Can an ordinary viewer ever experience art---particularly politically charged, socially relevant art--in a neutral, detached, and objective way? The familiar philosophical notion of disinterestedness has its roots in eighteenth-century theories of taste and was refined throughout the twentieth century. In contrast, many contemporary theorists have argued for what I call an "interested approach" in order to expand beyond the traditional emphasis on neutrality and universality. Each group, in effect, has argued for the value of a work of art by excluding the other's approach. This essay will consider the legacy of the concept of disinterestedness for contemporary aesthetic theory in light of challenges posed by postmodern skepticism regarding the possibility of disinterestedness, and by the difficulties involved in appreciating political art with a disinterested attitude. My principle example of political art will be drawn from feminist art--the extraordinary and controversial performance art of the French artist, ORLAN.
Unlike traditional philosophers, I will advocate that an interested stance toward art is, at times, inevitable and appropriate. I will also argue not only that feminist art--and by extension political art of all kinds--can be experienced disinterestedly, but that it should be. As a position inconsistent with both traditionalists and feminist critics of tradition, my recommendation of both disinterestedness and interestedness affords what I take to be the fullest and fairest experience of a work of art.