Beauty, Art and the Western Tradition


From the Renaissance onwards, the Western tradition singled out the term beauty for a unique and highly prestigious role. As Christian belief began its gradual decline, Renaissance art invented a rival transcendence in the form of an exalted world of nobility, harmony and beauty – the world exemplified by the works of painters such as Raphael, Titian and Poussin. Beauty in this sense quickly became the ruling ideal of Western art, subsequently underpinning the explanations of the nature and function of art (the aesthetics) developed by Enlightenment thinkers such as Hume and Kant – explanations that continue to be influential among contemporary philosophers of art. Today, however, there are fundamental questions to be asked: Is beauty still the ruling ideal of art? If not, what becomes of traditional, post-Enlightenment aesthetics which continues to shape much modern thinking about art?

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Derek Allan
Australian National University


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