"I like how it looks but it is not beautiful" -- Sensory appeal beyond beauty

Poetics 79 (2020)
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Statements such as “X is beautiful but I don’t like how it looks” or “I like how X looks but it is not beautiful” sound contradictory. How contradictory they sound might however depend on the object X and on the aesthetic adjective being used (“beautiful”, “elegant”, “dynamic”, etc.). In our study, the first sentence was estimated to be more contradictory than the latter: If we describe something as beautiful, we often intend to evaluate its appearance, whereas it is less counterintuitive to appreciate an appearance without finding it beautiful. Furthermore, statements including “beautiful” appeared more contradictory than those including “elegant” and “dynamic”, pointing to its greater evaluative component. When related to artworks, sentences could appear less contradictory due to readers’ consideration of the divergence between conventional beauty and art-related sensory pleasures that can even include negative valence. Such ambivalence might be more frequent in art-objects than in other artefacts. Indeed, in our study, sentences referring to artworks were estimated to be less contradictory compared to sentences referring to other artefacts. Meanwhile, an additional small group of graphic design students showed a less clear difference between art-related and non-art-related sentences. We discuss the potential influence of art experience and interest as well as theoretical and methodological challenges like the conceptualization of beauty.

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Jochen Briesen
Universität Konstanz


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