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Aesthetic preferences are aesthetic judgements arrived at by people on the basis of a number of factors.
What is an aesthetic judgment?[edit | edit source]
Judgments of aesthetic value clearly rely on our ability to discriminate at a sensory level. Aesthetics examines what makes something beautiful, sublime, disgusting, fun, cute, silly, entertaining, pretentious, discordant, harmonious, boring, humorous, or tragic. A wine-drinker with an unrefined palate may miss much of the subtlety of a fine vintage.
Aesthetic judgments usually go beyond sensory discrimination. For David Hume, delicacy of taste is not merely "the ability to detect all the ingredients in a composition" but also our sensibility "to pains as well as pleasures, which escape the rest of mankind." Thus, the sensory discrimination is linked to capacity to pleasure. For Immanuel Kant "enjoyment" is the result when pleasure arises from sensation, but judging something to be "beautiful" has a third requirement: sensation must give rise to pleasure by engaging our capacities of reflective contemplation. Judgments of beauty are sensory, emotional, and intellectual all at once.
What factors go into an aesthetic judgment?[edit | edit source]
Judgments of aesthetic value seem to often involve many other kinds of issues as well. Responses such as disgust show that sensory detection is linked in instinctual ways to facial expressions, and even behaviors like the gag reflex. Yet disgust can often be a learned or cultural issue too; as Darwin pointed out, seeing a stripe of soup in a man's beard is disgusting even though soup is not itself disgusting. Aesthetic judgments may be linked to emotions or, like emotions, partially embodied in our physical reactions. Seeing a sublime view of a landscape may give us a reaction of awe, which might manifest physically as an increased heart rate or widened eyes. These subconscious reactions may even be partly constitutive of what makes our judgment a judgment that the landscape is sublime.
Likewise, aesthetic judgments may be culturally conditioned to some extent. Victorians in Britain often saw African sculpture as ugly, but just a few decades later, Edwardian audiences saw the same sculptures as being beautiful. Evaluations of beauty may well be linked to desirability, perhaps even to sexual desirability. Thus, judgments of aesthetic value can become linked to judgments of economic, political, or moral value. We might judge a Lamborghini to be beautiful partly because it is desirable as a status symbol, or we might judge it to be repulsive partly because it signifies for us over-consumption of gasoline and offends our political or moral values.
Aesthetic judgments can often be very fine-grained and internally contradictory. Likewise aesthetic judgments seem to often be at least partly intellectual and interpretative. It is what a thing means or symbolizes for us that is often what we are judging. Modern aestheticians have asserted that will and desire were almost dormant in aesthetic experience yet preference and choice have seemed important aesthetics to some 20th century thinkers. Thus aesthetic judgments might be seen to be based on the senses, emotions, intellectual opinions, will, desires, culture, preferences, values, subconscious behavior, conscious decision, training, instinct, sociological institutions, or some complex combination of these, depending on exactly which theory one employs.
Are different art forms beautiful, disgusting, or boring in the same way?[edit | edit source]
A third major topic in the study of aesthetic judgment is how they are unified across art forms. We can call a person, a house, a symphony, a fragrance, and a mathematical proof beautiful. What characteristics do they share which give them that status? What possible feature could a proof and a fragrance both share in virtue of which they both count as beautiful? What makes a painting beautiful may be quite different from what makes music beautiful, which suggests that each art form has its own system for the judgement of aesthetics.
Or, perhaps the identification of beauty is a conditioned response, built into a culture or context. Is there some underlying unity to aesthetic judgment and is there some way to articulate the similarities of a beautiful house, beautiful proof, and beautiful sunset? Likewise there has been long debate on how perception of beauty in the natural world, especially including perceiving the human form as beautiful, is supposed to relate to perceiving beauty in art or artifacts.
See also[edit | edit source]
References & Bibliography[edit | edit source]
- David Hume, "Of the Standard of Taste". In David Hume: Essays Moral Political and Literary. Indianapolis, Literary Classics 5, 1987.
- Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment.
- Arthur Danto, The Abuse of Beauty, p. 35.
- Korsmeyer, Carolyn ed. Aesthetics: The Big Questions 1998
- Konrad Lorenz, "Part and Parcel in Animal and Human Societies". in Studies in animal and human behavior, vol. 2. pp. 115-195. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1971 (originally pub. 1950.)
- The point is already made by Hume, but see Mary Mothersill, "Beauty and the Critic’s Judgment", in The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics, 2004.
- Consider Clement Greenberg’s arguments in "On Modernist Painting" (1961), reprinted in Aesthetics: A Reader in Philosophy of Arts.
- This goes back at least to Kant, with some echoes even in St. Bonaventure.