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Notions of the Aesthetic and of Aesthetics

Essays on Art, Aesthetics, and Culture

Lars-Olof Ahlberg

The essays in the first part of this book, «Art and Aesthetics», are devoted to the invention and development of aesthetics as a discipline. The essays’ topics range from the nature of analytic aesthetics and the invention of modern aesthetics to notions of the aesthetic and of aesthetics. Further study in this part explores the «aesthetic turn», Bourdieu’s critique of aesthetics and understanding and appreciating art. The second part, «Music, Literature, and Painting», deals with questions of form and content, musical formalism, Susanne Langer’s theory of music as well as with the analogy between ornament and music and the values of literature. In addition, there is an essay on «Northern Light and Darkness in Music and Painting». The third part, «Heidegger and the Essence of Art», is devoted to Heidegger’s philosophy of art, in particular to the role he assigns to van Gogh and Hölderlin. And in the fourth and final part, «Modernity/Postmodernity and Culture», postmodern conceptions of history and Lyotard’s theory of the postmodern sublime are discussed, and in the last essay the challenge of evolutionary psychology to the humanities is addressed.
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1. The Nature and Limits of Analytic Aesthetics

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I. Introduction

The expression “analytic aesthetics” elicits two questions: “What does ‘analytic’ mean in this case?” and “What is aesthetics?” Since the nature of analytic aesthetics is the main topic of my essay, I will content myself with a few introductory remarks about the scope of the term “aesthetics”. There seem to be, roughly speaking, two main usages of the term prevalent in the artworld today. In the wide sense of the term, “aesthetics” refers to all theoretical study of the arts, in a narrower usage, “aesthetics” is used synonymously with “philosophy of art”. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, for example, which has a pronounced philosophical and analytic profile, uses the term “aesthetics” in the wide sense. It includes “all studies of the arts and related types of experience from a philosophic, scientific, or other theoretical standpoint, including those of psychology, sociology, anthropology, cultural history, art criticism, and education”.1

Many philosophers, on the other hand, tend to identify aesthetics with the philosophy of art. To take a recent example, Anne Sheppard has entitled her introduction to the philosophy of art, Aesthetics: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art (1987), and Joseph Margolis speaks in the introduction to the anthology Philosophy Looks at the Arts (1987) of “the philosophy of art — or aesthetics”.2 I think it is preferable to distinguish between aesthetics and the philosophy of art and not to use the expressions “aesthetics” and “philosophy of art” synonymously. According to...

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