Navigazione – Mappa del sito

Early Theoretical Models for the Aesthetic Analysis of Non-Art Objects

Cristian Hainic
p. 188-202


L’articolo esamina alcune delle condizioni che hanno favorite lo sviluppo di una estetica del quotidiano nella filosofia contemporanea. Esso spiega il motivo per cui certe posizioni dell'estetica del ventesimo dovevano essere contrastate in modo da tenere adeguatamente in considerazione l'arte contemporanea, e dimostra che due delle principali caratteristiche della estetica del ventesimo secolo che dovevano essere superate sono una specifica forma di estetismo e di antropocentrismo. Fornendo alcuni esempi (o modelli) di come quest'ultimo compito può essere realizzato, sostengo che l'attenzione dell'estetica non deve più essere esclusivamente per l'arte nelle sue forme tradizionali, ma può anche indirizzarsi verso il regno di oggetti considerati come non artistici come la ambiente e, in alcuni casi estremi, anche tutto ciò che è percepibile.

Torna su

Note della redazione

This work was supported by a grant of the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research, Cncs – Uefiscdi, project number PN-II-ID-PCE-2011-3-1010.

Testo integrale

1. A case of limited-scope aesthetics

  • 2 Examples include, but are not limited to: Sartwell 2005: 761-770, Light and Smith 2005, Saito 2007, (...)

1Quite some time since the first major writings2 announcing the movement of everyday aesthetics has passed. However, it is still debatable whether aesthetics tends to detach itself from the arts altogether, or if art theory has rather turned against traditional cannons in art, having been forced to acknowledge the impossibility of sticking to them. The great challenge comes, of course, from the arts. Conceptual art, for example, has marked a milestone in the struggle of shielding art from all theoretical «assaults» or, in Danto’s words, disenfranchisements. When appreciating art, people naturally looked for elements of identification to what was already familiar to them. Once conceptual art proposed non-visual abstractions to the already familiar visual abstraction, it initially came to seem meaningless on all accounts. However,

  • 3 Wilson 1999: 414.

[n]onvisual abstraction is difficult to grasp because we continue to look for something. This tendency of looking for visual meaning, or trying to use the visual faculty, causes meaninglessness to occur. Nonvisual abstraction is difficult to appreciate because it deals with the most difficult object to comprehend. It endeavors to inspire a consciousness of being which is formless3.

  • 4 Bell 2005: 8-9.

2In many regards, before conceptual art, form was regarded by aesthetic theory as an essential prerequisite of any object aspiring to the status of «work of art». Especially in the first half of the 20th century, with attempts such as Clive Bell’s to define art, form had become a criterion of inclusion or exclusion from the category of objects labeled «art». To this day, one cannot help being surprised when faced with Bell’s firm dismissals of various artworks, such as William Powell Frith’s The Railway Station or Luke Fildes’ The Doctor, based on form-related criteria4.

3I shall take up Danto’s idea of art disenfranchisement in describing how aesthetics has understood to regroup when facing less and less success in convincingly covering artistic phenomena. To this end, two opposite positions shall be tackled, namely (1) that aesthetics can and should discriminate between art and non-art objects, and (2) that aesthetics cannot and should not even attempt to do so. Since the first assumption is countered by various philosophical movements nowadays, I will additionally test the second hypothesis with reference to what has been interpreted as essentially non-artistic in views such as Bell’s, viz., the natural environment. In the end of the comparative analysis, I submit that two main characteristics of traditional aesthetics that have prevented it from living up to contemporary art are its anthropocentrism and a sort of revival of aestheticism.

4Since Clive Bell has already been brought into discussion, his book Art (1914) is as good of an example of position no. (1) as any. Here, he claims that the central problem of aesthetics, i.e., saying what art is, can be solved by discovering some quality which is both common and specific to all objects that provoke aesthetic emotion. While it is true that «aesthetic emotion» is almost as difficult to pinpoint as is an irrefutable definition of art, this is also the main reason for which aestheticians should discover a necessary quality in objects that provoke this aesthetic emotion or «aesthetic rupture». Once discovered, the quality would therefore act as the main standard according to which a piece may be deemed «work of art», consequently solving the second issue as well, namely finding out what causes aesthetic emotion. The outcome is that we don’t know what art is, we don’t know what aesthetic emotion is, but what we do know is that if we manage to find a common and specific quality of works of art, we will provide an answer to both previous questions. Bell thus writes:

  • 5 Ivi: 6.

