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are extrapolating from the view that the locus of beauty is the appearance or form
of the object, independent of its nature, its genesis, and its consequences.
It is this very “phenomenalist” or “perceptualist” bias in art theory “ developed
perhaps from the notion of existence-indifference, found in Kant, and rooted in one
traditional theorization of beauty “ that Arthur Danto, in effect, rejects when he
argues that art is not something that the eye could descry, and that art theory is to be
built on the method of indiscernibles. If art were significant form, it could be “eye-
balled,” and art history would be irrelevant to the identity of the work of art.That
the method of indiscernibles points to the importance of art history to answering
the question, “What is art?,” is of a piece with Danto™s rejection of aesthetic phe-
nomenalism. Similarly, Danto™s tendency to regard the response to art as cognitive,
rather than aesthetic (in the traditional sense) “ a matter primarily of thought rather
than simply feeling “ also distinguishes him from aesthetic theorists of art.31
Bell™s theory of art confronts many frequently rehearsed problems of detail,
such as its inability to specify significant form independently of aesthetic emotion,
and its difficulty in making sense of the notion of bad art.32 This is not the place
to recount all of the theory™s failings. However, one critical point is worth
dwelling upon with respect to the aesthetic emotion. Namely, it is not clear that
there is any reason to believe that a state, like the one Bell discusses, appropriately
characterizes our responses to art.
When we look at a painting or read a book, we may be intently preoccupied by
it.We may, for the time being, leave off worrying about our own troubles, and put
thoughts of making money on the back burner along with anxieties about current
events and moral outrages.That is, we may be intently absorbed and closely attentive
to an artwork. But this need not be described in terms of some total, principled
detachment from ordinary concerns. Rather, it is a matter of focusing our attention,
or of the artwork™s holding our attention, and nothing more.
There is no special, disinterested state here, just rapt absorption. In fact, our
absorption and interest in a novel or a picture can be enhanced by noting that it
reflects upon pressing political and social issues, makes a novel observation about
life, strikes a courageous moral stance, and so on. That is, in order to hold our
attention in the way described above, there is no need for facilitating disinterest in
the sense we have used that term in this essay.There is no need to be lifted out of
the concerns of our common life. Indeed, attentiveness can be quickened in art-
works by means of reference to the world, by imparting knowledge about it, and
by encouraging us to think of moral, practical, and political consequences. Disin-
terest is not a fruitful notion with which to attempt to characterize the preoccu-
pied attention we lavish on artworks.
Though it may be true (or at least not implausible) to think that considerations
of knowledge and utility do not enhance our sense of beauty in an object, there is
no reason to suppose that those things will not accentuate our interest and atten-
BEAUTY GENEALOGY ART THEORY 35
AND THE OF


tion in other contexts, contexts not restricted to assessments of the beautiful,
including the context of the art gallery.Thus, if disinterestedness and detachment
are proffered as concepts that capture our focused attentiveness to art, they are off
the mark. For this indiscriminately transposes frameworks of thought that are (at
best) possibly relevant to the perception of the beautiful, but not to the reception
of art as we comprehensively know it.33
Given the role that significant form plays in Bell™s theory, he is often referred to
as a formalist.Aesthetic emotion is triggered by form, which, since it is bereft of ref-
erence to life, detaches us from quotidian concerns. Just as Bell™s essentialism is tied
to his characterization of aesthetic emotion “ that is, since it is separate from every-
thing else, art or the only relevant aspect of it is essentially distinct from every other
enterprise “ so Bell™s formalism is tied to the account of aesthetic emotion. The
object needs to originate in appearance or form disconnected from knowledge, util-
ity, and so on, lest the emotion have content of a “nondetached” variety.
If Bell™s theory can be seen as an updated version of Hutcheson™s, Beardsley™s
work is an extremely sophisticated development of Bell™s. Where Bell is weak on
specifying the nature of significant form, Beardsley, in his book Aesthetics, spends over
one hundred and fifty pages reviewing the formal structures of literature, fine art, and
music for the purpose of showing how these practices can be spoken of in terms of a
uniform language of unity, intensity, and complexity, the formal features of artworks
that, on Beardsley™s view, give rise to aesthetic experience.34 That is, where Bell is crit-
icized for lacking an independent account of significant form, Beardsley gives a
painstaking enumeration of the constituent elements of artistic form.
