Emotion and aesthetic value

Abstract

Aesthetics is a normative domain. We evaluate artworks as better or worse, good or bad, great or grim. I will refer to a positive appraisal of an artwork as an aesthetic appreciation of that work, and I refer to a negative appraisal as aesthetic depreciation. (I will often drop the word “aesthetic.”) There has been considerable amount of work on what makes an artwork worthy of appreciation, and less, it seems, on the nature of appreciation itself. These two topics are related, of course, because they nature of appreciation may bear on what things are worthy of that response, or at least on what things are likely to elicit it. So I will have some things to say about the latter. But I want to focus in this discussion on appreciation itself. When we praise a work of art, when we say it has aesthetic value, what does our praise consist in? This is a question about aesthetic psychology. I am interested in what kind of mental state appreciation is. What kind of state are we expressing when we say a work of art is “good”? This question has parallels in other areas of value theory. In ethics, most notably, there has been much attention lavished on the question of what people express when they refer to an action as “morally good.” One popular class of theories, associated with the British moralists and their followers, posits a link between moral valuation and emotion. To call an act morally good is to express an emotion toward that act. I think this approach to morality is right on target (Prinz, 2007). Here I want to argue that an emotional account of aesthetic valuation is equally promising. There are important differences between the two domains, but both have an affective foundation. I suspect that valuing of all kinds involves the emotions. Here I will inquire into the role of emotions in aesthetic valuing. I will not claim that artworks express emotions or even that they necessarily evoke emotions..

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