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




2.       Aesthetic theories of art

                    i.        “Aesthetic functionalism” “aesthetic formalism”

          b.       Developed in 18th century and dominated in 1st half of 20th

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

          d.       Only “aesthetic properties” (defined narrowly) are relevant to app of art

          e.       Separation of art from craft

                    i.        Art is to be appreciated for own sake, whereas craft is to be appreciated for its practical uses

          f.       Art app requires adopting an “aesthetic attitude” (as does nature app)

                    i.        Distinct frame of mind:  “Distanced” contemplation

          g.       Aes theories focus on inner psychology of percipient (rather than social surroundings of art object)


3.       Critics who reject aesthetic theories

                    i.        Contextualists (“ontological contextualism”)

                    ii.       Institutional and historical accounts of art

                    iii.      “Philosophy of art theorists”

          b.       Developed in 2nd half of 20th century

          c.       Aes theories can’t account for art’s identity or meaning

                    i.        Ignores important properties that make art what it is and give it the meaning it has

          d.       Identity and content of artwork depend on aspects of situation in which work created (context)

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

                    ii.       Depends on “artistic properties”

          e.       Aes theories say focus on these features undermines aes perception




5.       Aesthetic properties

          a.       Objective features perceived in object of app when approached for its own sake

          b.       Internal to object of app

          c.       Perceptible properties directly available for perception

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

                    ii.       No information about circumstances under which made needed

                    iii.      No knowledge of intended or possible functions needed

6.       (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 (note beauty here is being treated as one particular aesthetic quality; beauty sometimes used to refer to all positive aes qualities)

7.       Many aes properties have evaluative dimension

          a.       Neg–dumpy

          b.       Pos–dainty

8.       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 depend on its shapes, color fields and textures

                    ii.       If 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 have same aes properties

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


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

10.     Examples of artistic properties:

          a.       (Symbolic properties) Dove carrying olive branch symbolizes peace

                    i.        The symbolization is 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

          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 characteristics

11.     Expressive and representational features of art can be artistic (non-aesthetic)

          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

12.     Artists’ intentions not relevant for aes theories: If one assumes one can’t (immediately) perceive the artist’s intention in the artwork itself, 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)


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

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

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

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

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



18.     Aes attitude

          a.       Target aes properties of artwork (not artistic properties)

          b.       Percipient (to receive works aes properties) must adopt special mental attitude (aes attitude)

          c.       Distanced or disinterested contemplation

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

                    i.        These distract one from proper experience of object

          e.       Aes interest in something as an end in itself excludes all thought or knowledge of it as means to perceiver’s or anyone else’s ends

          f.       Cut out practical side of things

                    i.        Irish author Oscar Wilde advocated art’s independence from practical matters

          g.       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:

                    i.        “All the grace, beauty and poetry had gone out of the majestic river”


19.     Examples of (alleged) problematic interest (according to the aes theory)

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

                    i.        But: Isn’t art that relates to one’s own life and makes one think about own life powerful art?

                              (1)     Suggestion here is that this distracts one from the proper focus on art

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

          b.       Stolnitz claims interest of critic give him too little distance

                    i.        Focus that aims at passing judgment is non-aesthetic

                    ii.       Critic is paid for his review and view’s art object in order to write a review–has difficulty in adopting aes attitude and achieving aes experience

                              (1)     Note: no aes exp w/o aes attitude

20.     Cognitive concerns are non-aes:

          a.       Concerns about artwork’s historical or sociological context, or that studies or classifies the artwork are non-aesthetic




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

          a.       Need to understand

                    i.        The kind of artwork it is

                    ii.       Social conventions about how to approach it

                    iii.      Medium of artwork and constraints/challenges it imposes

                    iv.      How artist amplifies or repudiates work or theories of others

23.     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

24.     Psychological approach to aes exp is a problem

          a.       Don’t need to adopt special frame of mind

          b.       or distinctive mode of attention

          c.       or an act of distancing to keep practical concerns at bay

25.     Practical interests need not undermine appreciation of art

          a.       Person scrutinizing painting to pass art app exams has different motivation from person who considers it for own sake

          b.       But to succeed in the exam, must regard painting in similar way

          c.       No reason to believe difference in motivation leads to difference in attention given or in the experience that results




27.     Bruegel, Landscape with Fall of Icarus, 1555       

          b.       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

                    i.        Commentary on world’s indifference to individual martyrdom

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

          d.       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 exp 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.

          e.       I am not sure why the significance of the legs counts as a formal feature

                    i.        Why is compositional center, a formal rather than a content property?