What is this quality? What quality is shared by all objects that provoke our aesthetic emotions? What quality is common to Sta. Sophia and the windows at Chartres, Mexican sculpture, a Persian bowl, Chinese carpets, Giotto’s frescoes at Padua, and the masterpieces of Poussin, Piero della Francesca, and Cézanne? Only one answer seems possible – significant form. In each [artwork], lines and colors combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions. These relations and combinations of lines and colors, these aesthetically moving forms, I call ‘Significant Form’; and ‘Significant Form’ is the one quality common to all works of visual art5.

  • 6 Ivi: 7.

5The quality of significant form, however, is less easily supported than claimed. First of all, even if there were such a quality as significant form, aesthetic emotions must be shown to be objective in order to confer any aesthetic validity to art. Of course, if a work of art tells me absolutely nothing, an art critic may enlighten me in what regards certain aspects that I may have overlooked and which, once considered, eliminate the doubts in my mind that what I have in front of me is an actual work of art. But still, since it was my aesthetically-provoked emotion that led to the conclusion that what I have in front of me is a work of art, skeptics may still argue that art is essentially subjective. Interestingly, however, Bell argues that this does not mean that aesthetic theory does not have general validity. In fact, he believes, it has a more objective character than art per se: even if a set of works of art move one person, while a completely different set of works move another person, the two persons can still agree that there should be a specific quality common to all works of art. «We may all agree about aesthetics, and yet differ about particular works of art»6.

6It follows from Bell’s remarks that aesthetics acts as the objective instance that sets the standard, while it is up to each individual artwork if it reaches that standard or not. Art critics may act as some sort of intermediaries, attempting to prove or to counter the case for each artwork. In all case, a work of art must entail a combination of lines and colors that provoke aesthetic emotion. But if we were to go all the way with this argument, isn’t line and color something present in all that is seeable? The question is now why are we so profoundly moved by some combinations of lines and colors and less profoundly moved by others. By posing this question, Bell himself falls into a form of aestheticism, believing that the aesthetic quality of Significant Form has a greater effect on people than the aesthetic qualities of any other objects, if any.

7To answer these questions, Bell makes a series of unlikely assumptions. The first of these is that, while line and color are well found in nature, the latter does not have the ability to provide aesthetic emotions. Consequently, all works of art with considerable representational content do not provide aesthetic emotions. Therefore, neither nature, nor descriptive art can truly be considered «art». To sum up Bell’s first assumption: nature and representational content cannot be aesthetically appreciated.

  • 7 Ivi: 10.
  • 8 Ivi: 12.

8Bell also claims that, in order to appreciate art, no appeal to life need take place: «[a]rt transports us from the world of man’s activity to a world of aesthetic exaltation. For a moment we are shut off from human interests; our anticipations and memories are arrested; we are lifted above the stream of life»7. Bell mentions several times that «a world of pure aesthetic ecstasy» springs from art. This refers to the fact that art invites us to abandon all emotions we know of in our lived life and gain access to the «pure» aesthetic emotion of line and color. The idea is to rise beyond the problems of time and space, so that we can appreciate all art. We often hear people saying they prefer one type of art over another. In Bell’s eyes, this is the ideal case of an «imperfect lover», because the «lover» only takes interest in what is able to reflect his/her past experiences, therefore adding nothing new to their life. For «[i]f the forms of a work are significant its provenance is irrelevant»8. To sum up Bell’s second assumption, therefore, aesthetic appreciation should have nothing to do with lived life and with past experience, but rather with an abstraction from all of these.

