Acquisition

Critical Inquiry 6 (2):291-303 (1979)
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Abstract

Material acquisition—buying, inheriting, being given—and nonmaterial—learning a word, assimilating a form—have been likened, and in both, meaningful acquisition cannot take place without a taxonomy, a scheme of categories into which the acquired element can be fitted. Then with these elements—both material and nonmaterial—we create a world or build and project a self, the painter and the interior decorator equally manipulating the elements in a vocabulary. The coarseness of such an outlook seems to bludgeon away long-established fine distinctions. We need not deny, however, that there may be a kind of "indifference" in regard to "the real existence of the thing" which allows us "to play the part of judge in matters of taste," as Kant would have it,1 we need not deny the existence of an "aesthetic attitude: it is just that such indifference and such an attitude probably don't have much to do with our day-to-day experience of artifacts and perhaps needn't. The "aesthetic attitude" was not long ago defined by Jerome Stolnitz as "disinterested and sympathetic attention to and contemplation of any object of awareness whatever, for its own sake alone."2 Stolnitz is at pains to distinguish the aesthetic attitude from "interests" with which it may be preferable to confuse it. "One of them," he writes, "is the interest in owning a work of art for the sake of pride or prestige". And again, "Another nonaesthetic interest is the 'cognitive,' i.e., the interest in gaining knowledge about an object". Both these interests sound rather acquisitive, and let us consider the "aesthetic attitude" as somehow tied in everyday practice to the bundle of "acquiring" activities. · 1. Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment, trans. James Creed Meredith, p. 43.· 2. Jerome Stolnitz, Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art Criticism, excerpted in Introductory Readings in Aesthetics, ed. John Hospers, p. 19; all further citations in text. Hiram W. Woodward, Jr. is a lecturer in the department of the history of art at the University of Michigan. He is editor of Eighty Works in the University of Michigan Museum of Art: A Handbook and coeditor of Barabudur: History and Significance of a Buddhist Monument.

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