In the context of the essay, ‘escape’ will equate with a rejection of Kant’s notion of the beautiful, giving a clearer direction to the essay. Investigating the ‘beautiful’ is a difficult task, because it escapes any concrete definition, but the most substantiate knowledge we have to date comes from Kant’s ‘Critique Of Judgement’, the ideas formulated provide a foundation for others dealing with the beautiful.
Cardinal points of the Critique to develop are: the pleasure created in the harmony of faculties, whether beauty can be seen differently from the viewpoint of the laymen and that of the artist, and the level of harmony and symmetry needed in artwork to induce beauty. It is difficult to entirely escape from Kant’s notion of the beautiful, as almost all writings on the topic refer to his Critique in some manner. In terms of the viability of his ideas, some writers point criticism, but they also develop fresh lines of enquiry.
We can escape from Kant by looking at the new points raised around the subject of beauty, but analysis of their feasibility will determine how far we can either reject or move away from Kant’s established principles. Before the argument is developed it is crucial to define Kant’s notion of ‘beautiful’, this instructs that a beautiful object causes harmony in our Imagination and Understanding, once this reaches a pleasurable level, then beauty is felt. This basic premise can’t be rejected, as it is the basic principle of beauty, accepted by almost all writers save Clive Bell.
Bell rejects that beauty provokes emotions,1 but this is highly implausible in light of the overwhelmingly support given to Kant. We have concluded a basic understanding of how we judge beautiful objects, but it doesn’t help us with a definitive concept of beauty. This is the most difficult question to tackle, as beauty is something we “feel” and “can never be said”,2 setting the general flavour of all readings, surmising the impossibility of defining beauty.
The aesthetics of beauty has progressed without any burning need to clarify a definition, but some writers demand a definition, regardless of the concept’s relevancy, to return beauty to “the space of philosophy”. 3 In seeking a definition, we would escape from Kant’s notion of beauty, since his ideas would flounder if a definition was put in place. Moreover beauty already has a distinguished, albeit shaky position in philosophy, since Knight sees it as “doomed to extinction”,4 maybe awarding a definition would give it greater grounding.
If beauty persistently eludes definition, it is possible that beauty can not be granted a permanent role in the ‘space’ of philosophy, therefore will not continue in aesthetics. Leaving aside the definition of beauty, instead concentrating on what we have established, that beauty evokes pleasure when the faculties work harmoniously. We may question Kant’s universality of beauty, he attests that the pleasure derived from beautiful objects can be demanded from other people, so they share the beauty of the object..
With this as a backdrop, we can’t escape from Kant’s notion of the beautiful, as it is applicable to everyone who views art, but there is room to reject the polemical principle of universality. The obvious concern, is no one person has the same judgement, overcome by the possibility of applying our own experience to “rational imagination”. 6 Seizing the word ‘apply’ gives a correlation with Osbourne’s idea, of the “training and development” of people’s ability to judge art, this amounts to forcing our judgement on others, almost an impossibility and highly unwarranted.
Hogarth denies that we can “receive” beauty, he indicates it is something that “we take”,7 this is a more logical foresight, to cover the same ground again, we all have different perceptions of objects, therefore can’t be forced to abide by a general consensus of opinion. This begs the question: why should people be conditioned to have the same response to an art object? In reflection we should escape from Kant’s notion of universality, because it is “illiberal” and “anti-Enlightenment” to expect everyone to abide by a rounded judgement.
Noteworthy is the change of direction Osbourne’s argument takes, when he recognises nobody can be coached into an emotional response, as the individual has “autonomy of his faculties”,9 yet Caritt supports Kant’s notion of universality as there can be no “private peculiarity” affecting the viewer alone. This lack of private understanding is given weight when we consider the object has “common structural properties”,10 Narris also gives support to objects having “certain attributes”11 that elicit a universal emotional response.
To address what properties the object is imbued with to qualify it as beautiful, leads the discussion to harmony and symmetry. Kant doesn’t explicitly confirm what the art object must contain to be beautiful, but we understand that it must confer harmony in the faculties. Kant’s understanding of harmony is difficult to escape from when judging art work, as we are urged to search for “unity and proportion”12 as characteristics of a beautiful object. Even abstract art can adhere to such properties, when the artist is concerned with the “arrangement of parts” in the work.