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


28.     Deposition of Christ by Caravaggio

          b.       “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”

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

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

                    i.        A bit of external information the aesthetic formalist claims is not relevant



          a.       Especially in the 20th century


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

          b.       Seems impossible to account for the significance of artworks like these 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

          c.       Either aes theory has mis-describes nature of aes properties or there is much more to the proper app of art than concern with its aes properties

          d.       Might aes formalist/sensualist argue that because VVM’s aes properties are so limited, this is a poor artwork?

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

31.     Reply: Aesthetic formalist on VVM

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

          b.       Tech 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

                    i.        Not part of its identity or content

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

32.     Gates of Sorrow by Jim Gallucci      

          b.       Statue commemorating the Sept 11, 2001 tragedy

                    i.        50 tons, 47 feet tall

          c.       Shaped from steal beams taken from remains of the World Trade Center

          d.       The disinterested aesthetic contemplator must be ignorant of or ignore that it was made to commemorate those who died


33.     Robert Rauschenberg: Bed. 1955

          b.       Robert Rauschenberg made an artwork of his bed by applying paint to it in 1955

          c.       Arthur Danto argues that what can become art and the significance it has depends on when and where it is offered and by whom

                    i.        All of which aesthetic theory tells us to ignore

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

          e.       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



          a.       If perceptually equivalent, share same aes properties

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


35.     Duchamp’s fountain:

          a.       Aesthetic theory can’t explain why Duchamp’s Fountain is an artwork while other urinals from same production line are not.

          b.       Aesthetic theory can’t explain why Duchamp’s Fountain invokes the tradition of sculpting in white marble, which other porcelain urinals do not

          c.       Aesthetic theory can’t explain why Fountain offers a challenge to the presuppositions/prejudices of the artworld of its time, while urinals located elsewhere in the gallery do not


36.     Image appropriation examples:

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

37.     Duchamp’s LHOOQ and LHOOQ shaved

          a.       The second is perceptually not different from Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, but its 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

38.     Sherrie Levine, Am photographer, displayed as own work photos she has taken of art-photographs of others (e.g., Edward Weston)

          a.       About 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

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

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


39.     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 copy

                    i.        Identical aes properties and equal value as art

                    ii.       If one is beautiful so is the other

                    iii.      That it is not treated that way, shows judgment clouded by political, moral and other factors that should have no place in estimation of art

          c.       Lessig’s list of irrelevant features (see article by Lessig in Arguing text, p. 87)

                    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


40.     Further examples that show that non-perceptible factors of artworks play important role in identity and content of the work

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

          b.      Compare one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits with a clone made as imaginative fiction by South American Indian who never heard of Rembrandt

          c.      Compare illustrations in medical text indistinguishable from homosexual erotic male nude photos by Robert Mapplethorpe

          d.      Compare Charles Ray’s Cube–a 7 ½ ton white cube of solid lead with one made of polystyrene foam



42.     Reasons why much 20th century art fails to live up to expectations of aesthetic theory

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

                    i.        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

          b.       Some conceptual artworks have no aes or other perceptual properties

                    i.        "All that I once knew but can’t now remember"

          c.       Literature can’t be explained by aes theories

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

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

          d.       Anti-aes art not easily accommodated by aesthetic theory

                    i.        This art sets out to eschew beauty for expressive power, semantic complexity or plain ugliness

                    ii.       E.g., Duchamp’s shovel, or upside down bicycle or bottle rack


43.     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

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

          a.       Don’t blame them (19th century art theorists) as they did not have advantage of seeing how artworld unfolded.



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

          b.       **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

          c.       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

46.     Once you let in these external relations as relevant to art, you will need some principle to rule out other external factors that clearly are not relevant

          a.       Robert Stecker calls these “external values” of art

          b.       Properties and value of art that are not relevant to art as art (not relevant to its appreciation)

          c.       These "external values" of art include

                    i.        Monetary value

                    ii.       Fame given to some artists

                    iii.      Value of sculpture as a door stop

                    iv.      Sentimental value of art for a person

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



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

          a.       For example:

                    i.        A painting depicts a man dressed as Napoleon and woman in early 19th century dress

                    ii.       At first we believe painting titled Napoleon and Josephine, later learn titled “The artist’s neighbors posing as Napoleon and Josephine before a fancy ball”

                    iii.      Should revise our view of work’s content; work represents quite different people than we thought

                    iv.      So we might need to know the title if we are to understand the work

49.     Facts about artist can be relevant

          a.       Artists intention can be crucial to nature/content of work

                    i.        Painting of one of two identical twins: Depends on artist's intentions

                    ii.       Artists intention can be crucial in determining reference, allusion, quotation, parody, symbolism, irony and metaphor

          b.       Other facts about author and her collection of works can be relevant

                    i.        Come from her juvenile of from her mature phase (depend s on exp and age when done)

                    ii.       Book 2nd in a trilogy, need to interpret/under it in conjunction with other volumes

