The Vanity of Small Differences: Empirical Studies of Extrinsic Factors and Artistic Value

Aesthetic Investigations 4 (1):412-427 (2020)
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Abstract
To what extent are factors that are extrinsic to the artwork relevant to judgments of artistic value? One might approach this question using traditional philosophical methods, but one can also approach it using empirical methods; that is, by doing experimental philosophical aesthetics. This paper provides an example of the latter approach. We report two empirical studies that examine the significance of three sorts of extrinsic factors for judgments of artistic value: the causal-historical factor of contagion, the ontological factor of uniqueness, and the contextual factor of appreciative environment. We explore the context of appreciation by performing studies in a museum as well as the lab. We found that contagion made a difference to judgments of artistic value in both settings. These results are congruent with previous empirical research as well as recent philosophical work that defends the artistic significance of authenticity. However, uniqueness only made a difference in the lab setting, but not in the museum. This suggests that the context of appreciation may make a difference to judgments of artistic value. Of broader significance, these studies show the value of experimental philosophical aesthetics and the value of doing in situ empirical research on art.
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