2. On assumption No. 2

9It is best to provide a short rebuttal to this second argument first, as it is what today’s everyday aestheticians lack confidence in most. Afterwards, we may proceed to taking the natural environment as a study case, to see if the first assumption withstands. Nowadays, therefore, Bell’s idea that art should allow access to a world of «pure ecstasy» in line and color is contradicted by art itself. If Bell were still alive, he would have two options in the face of present artistic phenomena: to say that these do not pertain to art, or to substantially modify his theory so as to encompass them somehow. I believe that he would not succeed in the second endeavor without renouncing the assumption that art has nothing to do with lived life. But this belief is not only based upon self-explanatory movements in contemporary art, such as «computer art», «graffiti», «street art», and whatnot, but also on a study of the purposes that art served beginning with the 18th century, which tend to end up more and more under the scrutiny of present-day philosophers of art.

  • 9 For an excellent placement of this idea in the context of Modern thought, see Mattick 2003: 9-23.

10The seemingly innocent detachment of the Renaissance art from its original context into collections, exhibitions, and museums was the first to contribute to the idea of «art objects» meant for private or public collections9. While it is easy to imagine that collections pointed to the high status of aristocratic values, what is often overlooked is that collections themselves needed works of art that would exemplify the utmost essential nature of art if they were to successfully carry out their task of representing one’s high status. In other words, the question at the time concerned what was the best art to collect so that collections let out as much symbolical power as possible. And this is where Bell’s text brings to mind 18th-century conceptions on art history: where one is least likely to fail is the Antique (Bell calls it «the Primitive»), which consisted of works of art that were least likely to degrade in value and least likely to be doubted as to what regards their status of artworks. Hence the increasingly appreciated classical art, which comes to stand out as «timeless» once collected and appropriately preserved. It goes without saying that the timelessness of works of art did not consist of the actual belief that the work was going to last forever, but rather in the belief that the standard of value for which the work stood is universal and undebatable.

  • 10 Ivi: 13.

11Perhaps after this short account one can better appreciate how natural the transition from art to an ideal sphere (a «world of ecstasy», if you will) was, all the more with the advent of the industrial revolution. Art did, indeed, provide the embodiment of higher values in a world marked by the chaotic city life and as opposed to «lower», mercantile, interests: «[m]odern art seeks the eternal, that which art is supposed to embody, in the ever-changing new that characterizes modern society»10. Paul Mattick provides the surprising example of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon (1904) as an instantiation of how modern art instilled a sense of separation between a luxurious realm and the «worlds of action and of mundane affairs», even if by means of a brothel. My point here is that although argumentation for the separation of art from lived life is understandable, it is also something deeply rooted in nothing other than lived life and its needs.

  • 11 Kant 2007: 145.
  • 12 Davey 2005: 26-27.
  • 13 For a further study of the framework of historicity in art, I kindly direct the reader to my paper, (...)

12Up until now I have only attempted to demonstrate this point by resorting to the historical description of the mutations art has undergone, which is clearly not sufficient, as the description lacks an argument as to why the specific historical mutation has obscured the nature of art. Which is why a further argument for the preliminary demonstration of art’s inalienability from lived life consists in what has been philosophically termed as «historicity». The idea is quite simple in terms of the Kantian distinction between aesthetic and rational ideas: the two are essentially different because the former requires a sensuous embodiment, while the other does not, even if the aesthetic idea allows a concept «to be supplemented in thought by much that is indefinable in words»11. In order to remain aesthetic and not purely rational, ideas on art must typify in any degree a physical entity. This embodiment has come to be regarded as naturally pertaining to the historical dimension of art, in that, unlike pure ideas, aesthetic ideas reveal their content sensuously and historically – one might say that even within some sort of established cultural practices12 If we were to thoroughly think it over, even purely revolutionary art comes about in these conditions, i.e., as sensuously embodied and within some sort of cultural practice, albeit the latter is disrupted in one way or another by the revolutionary artworks themselves. Therefore, according to this framework, Bell’s claim that art furnishes experiences beyond this world is untenable13.

