Sensibility and the Sublime
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Philosophic attention shifted after Hegel from Kant s emphasis on sensibility to criticism and analyses of the fine arts. The arts themselves seemed as ample as nature; a disciplined science could devote as much energy to one as the other. But then the arts began to splinter because of new technologies: photography displaced figurative painting; hearing recorded music reduced the interest in learning to play it. The firm interiority that Hegel assumed was undermined by the speed, mechanization, and distractions of modern life. We inherit two problems: restore quality and conviction in the arts; cultivate the interiority the sensibility that is a condition for judgment in every domain. What is sensibility s role in experiences of every sort, but especially those provoked when art is made and enjoyed?"
objectively grounded valuation. He or she knows what to listen or look for: how well does the work at hand satisfy a recognized style? Is it, perhaps, the avatar of a style for which the critic 46 Plato, Euthyphro, Collected Dialogues, 7a, p. 175. 41 is unprepared by taste and training? Prudent critics hesitate: they know a style’s generic properties and norms, but do they recognize the pertinent features of a ruptured or evolving style? Critics are often slow to perceive fruitful
the eye of the beholder irrespective of things thought or perceived. It affirms that aesthetics is unalterably grounded in these coupled terms: sensibility and things to which it responds. In aesthetics, if nowhere else, esse (to be an object of aesthetic appreciation) est percipi. The relational view implies balance and reciprocity in the relation of artists and perceivers. It affirms that cooks have no vocation in the 6 John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, vols. 1-2, ed.
a diversity of sculptural forms without requiring that one perceive more than a structure’s skin. This aesthetic converges with a commercial interest: many clients want maximum freedom to organize floor space: accommodating architects design with Bauhaus simplicity, leaving floors undivided. Frank Lloyd Wright had a different aesthetic: like car makers that emphasize the comfort and pleasure of driving their machines, he translated the exterior forms of his prairie houses into the elegance and
comfort of their interiors. Dewey would have us generalize: make that aesthetic interest imperative throughout our practical lives. 7. Art or decoration? This distinction is fraught because there seem to be no necessary and sufficient conditions that qualify a work as one or the other. Painting risks being decorative when it stops being representational and expressive; music is only diverting when reduced to hummable tunes. But there are degrees of difference, not simple contrariety, between
sensibility were not distinguished and appraised (when crossing a street, for example). Each of us is, metaphorically, a force field: sensibility warps both the character of data qualifying the field and the acts or intentions issuing from it. Third is the idea that sensibility implies differential skills: seeing an opportunity, knowing what to do, one seizes it. This is sensibility in the guise of the shark or entrepreneur, but also in the habits of anyone well-taught: sensible to the rules of