Davies, Ch. 3, Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art



2.      Chapter considers arguments for and mainly against “Aesthetic Theories of Art”

3.      Aesthetic theories of art = “Aesthetic functionalism” = “aesthetic formalism” = “Aestheticism”

         a.      Emphasis on formal beauty and what is directly available to senses

         b.      Art’s perceptual features are the only features relevant to art appreciation

         c.      Only “aesthetic properties” are relevant (defined narrowly and distinguished from artistic properties)

         d.      Art appreciation requires adopting a special “aesthetic attitude”

                   i.       Distinct frame of mind involving

                   ii.      “Distanced” and disinterested contemplation

4.      Critics who reject aesthetic theories include:

                   i.       Contextualists (Davies’ “ontological contextualism”)

                   ii.      Institutional and historical accounts of art

                   iii.     “Philosophy of art theorists”

5.      Contextualists think that

         a.      Aes theories can’t account for art’s identity or meaning/content

                   i.       Aestheticism ignores important properties that make art what it is and give it the meaning and content it has

         b.      Identity and content of artwork depend on more that simply its perceptual features

         c.      Nature of artwork depends (in part) on aspects of situation in which work created and/or exists (its context)

                   i.       Depends on art historical setting, social practices, conventions and institution in which art made and consumed

         d.      Artworks’ nature depends also on “artistic properties”

6.      Aes theories respond that focus on these artistic properties undermines aes perception



8.      Aesthetic properties

         a.      Features perceived in object of appreciation when approached for its own sake

         b.      Internal to object of appreciation

                   i.       In contrast, artistic properties are relational

         c.      Perceptible properties directly available for perception

         d.      Aesthetic properties apprehended independent of cognitive information

                   i.       Recognition not require knowledge of matters external to object of appreciation

                   ii.      No information about circumstances under which object made is needed

                   iii.     No knowledge of intended or possible functions of object is needed

9.      (Frank) Sibley’s list of aes properties

         a.      Unified, balanced, integrated, lifeless, serene, somber, dynamic, powerful, vivid, delicate, moving, trite, sentimental, tragic, graceful, delicate, dainty, handsome, comely, elegant, garish, dumpy, beautiful

10.    Many aes properties have evaluative dimension

         a.      Negative–dumpy

         b.      Positive–dainty (compare: dinky)

         c.      Are some neutral? Like “somber” or “fragile”

11.    Aes properties are 2nd order (higher order) properties that are based on (supervene on) simpler, non-aes properties of aes object (e.g., the “base properties”)

         a.      Examples:

                   i.       “Unity” of a painting depends on its shapes, color fields and textures (the non-aesthetic base properties) (dis-unified painting)

                   ii.      Whether painting is “garish” (i.e., tastelessly showy, flashy, strident colors) it is due to its colors and how it displays and combines them

         b.      Same base properties should lead to same aes properties

         c.      Change of base properties is likely affect aes character/properties


12.    “Artistic Properties” = art-relevant, but non-aesthetics properties

13.    Examples of artistic properties

         a.      Symbolic properties: Dove carrying olive branch symbolizes peace

                   i.       Not among the painting’s perceptible content

                   ii.      Need to view painting in terms of conventions

         b.      Referential properties: Artworks that refer to other artworks; takes us beyond its internal features (e.g., appropriation art)

                   i.       E.g.: Glenn Brown ghoulish repaintings of Rembrandt’s portraits

                            (1)    compare with a Rembrant

         c.      Relational properties: Artwork can be original, influenced by earlier work, from artist’s middle phase, intend to emulate or reject previous art traditions, unusual because of its shadows

         d.      None of these are aesthetic properties, because they depend on non-perceptible features of the work and go beyond its internal features

14.    Representational and expressive features of art can be artistic (non-aesthetic, but art relevant) properties

         a.      Realism of a representation require comparisons that take one beyond work’s boundaries

         b.      Idea that musical work expresses composer’s feelings also takes us beyond the work

15.    Artists’ intentions not relevant for aes theories, but can be artistic relevant properties

         a.      If one assumes one can’t (immediately) perceive the artist’s intention in the artwork itself

         b.      Then any feature of artwork that depends on artists’ intentions (perhaps what artwork expresses or represents or is about) also are not aesthetic (though they can be artistic properties of the work)


16.    Main question: In appreciation of art as art, are aesthetic properties enough or do we need to consider artistic properties as well?

         a.      Aes theory claims that aes considerations (and aesthetic properties) are all one needs to appreciate art as art

                   i.       Art’s artistic properties are not relevant to proper appreciation

         b.      Phil of Art/contextualism claims awareness of a work’s artistic properties is crucial to understanding it and to identify it as the work it is

