The criticism of sculpture
SYNOPSIS CHAPTERS I and II These chapters deal with some of the problems involved in the definition of sculpture, and with the so-called 'essence” and the ontological status of aesthetic objects in general and of sculpture in particular. Had there been a little less ground to cover it have been convenient to place all this introductory material in a single chapter: as it is, the unwieldiness is somewhat reduced by dividing the matter roughly between the questions (Chapter I)’How should we use...[Show more] the word "sculpture"?' and (Chapter II ‘Are Sculptures objects of such a nature that some kinds of criticism are necessarily and evidently inept or misdirected since they either do not presuppose that nature or do presuppose some other nature?' It is argued that sculptures form a Wittgensteinian ‘family’; that the concept of sculpture is open to the future, the question what is the ontological status of a work of sculpture is a bogus one. In particular, the essentialist ontology of an idealist such as Collingwood is rejected; and it is maintained that it is not replaceable by any simple Materialist ontology since the word ‘sculpture’is properly used of - at least - the following kinds of thing: material objects; types of which material objects may be regarded as tokens; objects not only simpliciter but as seen in relation to a cultural and historical context; and of the movements of material objects and of their temporal changes, as in the cases of the mobile and of ‘auto-destructive' art. There is much here that is too philosophically fundamental to argue ab initio, and must be taken rather as a declaration of the general standpoint adopted than as a systematic defence of presuppositions which, whether entirely valid or not, are both familiar and respectable. CHAPTER III Turning from aesthetic objects to their appraisal, it is suggested that there is a kind of remark - an aesthetic remark – which exercises the aesthetic sensibility of a critic who has adopted an aesthetic attitude to an appropriate object. These ideas are evidently connected, but may be elucidated piecemeal: the aesthetic remark is not foundational to later argument, but is merely the first to receive attention. It is held that although there are conspicuous aesthetic terms (graceful, elegant, etc.) which are almost invariably used to make aesthetic remarks, this is not a necessary state of affairs. Aesthetic remarks may be made without employing any explicitly aesthetic terms, and it is at any rate not logically impossible to use 'aesthetic' terms for other than aesthetic purposes. Aesthetic remarks, it is maintained, are such that necessary and sufficient conditions for their correct application cannot be specified. It is incidentally pointed out that Frank Sibley, the author of one of the most illuminating recent papers on this topic, errs in making this claim for aesthetic terms instead of for aesthetic remarks. The use of such aesthetic terms as 'pretty' and ‘gaudy’ is ordinarily taught through ostended paradigms; for which reason, in a culturally homogeneous society, it often seems that there is a well established correct use in spite of the freedom from the regimen of necessary and sufficient conditions. For this reason, it is argued, a study of explicitly aesthetic terms does not greatly help us to grasp what is peculiarly aesthetic about aesthetic remarks; since they share their application-condition freedom with certain other kinds of term, and moreover their firm anchorage in paradigms during the learning process makes for relatively easy agreement about their use. What is peculiarly aesthetic about aesthetic remarks, it is suggested, is their function of drawing attention to some aspect or feature of an object of sense-perception to which only an aesthetically sensitive person would, in the context, respond. This may well be a commonplace, natural feature of the object, the mere discrimination of which calls for no special sensitivity, although the choice of this feature for remark rather than another is, under the circumstances, a demonstration of aesthetic sensibility. CHAPTER IV An attempt is made to survey the much disputed boundaries between the domain of the aesthetic, the moral, the economic, etc. Traditional attempts to find a sharp criterion of demarcation are particularly those which rely upon a special quasi-physiological mode of 'aesthetic' perception. This notion is related to of 'aesthetic disinterestedness' deriving from Kant,and to the logically independent idea of the 'innocent eye' by means of which Ruskin introduced a Berkeleyan strand to twine with the Kantian into the the thread of recent aesthetic theory in which an introspectively discerned aesthetic response is postulated. Clive Bell’s theory of the 'aesthetic emotion'is taken as typical, and is subjected to an assault which makes use of arguments derived from Wittgenstein’s rejection of private languages. It is suggested that there is, in the nature of things, no simple or conclusive way of distinguishing aesthetic remarks from others, but that marginal cases must be argued on their merits. In defence of this view a paradigmatic situation is set up, in which a professional art critic makes an exemplary aesthetic remark about a universally acknowledged work of sculpture in an appropriate place and upon a suitable occasion. The main elements of this total situation are then severally varied in such a way as to become unparadigmatic or even contra-paradigmatic, while the remaining bulk of the considerations remain unchanged. The question whether, in each case the words uttered constitute an aesthetic remark in the new situation is then seen to be arguable in different ways according to the set of the circumstances, and to resist general solution a priori. It is a corollary of the indeterminate character of aesthetic concepts that they are to some extent historically mutable. CHAPTER V The