3. On assumption No. 1

13Bell’s first assumption, i.e., that nature cannot be aesthetically appreciated, needs now to be addressed. The view that a work of art is the paradigm of an object fit for aesthetic attention has been challenged by many philosophers, among whom Paul Ziff was one of the most radical. He was among the first to shift the balance from art-centered aesthetics to some sort of «universal» aesthetics which would also consider the natural environment and non-art objects:

  • 14 Ziff 1984: 130. If the reader is unfamiliar with Ziff’s Antiaesthetics, it must be noted that the a (...)

That something is not an artefact does not suggest let alone establish that it is therefore unfit to be an object of aesthetic attention. And unless one has a compelling narcissistic obsession with the marks of men’s endeavors, one can view things in the world aesthetically without being concerned with or inhibited by their lack of status as artefacts14.

14How exactly was Ziff to support this radical thesis, namely, that anything can be viewed and appreciated aesthetically? Ziff first of all claims that «[a]nything viewed makes demands» on the public. If we take a composition by Elliott Carter for example (as Ziff does), we will find that, in order to appreciate it aesthetically, it demands more attention and concentration on our behalf than, say, a classical masterpiece. The main reason for this is that, to the average music lover or cultivated man, the rules of a classical composition are better known than the «rules» of a piece by Elliot Carter. The listener has certain expectations from a composition for orchestra, and these rules will be more thoroughly satisfied by a classical piece of music than by an atonal work. The question is now whether we can take this idea even further. Ziff argues that we only have to pay more attention and concentration to any entity that we are not usually used to appreciating aesthetically, and we shall find that anything can in fact be the object of an aesthetic aspection.

15Another example might shed more light on the matter. The common attitude towards litter is that when we see it, we pick it up and put it in the trash (if it’s our responsibility), or maybe avoid stepping into it and continue carrying on with our business (if it’s not our responsibility). However, if we have enough time and concentration ability at our disposal, we can surpass the common meaning given to litter and provide the latter with another one. This is a model of «antiaesthetic approach», where one refuses to see objects in the frame of common attitudes, but rather prefers entropy as a guideline to experiencing the everyday:

  • 15 Ziff 1984: 134.

One can look upon the disorder of litter as a form of order a beautiful randomness a precise display of imprecision. (And if you cannot look at litter in this way perhaps you can learn to do so by looking at Pollock, Tobey and others). Garbage strewn about is apt to be as delicately variegated in hue and value as the subtlest Monet. Discarded beer cans create striking cubistic patterns15.

  • 16 Ibidem.

16It seems that Ziff adopts a photographical model for aesthetic appreciation. What I mean by this is that you cannot really exclude anything from the area of objects fit for being photographed – photographers take shots of litter, and even of dung, and so on, so forth. The important thing Ziff stresses is that «[w]hat he [the photographer] does with art, I can do with my (or maybe you too can with your) eyes. One can look at anything and within limits and depending on one’s powers to create an appropriate frame and environing conditions for what one sees»16.

  • 17 Ziff 1984: 136.

17Ziff’s idea of aesthetic appreciation has dire consequences for all domains concerned with art, notwithstanding art evaluation and normative aesthetics. Normally, we would think that some things are more fit for aesthetic evaluation than others. However, Ziff supports that not even when we refer to two objects of the same kind (e.g., two paintings) can we objectively say that one is more fit for aesthetic appreciation than the other. If a painting x has a quality y not to be found in a painting z, this does not make painting x more valuable than painting z. On the contrary, we may say that people seeking (or used to offering attention to) the quality y will aesthetically appreciate painting x. However, this is not to say that people seeking (or used to offering attention to) the quality w, which is rather present in painting z than in x, will not go for the former. «There are always other things to attend to»17. Hence a very strong counter-argument to Bell’s aestheticism, although only partial still, as Bell had clearly stated that even if disagreement on individual works of art may occur, this does not hinder aestheticians from agreeing upon theory. What Ziff’s remarks hinder, nonetheless, is the quick dismissal of some objects as non-worthy of aesthetic appreciation, as was Bell keen on doing.

