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«Aesthetic and Artistic, Two Separate Concepts: The Dangers of 'Aesthetic Education'· David Best Introduction It is very surprising that there is ...»

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Aesthetic judgements may be made about almost anything. Hence a practical danger of the conflation is that it could be seen as legitimising a reduction, or even the elimination, of arts teaching in schools. 'Aesthetic education,' regarded (unintelligibly) as the development of a general faculty, including the arts, could be achieved by taking children on nature-walks, watching sunsets, etc., without the unnecessary expense of arts resources and teachers. That this is no

Abstract

danger is shown by the examples in Primary schools cited by Rod Taylor (1993). It actually happened.

A further consideration of the distinction and relation between the aesthetic and artistic would seem to me to be of interest, and the issue would repay further thought, (to repeat, it is especially important for the art form of dance) but it is beyond the scope of this paper. For my present purposes it is sufficient to show that there are two separable concepts here, and this can be achieved by pointing out that it is possible coherently to consider, from an aesthetic point of view, a work of art of which one has no understanding. The nature of the understanding involved raises an important consequence for education, which will be considered below.

Educational Justifications With respect to education there are numerous examples of this elision of the aesthetic and the artistic, or the assumption that they are one and the same concept. Sometimes it is of no consequence that the terms are used interchangeably, or that 'aesthetic' is taken to be the generic term. But sometimes, as a consequence, justifications for the arts are assumed to apply equally to activities which are, or which are claimed to be, of primarily aesthetic interest. For instance, such a confusion is very common in the literature on physical education. Examples can be seen in Lowe (1976), while Anthony (1968) and Reid (1970) quote others. Often the arguments which incorporate this elision purport to offer an educational justification for physical education. It is assumed that there is no doubt about the educational credentials of the arts. (Some of us who, in the present hostile economic and educational climate, know what an uphill struggle it is to convince sceptics imbued with the prevailing materialism and scientism, of the profound human value of the arts, might be permitted a wry smile at such bland optimism - but that is by the way.) That is, the arts are taken to be unquestionably respectable educationally, and it is thought that, by showing the aesthetic value of physical education activities, it can be shown ipso facto that they have the same educational respectability. A classic case is a paper by Carlisle (1969), significantly entitled "The Concept of Physical Education."

Carlisle argues that the 'unifying concept' of physical education is the aesthetic, appearing to assume that, if his case is sound, the educational credentials of physical education are as assured as those of the arts. (There are other confusions inherent in ¢is way of thinking, which I have exposed elsewhere in Best 1978b).

To repeat, it is surprising that this distinction between the aesthetic and the artistic is so commonly overlooked. To say that a lady is beautiful is not to say that she is a work of art Nor, despite the supposed aesthetic achievements of beauty treatments, is the enterprise of trying to improve feminine appearance an art form. Yet frequently it is assumed that because terms of aesthetic appraisal are commoniy or normally applied to an object or activity that that is a good reason for regarding it as an art form. For instance, in support of her argument that sports can be classified as art, Ruth Saw (1961) writes: · Star performances in ice hockey, cricket, football, and sports generally are valued almost as much for their elegance as for their run-making or goal-getting ability... Sports commentators use the terms of aesthetic appraisal as freely as do art critics.

I consider this issue more fully in Best 1980.

Louis Arnaud Reid's definition of the artistic in terms of the aesthetic (1970) also fails for similar reasons. On his view, the artistic is that which is intentionally created or performed for aesthetic value. But there are many counter-examples of objects intentionally created for aesthetic value which are certainly not art. One of the most obvious is coloured toilet paper.

I hope it is clear that I do not in the least wish to deny that there may be value in encouraging a developing interest in and appreciation of aesthetic aspects of sporting and physical education activities. My point is that it cannot be assumed that in doing so one is developing an attitude or ability which will necessarily contribute, or even have any relevance, to one's understanding and appreciation of the arts.

Beauty Some years ago a letter was written to a journal objecting to a paper in which I had argued for the objectivity of artistic appreciation. The author objected that my argument was a straw man, since, he insisted, the real issue, which has for centuries been the principal quest of philosophy of the arts, concerns such explicitly evaluative judgements as "This is a beautiful painting."

