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Ideas of the aesthetic figure largely in two crucial areas of debate in the philoso-
phy of art. On the one hand, the aesthetic often plays a definitive role in character-
izations of our responses to or interactions with artworks.That is, what is thought
to be distinctive about our commerce with artworks is that these encounters are
marked by aesthetic experiences, aesthetic judgments, aesthetic perceptions, and
so forth. Furthermore, the use of aesthetic terminology in such accounts of our
interactions with artworks is, most essentially, “experiential” or “perceptual”
where those terms are generally understood by contrast to responses mediated by
the application of concepts or reasoning.
Second, notions of the aesthetic are also mobilized in theories of the nature
of art objects; the artwork, it is claimed, is an artifact designed to bring about
aesthetic experiences and aesthetic perceptions, or to engender aesthetic atti-
tudes, or to engage aesthetic faculties, et cetera. Thus, these two claims “ that
aesthetic responses distinguish our responses to art, and that art objects can be
defined in terms of the aesthetic “ though ostensibly independent, can, never-
theless, be connected by means of a neat, commonsensical approach that holds
that what an object is can be captured through an account of its function.The
art object is something designed to provoke a certain form of response, a cer-
tain type of interaction. The canonical interaction with art involves the aes-
thetic (however that is to be characterized). So the artwork is an object
designed with the function of engendering aesthetic experiences, perceptions,
attitudes, and so forth.
The purpose of this essay is to dispute both the thesis that aesthetic responses are
definitive of our responses to artworks and the thesis that art is to be characterized
exclusively in terms of the promotion of aesthetic responses. It will be argued against
the first thesis that many of our entrenched forms of interaction with artworks “
what may be neutrally designated as our art responses or art experiences “ are not
aesthetic in nature nor are they reducible to aesthetic responses or experiences.The
argument here proceeds by enumerating and describing several of our nonaesthetic
though eminently characteristic responses to art objects.That is, along with doing
things like attending to the brittleness of a piece of choreography “ a paradigmatic

From: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, XLV, No. 1 (Fall 1986), 57“68.

5
6 BEYOND AESTHETICS

aesthetic response “ we also contemplate artworks with an eye to discerning latent
meanings and structures, and to determining the significance of an artwork in its art
historical context. These art responses, often interpretive in nature, are, it will be
claimed, as central as, and certainly no less privileged than, aesthetic responses in
regard to our interactions with artworks.1 Moreover, if an expanded view of the art
response is defensible, then our concept of art, especially when construed function-
ally, must be broadened to countenance as art objects that are designed to promote
characteristically appropriate art responses or art experiences distinct from aesthetic
responses.And this, in turn, has consequences for attempts by theorists, armed with
aesthetic definitions of art, who wish to exclude such objects as Duchamp™s Fountain
from the order of art.
This essay is motivated by a recent development in the philosophy of art,
namely the popularity of aesthetic definitions of art.As is well known, the antide-
finitional stance of post-World War II philosophers of art provoked a reaction for-
mation called the Institutional Theory of Art.2 Dissatisfaction with the
Institutional Theory has, in turn, elicited several countermoves of which the aes-
thetic definition of art is one species. For though the Institutional Theory has
been judged wanting in numerous respects, it has reestablished the respectability
of attempts to define art.
Examples of this development include articles such as “An Aesthetic Definition
of Art” by Monroe Beardsley and “Toward an Aesthetic Account of the Nature of
Art” by William Tolhurst.3 These writers attempt to construct theories that dis-
criminate between art and nonart by reference to aesthetic experience, which is
taken as the canonical mode of our interaction with artworks. In this, I think that
these authors are symptomatic of the tendency within much contemporary philos-
ophy of art to equate the art experience with the aesthetic experience. Given this
propensity, both articles define an artwork as an object produced with the intended
function of fostering aesthetic experiences. Beardsley™s statement of the theory is
“An artwork is something produced with the intention of giving it the capacity to
satisfy the aesthetic interest.”4 To have an aesthetic interest in an object, for Beards-
ley, is to have an interest in the aesthetic character of experience that a given object
affords. Simply put, our aesthetic interest in an object is predicated on the possibil-
ity of our deriving aesthetic experiences from the object.
