Representationalism and Aesthetics - Sample Essay

If one were to be provided a spectator’s view of visitors of an art museum, they would witness a microcosm of the appreciation of art in its entirety. Some observers of art might simply glance at a piece of artwork and shrug it off for its unaesthetic appearance, others might try to delve deeper into what it’s standing for. Multiple factors would possibly come into play; the audiences’ reaction, the inquisition into the artist’s original intention, and perhaps the attempt to connect the artwork to another object based off parallel resemblances. Many of these actions derive from theories that were proposed long ago.

Such philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander Baumgarten toyed with philosophical theories including representationalism and aesthetic theory. In this paper, I hope to define the outward meaning of these theories and then delve into their similarities and contrasting ideologies. Though some specific parts of these theories might be outdated now, a strong portion of the basic foundations of these ideas appear and are still relevant today. Thus, by becoming versed with these philosophies, a viewer of art can become more appreciative and be given a better view into what the artist was originally trying to convey.

Noel Carroll begins his fourth chapter on “Art and aesthetic experience” by stating that the definition of aesthetics is three-fold; “one of these is very broad; another is narrow; and a third is tendentious. ” The first explanation for aesthetics revolves around the idea that the term Aesthetics is synonymous with Philosophy of Art. Therefore, just as Carroll theorizes that our book might have been appropriately renamed Aesthetics of Art, it is just as reasonable that our entire course be aptly changed to the Aesthetics of Art.

Besides aesthetics basing itself around this interchangeability, aesthetics has also come to stand for the “receptive side of things. ” This sector of the meaning of aesthetics uses the notion that when “philosophers talk about aesthetics in the narrower sense, that frequently signals that they are interested in the audience’s portion of the interaction between artworks and readers, listeners and viewers. ” The third, and according to Carroll, final meaning of aesthetics is the “tendentious” idea that “artworks are objects whose function is to engender aesthetics experiences.

” Being that this study of art is provided philosophically, Carroll sought to restate the aesthetic theorists argument for this through a series of logical steps. Thus, by stating his original hypothesis, he was able to state that if the previous step was true, the succeeding logical statement would also be valid a result. This chain continued into finally connecting the first statement and final conclusion, ultimately echoing the main idea behind the third meaning of aesthetics, that “artists intend their works to function as sources of aesthetic experience. ” In layman’s terms, the artist creates their work to garner an aesthetic reaction.

Therefore, it is justifiable that the second and third meanings are somewhat analogous since where the former relies on the audiences‘ perception of art; the latter restates the artist’s intention of creating the art in the first place, but both for aesthetic purposes. An interesting facet into the meaning of aesthetics is that besides being three-fold, there were different factions who supported varying interpretations of aesthetics. An example of this is that while it was originally stated that aesthetics and “philosophy of art” were once interpreted as interchangeable, some theorists argued that this was not true.

To some philosophers, “aesthetics is broader than the philosophy of art, since it studies nature as well. ” It is also intriguing that Carroll’s hypothesis that “what artists intend to do by making artworks is to afford the opportunity for audiences to have aesthetic experiences,” can be carried out to analogies outside of our normal portrayal of art. Similar to Carroll’s hardware example on page 3 of the chapter on aesthetics, consider the example of a manufacturer of winter jackets. People buy winter jackets to stay warm and perhaps as a demonstration of fashion.

Department stores stock winter jackets so that people with this goal can find what they are looking for. Therefore, similar to Carroll’s logic, it is reasonable to conjecture that manufacturers of winter jackets, who supply the department stores, intend by making winter jackets to provide the sort of clothing that will facilitate the goals of winter-jacket-buyers. This all connects back to the idea that when artists make artworks, in this case those who manufacture winter-jackets, their intention is to afford the opportunity for audiences, in this case those consumers who buy the winter-jackets, to have aesthetic experiences.

The other philosophical topic that this paper will cover, and later compare and contrast to Aesthetics, is Representationalism. One of the most basic forms of representationalism, as noted page 4 of “Philosophy of Art: Chapter 1-Art and Representation” is that, “by representation, here is meant something that is intended to stand for something else and that is recognized by audiences as such. ” Similar to the example that Carroll gives where a portrait can stand for whomever it is a portrait of, the Renaissance sculpture of David would be considered a representation of David himself.

It is important to note, that this interpretation of representation is only a subset known as imitation. Carroll notes “representation is broader, since something can also stand for something else without looking like it. ” An example of this could be based off the fact that historically, women of larger size denoted a sense of beauty because they were potentially seen as a better fit for childbearing and thus were potentially more sought-after. Therefore, a painting of a bigger woman could represent beauty for the artist, but especially if viewed within the context of modern day, not necessarily replicate our modern perception of beauty.

This example, particularly biased by the changing of ideologies over time, would epitomize representation by a piece of art without imitation as it did not imitate what is generally considered modern beauty for its current audience. Such counterexamples, according to Carroll, encouraged us to “take a second look at art history and to ask whether imitation theory was ever accurate. ” Additionally, “with this additional breadth, the representational theory of art remains unsalvageable, since much art is not representational.

” Besides the example formerly stated with changing ideologies allowing for representation without imitation, modern architecture can be another example as certain buildings do not necessarily stand for something else, they just are what they are. Similar to the examples given on page 4 of “Art and Representation,” The Robeson Campus Center does not stand for the building of food, it is a building which feeds students. Branching off the idea stated on page 3 of “Art and Representation,” that if art didn’t imitate a form of real life, it wasn’t art, this idea seems outdated.

Personally, this idea of imitation could be considered flawed, it imposed a restriction on the scope of what art could be. According to Carroll, “neither the imitation theory of art nor the broader representational theory of art appears successful. ” A third variation has branched out known as neo-representational theory which, Carroll states makes a weaker claim, “namely that in order to count as a work of art, the candidate must be about something (i. e. , it must have a subject, about which it makes some comment).