The Value of Art
In Berys Gaut and Dominic Lopes, The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics (2001)
We begin with the basic distinction between instrumental and intrinsic value.
Some theorist (e.g., Budd) hold that art's value is intrinsic in this way: each work's value is the value of the experience it offers us (assuming the person is knowledgeable about the type of art in question). In other words, a work's value is the experience we have while interacting with it, and not any additional consequences arising from that interaction.
In brief, a work of art is pleasurable for its own sake, not for the sake of other benefits that art viewing may have.
Stecker's response: Why is this intrinsic? It's instrumental, because the value is the "end realized" by having access to it.
Two kinds of instrumental value:
Art provides an aesthetic experience.
What experience are we talking about? The overall experience of unity, complexity, and intensity that comes from attending to all the interrelations among all the elements of a successful work of art. [Kieran does not say so, but at this point he is summarizing the views of Monroe Beardsley.]
Three reasons in favor of aestheticism:
Objections to aestheticism:
All art has communicative ends. [After all, we interpret it as utterance, don't we?]
Art's special value is how it deepens our understanding by enhancing our response to the work's cognitive content. It enhances our perspective on the world. [This idea saves cognitivism from the objection that any two works whose content has the same paraphrase must be equally good. A novel by Thomas Wolfe and the film The Wizard of Oz may both carry the message "there's no place like home," but they certainly don't convey it the same way.]
Objections to cognitivism:
Final proposal: Perhaps ART has no organizing value. Perhaps some arts (that's plural!) are mainly of cognitive value, and some arts are mainly of aesthetic value. To think one type of value holds of all arts may be overly ambitious. Instrumental music is primarily of value according to aestheticism, while literature is more obviously of value according to cognitivism.
Although Kieran does not discuss this implication, we discussed his example of Renoir paintings and their "cloying sentimentality." Perhaps Kieran's judgment stems from ignorance of the POLITICAL content that some of them conveyed to their original audience. We looked at Renoir's Acrobats at the Circus Fernando, which presents working children. But this illustrates how the cognitive value of older art may evaporate, so that only those who know a great deal about the circumstances of their production and original presentation will be aware of their full cognitive-affective impact. But if cultural change reduces the cognitive accessibility of works, then there is little cognitive value in attending to older works of art.
Last updated March22, 2006