Tolhurst™s statement of the aesthetic theory of art is more complex.As a rough
indication of the way in which an aesthetic definition might go,Tolhurst writes
A thing, x, is a work of art if and only if, there is a person, y, such that 1) y
believed that x could serve as an object of (positive) aesthetic experiences,
2) y wanted x to serve as an object of (positive) aesthetic experiences, and
3) y™s belief and desire caused y (in a certain characteristic way) to produce
x, to create x, or to place x where x is, etc.5
Both Beardsley and Tolhurst are involved in the attempt to limit the range of
things we shall count as art. Broadly speaking, this attempt is carried out by two
maneuvers: invoking the condition that the producer of a putative artwork had an
ART INTERACTION 7
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appropriate intention, which, in turn, is specified in terms of a plan to afford aes-
thetic experience. Given this twofold requirement, Beardsley believes that he can
deny the status of art to such things as Edward T. Cone™s “Po©me symphonique” “
a composition that involves one hundred metronomes running down “ and to
Duchamp™s Fountain. In a similar gesture, Tolhurst thinks that Duchamp™s
L.H.O.O.Q. and L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved are not art.With such cases, Beardsley and
Tolhurst believe that the artists could not possibly have been motivated by the
intention of promoting aesthetic experience.
For the purposes of this essay I shall put the issue of the intentional compo-
nent of the aesthetic theory of art somewhat to one side. I am more interested
in the job that the concept of aesthetic experience is supposed to perform in the
theories. It must be said that the commonsense approach of the aesthetic theory
of art is very attractive. It conceives of the artwork as an object designed with a
function, a function, moreover, that is connected with what a spectator can get
out of an artwork in virtue of its facilitating or promoting certain types of
responses or interactions. As a theory of art, it has the strength of acknowledg-
ing the mutual importance of the artist, the object, and the audience; it does not
emphasize one element of the matrix of art over others in the manner of a
Croce or a Collingwood with their preoccupations with the artist and his
expression of intuitions.
Also, this type of theory puts its proponent in a strong position to systemati-
cally tackle further questions in the philosophy of art, such as what is the value of
art and why are we interested in seeking out artworks? Clearly, the aesthetic the-
orist of art can answer that the value of art and the interest we have in pursuing
artworks reside in whatever positive benefit there is in having the types of experi-
ences and responses that art objects are designed to promote.
On the other hand, the delimitation of the relevant art experience to the aes-
thetic experience “ the maneuver that gives the aesthetic theory of art much of its
exclusionary thrust “ appears to me to be a liability.The aesthetic definition of art
privileges aesthetic experience to the exclusion of other nonaesthetic forms of
interaction that the art object can be designed to promote. I shall argue that there
is no reason for the aesthetic experience to be privileged in this way insofar as it
seems to me that we cannot rule out other, nonaesthetic forms of response to art
as illegitimate on the grounds that they are not aesthetic responses. Indeed, when
discussing these other responses to works of art. I think I will be able to show that
denying the status of art to such works as L.H.O.O.Q. and “Poème sym-
phonique” is a mistake.
