Beyond Beauty: nature and critical relevance of aesthetic properties

The crisis of the aesthetic conception of art led to the conceptualist turn that has presided the artistic development since the sixties. With the irruption of pop art, minimalism, or conceptual art, among others, the appearance offered to the senses was mostly considered irrelevant in order to define and appreciate art.

The view of the philosopher and art critic, Arthur Danto was paradigmatic. Danto (1981) explained that given two objects with similar appearance, or perceptually “indiscernible”, one of them could very well be a common object while the other nonetheless could be a work of art. This could be so because the artistic status of the latter would not depend on its perceptual properties, therefore neither on its aesthetic properties but on being an object that embodies a meaning open to interpretation.

Danto shared with artistic formalism (at the time prominent in art criticism but deeply rejected by the new artistic movements), certain radical perceptual conception of the aesthetic as well as the identification of the aesthetic mostly with beauty and other qualities of good taste that, for formalism, justified artistic value. Years later, Danto (2003) underlined that the actual gap opened by the art of the sixties and seventies was between art and beauty, making possible aesthetic pluralism, which will include an almost endless range of aesthetic qualities, including some like ugliness or disgust, opposed to what was before considered aesthetic excellence yet aesthetic after all, and perhaps more representative of recent art.

Our project is located in this line of reviewing the relationship between art and the aesthetic.

Terms such as “beautiful”, “balanced”, “elegant”, “dynamic”, “vivid”, “witty”, “funny”, “violent”, “disturbing”, “sad”, “dull”, or “boring” are often used to describe, interpret, and evaluate artworks through the aesthetic qualities that we appreciate in them. These qualities account not only for formal aspects of works of art, but also for their descriptive, representational, and expressive content, and explain, at least in part, how and why we find them valuable, or not. Thereby, beyond discussing the role that they might play in art definition, a more urgent question now addresses the possible contribution of aesthetic qualities to the understanding and appreciation of artworks. Hence, in order to answer the question, the nature and critical relevance of aesthetic qualities must be examined as well as the conception of the experience in which they are sustained.

That is the central aim of our project and, from here, other research lines open in relation to aesthetic experience and the normative possibilities of aesthetic judgement. Questions of this sort have become relevant in recent aesthetics concerning not just art but also aesthetics of nature, design, or the everyday.

Our project will not ignore this expansion provided by contemporary debates yet we will pay special attention to the artworld, where much skepticism still remains. We are aware that to contest it, new and broader non-formalist views of the aesthetic as well as of perception are necessary. They should contemplate the relationships between perception and other imaginative, affective and cognitive faculties, offering an account capable also of coping with the historical and cultural aspects that constitute the richness and complexity of aesthetic experience and perception.

By following these lines, our research hopes to contribute to one of the most important debates in contemporary aesthetics, located at the very center of the discipline, and with implications for art criticism.

The Project is financed by Comunidad Autónoma de la Región de Murcia through the funding projects for the development of scientific and technical research by competitive groups, included in the Programa Regional de Fomento de la Investigación (Plan de Actuación 2019) of the Fundación Séneca, Agencia de Ciencia y Tecnología de la Región de Murcia.