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Brand, Peg Zeglin, , . Beauty as Pride: A Function of Agency’
2011, APA Newsletter 10(2): 5-9.
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Added by: Hans Maes, Contributed by:

Abstract: This is basically a paper about artistic evaluation and how multiple interpretations can give rise to inconsistent and conflicting meanings. Images like Joel-Peter Witkin’s First Casting for Milo (2004) challenge the viewer to look closely, understand the formal properties at work, and then extract a meaning that ultimately asks, Is the model exploited or empowered? Is Karen Duffy, pictured here, vulnerable and “enfreaked” or is she potentially subversive, transgressive, and perhaps self-empowered? I will offer an argument in agreement with artist/author/ performer Ann Millett-Gallant that favors the latter interpretation, but will augment and complicate the issue by also introducing a pointed question or two taken from a recent analysis by Cynthia Freeland on objectification. I judge the works by photographer Joel-Peter Witkin to be representations of disabled persons who are empowered through agency and pride, but I also worry about the risk of multiple, conflicting interpretations on the part of viewers who do not, or cannot, entertain such enlightened readings. Like second wave feminist views about pornography that depicted women in demeaning ways, or feminist critiques of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party , Witkin’s photos can be judged as potentially offensive. But they are also objects of beauty – both in terms of aesthetic properties (they are magnificent studies in black and white, shadows, the human body, with many classical references) and because of the feeling of beauty and pride felt by the posers, who become performers of their own beauty and pride. I argue that beauty trumps offensiveness. Pride wins. But I’m not sure that everyone will agree.

Comment: Questions the ideal standard of beauty portrayed throughout the history of art, particularly in form of the female nude, and examines works of art that defiantly challenge that ideal. Argues that in certain representations of disabled persons the model is empowered and not exploited and that beauty trumps offensiveness. Pride wins.

Artworks to use with this text:

Joel-Peter Witkin, First Casting for Milo (2004)

Portrait of Irish artist Karen Duffy engaged in a silent performance of 'disarming' Venus. In her own words, she is aiming to 'liberate herself from histories of oppressive representations of women and disabled women in particular.'

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Dehejia, Harsha V., , Makarand Paranjape (eds.). Saundarya: The Perception and Practice of Beauty in India.
2003, Samvad India Foundation.
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Publisher’s Note: A peculiar feature of the classical aesthetic thought in India has been the emphasis on the art experience as a special state of being, defined not so much by saundarya or beauty as by ananda or beatitude. Yet, saundarya has been a crucial ingredient in the aesthetic experience, prevalent not only in traditional art objects but also in articles of daily life. The discourse of saundarya, as distinct from its experience, was however conducted by or on behalf of the cultivated aesthete and was carried out within the ambit of classical thought. In contrast, modernity, understood not merely as modernisation but as a departure from traditional modes of thinking and behavior, has opened new vistas of human experience and creativity, some of them in total opposition to traditional aesthetic norms. But even as modernity opens new discourses and initiates fresh debates on saundarya, we are reminded that the experience of beauty is a primal need, not easily overcome or substituted by another Can a renewed quest for an understanding the perception and practice of saundarya in India ensure that it is not relegated to the status of an archaic relic or curio, but restored as one of the bindus or foci of our lives?This volume, perhaps the first of its kind, is a unique contribution to the history of Indian aesthetic analysis. Its eminent contributors, ranging from aestheticians, linguistics, philosophers, historians, literary critics, art collectors, curators, performing artists, painters, and musicians of the highest calibre, are drawn from across three continents and diverse countries. Profusely illustrated, this visual and textual treat on the craft and culture of beauty in India, promises to be a collector’s item.

Comment: Wide-ranging volume on the concept of beauty (saundarya) in both traditional and modern Indian aesthetics. Includes essays on the ontology, expression, politics, and embodiment of beauty. This text is appropriate for a focused course or module on Indian or Asian aesthetics in which the students have some introduction to Indian philosophy and art.