17.    Davies takes philosophy of art view: True in general of art pictures that significance lies more in artistic content than aes content



19.    Aes attitude

         a.      Percipient must adopt special mental attitude in order to receive works aes properties

                   i.       Cut out practical side of things

         b.      Distanced or disinterested contemplation

                   i.       Bracket out our natural concerns with respect to object’s usefulness, value, history, or classification

                   ii.      These distract one from proper experience of object

         c.      Examples

                   i.       Mark Twain’s (Life on the Mississippi,1883): Experience that taught him to read the river (ripples indicating sandbars, sun and clouds as predictors of weather, trees as landmarks) destroyed his aesthetic experience:

                            (1)    “All the grace, beauty and poetry had gone out of the majestic river”

                   ii.      Irish author Oscar Wilde advocated art’s independence from practical matters like morality

                            (1)    “Books are neither morally good nor bad, they are well or badly written that is all”

20.    Example of (alleged) problematic interest (according to the aes theory)

         a.      Man who doubts wife’s faithfulness needs distance to appreciate Shakespeare’s Othello without melding his own thoughts with it

                   i.       Suggestion here is that this distracts one from the proper focus on art–focusing on one’s own problems instead

                            (1)    But isn’t art that relates to one’s own life--and makes one think about own life--powerful art?

                   ii.      Mightn’t one’s doubt about one’s wife allow one better insight into the mind of Othello?



22.    Davies rejects alleged need for adopting “aesthetic attitude”

         a.      To appreciate art don’t need a distinctive mode of attention or ignore practical concerns

         b.      Practical interests need not undermine appreciation of art

                   i.       Art exam example: Person scrutinizing painting to pass art appreciation exams has different motivation from person who considers it for own sake but to succeed in the exam, must regard painting in similar way


23.    (Non-aesthetic) artistic qualities are crucial to art appreciation

24.    Kind or genre of artwork important

         a.      Waltz or tango?

         b.      Think film is a comedy for children then discover it is a suspense thriller for adults

                   i.       Revise our understanding of earlier scenes and kinds of skills writer /director displays

25.    Medium of artwork and constraints/challenges it imposes is important

         a.      Gates of Sorrow by Jim Gallucci

                   i.       50 tons, 47 feet tall statue commemorating the Sept 11, 2001 tragedy

                   ii.      The disinterested aesthetic contemplator must be ignorant of or ignore

                            (1)    Its purpose: Made to commemorate those who died

                            (2)    What made of: Shaped from steal beams taken from remains of the World Trade Center

         b.      Janine Antoni’s “Lick and Lather

                   i.       Sculpture in mahogany or dark chocolate? Marble or soap?

                            (1)    Aes theories must say it does not matter

                   ii.      Davies we need to know that chocolate is luscious food that invites one to imagine licking and biting sculpture and that soap to be rubbed against the body

26.    When and who created an artwork (historical context) is important

         a.      Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed 1955 (about Bed ) (about Rauschenberg)

                   i.       Robert Rauschenberg made an artwork of his bed by applying paint to it

                   ii.      Arthur Danto (a “Historicist” about art’s nature) argues that what can become art and the significance it has depends on when and where it is offered and by whom

                            (1)    Knowing about Rauschenberg’s Bed is important in fully appreciating Tracy Emin’s “My Bed

                   iii.     Leonardo Da Vinci could not have done same in late 15th century, as neither he nor his contemporaries could have conceived of the result as art, given the tradition of painting to that time

                   iv.     Child painting his bed at same time as Rauschenberg, not an artwork

                   v.      Aestheticism tells us to ignore when, where and who produced artwork and so can’t make these points

27.    ***Political, religious, or moral messages conveyed by much art of all periods is far more crucial to its significance than are the aes qualities of its appearance (according to Davies)

         a.      DaVinci’s Last Supper



29.    Maya Lin’s Vietnam’s Veterans Memorial (VVM) in Washington, DC

         a.      How account for the significance of artworks such as this memorial if put aside work’s social context and purpose

                   i.       If can’t consider whose names are listed and why

                   ii.      Little remains of work’s meaning and identity

30.    Reply: Aesthetic formalist on VVM                          

         a.      That VVM is a memorial is relevant to history and sociology of art

         b.      Technology of production, motivation for work, and significance of work to artist (and to public, Vietnam veterans, and U.S. history) are all legitimate concerns

         c.      But this social meaning not proper concerns if the focus is on the artwork as such

                   i.       Not part of its identity or content

         d.      Takes effort to set aside the powerful political and historical message of VVM, but it should be approached solely in terms of formal and sensuous properties

         e.      Davies reply: To focus merely on VVM’s aes properties is to miss almost everything that is important about the work


