May 4th, 2004

Aesthetics and Art Theory

I'm reading a 1968 book by that title. In full it's: Aesthetics and Art Theory: An Historical Introduction, by Harold Osborne. Osborne was the editor of the British Journal of Aesthetics, and wrote a number of aesthetics-related books, but this is the only one I've read.

I'm only half-way through it, but it is doing a great job for me of pulling together the history of Western aesthetic thought. I know a lot of the details already, and his details seem right. But he's putting the whole thing into perspective.

He has a detour chapter on Chinese aesthetics, about which I knew almost nothing. I do know some Chinese philosophy, and the aesthetics did seem to fit with what I know. He includes this chapter partly as a kind of contrast object for appreciating Western aesthetics.

I am just now entering his chapter on Kant, who Osborne describes as firmly setting aesthetics up as a branch of philosophy, and as being the greatest genius in the field, despite having said very little that was original. I can't wait to read more.

Kant propounded a theory that "pure" aesthetic appreciation required total disinterest in the object. This is roughly parallel to his ethical concept that the truly good action is the one you have zero interest in.

Agh. This sort of "unselfish" appreciation of the good and the beautiful is so opposed to my take on the world that it sometimes leaves me speechless, at least until my mind unboggles.

You can try to distinguish "disinterest" from "lack of interest," but in Kant's case the distinction seems to reach a vanishing point.

To love beautiful art, and to love noble actions, is a deeply selfish love. It is not disinterested and should not be.

That's my non-disinterested take on the subject, anyway.

Rhyme of the day:

I insist
That interest
Is good
And should