Eighteenth-Century Aesthetics and the Reconstruction of Art
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
This collection of essays explores the rise of aesthetics as a response to, and as a part of, the reshaping of the arts in modern society. The theories of art developed under the name of 'aesthetics' in the eighteenth century have traditionally been understood as contributions to a field of study in existence since the time of Plato. If art is a practice to be found in all human societies, then the philosophy of art is the search for universal features of that practice, which can be stated in definitions of art and beauty. However, art as we know it - the system of 'fine arts' - is largely peculiar to modern society. Aesthetics, far from being a perennial discipline, emerged in an effort both to understand and to shape this new social practice. These essays share the conviction that aesthetic ideas can be fully understood when seen not only in relation to intellectual and social contexts, but as themselves constructed in history.
the higher faculty of reason rather than the lower ones of sense. Concerned to establish painting once and for all as a liberal art, Reynolds maintained that properly pursued, painting did not threaten the good order of the mind or of the state, but rather confirmed the grounds of the distinction, between reason and the senses, the franchised and the unenfranchised, on which good order was based.16 Reynolds's concern for good order within the work of art is frequently evident in the Discourses.
develop a simple dichotomy opposing feeling to intelligence but rather to suggest that there is also a kind of intelligence in which feeling plays a crucial role and that where feeling assumes such a role, a kind of intelligence is at work. The phrase "this I know not what of wisdom and adroitness" is a characteristic locution for Mere. "I know not what" recurs throughout his writings but significantly never becomes focal for him. Its use expresses his tacit concern not to reduce things to the
accessible whatever is known scientifically and accommodate it to the common mind. Thus it lends a certain excellence in the practical affairs of common life.75 The nature of this last accomplishment is hard to convey without awkwardness in English: As beauty or fineness of cognition [pulchritudo cognitionis] cannot be any greater or more noble than the vitality [vivis] of the person who is thinking 74 75 Baumgarten, Aesthetica, ed. and tr. Hans Rudolf Schweizer, as Theoretische Aesthetik
nature of expression, representation, metaphor, fiction, etc. But one could reply that all these aesthetic topics are nevertheless pursued under the aegis of our entrenched concepts of fine art and the aesthetic, which themselves are at once a product and a support of sociocultural distinction and domination. This, in fact, is not far from John Dewey's view, and I examine it in greater detail in my Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992]. Of the scandal of
explains that agriculture itself engenders commerce, industry, and wealth, thus leading to social and artistic decadence. The only solution to this paradox he suggests seems a flimsy one, especially given the social dynamics Diderot believed he saw at work: if the rulers of wealthy nations would strip from gold its character as representation of merit and abolish the venality of public office, then the wealthy could have all the palaces, pictures, statues, fine wines, and beautiful women they