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Bell's Theory of Art Bell’s requirements for constructing a Theory of Art The ability to think clearly. The possession of an artistic sensibility. (the.

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Presentation on theme: "Bell's Theory of Art Bell’s requirements for constructing a Theory of Art The ability to think clearly. The possession of an artistic sensibility. (the."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bell's Theory of Art Bell’s requirements for constructing a Theory of Art The ability to think clearly. The possession of an artistic sensibility. (the ability to apprehend the formal values of a work, i.e. line, shape, color.)

2 What is Aesthetics NOT? Aesthetics is not art criticism, although we will use the general principles and definitions of art criticism in our study of aesthetics Aesthetics is not talking about particular works of art or artistic techniques. The study of Aesthetics develops general principles that will apply to large numbers of art works.

3 The Structure of Bell's Theory The starting point: the aesthetic emotion Bell claims that the starting point for any theory of art is the personal experience of a peculiar emotion, which he calls the aesthetic emotion. He states that the objects that "provoke" this emotion are works of art. He defends his notion of the aesthetic emotion by appealing to our experience.

4 Characteristics of the aesthetic emotion The aesthetic emotion is not like our ordinary, daily emotions. The aesthetic emotion detaches us from human interests; the implication is that the aesthetic emotion is a "higher" emotion.

5 His methodological assumption: essentialism Bell asks the question: "What do objects that provoke the aesthetic emotion have in common?" To ask the question in this way is to assume that a definition of art will be found by looking for the one quality that all art works and only art works share. This is to look for the essence of art.

6 Essentialism II [an aside] Tolstoy is also an essentialist. (What is the quality that all art and only art has for Tolstoy?) Note: A way of defining art other than through its essence is to define it institutionally in terms of its practice.

7 For Bell the ESSENCE of art is: Significant Form The quality all art has that provokes the aesthetic emotion is significant form Bell is not very clear on what makes certain sets of formal values in art significant. He does say that we know we are in the presence of significant form when we feel the aesthetic emotion.

8 There is an obvious problem here The argument is circular, and thus does not give us the definition of art we want. The aesthetic emotion is provoked by the quality that all art works share, which we now see is significant form. How do we know when we have encountered significant form? We feel the aesthetic emotion. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss it. Entirely as it raises some important questions.

9 The issue of subjectivity according to Bell Our experience of art works is subjective in the sense that we have no means of recognizing a work of art other than our feeling for it. The role of the art critic is to get us to feel the aesthetic emotion by pointing out the significant form. We may differ on what moves us in a work of art, but the art works that moves each of us will have significant form. Thus aesthetic experience is subjective in the sense it is individual but NOT subjective in the sense of being unsharable.

10 Representation We can define representation in the following way: When one person or object is made to stand for another person or object we say that the first represents the second. Notice that this is neutral as to whether the representation resembles what it represents. Bell's definition is not so neutral. For him representation is descriptive or imitative of what it represents. Bell's rather radical dismissal of representational art is closely connected with his notions of the aesthetic emotion and significant form.

11 Representation II Remember: The aesthetic emotion is different from ordinary emotions, being a response to formal values rather than to subject matter. (aesthetic vs. sensual beauty.) The aesthetic experience separates us from the ordinary world.

12 Representation III The bottom line: Whether a work of art is representational (in Bell's sense) or not, our attention should be on the formal values. If the artist is focusing on what he or she is representing, she or he doesn't have her or his attention on the formal values. It is similar for the spectator. If the spectator has her or his attention on the subject matter she or he will feel an ordinary rather than the aesthetic emotion and consequently will not have an aesthetic experience.

13 Criticisms of Bell's Theory The most obvious criticism of Bell's theory is mentioned in slide 8: that the theory is circular and consequently does not give us the definition of art we seek. While this is the case, to dismiss Bell so easily would be a mistake as he is pointing out something very important about art, that art functions differently from "real" objects, and that one of the differences lies in the manipulation and apprehension of formal values.

14 Criticisms II: “essentialism” A better criticism is to argue against the methodological assumption of essentialism. You can do this in two ways: Show that there is no one characteristic that all and only works of art share by providing counter- examples for each offered characteristic. (This could be time consuming as the person could always claim that she or he just hasn't found the right "essence.") Showing by reference to the practice that art is more pluralistic than this theory allows, which leads to the next...

15 Criticisms II: “evaluative” At this juncture we can claim that Bell's theory is evaluative rather than classificatory as it doesn't include a lot of objects that we would want to consider art. Having made shown the need for a wider definition of art (as yet unspecified), we can show that aesthetic experience is wider than Bell's notion of the aesthetic emotion by showing how the representation in a work of art can contribute to our experience of it.

16 Important Note: The point of these criticisms is not just to shoot down Bell's theory but to begin to understand the kinds of issues we need to consider and the kinds of discussions we can expect in the philosophy of art.


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