DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M046-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 18, 2022, from

2. Aesthetics and the arts

One question that arises only for a small set of art forms concerns the nature of depiction. It might be thought that the analysis of the nature of depiction has no special importance within the philosophy of art, for pictorial representation is just as frequent outside as inside art. But this overlooks the fact that real clarity about the ways in which pictures can acquire value as art must be founded on a sophisticated understanding of what a picture is and the psychological resources needed to grasp what it depicts. So what is it for a surface to be or contain a picture of an object or state of affairs? Must the design on the surface be such as to elicit a certain species of visual experience, and must the function of the means by which the pattern was produced, or the intention of the person who created it, be to replicate features of the visible world? Or is a picture a member of a distinctive kind of symbol system, which can be defined without making use of any specifically visual concepts (see Depiction; Goodman, N. §2)? Another question that has a limited application concerns the distinctive nature and value of a particular artistic genre, the response it encourages from us, and the insight into human life it displays and imparts. For example, whereas a comedy exploits our capacity to find something funny, a tragedy engages our capacity to be moved by the fate of other individuals, and erotic art aims to evoke a sexual reaction; and this difference in the emotional responses at the hearts of the genres goes hand in hand with the different aspects of human life they illuminate (see Comedy; Emotion in response to art; Erotic art; Humour; Tragedy).

Questions about the individual natures and possibilities of the various arts include some that are specific to the particular art and some that apply also to other arts. On the one hand, relatively few art forms (architecture and pottery, for example) are directed to the production of works that are intended to perform non-artistic functions, or are of a kind standardly used for utilitarian purposes, and, accordingly, the issue of the relevance to its artistic value of a work’s performing, or presenting the appearance of performing, its intended non-artistic function satisfactorily is confined to such arts (see Architecture, aesthetics of). Again, only in some arts does a spectator witness a performance of a work, so that issues about a performer’s contribution to the interpretation of a work or about the evaluation of different performances of the same work are limited to such arts (see Art, performing). And since only some works of art (novels, plays and films, for example) tell a story, and only some refer to fictional persons or events, questions about the means by which a story is told or how references to fictional objects should be understood have a restricted application within the arts (see Narrative; Fictional entities). On the other hand, most, if not all, arts allow of works within their domain being correctly perceived as being expressive of psychological states, and, accordingly, give rise to the question of what it is for a work to be expressive of such a condition (see Artistic expression). But the means available within the different arts for the expression of psychological states are various: poetry consists of words, dance exploits the human body, and instrumental music uses nothing other than sounds. And these different artistic media impose different limits on the kinds of state that can be expressed by works of art, the specificity of the states, and the significance within an art of the expressive aspects of its products (see Gurney, E. §2). Furthermore, it is a general truth about the various arts, rather than one special to expression, that what can be achieved within an art is determined by the nature of the medium the art is based on. Accordingly, an adequate philosophy of art must investigate the variety of such media and elucidate the peculiar advantages they offer and the limitations they impose (see Abstract art; Dance, aesthetics of; Eliot, T.S.; Food, philosophy of §2; Film, aesthetics of; Hanslick, E.; Langer, S.K.K.; Lessing, G.E. §2; Music, aesthetics of; Opera, aesthetics of; Painting, aesthetics of; Photography, aesthetics of; Poetry; Wagner, R.).

Citing this article:
Budd, Malcolm. Aesthetics and the arts. Aesthetics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M046-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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