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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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6. Understanding and Appreciating Art: The Relevance of Experience



Art forms as we know them today, and also the theoretical and interpretative discourses on the arts which include the key concepts in the philosophy of art, emerged at the end of the eighteenth century through a process of social and cultural de-differentiation. Art and the aesthetic were gradually established as a seemingly autonomous and self-contained realm of human activity and concern. The detachment of art from a political and religious framework was not only a precondition for the emergence and development of the modern system of the arts, but also for the rise of modern philosophy of art and for the distinctly modern preoccupation with works of art as autonomous aesthetic objects.1 With different motivations and varying accents certain artistic and intellectual movements — in particular formalist movements, from Russian formalism to the New Criticism and French structuralism — have lent support to the view that art and works of art form a separate reality as it were, the understanding and appreciation of which requires a distinctive vocabulary and specific methods. The motivations for according a special status to art and works of art vary: sometimes the motivation has been narrowly artistic and aesthetic, as in the l’art pour l’art — movement; sometimes, it has been scientific, as in Russian formalism and French structuralism. These endeavours have, however, had similar effects: the erection of a barrier between the aesthetic and the non-aesthetic, between art and non-art, and between the ways of understanding art and comprehending other spheres...

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