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jlb.alb8.plato.baumgarten.aesthetics.art.love.beauty - Art...

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Art, Love, and Beauty 8 2/7/08 Harries 1 8. The Aesthetic Experience 1 In the last two lectures I gave you a first characterization of what we can call the aesthetic approach and its understanding of the beautiful by taking a look at Baumgarten's Reflections on Poetry . Baumgarten, we saw, understands the beautiful as sensible perfection. Implied by such perfection is the self-sufficient presence of the aesthetic object, the object that pleases just because it is beautiful. We all are familiar with beautiful objects. Think of flowers; or of landscapes; or of persons. This is to make the obvious point that not all aesthetic objects are works of art. But given this understanding of an aesthetic objects it is easy to come up with a definition of the work of art: Works of art are objects created to have aesthetic appeal. That is their primary function. But this definition also raises this question: to what extent can works of art, think of paintings or sculptures, be adequately understood as aesthetic objects. It seems obvious that such an approach does not begin to do justice to a medieval altarpiece or to Chartres Cathedral. Nor does it do justice to African sculpture. Nor does it do justice to a Cantata by Bach. Can the aesthetic function of art be considered the function of art as it figures in histories of art? To claim that art creates objects with an eye to aesthetic appeal is to say also that art remains true to its essence only when it presents itself as art for art's sake. And if, as I have claimed, the aesthetic approach is presupposed by
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Art, Love, and Beauty 8 2/7/08 Harries 2 aesthetics, must a self-critical philosophy of art not question aesthetics? This is one reason to take a careful look at Baumgarten, who may be said to have inaugurated philosophical aesthetics, at Kant, whose Critique of Judgment is perhaps the most thoughtful articulation approach, and at Schopenhauer's World as Will and Representation , which allows us to understand what lies behind that divorce of beauty from love that governs the aesthetic approach. 2 Let me reiterate once more: "aesthetics" should not be understood as just a synonym for "philosophy of art." To be sure, that is how these terms are often used today, but such synonymy is of rather recent origin. When we call and understand the philosophy of art first of all as aesthetics, we are the heirs of a quite specific approach to art, one that, even though it has a long prehistory, going back to the Renaissance and indeed to antiquity, triumphed only in the eighteenth century over an older approach that would not grant autonomy to art, but assigned it a religious, a social, or an ethical function. 1 Again, think, of a medieval or a baroque altarpiece. Granted, however, that the best medieval art was art for God's and not for art's sake: can't we distinguish the religious aspect of this art from what lets it have aesthetic appeal? Is the latter not the proper concern for someone interested in such an object, say a 1 See Karsten Harries, The Broken Frame. Three Lectures (Washington: Catholic University Press, l989).
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