Before charting several forms of nonaesthetic responses to art, it will be help-
ful to clarify the notion of an aesthetic response to art. One problem here is that
there are a number of different, ostensibly nonequivalent characterizations avail-
able. Let a sample suffice to initiate the discussion. Tolhurst intentionally refrains
from characterizing aesthetic experience, though Beardsley, of course, has offered
a number of accounts.Writing on aesthetic enjoyment, which as I take it is noth-
ing but positive aesthetic experience, Beardsley has claimed that
8 BEYOND AESTHETICS

Aesthetic enjoyment is (by definition) the kind of enjoyment we obtain
from the apprehension of a qualitatively diverse segment of the phenome-
nal field insofar as the discriminable parts are unified into something of a
whole that has a character (that is, regional qualities) of its own.6

This account offers what might be thought of as a content-oriented characteriza-
tion of positive aesthetic experience. It is “content-oriented” because it stresses
the properties of the object, here “regional qualities,” to which attention is
directed.This approach corresponds to J. O. Urmson™s notion that what marks an
aesthetic reaction is its attention to how things look and feel especially in terms of
qualities such as appearing spacious, swift, strong, mournful, cheerful, and so on.7
I will take it that one major variation of the aesthetic response approach “ the
content-oriented approach “ designates a response as aesthetic when it takes as its
focus the aesthetic or expressive or “qualitative” appearances of the object. I will
argue that this leaves us with a particularly impoverished view of our customary
reaction to art that has extremely problematic consequences for any theorist who
would want to use aesthetic experience as definitive of the function, vis-à-vis the
spectators™ reaction, which artworks are designed to produce.
Beardsley has not always characterized aesthetic experience primarily by refer-
ence to content. Often he attempts to characterize aesthetic experience through
the analysis of its internal-feeling-structure, which we might call an affect-oriented
account of aesthetic experience. In recent essays, Beardsley has placed more weight
than the previous quotation did on the affective features of aesthetic experience. In
a formal statement of his criteria for aesthetic experience, one mirrored informally
in What Is Art?, Beardsley says that an experience has an aesthetic character if it has
the first of the following features and at least three of the others. For Beardsley, the
five relevant features of aesthetic experience are: object directedness, felt freedom,
detached affect, active discovery, and wholeness, that is, a sense of integration as a
person.8 Apart from “active discovery,” these criteria allude to affective attributes of
experience.And even in the case of “active discovery” the criterion is a case of both
content-oriented and affect-oriented considerations, for though said discoveries
are achieved through seeing connections between percepts and meanings, such
insights are to be accompanied by a sense of intelligibility.
There are many problems with this characterization of aesthetic experience.
First, it is possible that either there is no experience that meets this account or, if
this account can be read in a way that grants that some experiences meet it, then
other-than-aesthetic experiences, for example, solving theorems in nonapplied
mathematics, may also meet it. But, most important, it is clear that many of our
typical responses to art will, under a rigorous reading of Beardsley™s formula, not
stand up as aesthetic, with the consequence that objects that support only certain
typical but nonaesthetic interactions with art will not count as art. Of course, the
desiderata canvassed in what I™ve called the content-approach and the predomi-
nantly affect-oriented approach do not reflect every belief about aesthetic experi-
ence found in the tradition; other beliefs will be mentioned in the ensuing
ART INTERACTION 9
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discussion of nonaesthetic responses to art. However, frequent return to these two
models of the aesthetic response will be useful in discussing typical nonaesthetic
interactions with art.
A great many of our typical, nonaesthetic responses to art can be grouped
under the label of interpretation. Artists often include, imply, or suggest meanings
in their creations, meanings and themes that are oblique and that the audience
works at discovering. Mallarm© wrote
To actually name an object is to suppress three-quarters of the sense of
enjoyment of a poem, which consists in the delight of guessing one stage
at a time: to suggest the object, that is the poet™s dream¦ There must always
be a sense of the enigmatic in poetry, and that is the aim of literature.
