Dissertation, The University of Melbourne (1990)

Jennifer A. McMahon
University of Adelaide
In order to establish a rational framework within which to discuss aesthetic matters, I attempt to find grounds to support the notion that objectivity in aesthetic evaluation is possible, within the visual arts. I begin by exploring the possibility that the foundations of our aesthetic response are innate, because, if this is the case, it would indicate that aesthetic considerations have a common basis within us all, rather than belonging to a purely personal and subjective realm. In Part One, in search of foundations, I turn to the art of those who are relatively unprogrammed in our artistic conventions, in an attempt to distinguish between innate impulses and conditioned responses. Next, by looking for the motivation behind the aesthetic impulse, and what this can tell me about how the aesthetic is constituted, I consider the possibility that the aesthetic impulse is in some way linked to characteristics which aid survival. This includes studying the nature of perception, including various innate perceptual mechanisms and the part they play in the way our idea of the aesthetic is constituted, and some theories concerned with the psychological aspects involved in creativity, which link the aesthetic impulse with creativity in all fields of enquiry. In Part Two, I study examples of how discussions on aesthetic matters are conducted in our culture, to see whether there is evidence to support the notion of objectivity in aesthetic evaluation. While recognizing that it is common for aesthetic discussions to be conducted in a confused and even unintelligible manner, often using criteria actually irrelevant to aesthetic value (an example of which I provide), I seek out examples of reviews which are conducted in a rational and intelligible manner, based on relevant objective criteria. Also, by analysing the terms we use when discussing an art work, I ascertain whether these terms refer to properties in the actual art work, which we believe exist independently from the spectator, or whether these terms describe how we feel when viewing a work. In other words, I examine whether we have the concepts to support the idea that objectivity in aesthetic evaluation in the visual arts is possible.
Keywords Aesthetics  Art  Psychology
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