Related reading:

  • K. Krishnamoorthy, Indian Theories of Beauty. Bangalore: Indian Institute of World Culture, 1981 (Transaction No. 53).
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Man, Eva Kit Wah, , . Female bodily aesthetics, politics, and feminine ideals of beauty in China
2000, In Beauty Matters, Peg Zeglin Brand (ed.), Indiana University Press, p169-196.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Abstract: A long and scholarly piece by Eva Kitt Wah Man covers the history of Chinese conventions governing female ‘beauty’ from Confucius through Maoism to the present day. Classical manuals provide highly specific requirements forc ourtesans and concubines. The shrunken, pulpy appendages produced by foot-binding practiceswere regarded as the most sexually stimulating features of the female body. In 1949, following the inauguration of the Communist regime, women were expected to shun ornament and make-up, to have short hair, wear party uniforms, and to look as much like men as possible. The ideal for the contemporary Chinese woman is quite a lot like the ideal for the courtesan of tradition, but the de-tails are drawn from western fashion magazines. Wah believes that such liberation, although it has its advantages, is mainly nominal and fosters confusion. She writes: ‘Although Chinese women today are developing new self-confidence, they do not seem to be aware of the fact that one can be-come a slave of the fashion industry, which merely repeats the bodily constraints of past times in a new form’ (p. 194). [review by Mary Mothersill, 2001 – Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59 (2):211-214.] Feminist Review volume 75, pages145-147, 2003)

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Saw, Ruth, , . What Is a “Work of Art”?
1961, Philosophy, 36: 18–29.
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Abstract: This examination of the concept “work of art” has been prompted by the desire to find a starting point for aesthetic inquiry which, to begin with at any rate, will arouse no dispute. A claim for general agreement such as Clive Bell’s: “The starting point for all systems of aesthetics must be the personal experience of a pecular emotion”, is countered by I. A. Richards’s “the phantom aesthetic state”, and any attempt to claim “beauty” as the central concept is straightway confused by the varied contexts in which “beauty” and “beautiful” may function. We hear much more often of a beautiful stroke in cricket than in painting, and many of our moral judgments have an aesthetic flavour. An action may be bold, dashing, mean, underhanded, unimaginative, cringing, fine, as well as right or wrong. Aesthetic adjectives and adverbs may occur in any context, and part of our job is to separate out the various uses and establish their inter-relationships.

Comment: The text is written in an approachable and somewhat digressive narrative, which makes it a pleasant read, but might require the lecturer to provide the students with some reading guidance. The classificatory account proposed by Saw is rather general – discussing it might be instructive in helping the students understand what sort of conditions are likely to be successful in a definition. The claim which can inspire most class discussion concerns the distinction between the qualities of works which make them art in the classificatory sense, from the qualities which are subject of appraisal.

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Silvers, Anita, , . From the Crooked Timber of Humanity, Beautiful Things Can Be Made
2000, in: Brand, Peg Zeglin (ed.), Beauty Matters, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 197-221.
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Added by: Hans Maes, Contributed by:

Summary: Starting from our appreciation of cubist portraits, asks why it to commonplace for us to contemplate distorted depictions of faces with eagerness and enjoyment but to be repelled by real people whose physiognomies resemble the depicted ones. Argues that the aesthetic process that permits our attraction to portrayed human anomalies can be expanded so as to offset the devalued social positioning of real people whose physiognomic features are anomalous. Presenting an anomaly as originality rather than deviance is crucial.

Comment: Useful in discussing portraiture and depiction, beauty, as well as the links between aesthetics and ethics.

Artworks to use with this text:

Pablo Picasso, Maya with a Doll (1938)

Cubist portrait of a child. Silvers interestingly compares this to a photo of a child with osteogenesis imperfecta.

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Silvers, Anita, , . From the Crooked Timber of Humanity, Beautiful Things Should Be Made!
2011, APA Newsletter, 10(2): 1-5.
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Added by: Hans Maes, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Summary: Follow-up essay on her ‘From the Crooked Timber of Humanity, Beautiful Things Can Be Made’ (note the one-word difference in the title). Adds the idea that medical professionals have at least a mild duty to cultivate aesthetic judgment of individuals with biological differences. Also makes the case that beauty is not the same thing as attractiveness or normalcy.

Comment: Useful in discussing portraiture and depiction, beauty, as well as the links between aesthetics and ethics.

Artworks to use with this text:

Riva Lehrer, Susan Nussbaum (1998)

This portrait of disability activist Nussbaum invokes Picasso's famous portrait of Gertrude Stein (1906). It is discussed in Garland-Thomson.

