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Masuda, Takahiko, and others. Culture and aesthetic preference: comparing the attention to context of East Asians and Americans

2008, Personality and social psychology bulletin 34(9): 1260-1275.

Abstract: Prior research indicates that East Asians are more sen- sitive to contextual information than Westerners. This article explored aesthetics to examine whether cultural variations were observable in art and photography. Study 1 analyzed traditional artistic styles using archival data in representative museums. Study 2 investigated how contemporary East Asians and Westerners draw landscape pictures and take portrait photographs. Study 3 further investigated aesthetic preferences for portrait photographs. The results suggest that (a) traditional East Asian art has predominantly context-inclusive styles, whereas Western art has predominantly object- focused styles, and (b) contemporary members of East Asian and Western cultures maintain these culturally shaped aesthetic orientations. The findings can be explained by the relation among attention, cultural resources, and aesthetic preference.

Comment: This text is an excellent example of experimental aesthetics and psychology of art: it presents evidence that what seems natural or aesthetically pleasing can differ across cultures. This makes it useful in classes focusing on non-Western art or on the universality vs. relativity of taste. Since the text is focused on the psychology, it will likely be best used as a background reading alongside more philosophical works.

Tillinghast, Lauren, and . Essence and Anti-Essentialism about Art

2004, The British Journal of Aesthetics 44: 167–83.

Abstract: I argue that clarity about essence provides the tools both to isolate a distinct concept of art and to see why anti-essentialism is a plausible, though incomplete, doctrine about it. While this concept is not the only concept currently expressed by our word ‘art’, it is an interesting, and might be an important, one. One of the challenges it poses to conceptual analysis is to explain what it is to be better than being good of a thing’s kind, where this extra-goodness is neither a trivial fact nor simply a matter of being a good instance of two different kinds of thing. While anti-essentialism seems to be right about what types of analysis will not work for it, this result only deepens the question of what its proper analysis is.

Comment: This text offers a detailed analysis of anti-essentialist claims. It is quite complex and long, which makes it much more suited for Masters level teaching. For use in undergraduate classes, I recommend limiting it to the first two sections which focus on the problems of anti-essentialism. Those problems will likely be the most interesting discussion point for seminars. It will also be useful to talk about the good-guaranteeing sense of art: what is its importance and how do claims made in its context relate to existing definitions of art?