traditional view of so-called 'judgments of aesthetic value’, it is claimed, is that they attribute a single homogenous property or character - aesthetic excellence - to suitable objects. This view is challenged, it being argued that the notion of aesthetic excellence is not - to use a mathematical analogy - linear but multidimensional: that whatever may be attributed to an object which is judged to be 'consummate' is not simply and literally somewhat more or less of what is attributed to it when it is said to be 'marvellous’ or ‘negligible’ or 'superb'. Hare's view that '.it is the purpose of the word ‘good’ and other value words to be used for teaching standards' as much as he maintains (but, I think, need not maintained) that it would be inconsistent ' to apply the word "good" to one picture if I refuse to apply it to another picture which I agree to be in all other respects exactly similar. The honorific im aesthetic originality, at least, it is argued, shows to be inadequate. Verdicts, it is claimed, are a peculiar variety of remark which is marked off imprecisely from the general appropriateness of giving reasons in terms of other aesthetic remarks as well as in terms of the natural features of the object. They are also essentially partisan, and the notions of the pro and the con attitude as expressed in verdicts is examined, together in each case with the triple possibility that a verdict might be genetic, open or consequential. Examples are offered and discussed. The purposes of verdicts - as contrasted with the reasons given in support of them - are held to be (at least) threefold. They are discussed under the rubrics of the performative theory, the emotive theory and the predictive theory; and these are held not to be competitive but rather collaborative accounts of the practice of sensitive critics. Performative verdicts receive special remark since they do not depend upon the giving of reasons but upon the autority of the critic - although reasons will often be found for them. It is a consequence of the performative element in criticism that new and seemingly arbitrary material is introduced into cultural history at its growing point. CHAPTER VI The need for an adequate philosophical theory of perception with which to attack the longstanding problem of the difference (if any) between the principles of criticism in painting and in sculpture, is stressed. Since an account of visual perception which admits no intermediate entities such as 'sensa' or 'sense-data' between the perceiver and the object perceived is to be recommended, one such theory is taken as a starting point. D.M. Armstrong's identification of "vertical perception' with the acquiring of up-to-the-moment true belief about the world, as proposed in his book Perception and the Physical World is criticized in relation to a single specific problem: that of the acquisition of true beliefs about the colours of things in the world. It is argued that there are three and only three logically distinct ways of selecting a sample to match a seen colour: direct matching (as with cottons or silks), which should strictly be regarded as measuring; matching at a distance (which cannot in general be done with very great accuracy, and which at best demonstrates the acquisition, on sight, of an approximately true belief)and illusionistic picture-matching, which can be carried out to any required degree of accuracy by a normally sighted person and which, moreover, makes sense of the accounts we give, and criticize, of the colour of such nebulous objects as the sky, shadows, smoke and so on. CHAPTER VII The leading ideas of the previous chapter are developed and especially the notion that to see rightly is not necessarily to enjoy the 'veridical perception' of a viewer who is able to give correct object accounts of what he sees but is equally and indeed rather to be able to give, on sight (and from a given position) accetpable facsimile, model or picture accounts of what is seen. The notion of the acceptability (of picture accounts in particular)is examined in the light of Gombrich's theory of the development of naturalistic painting. The thesis is developed that we ordinarily, and moreover quite properly, give picture, model and facsimile accounts as well as object accounts of what we see, and that there are appropriate criteria for the truth or accuracy of an account of any of these these types. Since they are accounts of the object that is seen, there is no evident reason why any or all of such accounts should not appear at some point in the critical appraisal of a visible object. CHAPTER VIII The application of these considerations to the particular problem of sculpture is exhibited through a discussion, first, first of a pair of competing theories - both of which are seen to be in some ways false and at best only capable of dealing partially with the facts. These theories may, for convenience in reference, be spoken of as 'Hildebrand's theory' of the essentially pictorial character of sculpture, and 'Read's theory' of the essentially spatial character of sculpture. The disputants are seen to share a common error involving the postulated two-dimensionality of the objects of visual perception, which is rectified by the adoption of a theory of direct perception. If, in addition, the conceptual apparatus of picture, facsimile accounts is adopted, it becomes evident that the stipulation of any one type of account in terms of which aesthetic appraisal is to be conducted is perfectly arbitrary. The dispuants are not really arguing, as they suppose themselves to be, but merely legislating and counter-legislating. Finally, the two aspects of the whole inquiry, the general and the specific, are brought together in the analysis of a paradigmatic passage of aesthetic appraisal of sculpture to which all the central ideas of the thesis are seen to have clear application.
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