He was right that this has been the traditional quest of the philosopher, but that quest is thoroughly misconceived. It is the persistent conflation of the aesthetic and the artistic which is the straw man: the traditional assumption that beauty (or, worse, Beauty) is the central issue is integral to it. Despite this still-prevalent assumption (perhaps especially in continental Europe), questions of beauty are usually irrelevant to artistic appreciation. Imagine going to music concerts, plays, art-exhibitions, etc., with someone who says he appreciates these arts, yet who, when asked for his opinion of a work, always replies: "It is (or is not) beautiful," or some similar comment. We ask his opinion of Shakespeare's King Lear and Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and again he replies: "They are beautifuL" If this were the only kind of response he made, that would constitute good grounds for believing that he lacked the ability for artistic appreciation. One would be bewildered, for example, if following a powerful production of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure one were to be asked whether the play was beautiful. That may be an intelligible question about some works of art, for instance ballet, but for many it would make little or no sense. Even those with a high artistic regard for Francis Bacon's works are unlikely to regard them as beautiful. Indeed, many artists would, justifiably, regard it as insulting to have their work discussed in terms of beauty. It has been scathingly said that beauty is what the bourgeoisie pays the artist for.





Artistic appreciation is rather revealed in the ability, for instance, to discuss, recognise, and propose valid and perceptive interpretations, and to give reasons for what one values in a work.

In many cases aesthetic judgements may amount simply to individual preference or subjective taste, as, for instance, in the choice of ice cream, house-decorations, etc. These may involve little or no rational or cognitive content. In other cases, such as gymnastics and other sports, valid aesthetic judgements certainly do require relevant understanding. Yet since aesthetic judgements can often be plausibly regarded as expressions of mere subjective preference, to fail to distinguish the aesthetic and the artistic may be to connive in the perniciously prevalent misconception that artistic appreciation is also a matter of mere non-rational, subjective taste or preference, or that artistic values are merely a matter of individual psychology.

Thus, the failure to recognise the importance of the distinction between the aesthetic and the artistic may contribute largely to the b:'ivialisation of the potential educational value of the arts.

Aesthetic Attitude continued Even if, on the basis of the foregoing discussion, we now resbict our considerations to the aesthetic, properly so-called, the notion of a general attitude or faculty is still misleading. It cannot be assumed a priori that the development of an increasing aesthetic appreciation, for instance of sunsets, mountain ranges and b:'ees, will necessarily increase one's ability to appreciate the aesthetic quality of the movements of a pole-vaulter or cricketer. To mention briefly just one important aspect of this issue, in order fully to appreciate the aesthetic aspects of an activity one frequently needs to have an understanding of it. One can intelligibly appraise the aesthetic quality of a movement only in terms of a context, although it may be implicit. For example, a movement which may be graceful in a ballet may be grotesque as part of a service· action in tennis. (This issue is more fully considered elsewhere: Best 1978a: 110-112.) And one can fully appreciate the elegance of a cover drive only if one knows something about cricket. Thus, at least in many cases, aesthetic quality is particular to a particular kind of activity, and may be recognisable or fully appreciated only by someone with some knowledge of it.

Of course this is not to deny that the development of the ability for aesthetic appreciation may in some cases apply to more than one kind of activity. What the argument does reveal is that the notion of a general aes.thetic ability can be misleading, and is obviously false if it is construed as implying that the ability for aesthetic appreciation in one sphere will necessarily confer the ability for aesthetic appreciation in any other sphere - for instance, of any object or activity.

Artistic Attitude With respect to the arts, an analogous notion, i.e. of a general artistic attitude, faculty or ability, is even more absurd. Again, this is not to deny that someone may reveal the ability to create or appreciate in various art forms, or that, in particular cases, there may be a relation between one art form and another, and thus, for instance, that to develop the ability to appreciate one may help in the appreciation of another. What I am denying is that such a relation can be assumed between any and all art forms.

Some years ago I was invited to lecture at a college where I was asked to provide my student audience with general aesthetic criteria which they could. apply across the board of the arts, as it were, i.e. to such diverse activities as dance, drama, music and the visual arts. There was some dismay at my showing that the desire for such general criteria is fundamentally misconceived. Purported general criteria, such as unity, which were, and still are in some quarters, seized upon with relief as satisfying the seductive craving for a cross-artistic yardstick, can be seen to be of little value. For in some works of art precisely what is required is disunity. Virginia Woolf

expresses the point in this way:

The mind receives a myriad impressions.... Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.... Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they falL let us trace the pattern however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness {quoted in James 1966).

It is this possibility of the arts which will almost always, and in my view admirably, frustrate attempts to draw up definitions and general criteria. For the artist's intention may be to express in his/her work a conception which contradicts any such proposed definition or general criterion. He may want to show that there are aspects of human experience which do not conform to it.

The classic. well-tried move, by those attempting to defend the indefensible, may follow, in order to defend the notion of a general criterion against such counter-examples. It may be said that even in disunity there is unity, in a certain sense. But the price of such a defence is high, since the criterion has been rendered vacuous. That is, to put the point perversely, the claim may certainly now be regarded as 'valid,' but only at the cost of vacuity, since the re-defining of 'unity' in order to save the universal application of the criterion has removed the distinction betvveen 'unity' and 'disunity'.



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