  • 18 For further specific distinctions between the process of painting landscapes and landscapes, see Sa (...)

18But if the general frame of extending the scope of aesthetics has been established, it still remains to be seen how it benefits specific areas of study, such as the natural environment. Drawing upon Ziff’s work, in his Aeshetics and the Environment Allen Carlson proposes to do just that, by providing the most extensive account of aesthetic models for approaching natural phenomena. The distinction between natural environments and art, Carlson notes, is one made clear by George Santayana’s characterization of the natural landscape as something which has to be compiled in order to be grasped. Art would differ in this regard, because we do not have to compile it in order to appreciate it, but, quite on the contrary, we know from the offset where to look at and what to focus on when dealing with a work of art. For example, we focus on the surface of a painting and not on the building in which it is exposed; we focus on the sound a piano makes, and not on the ambient noise coming from the hall in which it is played, and so on, so forth18. In the end, however, in order to propose a perfected model of aesthetic appreciation of nature, Carlson gives up Santayana’s distinction, proposing a twofold correction to it: first of all, we only know where to look at in a work of art because, as Ziff previously outlined, we have pre-established attention and concentration allocated to the act of aesthetic appreciation. Secondly, once we realize we act exactly the same in the case of natural environments, we may easily build a model for nature appreciation on this account.

19How, then, are we to aesthetically appreciate the natural environment? There are several models that Carlson puts forth and which I will comment in what follows. All of them show ways in which aesthetics understands to extend its scope beyond what are traditionally conceived as the «fine arts».

  • 19 Carlson 2000: 43.

20A first method is the Object of Art Model (Oam). It consists of taking a work of art – preferably, a non-representational one – and remove it from its surroundings by dwelling on its innate expressive qualities. Carlson offers as an example Brâncuşi’s Bird in Space (1919), which «glistens, has balance and grace, and expresses flight itself»19. When we compile a natural object (e.g., a piece of driftwood, a stone, leaves, etc.) from the environment, we may find that it puts forth the same expressive qualities. Of course, we should find an appropriate piece of driftwood, an appropriate stone, or an appropriate leaf to do so, but in the absence of one, we can always keep searching for something else: a tree, a hillock, grass and whatnot. The first question that comes to mind when actually applying the model is whether one is not simply conducting another type of philosophical disenfranchisement, this time not of art, but of nature. This is because the model basically proposes transforming virtually any segment of the natural environment into an endless collection of «found art». More specifically, Oam seems to answer the problem of aesthetic appreciation of nature from the perspective of art, leaving no authority whatsoever for nature itself.

21A further critique of the model concerns the separation of natural objects from their environment. While this is done in order to check their compatibility with the aesthetic qualities of works of art, one cannot help notice that by removing an object from its surroundings, the object loses many aesthetic qualities that are dependent on those surroundings. Take Figure 1, for example. If we keep on trying for long enough, we will probably be able to find a pebble that takes on certain aesthetic qualities from a pre-selected work of art. So as not to deviate too much from the subject, let’s stick to Brâncuşi’s Bird in Space. Surely, of all the pebbles, we will be able to find one that «glistens, has balance and grace, and expresses flight itself», especially if we take it out from the pebble blanket which seems to embed it.

22But having just mentioned a «blanket» of pebbles, one cannot help noticing what is being sacrificed in the process of Oam: while remaining in its environing nature, the pebble will gain such qualities as longevity, endurance (to foreign agents), support for life and the expression of the passing of time itself, among many others. All these are not that readily recognizable in the initial work of art which was supposed to aesthetically model the pebble.

23Perhaps an example which requires less imagination should come to our aid. Figure 2 depicts a quite massive rock standing in a puddle somewhere high in the Carpathian Mountains. If we take it out from its surroundings and compare it to certain contemporary «sculptures», such as those present in the works of Michael Grab, we may easily relate it to the artistic expression of balance and compositional harmony. However, this has nothing to do with the subject of the photo herein. By leaving the rock as it is, it tells us something about the prospective substantial rocky ground which it joins under the surface of the water and which thus stands as a hidden support for life maybe, while the reflection of the sky in the water surrounding it points to the forces that have shaped it so robustly over time, even if it stood its ground for ages, and so forth. Conclusively, Oam fails to aesthetically consider nature, because it ends up in regarding it as an extension to man-made works of art.

