjectionably recognizable as correct by those who talk about aesthetic
experience. Moreover, the deflationary account is more informative than the
traditional account, whose guiding concept “ disinterestedness “ tells us almost
FOUR CONCEPTS AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE 61
OF


nothing, since it is virtually exclusively negative (an account of what the experi-
ence is not).
Perhaps one reason that the deflationary account may sound inadequate is that
sometimes people take the notion of an aesthetic experience of an artwork to be an
umbrella concept for any appropriate experience of art. On this construal, a response
of political indignation to the situation depicted in a novel about racism appears
unjustifiably disenfranchised as an appropriate response to the work, since it is not an
aesthetic response according to the obviously narrower deflationary account.
But from my perspective, there are many different kinds of appropriate
responses to artworks, of which aesthetic experience is only one. Though moral
indignation, inasmuch as it need not involve design appreciation or quality detec-
tion, may not be an occasion for aesthetic experience, that does not preclude its
status as an appropriate response to a work that, given its purposes, lays political
matters before its readers for their consideration. It is simply an art-appropriate
response that is different from aesthetic experience.
According to the deflationary account, aesthetic experience is neither the
only, the central, nor the best kind of appropriate response to an artwork. The
notion of aesthetic experience is not being used honorifically, but only descrip-
tively, of one set of transactions audiences may have of artworks.15 Once it is
acknowledged that no special virtue attaches to the aesthetic experience of art-
works “ that it is one sort of art-appropriate response among others “ then anxi-
ety over the apparent narrowness of the deflationary account should subside.
Different artworks ask for or mandate or prescribe many different kinds of
responses, whose appropriateness is best assessed on a case-by-case basis. To
attempt to call them all aesthetic experiences or to reserve that label for only the
best of them simply courts confusion and even, unfortunately, rancor.
Some may be surprised that I have not included interpretation, along with
design appreciation and quality detection, as an instance of aesthetic experience. I
have refrained from this in order to respect an influential tradition that, though
not unchallenged, regards the deciphering of the thematic messages of artworks to
be a different, and by some accounts opposed, activity to aesthetic experience.
Nevertheless, I have not caved into that viewpoint altogether, since the deflation-
ary account can still acknowledge and explain a close relation between interpreta-
tion and aesthetic experience.
For insofar as design appreciation involves discerning the structure of an artwork
relative to its points or purposes, design appreciation will generally require interpre-
tation in order to isolate those points and purposes. Likewise, quality detection will
usually be ineliminable in interpreting the thematic viewpoints of artworks. So even
if interpretation does not represent an uncontroversial paradigm of aesthetic experi-
ence, it can still be shown to be intimately related to activities that are.
Recently, the notion of aesthetic experience has fallen under a pall because,
given the residual reputation of ideas of disinterestedness, it is perceived as claim-
ing insulation from political concerns. However, on the deflationary account
of aesthetic experience, there is no necessary disjunction between attending to
62 BEYOND AESTHETICS

aesthetic experience and political analysis. On the one hand, design appreciation
includes the sizing up of the rhetorical structures of the work that will be rele-
vant to most imaginable political analyses; while, on the other hand, political
analyses can hardly encourage confidence, unless they are responsive to expres-
sive qualities. However, the moratorium on discussing aesthetic experience in the
humanities needs to end not only because aesthetic experience is relevant to
political analysis, but because as audiences and educators the whole gamut of art
appropriate responses, including aesthetic experience, is our province.
PA RT I I : A RT, H I S T O RY,
A N D N A R R AT I V E




ART, PRACTICE , NARRATIVE
AND


I

The purpose of this essay is to attempt to reorient one of the central questions of
philosophical aesthetics, namely, “What is art?” The direction that this reorienta-
tion proposes relies upon taking advantage of the practice, or, more aptly, the prac-
tices of art as the primary means of identifying those objects (and performances)
that are to count as art. Roughly put, the question of whether or not an object (or
a performance) is to be regarded as a work of art depends on whether or not it can
be placed in the evolving tradition of art in the right way. That is, whether an
object (or performance) is identified as art is a question internal to the practice or
practices of art. In this respect, the question “What is art?” changes its thrust.“Art”
in our query no longer refers primarily to the art object; rather what we wish to
know about when we ask “What is art?” predominantly concerns the nature and
structures of the practices of art “ things, I shall argue, that are generally best
approached by means of historical narration.
This essay is written within the context of the philosophy of art as that has
evolved in the Anglo-American tradition. The positive proposals I advance, as a
result, need to be seen against that background of debate; indeed, part of the con-
fidence that I have in the view developed in ensuing sections rests on my belief
that my view manages to avoid the most decisive objections made against earlier,
rival positions in the ongoing debate concerning the nature of art.

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