These formal arrangements, in turn, cause an aesthetic experience, a state that
Beardsley has variously characterized in the course of his career.At first Beardsley
thought of it as composed of (1) attention firmly fixed upon a phenomenal field
(2) that yields an intense, (3) coherent, (4) complete, (5) complex experience that
(6), as a result of the preceding conditions, is detached or insulated from practical
action.35 Because of this aura of detachment, Beardsley calls aesthetic objects,
objects manqu©s,36 though one wonders whether the language here is not mislead-
ing. Is it not the case that the objects in question do not spur us to immediate
practical action because they are generally fictions or representations that call for
no pressing practical response, rather than that they cause some special state of
contemplation that is insulated from practical concern?
Unlike Bell, Beardsley tells us what the relevant features of the art object are “
they are unity, complexity, and intensity, which cause unity, intensity, and com-
plexity in our experience. But, like Bell™s, Beardley™s theory is functionalist, regard-
ing the aesthetic object as a causal instrument, and empiricist, regarding
experience as the key to an object that itself is explicitly called phenomenal. Fur-
thermore, again like Bell, the detached affect is an effect of the aesthetic interac-
tion, one that is a constituent of the value of the experience, and not merely a
mark or test of the aesthetic, as it is in Hutcheson and Kant.
Toward the end of his career, Beardsley proposed another characterization of
aesthetic experience that does not explicitly deploy the language of unity, com-
36 BEYOND AESTHETICS

plexity, and intensity, but which from our perspective is even more telling for its
outright use of the elements of beauty theory. In “Aesthetic Experience,” he
writes: “an experience has aesthetic character if and only if it has the first of the
following features and at least three of the others.”The features are: object direct-
edness; felt freedom (a sense of release from antecedent concerns); detached affect
(emotional distance); active discovery (a sense of intelligibility);37 and wholeness
(contentment, and a freedom from distracting and disruptive impulses).38
The conditions of felt freedom, detached affect, and wholeness seem some-
what repetitive and, as well, rehearse the test for beauty in the theories of Hutch-
eson and Kant. In each case, they appear motivated by the attempt to capture the
degree to which we can be caught up in an artwork, and, to that extent, might
simply be read as elaborations of the first condition, the requirement for object-
directedness, which, to my way of thinking, indicates that they are simply garden-
variety elements of any act of absorbed attention, whether to aesthetic objects,
artworks, newspaper articles, philosophical treatises, and so on.
Furthermore, within the totality of Beardsley™s interlocking system, these
features of experience are advanced as a means of identifying artworks. For in
Beardsley™s view an artwork is something produced with the intention of giv-
ing it the capacity to satisfy the aesthetic interest, that is, the interest in having
aesthetic experiences.39 Thus, logically, in order to be art, an object must be
produced with the intention of satisfying at least two experiential features of
the sort that we have identified with beauty theory, though as noted previously,
the language of beauty theory here may have been misapplied in the attempt to
phenomenologically characterize a level of preoccupation that has nothing
particular to do with art “ that is, that would equally characterize our atten-
tiveness to an interesting lecture.40
That Beardsley identifies artworks with causing aesthetic experiences, where
these experiences are portrayed in the language of beauty theory, has several, by
now, predictable repercussions for his theory of art as a whole. Since having an
aesthetic experience is a function of the artwork, the artistic stimulus needs to be
gerrymandered so that it raises a disinterested affect. Beardsley™s formidable ener-
gies in gerrymandering the artwork are evident throughout his career. Artworks
are said to be phenomenal objects that give pleasure in virtue of their form (recall-
ing what we earlier earmarked as a Sophist conception of beauty). Beardsley also
consolidated and consistently defended the notion of the genetic fallacy, and, most
particularly, the intentional fallacy.41 In effect, these can be read as arguments that
tell us what is not part of the art object and, therefore, what is not appropriate to
consider when attending to artworks “ for to attend to such things, as the New
Critics would put it, is to go outside the text, inviting attention to elements that
will interfere with aesthetic experience proper.42 That is, on the functionalist
model of the artwork, genetic considerations, such as authorial intent, are the
wrong input where aesthetic experience is the expected output.