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Thompson, Janna, , . Aesthetics and the Value of Nature
1995, Environmental Ethics, 17 (3): 291-305.
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Abstract: Like many environmental philosophers, I find the idea that the beauty of wildernesses makes them valuable in their own right and gives us a moral duty to preserve and protect them to be attractive. However, this appeal to aesthetic value encounters a number of serious problems. I argue that these problems can best be met and overcome by recognizing that the appreciation of natural environments and the appreciation of great works of arts are activities more similar than many people have supposed.

Comment: This text provides a clear introduction to the question of environmental beauty and value. Thompson surveys aesthetic theories of environmental value as they provide reasons for environmental protection. She also provides a number of useful comparisons between art criticism and the appreciation of nature/the value of art and the value of nature. This text would fit well in an introductory course on art, beauty, environmental ethics, or value theory.

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Toshihiko Izutsu, , Toyo Izutsu. The Theory of Beauty in the Classical Aesthetics of Japan
1981, The Hague: Martibus Nijhoff Publishers.
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Publisher’s Note: The Japanese sense of beauty as actualized in innumerable works of art, both linguistic and non-linguistic, has often been spoken of as something strange to, and remote from, the Western taste. It is, in fact, so radically different from what in the West is ordinarily associated with aesthetic experience that it even tends to give an impression of being mysterious, enigmatic or esoteric. This state of affairs comes from the fact that there is a peculiar kind of metaphysics, based on a realization of the simultaneous semantic articulation of consciousness and the external reality, dominating the whole functional domain of the Japanese sense of beauty, without an understanding of which the so-called ‘mystery’ of Japanese aesthetics would remain incomprehensible. The present work primarily purports to clarify the keynotes of the artistic experiences that are typical of Japanese culture, in terms of a special philosophical structure underlying them. It consists of two main parts: (1) Preliminary Essays, in which the major philosophical ideas relating to beauty will be given a theoretical elucidation, and (2) a selection of Classical Texts representative of Japanese aesthetics in widely divergent fields of linguistic and extra-linguistic art such as the theories of waka-poetry, Noh play, the art of tea, and haiku. The second part is related to the first by way of a concrete illustration, providing as it does philological materials on which are based the philosophical considerations of the first part.

Comment: The authors clarify key aspects of what they consider to be the Japanese sense of beauty and artistic experience in terms of their philosophical structures. The first part of the book theorizes the major philosophical ideas related to beauty, while the second part is an illustration of these ideas by way of representative Japanese arts, including waka-poetry, n? drama, the art of tea, and haiku. This text provides a sophisticated overview of beauty in the classical Japanese aesthetics. It is accessible to readers without familiarity in aesthetics or Japanese philosophy, however it would be optimal for readers to have introductory knowledge in these areas.

Related reading:

  • Dōgen, Sanshōdōei. In Steven Heine, Japanese Poetry and Aesthetics in Dogen Zen. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1989.
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Yoshida Kenkō, , . Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō
1998, Columbia University Press.
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Publisher’s Note: Despite the turbulent times in which he lived, the Buddhist priest Kenkō met the world with a measured eye. As Emperor Go-Daigo fended off a challenge from the usurping Hojo family, and Japan stood at the brink of a dark political era, Kenkō held fast to his Buddhist beliefs and took refuge in the pleasures of solitude. Written between 1330 and 1332, Essays in Idleness reflects the congenial priest’s thoughts on a variety of subjects. His brief writings, some no more than a few sentences long and ranging in focus from politics and ethics to nature and mythology, mark the crystallization of a distinct Japanese principle: that beauty is to be celebrated, though it will ultimately perish. Through his appreciation of the world around him and his keen understanding of historical events, Kenkō conveys the essence of Buddhist philosophy and its subtle teachings for all readers. Insisting on the uncertainty of this world, Kenkō asks that we waste no time in following the way of Buddha. In this fresh edition, Donald Keene’s critically acclaimed translation is joined by a new preface, in which Keene himself looks back at the ripples created by Kenkō’s musings, especially for modern readers.

Comment: The writings of Kenkō, a 14th century court poet turned Japanese Buddhist priest, reflecting on a wide range of ordinary and extraordinary subjects in the random style of zuihitsu (“follow the brush”) Japanese composition. His essays were highly influential on Japanese aesthetics, especially the value placed on impermanent, irregular, and imperfect beauty, and the place of understatedness in a turbulent world. This text is best accessed by a reader with a basic understanding of Japanese aesthetics and Buddhism.

Related reading:

  • Robert E. Carter The Japanese Arts and Self-Cultivation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.
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