|Me at the Gaugin Museum in Tahiti|
Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Cynthia FreelandChapter 1, Section 3: Beauty and Disinterestedness
Last time, Freeland left us with this cliffhanger: Kant’s way of recognizing this [e.g. our ability to see beauty in an object] was to say that something beautiful has ‘purposiveness without a purpose.’”
In this third section of Chapter 1, she explains. We tend to assign “beauty” to an object that elicits pleasure within us rather than because of its functionality. And, we think that everyone should agree with our assessment. This is Kant’s “purposiveness.” He felt that the purpose of something was distinctly different from the pleasurable sensations it illicits, and that in order to appreciate beauty we must be disinterested in the purpose of the object.
For instance, according to Kant, my judgment of beauty in – let’s say – an apple would be contaminated if I ate the apple. I would need to limit my appreciation to viewing and maybe touching and smelling to derive pleasure, but not to the use of the apple which would be consumption.
Freeland uses a couple more examples to explain this point:
If a viewer responds to Botticelli’s “Venus” with an erotic desire, as if she is a pinup, he is actually not appreciating her for her beauty. And if someone enjoys looking at a Gauguin painting of Tahiti while fantasizing about going on vacation there, then they no longer have an aesthetic relation to its beauty.
Kant also believed that making beautiful art requires human genius: the special ability to manipulate materials so that they create harmony of faculties causing viewers to respond with distanced enjoyment.”
So, beauty is appreciated when we’re detached from (disinterested in) the purpose of an object and feel only an emotional response that satisfies our imagination and intellect.
I understand Kant’s viewpoint but don’t completely agree. I think that all the senses (including the taste of something) help us to define beauty, and that the functionality of something can be beautiful. In mathematics and science we often talk of “elegant solutions.” They are beautiful. Buckminster Fuller once said: When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.
What are your thoughts?
In the next section of Chapter 1, Freeland discusses Kant’s legacy. How did his philosophy affect society’s view of art and what artist’s produce?