Beardsley™s arguments about the limits of art history™s relevance to art criticism
“ which he inevitably links with assessments of the potential for causing aesthetic
BEAUTY GENEALOGY ART THEORY 37
AND THE OF


experience “ though thoughtful and not to be rejected out of hand, are also of a
piece with his desire to restrict the artwork proper to a formal stimulus (thereby
focusing the appreciative response so as to assure its “disinterestedness”).43 Like-
wise, Beardsley™s continual arguments with Goodman about the centrality of ref-
erence to art and about the cognitive status of art, though again, not to be
discounted because they are part of a systematic project, nevertheless, must be
understood as connected to Beardsley™s conviction that the artwork, like the
object of beauty, is detached from the world, on the one hand, and a source of
unique value (aesthetic not cognitive), on the other.44
Like Bell, Beardsley attempts to distance his own theory from beauty the-
ory. It seems to me that his strongest argument to this effect is that a canonical
beauty theory takes beauty to be intrinsically valuable,45 whereas his view is
that having aesthetic experience is a value in human life in general.46 This,
however, is not fully persuasive, since figures like Hutcheson certainly thought
that aesthetic experience was a constituent of the good life. Bell, under the
influence of Moore, might have said that aesthetic experience was an intrinsic
good and that this was connected to its detached nature. But it seems to me
that the commitment to intrinsic goodness is an optional feature of beauty the-
ory; detachment, which itself may or may not be of intrinsic value, is the essen-
tial, recurring feature of the dominant characterization of beauty in the
tradition. And, on that basis, Beardsley remains grounded in beauty theory.
Indeed, he admits as much when he writes that we can dispense with the term
“beautiful” in favor of terms like “aesthetically valuable,”47 that is, promoting a
high degree of aesthetic experience.
With Beardsley, we find the most systematic reduction of art theory to aes-
thetic theory, which I have tried to show means essentially a reduction to beauty
theory. Given the notion of beauty dominant in the tradition, the concept of dis-
interestedness or detachment comes to play a large role in the characterization of
the nature of artworks, since what is appropriate to our concern with artworks
must be adjusted and delimited in such a way that our intercourse with them will
result in detachment. This systematically requires that questions of art history,
authorial intent, utility, cognitive content, and so on be bracketed, as they are in
testing for beauty in the treatises of Hutcheson and Kant.
That Beardsley chose to call his landmark treatise Aesthetics is telling in this
regard. For aesthetic theory or, as I prefer to call it, beauty theory is the fulcrum
upon which his entire theory of art was organized. Through the notion of aes-
thetic experience, he is able to answer such fundamental questions as:What is art,
What is good art,What are the relevant reasons in assessing art critically, and What
value does art have for human life? This is quite an awesome accomplishment,
though, of course, it relies on reducing art theory to beauty theory.
Like Bell™s theory, Beardsley™s is essentialist in identifying a common feature or set
of features that differentiates artworks from everything else. Since the feature is the
capacity to cause an aesthetic experience, which itself is detached from everything
else, artworks are divorced, in their essential nature from other realms of human com-
38 BEYOND AESTHETICS

merce, most notably cognition and morality. Artworks are functional, since they are
viewed as instrumentalities for causing aesthetic experiences, and the theory is for-
malist since satisfying the requisite causal conditions for having an aesthetic experi-
ence demands focus on the forms of art objects.The theory is empiricist not only in
its reliance on experience as its central term, but also in its construal of the art object
proper as a phenomenal field, one constituted, for purposes of appreciation, of per-
ceptible form and appearance. Moreover, in terms of all these features, save essential-
ism, Beardsley™s theory corresponds to Hutcheson™s initial theory of beauty.
One index of Beardsley™s transformation of a Hutchesonian-type theory of
beauty into a theory of art is that avant-garde art often tends to be excluded from
the order of art. For works in which the contemplation of the object for its formal
qualities is not relevant and/or the response sought after is not detached or disin-
terested will not turn out to be art on this approach. Such works need not be
avant-garde, but often are. For Beardsley, then, a piece like Duchamp™s Fountain
will not be art because Duchamp could not (and, in fact, did not) produce it with
the intention of satisfying an aesthetic interest; he had a point to make and con-
templation of the design of the urinal was irrelevant to a proper appreciation of
the point. Beardsley creates a special category for such works; he calls them com-
ments on art.48 My own diagnosis of this move is that it is virtually an inevitable
consequence of building a theory of art on a theory of beauty. Obviously, much
avant-garde art is explicitly designed to defy traditional senses of beauty. Saying
that the problem with such art is that it fails to afford an aesthetic experience or
that it could not have been made with the intention to afford said experience is
just a roundabout way of repeating the evident “ namely, that the works in ques-
tion have purposes or express purposes, other than facilitating the experience of
beauty, such as subverting, displacing, replacing, ignoring, or criticizing it.
