Friday, 13 January 2012

Assessing Aesthetic Value

Philosopher Richard Wollheim distinguishes three approaches to assessing the aesthetic value of art in general: the realist, whereby aesthetic quality is an absolute value independent of any human view, the objectivist, whereby it is also an absolute value, but is dependent on general human experience and the relativist position, whereby it is not an absolute value, but depends on, and varies with, the human experience of different humans.1

Due to the subjective nature of aesthetic quality, the artist tends to aim for the aesthetic value of their own work, regardless of an aesthetic quality favoured by the public. However, one could argue that in cases such as Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel ceiling that it was made to be viewed both as a work of art and to glorify God. Aesthetic intention in order to provide and enhance aesthetic experience was prevalent in this situation.

A lack of aesthetic intention could potentially mean that the work is not art because it was not intended to be viewed as art. If for example, a work was created with religious intention, then it was made to glorify God rather than to be viewed as art by the public. Art with aesthetic intention could be defined as a work of art created with the intention of providing an aesthetic experience, which is not to say that art without aesthetic intention can’t provide an aesthetic experience. Work created in order to glorify God could be beautiful or appealing to us in some way but not necessarily connect with us on a deeper, more experiential level. The dialectical critic of culture must both participate in culture and not participate. Only then does he do justice to his object and to himself.2

1. Wollheim 1980, op. cit. Essay VI. pp. 231–39.
2. Weber, Samuel and Shierry, Prisms trans. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981) 33.