31.    Davies examples attempting to show that


33.    When form depends on content, pure aestheticism is self-contradictory

34.    Bruegel, Landscape with Fall of Icarus, 1555          

         a.      Depicts Icarus (figure in Greek Mythology) falling from sky as flew too near sun and his wax wings melted; two prominent figures in painting are oblivious to his fate

         b.      Aes formalist says these facts about what painting represents and symbolizes are not relevant

         c.      Davies: Perceiving formal properties depends on knowing this story (p. 62)

                   i.       “Only when we know what picture represents, does our attention shift to the inconspicuous legs in lower right and they become the work’s compositional center; we experience the rest of the scene as organized around them

                   ii.      “Even strict formalist must acknowledge that picture’s composition is deeply affected by psychological weight place on lower right corner

                   iii.     So examining the work’s form, requires knowing the story and this involves bringing something in from the outside

         d.      Form often depends on content: “General impossibility of separating formal factors from aspects of content not straight-forwardly visible”

35.    Deposition of Christ by Caravaggio

         a.      “Central compositional element is downward thrust of the arc created by heads and hands of the figures, a movement that ends in lifeless hand of Jesus”

         b.      If did not know head and hands have special meaning for us, would not focus on them and would not see this arc

         c.      So this formal property depends on understanding significance of head and hands of people

                   i.       Such external information is the type the aesthetic formalist claims is not relevant



         a.      If perceptually equivalent, share same aes properties

         b.      But if only aesthetic properties count, there are no important differences (in terms of appreciation) between perceptually equivalent objects

37.    Duchamp’s Fountain and ordinary urinal

         a.      Aestheticism can’t explain

                   i.       Why Duchamp’s fountain is an artwork while other urinals from same production line are not

                   ii.      That Duchamp’s fountain invokes the tradition of sculpting in white marble, which other porcelain urinals do not

                   iii.     Fountain offered a challenge to the presuppositions & prejudices of the artworld of its time, which urinals located elsewhere in the gallery do not

38.    Image appropriation examples (2)

         a.      Image appropriators produce works that resemble those of the artist whose pieces they appropriated

39.    (1) Duchamp’s LHOOQ (for discussion click here) and LHOOQ shaved.

         a.      LHOOQ shaved is not perceptually different from Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, but is obviously a completely different artwork and one’s aesthetic response ought to be completely different

         b.      LHOOQ shaved makes a witty connection both to LHOOQ and to Mona Lisa; Leonardo’s work contains no such reference

40.    (2) Sherrie Levine displayed as her own artwork photos she has taken of art-photographs of others (e.g., Edward Weston)

         a.      Wiki on Levine NY Times on Levine

         b.      Examples of Levine’s work

         c.      Sherrie Levine’s photos make art-political point that women typically gain entry to the gallery via the works of male artists; and works she appropriates do not make this point

         d.      The original photo and Levine’s photograph of it are two different artworks yet perceptually the same

         e.      Aes theories can’t explain what distinguished them as they display identical aes properties.

41.    Forgery (e.g., perceptually indistinguishable copy of a painting)

         a.      From critic’s viewpoint this matters much to its value as art

         b.      From aesthetic theory point of view, it is irrelevant that it is a forgery

                   i.       Identical aes properties and equal value as art

                   ii.      If one is beautiful so is the other

                   iii.     That a forgery is not treated same was as original, shows according to aesthetic theory that judgment clouded by political, moral and other factors that should have no place in estimation of art

         c.      Lessig’s (a proponent of “aestheticism”) list of irrelevant features (see article by Lessig p. 83 in Arguing text)

                   i.       Forgery, age of artist when created it, political situation of creation, price it originally fetched, kind of materials used in it, stylistic influences, psychological state of artist, purpose of painting it

                   ii.      Not relevant to art as aes object, but to biology, history of art, sociology and psychology

42.    Further examples showing that non-perceptible factors of artworks play important role in identity and content of artworks

         a.      Compare Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ with an otherwise identical work that fills the bottle containing the crucifix with cream soda, not urine

         b.      Controversy about Serrano’s Piss Christ on display in NY City September 2012



44.    Literature can’t be explained by aes theories

         a.      For although books present some aes properties to senses, they are not relevant to the story

         b.      Nor need one mentally imagine stories to appreciate narrative art

45.    Aes theories can’t account for much 20th century art

         a.      This art downplays sensuous aspects of its appearance in favor of cognitive properties like wit and reference

