"The Aesthetics of Smelly Art"
by Larry Shiner and Yulia Kriskovets

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism: Volume 65 Issue 3 Page 273-286, Summer 2007

The remarkable increase in the number of artworks that foreground scents and odors during recent years suggests the need for an assessment of the aesthetic and artistic possibilities of smell. Because there has been so little olfactory art in the past, it is hardly surprising that this area has been largely neglected by philosophical aesthetics. This essay is intended as a survey of theoretical issues raised by olfactory art and as a defense of its practice against traditional skepticism about the aesthetic and artistic relevance of scents. Although the complexity of some of the individual issues would be worthy of an entire article, we have chosen to offer an overview in the hope of attracting other philosophers, as well as critics and curators, to consider this fascinating new area for reflection. As interesting as it would be to explore the aesthetic aspects of the everyday experience of smells or the use of odors in cultural ceremonies such as Japanese Kodo or even the use of odors to accompany plays and films, we focus on contemporary olfactory art meant to be presented in galleries, museums, or as public installations/performances. Because much of this art may be unfamiliar, we begin with several examples of artworks based on odors. Then we examine some traditional objections to smell as a legitimate object of aesthetic attention, and finally, we discuss the art status of olfactory artworks, closing with the complex issue of whether or in what sense perfume is art.


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