G. Iseminger

In Stecker and Gracyk, Aesthetics Today (2010) 

This document is a summary of Iseminger. 
My personal comments are in red. 

Iseminer proposes that aesthetic communication is the central and special goal of art as it exists in the modern world. It involves a transaction between two people, artist and audience, by way of a third thing, an artwork. (Don't assume that he thinks an artwork is always a physical object.) The theory defines ART as a kind of communicative transaction, and ARTWORKS as the intended sites of transaction.

The key TRANSACTION is the artist offering an audience something for appreciation, and the audience coming to that thing, trying to appreciate it. Anyone who makes an artifact while trying to make such a thing, investing more than minimal concern for its capacity to be appreciated, has made something with an aesthetic dimension.

APPRECIATION is the key concept here.

  • First, define "state of affairs" as, minimally, a thing having a property. (A property is a feature that is possessed by more than one object in the world. "The moon is round" describes a state of affairs. "My dog smells bad" describes another.)

  • Second, define "experiencing" as  gaining knowledge directly from something. It does not  imply the necessity of sensing it -- one can experience the tension between two ideas, for example. But take the word "knowledge" seriously here: you don't "know" something if you've got it wrong, so you don't really experience art that you don't really don't understand (assuming there's some dimension that requires understanding).

  • Third, distinguish intrinsic from instrumental value. (A thing is instrumentally valuable if we value it for the way that it gets us something else, where it is the other thing that we actually value. A root canal at the dentist is of instrumental value. When we value something for its own sake, we recognize a value that is independent of instrumental value. Many things have "mixed" value, because they are valuable in both ways at the same time.)

  • Fourth, define "finding" as forming a thought about something based on one's experience of it.

 Now we can define "appreciation" as finding the experiencing of a state of affairs to be valuable in itself.

Finding something to be valuable has the additional implication that one thinks the thing is relevant to the value (it wasn't a coincidence that you had the experience that you had), and so one is willing to recommend it to others as an occasion for a finding of value, too. There is no question of being wrong about finding one's one experience to be valuable in this way. (You can be wrong to think you got positive instrumental value out of the meal of fugu fish, since it just poisoned you, but you can't be wrong about the value of the experience of the flavors.)

Be careful about what the definition of "appreciation" says! It says you do two things.
(1) You experience the state of affairs, which means that you've gained directed knowledge of the state of affairs.
(2) You find the experiencing (the activity of directly gaining the knowledge) to be valuable without concern for its instrumental value.

In order to accomplish the second thing, you must form a thought about your experiencing it.
 
Notice that if you did not understand what you were dealing with, then you might fail to have an EXPERIENCE of it, and so you cannot APPRECIATE it, even if you think you did!

Appreciation often involves pleasure, but it does not have to do so. And we can gain pleasure without appreciating the experiencing of that state of affairs.

Although nature is subject to appreciation, and while we can appreciate many non-natural things that are not art, ART is the set of things that are intended to be experienced and appreciated.

Like Beardsley's theory, intentions matter here. The gracefulness of an arm swing during a tennis serve is not an artwork on this theory, but the gracefulness of a professional figure skater is. The figure skater who falls down and spoils our experience intended to give us something to appreciate. Many individual artworks fail to succeed in their aesthetic function.

Iseminger discusses an obvious criticism. The criticism is this: the concept of experiencing is trying to cover too much ground, and ignores important differences in the various activities that he's counting as experiencing. His response: do you experience a joke's humor? If you do, then you do want to endorse a very broad notion of "experiencing."

                        Last updated Feb.15, 2011 ~ All text 2011 Theodore Gracyk