The Virtue of Subtlety and the Vice of a Heavy Hand

British Journal of Aesthetics 57 (2):119-137 (2017)
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Subtlety is a concept as deeply intertwined with aesthetic judgements as virtually any other. But it is not clear what makes subtlety a good property of an artwork, or indeed if it is one. In this paper, I explore this under-discussed issue. First, I spend some time setting out hallmarks of subtlety and discussing different ways in which subtlety might be valuable. I then go on to defend a particular view about why subtlety is aesthetically valuable, by thinking through why heavy-handedness is aesthetically bad. In essence, subtlety is valuable because it promotes active engagement with the artwork, and heavy-handedness is bad because it forces us into too passive a role. I connect this to the role of agency and autonomy in artistic experience. Finally, I discuss some related aesthetic concepts, and expand the view of subtlety to cover borderline art forms, nature, and people themselves.



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Alex King
Simon Fraser University

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References found in this work

Moderate moralism.Noël Carroll - 1996 - British Journal of Aesthetics 36 (3):223-238.
Moderate Moralism.Noël Carroll - 1996 - British Journal of Aesthetics 36 (3):223-238.
Anything but argument?Cora Diamond - 1982 - Philosophical Investigations 5 (1):23-41.
Moral and Aesthetic Judgments Reconsidered.Daniel Came - 2012 - Journal of Value Inquiry 46 (2):159-171.

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