24A second method consists in the Landscape or Scenery Model (Lsm). It encourages perceiving and appreciation of nature as if the latter were a landscape painting. In this case, what is to be appreciated in nature is line, color, and «design». Though unaware of it, we make use of Lsm more than we would initially admit to, by describing something as «picturesque», which literally means «picture-like». What is more, most landscape paintings or photos (less in the second case, though) strive to achieve the perfect balance of the picturesque. Likewise, modern tourists also have a strong appetite for visiting belvederes. But apart from this, the problem with Lsm is that it – again – actually offers an appreciation of a human prospect on nature and not an appreciation of the natural environment per se. Otherwise put, what is at stake is capturing a balanced and attractive shot in a viewfinder, rather than dealing with what nature actually offers for appreciation.

  • 20 Elliot 1982: 81-93.
  • 21 Berleant 1991.
  • 22 Carlson 2000: 77ff.

25After commenting on Carlson’s accounts of these first two models for aesthetic appreciation to nature, I must first of all observe that a certain anthropocentrism hinders all possible aesthetic approaches to the environment. In a somewhat paradoxical manner, what we expect to find in the natural environment is something that we already know or own. This is the main reason for which alternatives to the two methods have been conceived to exclude any human interaction with the environment whatsoever. One of these is Robert Elliot’s total elimination of the attribute «aesthetic» from the appreciation of nature20. Carlson’s term for this «model» is «Human Chauvinistic Aesthetics» (Hca). A second and final alternative is the «Aesthetic of Engagement» (Aoe), pioneered by Arnold Berleant21. The second part of his Art as Engagement proposes from the outset a more developed model of Lsm, in which the viewer is totally immersed in the environment. Hence the new model, termed by Carlson «aesthetics of engagement». Nevertheless, both Hca and Aoe are more or less misleading, as to the question of «what to appreciate aesthetically in nature?» Hca seems to answer «nothing», while Aoe «everything»22, thus making them redundant for any systematic study in aesthetics.

4. A further step toward the everyday

26If the idea was, from the beginning, to offer a model of aesthetic appreciation that is specific to the natural environment, Oam, Lsm, Hca, and Aoe all seem to fail in this regard. It is only at this point that Carlson turns against Santayana’s initial presumption that nature is indeterminate, promiscuous and (ultimately, according to Hca) beyond aesthetic appreciation. While my own comments on the models may have clarified some models Carlson tests, I believe this is not the most important contribution brought so far to the matter. Rather, a more important finding lays in identifying the two elements that have spurred aesthetics towards extending its scope: aestheticism and anthropocentrism. A further step I would propose to take is to briefly consider Carlson’s proposal of adopting Dewey’s concept of «consummatory experience».

  • 23 Dewey 1980: 35.
  • 24 Mathur 1966: 226.

27Consummatory experience refers to Dewey’s idea that, in order to be perceived aesthetically, something must propose some sort of conflict, to which interaction with the object offers a solution. Once the conflict is solved, aesthetic experience occurs as a true appreciation of life’s ups and downs. The object is eventually «rounded out» so that our relation to it is not a cessation, but a consummation. Simply put, the idea is to recognize the unity of what is being appreciated and credit the respective object or event with «its own individualizing quality and self-sufficiency»23. Commentators to Dewey have managed to split the «consummative» nature of aesthetic experience into three stages: (a) firstly, immediate qualitative experience finds us «doing and undergoing» things unconsciously in specific situations, (b) then reflective experience comes about, allowing us to understand the meaning of what we are doing, after which, finally, (c) a final phase of experience incorporates the previous two and creates the actual consummation24. How this «model» differs from the ones tackled above is by its presupposing the individualizing character of stage (a), specific to the situation in which we find ourselves when having an aesthetic experience. Let us now see if this withstands the idea of a natural environment.

