Aesthetic experience of the arts and the complexity of perception

The critique of the aesthetic conception of art, on the one hand, alongside the critique of the Kantian notion of aesthetic experience as non-conceptual and disinterested, on the other hand, has led to a re-examining of the very notion of aesthetic experience in recent decades. Certain authors, such as Alan Goldman, defend a broader notion of aesthetic experience that holds that the pleasure that characterizes the experience arises from the “free play” of our mental capabilities, sensitive, imaginative, affective and intellectual, and, they therefore consider that the participation of perception is not necessary. On the contrary, authors such as Nick Zangwill or Peter Kivy defend a narrower view of aesthetic experience that holds the perceptual content as essential to it. The main argument of the latter authors is that the defining feature of aesthetic pleasure lies in the perceptual and disinterested character of the experienced content. Given that conceptual art and literature are paradigmatic examples of artistic activities in which the sensory properties of the objects are not determinant for their interpretation and appreciation, their artistic value, either it is non-aesthetic, or it is aesthetic in a wide sense.

In our most recent projects, this team has defended the key role that aesthetic experience plays in the forming of aesthetic judgement and in the determination of the value of the arts. It has been done from a broad view of aesthetic experience. In this project, we would like to address the role of perception in the aesthetic experience of the arts. The reason is that perhaps imagination has attained excessive importance in the aesthetic reflection in visual arts and literature. The influence of the theory of mimesis as make-believe (Walton), which allows the gathering together of all representational arts, is responsible for it to a great extent. As the make-believe theory, the simulation theory, the “thought” theory, and the theory of fiction as a communicative act have benefited from a wide conception of imagination that can explain fiction as not asserted, but imagined, content, on the one hand, and affective experience, as a rational reply, determined by the imagined propositional content, on the other. The cognitive theory of cinema is one clear example of the predominance of this view.

Our hypothesis is that a wider view of perception could frame more clearly the role of imagination, firstly in the explanation of the understanding of the visual arts, secondly in the explanation of the understanding of literature and lastly in the aesthetic experience as an experience that includes normative judgement. For this we need to establish what the content of the perceptual experience is in every case, because the debate is largely influenced by the dispute between a more restricted content and a wider one. We would like to defend that the expressive, moral, character of the represented objects is perceptual and it does not need an imaginative interpretation.

Vindicating the key role of the perceptual in aesthetic experience would allow us, in the first place, to justify the importance of the artistic object in the interpretation and appreciation of the arts and, secondly, to recover the original sense of aesthetic experience as experience of the world and the cognitive value of art.