46.    Some conceptual artworks have no aes or other perceptual properties or those they do have are irrelevant

         a.      Robert Rauschenberg’s (1953) exhibit of Erased De Kooning Drawing, a drawing by Willem de Kooning which Rauschenberg erased, has no aesthetic properties

         b.      Person who delights in gleaming whiteness of Duchamp’s fountain has missed the point; Duchamp went out of his way to choose a piece that is aesthetically neutral

47.    Concept of art must account for the 20th century artworks mentioned above

         a.      Can’t dismiss such cases as unusual or aberrant

         b.      Many have never been controversial and rest are usually now accepted as art

         c.      That aes theory can’t account for this art, shows it is an inadequate account of art



49.    Some of art’s non-perceptual, external, contextual features are essential to identifying, appreciating, and understanding art

         a.      Sociological, historical and cultural context in which art produced and consumed relevant to its identity and content

         b.      Art’s relational properties often crucial to its nature

                   i.       Just as can’t recognize which people are aunts and uncles solely on basis of appearance, can’t recognize the relational properties important to artwork from its immediately perceptible features

                   ii.      “To identify an artwork and locate the properties that belong to it as art, it must be seen in relation to those things outside its boundaries that contribute relationally to making it what and how it is”



51.    A speically important task for contextualism: Distinguish art relevant from art irrelevant properties

         a.      Aes theories use the principle of “internal” perceptible properties are relevant, external/relational properties are not

         b.      Once you allow some external relations as relevant to art, you will need some principle to rule out other external factors that clearly are not relevant

52.    These external values or properties of art that are not art relevant (not relevant to appreciating it as art) seem to include

                   i.       “Door stop values”

                            (1)    That a painting is the perfect size for covering a whole in the wall

                    ii.       Sentimental value of an artwork for a person

                            (1)    That it is Obama’s favorite painting

                            (2)    I like this song because I met my wife while it was playing?

                    iii.      That it was hidden from the Nazis in WWII

                   iv.     Monetary value: That it fetches $2 million dollars

                   v.      That the artist hates it? Gave it to his daughter?

                   vi.     That it weighs 66 pounds



         a.      **If knowledge of this information should change (or affect) our understanding of the art object’s content, then it is relevant

54.    Napoleon/Josephine example showing artwork’s title can be important

         a.      Is it a painting of Napolean and his wife?

         b.      Not if the title is“The artist’s neighbors posing as Napoleon and Josephine before a fancy ball”

                   i.       Work represents quite different people than we thought

         c.      Might need to know the title to understand an artwork

55.    Facts about artist’s intention can be relevant to nature/content of work

         a.      Painting of one of two identical twins: Depends on artist’s intention which twin is the subject of the painting

         b.      Artist intention relevant to determining reference, allusion, quotation, parody, symbolism, irony and metaphor

56.    Sex of artist relevant?

         a.      Should the fact that a work was created by a female rather than a male ever effect our appreciation of it?

         b.      Artist’s gender sometimes does and other times does not affect work’s properties

                   i.       Women may have distinctive interests and experiences apart from men’s that might affect content of an artwork

                   ii.      For example: When depicting scenes with violent domestic or sexual themes, women might express thoughts and feelings that would not be present in an outwardly similar painting done from a male perspective.

                            (1)    Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, ca 1612 About

                   iii.     Women painting herself nude with fruit, unlike long tradition of male painters painting nude females, is commenting on the tradition and making fun of practice of comparing women with fruit

57.    Facts about a work’s wider social setting can be relevant

         a.      Picasso’s Guernica is more powerful when seen as a protest against the bombing of the town by fascist forces in the Spanish civil war


         a.      Reply: If gut level responses all that were needed, animals too could have aes experiences and would be as well qualified to appreciate art as we are; but they are not

         b.      Reply: Appropriate experience of art not passive registering, but thought-filled interaction

                   i.       But although thinking about art object is necessary, thinking on one’s thinking about it is not

                   ii.      Knowledge facilitates direct exp of object w/o thinking getting in the way

                   iii.     One often learns relevant knowledge by exposure to art over time and not necessarily in formal study

                   iv.     Appreciation of art partial at first, but developed after that

Questions on Davies, Ch. 3: Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art


1.         Describe the views of those who embrace what Davies calls “aesthetic theories of art.”

2.         Describe the views of those (“contextualists”) who reject aesthetic theories of art.

3.         What is an aesthetic property? Give 5 examples of different aesthetic properties. Give an example of a positive and then a negative aesthetic property. Using an example, explain what it means to say that aesthetic properties are higher-order properties that are based on lower-level non-aesthetic properties.