And in a similar vein, John Updike says “I think books should have secrets as a
bonus for the sensitive reader”.These statements are by writers but there are artists
in every artform who strive to incorporate oblique or hidden meanings or
themes, and nonobvious adumbrations of the oblique themes in their work.9 In
Peter Hutchinson™s interpretation of Tonio Kroger, we find an example of an
oblique theme, that of the split personality, and of an adumbration thereof, the use
of the character™s name to convey, in a camouflaged way, extra inflection concern-
ing the nature of the split personality, Hutchinson writes
In Tonio Kroger, Mann™s most famous early story, the eponymous hero
bears features of two distinct qualities in his name: those of his artistic
mother, and the more somber ones of his self-controlled father. It is his
mother from whom Tonio has inherited his creative powers “ she comes
from “the South,” a land lacking in self-discipline but rich in self-expres-
sion, and its qualities are symbolized in his Christian name (with its clear
Italian ring). His father, on the other hand, the upright Northerner, the
practical man of common sense and sound business acumen, bears a name
suggestive of dullness and solidity (it derives from the Middle Low Ger-
man ˜Kroger,™ a publican). The very sound of each component reinforces
those ideas and explains the split in Tonio™s character, the major theme of
this Novelle.10
The presence of such obliquely presented themes and adumbrations occurs fre-
quently enough, especially in certain genres, that audiences customarily search for
hidden meanings that are likely to have been implanted in the artwork. Though
Hutchinson™s interpretation might be thought of as “professional,” I think that it is
reflective of one central way in which we, in general, have been trained to think,
talk, and in short, respond to art.This training began when we were first initiated
into the world of art in our earliest literature and art appreciation classes. More-
over, we have every reason to believe that our training in this matter supplies
dependable guidelines for appropriate art responses since our early training is
reinforced by the evident preoccupation with oblique meanings found in discus-
sions of art by critics, scholars, and connoisseurs in newspapers, journals, and
10 BEYOND AESTHETICS

learned treatises. And clearly our training and behavior regarding the search for
hidden meanings are not beside the point since artists, steeped in the same
hermeneutical traditions that spectators practice, have often put oblique meanings
in their works precisely so that we, excited by the challenge, exercise our skill and
ingenuity, our powers of observation, association, and synthesis in order to dis-
cover oblique themes and to trace their complex adumbrations.
With certain forms of interpretation, the spectator™s relation to the artwork is
gamelike. The spectator has a goal, to find a hidden or oblique theme (or an
oblique adumbration of one), which goal the spectator pursues by using a range of
hermeneutical strategies, which, in turn, place certain epistemological constraints
on his or her activity.This interpretive play is something we have been trained in
since grammar school, and it is a practice that is amplified and publicly endorsed
by the criticism we read. The obliqueness of the artist™s presentation of a theme
confronts the audience with an obstacle that the audience voluntarily elects to
overcome. How the artist plants this theme and how the audience goes about dis-
covering it “ in terms of distinctive forms of reasoning and observation “ are pri-
marily determined by precedent and tradition, though, of course, the tradition
allows for innovation both in the area of artmaking and of interpretation.Within
this gamelike practice, when we discover a hidden theme we have achieved a suc-
cess, and we are prone, all things being equal, to regard our activity as rewarding
insofar as the artwork has enabled us to apply our skills to a worthy, that is, chal-
lenging, object. But this type of interpretive play, though characteristic of our
interaction with artworks, and rewarding, exemplifies neither the content-ori-
ented form, nor the affect-oriented form of aesthetic response.
Though so far I have only spoken of the interpretation of obliquely presented
meanings, it should be noted that our interpretive, nonaesthetic responses also
include the discernment of latent structures.That is, when we contemplate art, we
often have as a goal, upon which we may expend great effort, figuring out the way
in which a given painting or musical composition works. In the presence of an
artwork, we characteristically set ourselves to finding out what its structure is as
well as often asking the reason for its being structured that way. Or, if we sense that
an artwork has a certain effect, for example, the impression of the recession of the
central figure in Malevich™s Black Quadrilateral, we examine the formal arrange-
ment and principles that bring this effect about.11 Again, this is something we
have been trained to do and something that pervades the discussion of art in both
informal and professional conversation. Indeed, some radical formalists might hold
that understanding how a work works is the only legitimate interest we should
have in art and the only criterion of whether our response to art is appropriate.
This seems an unduly narrow recommendation given art as we know it. My claim
is only that identifying the structure or structures of a work “ seeing how it works
“ is, like the identification of a hidden meaning, one criterion of a successful
interaction with art. Moreover, this form of interaction is not “aesthetic,” as that is
normally construed, but it should not, for that reason, be disregarded as a charac-
teristic and appropriate mode of participating with artworks.
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