Beardsley, of course, is not alone in this response to avant-garde art. It is a ten-
dency of aesthetic theorists of art in general to treat the avant-garde in a dismissive
fashion. Invoking traditional notions of the aesthetic, Harold Osborne says:“in its
purest form Conceptual art abolishes the art object altogether ¦ as something to
be contemplated and appreciated for itself, reducing it to a mere instrument for
communicating an idea,” while the shapelessness of Joseph Beuys™ Fettecke and the
spectator involvement in Herman Nitsch™s butcher-block performances interfere
with such aesthetic desiderata, respectively, as form and detachment.49 Indeed, the
“intuitions” of the aesthetic approach to art run so deep that even Wittgensteini-
ans, like Benjamin Tilghman, who are skeptical, in principle, of the prospects of art
theory, invoke the notion of an “aesthetic character” in order to challenge the
artistic status of Warhol™s Brillo Boxes and Oldenburg™s Placid City Monument. This
character is said to involve qualities such as those of organization, design, compo-
sition, balance, plot structure, thematic and harmonic structure, expressive and
emotional qualities, qualities of style, and so on “ in short, for the most part, the
elements focused on in traditional beauty theory.50
The problem that aesthetic theorists have with much avant-garde art is not one
unique to the avant-garde. For many of the concerns of the avant-garde, with
BEAUTY GENEALOGY ART THEORY 39
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knowledge, morality, politics, and so on, are not anomalous given the range of pre-
occupations found in traditional art.Thus, the avant-garde crystallizes general issues
concerning aesthetic theory rather than being a special case.That much avant-garde
work eschews the role of promoting aesthetic experience, narrowly construed, is of
a piece with Romantic pretensions to epistemology, and realist commitments to
social description and even explanation.The rejection of much avant-garde art by
aesthetic theory, then, exemplifies its perennial discomfort with a great deal of what
one pretheoretically identifies as the traditional concerns of art.
Our position, of course, is that the discomfort rests on an error “ the dubious
way in which beauty theory metamorphosed into art theory. Of particular impor-
tance in that process is the transformation of a test for beauty “ disinterestedness “
into the very point or purpose of artworks. For even if one accepts the controver-
sial but at least plausible view that disinterestedness is a litmus test for whether the
pleasure I take in a moonlit bay is aesthetic “ that is, originating in the form or
appearance of the visual array “ it is clearly wrong, as an unprejudiced view of the
historical record indicates, to suppose that engendering this experience is the sole
or defining or even characteristic purpose that all art has served.51
When one is thinking about a variety of beauty that pertains to natural
objects as well as artworks, questions of intention do seem misplaced since nat-
ural objects have no authors.And a similar point might be made with respect to
considering the purposes “ cognitive and moral “ of natural beauty. But these
observations, far from supporting the aesthetic approach to art, should lead us
to conclude that the aesthetic approach, modeled on a theory of beauty that
gains its greatest plausibility from its concern with nature, is just the wrong
framework for thinking about art.
I have repeatedly asserted that it is obvious that beauty, narrowly construed,
cannot be a useful starting point for art theory. But if this is so obvious, one won-
ders why theorists are drawn into this error so often. I think that there are two
major reasons that make this putative error so attractive and that they are most
evident in Beardsley™s extremely sophisticated version of the approach.
First, if one takes aesthetic experience as the central concept of one™s theory of
art, one can use it, as Beardsley did, to systematically answer a great many other ques-
tions about art. One cannot only define art functionally, but can go on to develop
evaluative criteria for works of art in terms of the amounts of aesthetic satisfaction an
artwork delivers, a critical vocabulary keyed to pinpointing the features of artworks
that cause aesthetic experience, and an explanation of the value of art in light of the
instrumental value of having aesthetic experiences in human life.That is, one may be

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