Art, Pleasure, Value: Reframing the Questions

Philosophic Exchange 47 (1) (2018)
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Abstract

In this essay, I’ll argue, first, that an art object's aesthetic value (or merit) depends not just on its intrinsic properties, but on the response it evokes from a consumer who shares the producer's cultural background. My question is: what is the role of culture in relation to this response? I offer a new account of aesthetic pleasure that answers this question. On this account, aesthetic pleasure is not just a “feeling” or “sensation” that results from engaging with a work of art. It is rather a mental state that facilitates engagement with an artwork, and (in the long run) enables a consumer to learn how to maximize this kind of pleasure. This is where culture comes in. If you belong to a culture, you know how to engage pleasurably with an artwork that is produced so you can engage with it in just this way. The aesthetic value of an artwork is that it plays into such a culture-pleasure nexus.

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Mohan Matthen
University of Toronto, Mississauga

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