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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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5. Northern Light and Darkness in Music and Painting, or, the Artistic Expression of Cultural Identity



Art, or, works of art can be expressive in a variety of ways. A work of art can express ideas, the artist’s ideas and ideals, or the ideas and ideals in his or her culture; a work of art can be expressive in the sense of having expressive properties such as sadness, joyfulness or despair, that is, emotional properties, which we literally ascribe to human beings and metaphorically to works of art. A work of art can further be expressive in the sense of being a symptom, unintentionally revealing the artist’s state of mind or disclosing certain personality traits that the artist did not consciously put into the work. Some works of art are regarded as typical of a certain style or of a whole epoch, and are in that sense said to express the “essence” of a style or an epoch. There are, moreover, philosophical theories of art from the Romantic philosophers to Croce and Collingwood in the twentieth century which regard art as a supremely expressive phenomenon, thereby tending to identify the essence of art with expression.

In these examples, works of art (or art as such) are said to be expressive in one sense or another. Is the concept of expression being used in the same sense in all cases, or rather, is there a core meaning of expression in which all the cases partake? At first glance that does not seem to be the case; the concept of expression...

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