Whatever Happened to Aesthetic Experience?


WINDSOR Mark Richard

Year of publication 2022
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
Description Recently, there has been a surge of work done on aesthetic normativity, much of it seeking to challenge aesthetic hedonism: the view that aesthetic value is fully grounded in pleasurable experiences of a certain kind (see Van der Berg 2020). However, the debate about the viability of aesthetic hedonism has focussed on specialised artistic (broadly construed) practices, and this has created a blind spot in recent theorising about aesthetic normativity: the realm of everyday aesthetic experiences (see Saito 2007; Irvin 2008a, 2008b). In developing his ‘network theory’ of aesthetic value, Dominic Lopes enjoins us to ‘remedy outlier bias’ by sampling ‘widely and generously’ (2018: 16). Yet all Lopes’s samples are experts involved in some specialised artistic practice. The performance-based account that results is ill-suited to explaining the most basic, yet nonetheless important, aesthetic values that we all track: the intense azure of a sky on a hot day, the heady scent after it rains, the tickling of a bug crawling on one’s arm. The value of performing an act well fails to capture the normative pull of such experiences. Surely, it is the felt quality of the experience itself that draws me, not whatever achievement I attain in having it. Taking practices in specialised artistic domains as the initial data is, to borrow a metaphor used by Bence Nanay (2013), like trying to understand a cake by examining its icing. Once we get our priorities straight by holding aesthetic theory accountable first and foremost to everyday aesthetic experiences, it transpires that the objections against aesthetic hedonism lose their bite. Problems pertaining to fungibility of experience, negative emotion, overvaluation, underarticulation of value, reasons for pursing aesthetic goods, and the true judges model of securing a critical standard (Van der Berg 2020) either do not apply or become less pressing in the realm of everyday aesthetics. Consider the problems pertaining to true judges (Kieran 2008; Riggle 2015; Lopes 2018). First, the need to secure a critical standard of everyday aesthetic experiences is less acute than it is of art works; second, it is not apparent that the capacities required for everyday aesthetic experiences involve domain-specific expertise. Priorities in line, it appears it may be wrong-footed to expect an aesthetic theory to do the work of explaining the values of art: the icing might turn out to have different normative ingredients to the sponge.
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