50.     Facts about works genre

          a.       Film first taken to be a comedy for children and then realize it is a suspense thriller for adults

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

                    ii.       Movie might be thought to be disunified or cleverly created to exploit expectations for sake of dramatic impact of defeating them later

51.     Facts about the medium of piece and what is involved in working with it

          a.       Miniature sculpture carved from diamonds or ice, sculpture in marble or white soap, or mahogany or dark chocolate

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

          a.       Janine Antoni’s “Lick and Lather” (Head of a woman sculpted from chocolate or soap):

                    i.        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

          b.       Knowing that a work is a critique, commentary, satire on actual political events or class manners can be important in under what it’s about

          c.       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


53.     Social and historical context most likely to be relevant to art is that of artworld and art tradition of time the artwork was made

          a.       Work’s being original depends on relation to other works in the tradition

          b.       Was it neglected or did it change course of art history,

          c.       Is it a radical departure from a dominant style

          d.       Manet’s provocative portrayal of a known prostitute in Olympia makes reference to Titian’s Venus of Urbino and comments on tradition of painting reclining nudes

          e.       Play we thought was written in 19th century turns out to belong to mid 20th century

                    i.        We might stop being intrigued by its apparently forward looking treatment of character and see it as derivative and conservative

                    ii.       Or self-consciously adopting an outdated style for commenting ironically on earlier period of art




55.     Could/should the fact that a work was created (e.g., painted) by a female rather than a male effect our appreciation of it?

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

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

          c.       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.

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

Artemesia Gentileschi, Judith Slaying Holofernes, ca 1612


56.     Criticism: Davies contextualism is too cognitive

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

58.     Reply: Appro exp of art not passive registering, but thought-filled interaction

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

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

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

          c.       App of art partial at first, but developed after that



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

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

61.     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 negative and conservative argument concludes that:

          c.       Pop music is inferior to art music

62.     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

63.     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 the 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.

64.     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 (so this music is less high quality than the other type?)

65.     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

66.     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 app for own sake

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

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





          a.       Supports the importance of non-aesthetic artistic properties

71.     Aes properties should be visible in its appearance even for those who know little of its origins or functions

          a.       See men/women, man with four arms and one with elephant’s head, one looks like a monster; likely 5 parts are scene in narratives

          b.       Story referred to is not part of work’s aes character, as followed only by someone who knows which individual are depicted and the conventions for how the scenes are to be read

                    i.        Without that knowledge, can’t distinguish good guys from bad guys

72.     Says a lot about form of painting, focal point couple in middle, top half serene, bottom half more dynamic, gives picture a balanced tension

73.     What is lost to person ignorant of work’s artistic properties?

          a.       Complicated story of husband and wife, sending wife to have sex with a god to father a nonhuman child who will be able to defeat evil monster

          b.       Painter adopts an old traditional style

                    i.        With good guys on left and bad guys on right

                    ii.       Dress indicates social status

          c.       Characters in this painting symbols of sexual maturity and partnership and reminders of importance of self-control and calm wisdom

74.     Picture has interesting aes properties, but greater part of its importance resides in its artistic properties

          a.       Can’t under these powerful symbols and religious tones w/o relevant knowledge of painting traditions and Balinese custom and brings the works immediate (aes) contents into relation with these external considerations

75.     True in general of art pictures that significance lies more in artistic content than aes content


76.     Aes theories often use nature examples: roses, night sky, sunsets, etc

          a.       Art mentioned as afterthought, as if straightforward matter to extend notion from nature to art

          b.       Nature primary, art derivative

77.     Inadequate for ignores

          a.       Importance in art of the artist’s agency, and the representation, symbolism, expression allusion irony related to it

          b.       Overlooks of art historical and sociological political background against which artist and achievement work

          c.       It omits the human context from art’s creation, and can’t explain import of many properties on which art depends


78.     Cheap victory against aestheticism

          a.       Concede that autonomy of the aesthetic not endangered when

                    i.        Spectator brings her knowledge of English to her reading of novel

                    ii.       Her familiarity with the appearance of common things or events to viewing pictorial representations

                    iii.      Her educated sensitivities to emotions as she listens to music

          b.       Accept that modes of expression, rep and narration fall squarely within the work come are included in cat of “aesthetic”


79.     Aes theories like Stolnitz's can’t explain why we frame artworks so that we don’t confuse beauty of painting with beauty of its frame or fault the play because an audience member’s ugly hairstyle fall within our view of the state