Monthly archives: October 2006
What's the Mechanism, Kenneth?
The attempt to define art/beauty/taste/aesthetics goes at least as far as Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greece, and continues to this day. The definition remains elusive.
There's no one theory that causes a large group of people to say, "That's it!" More often, you'll hear people give up, and declare art to be an undefinable mystery.
Malcolm Gladwell writes about this problem in a recent New Yorker essay. He puts the problem into two camps: the David Hume camp (the subjective cannot be defined) and the Lord Kames camp (there must be some sort of logic behind taste):
"Beauty is no quality in things themselves," the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote. "It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty." Hume might as well have said that nobody knows anything.
Instinctively, I fall into the Kames camp. There is too much consistency in the way humans appreciate art for there not to be some sort of algorithm at work behind that consistency.
I must admit, however, that I've tried to read several of the more famous works in the history of aesthetics, and every time, I read about three or four pages, and stop. Something just tells me that the approach is wrong, and to read further is just a waste of time.
I think the reason I give up on those theories is that I kinda have a vague vision of what the features of a valid aesthetic theory should look like. When a writer starts going off on abstract tangents that aren't addressing any of those features, I tend to roll my eyes, and move on.
Here's an attempt to capture those features. In my mind, a valid aesthetic theory should be:
Those are the things I'm looking for. My main purpose for this blog is to record any progress I find in these areas, and to muse about what they mean toward the ultimate goal: a viable theory of aesthetics.
Another intro to neuroesthetics.
Malcolm Gladwell follows some people who are measuring what makes hit songs and movies.
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