Kovach relegates artists from aesthetic consideration, if they don’t consider their idea and thus apply unity and proportion to their work. This is absurd, as an artist is should be free to produce an ugly object, the ugly property of their art may be the objective, but removing such artists from any aesthetic consideration is unfair. Hogarth contradicts Kovach, in rebuking Kant’s insistence upon uniformity and harmony, he brings a statue in an example to show the contrasts set up in such sculpture, doesn’t detract from their pleasure. 3 Leaving the two standpoints on the uniformity of an object’s form in relation to its beauty, doubt still lingers, as we can question who gives the object the properties which induce a harmonious and pleasurable response? One answer is that there are inherent emotions we “ought”14 to experience, Puffer supposes it is the artist’s responsibility to give the “maximum of motor impulses with … balance between them” to instruct how we should respond to artwork.
Puffer’s suggestion, of the artist commanding the emotional response of spectators, assumes the artist has a special authority, or ability to know the qualities of an object that urge a universal response. 16 This can be refuted, once again arriving at the different senses people have, surely not reconcilable by the artist’s hand. Santayana continues to dissolve Puffer’s argument, stating the world is more beautiful to the artist than the layman,17 now the artist’s perception is more advanced than the laymen, so he can not be relied upon to give the object the attributes needed to create harmony of the faculties in the spectators.
If we did uphold Puffer’s notion, another problem is raised if we consider that memories influence the viewers emotions and judgement of the beautiful, because they will affect any attributes imparted by the artist to the object. Lee alludes to emotions being recalled from “past experience of aesthetic admiration”18 to the object in hand, supported by Santayna who envisages beauty in objects being drawn from the “storehouse” of the viewers mind.
Kovach develops this line of thought in establishing the positive and negative recall of images, the later is the point of interest, as it paints a “general image”19 disregarding the individual aspects of an art object, preventing the pleasurable harmony of the faculties being realised. Past experiences affecting our judgement of beauty isn’t maintained by Lee, who disregards the relevance of spectators “unfamiliarity or over-familiarity”20 to the pleasure gleamed from the art object.
Bringing Kovach’s argument to the foreground and developing negative recall further, the personality of the viewer has an affect on how an image is perceived “altering, enriching, or impoverishing”21 it, in relation to the “cognitive” and “emotional”22 build of the beholder. In this sense, Kovach’s argument can be aligned with Santayana’s claim, that the laymen has subordinate perceptive qualities to the artist. The artist can utilise his more advanced faculties towards beauty in negative recall, confirming he sees a different image to that of the laymen.
Caritt recognises this advanced faculty of the artist as “genius”, with this quality anything can appear beautiful. This in itself is troublesome, as we are told by Kant and his followers that beauty is only seen in objects that cause harmony in the faculties, if everything can be beautiful, what constitutes ugly, or are ugly objects only see by those without the advanced ‘genius’ of perceptive faculties? The differing ability of the artists and laymen allows us to escape from Kant’s notion of universality, since we have recognised there are different levels of perception.
To further the rejection of Kant’s notion of the universality of beauty, we can investigate the dulling of perceptive faculties in response to viewing an abundance of artwork. There is a “cumulative experience”,23 where the primary emotions become exhausted and less sensitive, therefore works that were once considered poor, now appear beautiful. Santayana picks up the same points, of the developing “aesthetic experience” 24 where the senses to become less sensitive, and only the best artwork can give satisfaction.
Santayana contradicts Osbourne, who sees a lower standard of art deemed beautiful as a result of the exhaustion of the senses. Regardless, both Osbourne and Santayna are united on their basic premise, this serves to reject Kant’s underlining idea of universality. Kant and other writers have given a considerable amount of attention to how we judge an object as beautiful, but we can cast aspersion over the importance of beauty when looking at an object. Beauty stems from the pleasure we gain from an art object, it doesn’t indicate our “awareness”25 of it.
Kant is content with this flaw in beauty, and instructs the viewer to remain disinterested in looking at an art object in order to fully comprehend its beauty. In pursuing beauty it is an “end rather than a means”,26 but is it a worthy end to reach? Puffer puts forward that any analysis of the object is constructed around the “mental state” of the viewer, this doesn’t seem important. Durer reflects on this aptly by attesting that the “art of painting is made for the eyes”,27 Coleridge was another advocate of seeing art and not “feeling” its beauty.
Acknowledging such sentiments serves to escape from Kant’s critique and the writings looked at, but this is a little hasty considering how well respected Kant and many psychoanalytical works are in unmasking our feelings behind viewing art. De Mann alludes to Kant’s Critique reconciling the orders of knowledge and experience, made possible through the vehicle of aesthetics that allows thought and perception to co-exist. 29 We are never going to escape Kant’s notion of the beautiful because proceeding philosophers have used is “rhetoric” to furnish their ideas, . 30 and will nevertheless continue to do so.