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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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4. The Analogy between Ornament and Music


This essay is divided into three parts. In the first part I shall examine Gombrich’s analysis of the analogies between the decorative arts and music in his book, The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art, published in 1979 as a sequel to Art and Illusion from 1960. In the second part I shall discuss Peter Kivy’s essay, “The fine art of repetition”(1991), where he presents an argument to the effect that music, that is, pure instrumental music or absolute music, is in fact a decorative or ornamental art. In the third and final section I offer reflections on the significance and purpose, or rather purposes, of art, taking particular note of some of the salient differences between music and the decorative arts.


The central theme in The Sense of Order is our search for order in the visual world. Design, ornament and decoration are ways of creating order in the visual world. The need for order, however, can also manifest itself in an auditory medium. In Art and Illusion Gombrich writes about music as the discovery and articulation of an inner, mental order. When art turns away from the visible world, according to Gombrich, “[it] may really have found an uncharted region which awaits to be discovered and articulated, as music has discovered and articulated it through the universe of sound”.1 But it is in the epilogue to The Order of Sense, entitled “Some Musical Analogies...

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