A book on ethics and philosophy of values

suivre sur twitter

5) Consequences of this criticism of aesthetics

Art, as a set of techniques, galleries, art works, etc. differs obviously from aesthetics, the discipline which claims to analyze the pleasure given by a piece of art, viz. the aesthetic feeling.

Aesthetics can be legitimate as an autonomous and consistent discipline only if it has a proper and specific object, in which case we must recognize its necessity. Otherwise it would be superfluous, its object being that of other disciplines.
But aesthetics claims to have two specific objects that no other disciplines can study: the concept of beauty on the one hand, and the pleasure derived from the form of object -and not from its matter-, on the other hand.

In other words, other disciplines, like physiology or psychoanalysis, can study the causes or the nature of the pleasure derived from the matter of an object: the agreeable. But as there is a quite distinct pleasure, with other causes and nature, which is derived from the form of an object, then it is necessary that another discipline, radically different from the former, studies this one: aesthetics.

And finally, it is because beauty is a concept having a specific and proper meaning, irreducible to other ones, like agreeable or value… that a specific discipline must study it: aesthetics.

So if I have succeeded in showing that the concepts of beauty and pleasure derived from the form are not consistent, viz. that it is possible to reduce them to other concepts, clearer and already known, then aesthetics loses its legitimacy. In this case, art remains unaffected: the discourse of art alone is to fall within the framework of another discipline –axiology- which comes to replace aesthetics, as the discipline whose object of study is art.

Indeed, art, far from being lessened by the disappearance of aesthetics, may be fully achieved, since it finds, I think, its true ground.

The art work appears now as “something which is likely to present some contents of meaning having a great value” (whether it be for the majority, or for singular minds).

Galleries are some “places where experiences of value can be made” (which could not be the case in the ‘real’ world, that is why art has a legitimacy, as having this specific function).
These experiences are likely to be original, disconcerting. Contemporary art, as the moment in art when the “disconcerting” is favoured, may gain from the end of aesthetics. Indeed, no status can be given by aesthetics to this kind of art, which neither aims at beauty nor uses the old Aristotelian notions of matter-form anymore.

Finally, if aesthetics disappears, we see that, paradoxically, an answer can be given to its traditional question: “I find this beautiful (e.g. an art work, nature, etc.). But is it really beautiful?”.

As long as we use the term of beauty in order to formulate this question, it cannot be answered. Indeed, how to resolve a problem based on a meaningless concept? If there is a mysterious quality –beauty-, magically appearing and disappearing in the art work, depending on who looks at it, then we shall never know whether it is really beautiful.
But if we understand that the question is: ‘have the contents of meaning found in this art work (joy, red color, etc.) a real value?’ we have at least here a meaningful question: does joy occupy a prominent position in the universal hierarchy?
Then it is up to axiology, as the discipline whose task is to determine the value of things, to answer this question. If axiology succeeded in achieving its objective, then the problem of the real beauty of things would be resolved. But is it possible?

To conclude, we see that it is an irony that it is only when aesthetics vanishes that the aesthetic problem could be resolved… because it is not an aesthetic one.