4.         What is an artistic property? Give examples of 3 or 4 artistic properties of a work of art and explain why they are artistic and not aesthetic properties.

5.         Explain the difference between aesthetic properties and artistic properties.

6.         Are the artist’s intentions relevant to the artworks aesthetic properties? Why or why not?

7.         What does Davies think about the relative importance of artistic and aesthetic properties to the identity and content of artworks?

8.         Explain the “aesthetic attitude” and relate it to Mark Twain’s experience of the Mississippi after he learned to “read the water.” Do you think that adopting the “aesthetic attitude” is important for aesthetic experience? What does Davies think about the importance of appreciating art with a distanced and disinterested attitude?

9.         Explain how Davies attempts to show that aesthetic theory is internally inconsistent with the example of Bruegel’s Landscape with Fall of Icarus.

10.       Explain how Davies criticizes aesthetic theory using Lin’s Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. How would the defender of aesthetic theory respond to this criticism. Who do you think is right?

11.       Using three example, explain why Davies thinks aesthetic theory has trouble accounting for perceptually equivalent objects.

12.       Is forgery a problem for aesthetic theory? Why or why not?

13.       What does Davies think about the person who “delights in the gleaming whiteness of Duchamp’s Fountain”?

14.       Are all external, contextual, or relational properties of an artwork relevant to its artistic appreciation? Discuss using examples of such properties that are arguably not relevant to the artistic or aesthetic appreciation of an artwork.

15.       Should the fact that a work was created (e.g., painted) by a female rather than a male effect our appreciation of it? What does Davies think about this? Do you agree with him?

16.       Is Davies a “cognitivist?” Does he think that gut level responses are sufficient for aesthetic appreciation? Does Davies think appropriate appreciation of rock music involves a gut level response or thought-filled interaction?

17.       Identify and describe the following: Duchamp’s Fountain, LHOOQ, and LHOOQ SHAVED; Picasso’s Guernica; Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ; Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, ca 1612; Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII; Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes (1964); Chris Burden’s Shoot and Transfixed; Sherrie Levine’s photography.


18.    Ignore below



20.    Is much pop cultural visceral and thoughtless and thus not art?

         a.      Is rock music not art because requires no thought? p. 76-77

21.    Argument: Products of pop culture not art as call for primitive response, not the cognitive response just described

         a.      Rock (or jazz) music affects the body directly through its volume or beat, stirring animal passions that are not mediated by cognition

         b.      This neg and conservative arg

         c.      Pop music is inferior to art music

22.    Some defend pop music by saying very features disqualifying it from art (that it is non-cognitive) allow it to have a more direct and significant connection with audience than art music

23.    Davies skeptical of this claim: Rock music is cognitive, like all good music

         a.      Both rock and classical music could be used as a mind-numbing drug

         b.      Rock music, like any other kind, must be followed with understanding if it is to be appreciated

         c.      Rock has many genres, styles, conventions, parodies, repudiations, references and quotations

                   i.       No less subject to this than any other type of music

         d.      Older generation does not get it not because their guts can’t resonate with base but because lack exp and understanding needed to know what they should be getting

         e.      Similarly, novice to classical music will not be able to make the discriminations necessary for her to judge Mozart’s music to be better than less-talented contemporaries of his time.

24.    Not claiming that all music equally good when judged by same standards

         a.      Some music designed to reward concentrated listening and repeated hearings

                   i.       Can be deeply moving and uplifting

         b.      Other music designed to be immediately accessible, undemanding and entertaining

                   i.       It can become charged with powerful associations , e.g., as played constantly during summer spend at the beach when one was 13

                   ii.      But it does not set out to confront or refine the listening habits of its target audience

25.    Better examples within all kinds of music are not simple or mechanical (even if lots of skill went into making them appear inevitable and artless)

         a.      If really so easy to write a successful hit song, potboiler novel, TV soap or musical, as sometimes dismissively claimed by cultural elitists, there would be many more millionaires

26.    Could be that rock usually calls for degree of unselfconscious cognitive engagement to be appreciated, much like Beethoven’s symphonies

         a.      And yet rock is craft-work with utilitarian function to entertain, while Beethoven symphony is artwork that is to be appreciated for own sake

27.    Or art might come in many species with many functions so both rock and Beethoven might quality as art of dif kinds

28.    Not settled debate between those who think only high western art qualities as art and those who regard art as universal, ubiquitous, often humble