  • 25 Carlson 2000: 49.
  • 26 Saito 2001: 87-95.

28We would say, in Deweyan terms, that any consummatory experience recognizes the specific objects that serve as appreciation foci, and not their effects. That is to say, «we must feel the ant at least as an insect rather than, say, a twitch»25. If, by step (a), we find that an object from our environment has an individualizing character, by step (b) we remain true to it, without claiming its conformation to our previous experiences, such as the feeling of a twitch. Let me provide a more dynamic and original example. When we are in an open space, e.g., a prairie, we appreciate the latter according to a certain interest in its contours, meteorological conditions, and a quick scan for points of interest or danger across it. The situation changes when we are in a dense forest, focusing on the immediate and slightest sounds and smells. Just as in Ziff’s case we needed different «aspections» for different works of art, when tackling the environment it will be analogously useless to attempt to aesthetically appreciate it if we have not been previously acquainted with its individualizing character. As Saito’s acknowledgements regarding Ziff’s model prove26, this idea is clearly meant to extend the scope of aesthetics into the realm of the natural environment and, eventually, the everyday.

  • 27 Carlson 2000: 49.
  • 28 See footnote n. 14.

29What the idea of an individualizing aesthetic object leads to, in Carlson’s view, is that the more we know about nature both from common sense and natural sciences, the more we are able to appreciate it27. Just as the more interesting theories and criticism we read or hear about art, the more we are able to appreciate art. Let us apply this to the previous example of standing in front of a prairie. The latter will interestingly gain a more individualizing character if a well-informed person lets me know before I intend to cross it that the sun is strong enough to give me sunburns and the heat is high enough to cause dehydration. This might convince me to search for a more shady, albeit longer root by a nearby forest. Likewise, I might observe that I profoundly dislike the blue spruce present in the prairie, because I wear short pants and the plant’s needles are quite irritating. Thereby, this particular prairie has the utmost impact on my choices, determining me – assuming that I am of average intelligence – to think again when I attempt to go hiking in short pants through prairies during a hot afternoon. Is this appreciation («Natural Environmental Model» – Nem, in Carlson’s terms) of the natural environment complete? I would tend to answer positively, since, unlike Oam and Lsm, it does not subsume natural objects to art, and, unlike Hca and Aoe, it does not reject aesthetic appreciation in art when tackling the environment. It therefore avoids the slippery road of aestheticism, and it manages to distance itself from what Ziff criticized as the «compelling narcissistic obsession with the marks of men’s endeavors»28.

  • 29 Irvin 2008: 29-44.
  • 30 Saito 2007: ch. 4.
  • 31 Rautio 2009.
  • 32 Leddy 2012b. For a more encompassing view, also see Rațiu 2013: 3-26.

30What I have provided in this paper is an account of the main theoretical models that have contributed to the burst of what is nowadays known as «everyday aesthetics» or «aesthetics of everyday life» in philosophical aesthetics. It is only upon these early models that later developments could ensue. Such later – more practical – developments include linking the aesthetic experience of everyday objects and events to moral stances with regard to coping with demanding jobs29, ecological issues such as mowing lawns30, expression of beauty by drying laundry under the sun31, and whatnot. Later developments of these models also comprise attempts to direct everyday aesthetic analysis toward contemporary art32, thus resulting in the continuous questioning of the borders between art and non-art objects. In this context, a systematic study of the early theoretical models that have made these approaches possible is, I believe, more than welcome.

Torna su


Bell, C.

– 2005, Art, Project Gutenberg [1914], Retrieved January 26th, 2013,

Berleant, A.

– 1991, Art as Engagement, Philadelphia, Temple University Press.

Carlson, A.

– 2000, Aesthetics and the Environment: The Appreciation of Nature, Art and Architecture, London - New York, Routledge.

Davey, N.

– 2005, Was geht mich die Geschichte an? Art Practice and the Question of Historicity, in Mey, K. (ed.), Art in the Making: Aesthetics, Historicity and Practice, Bern, Peter Lang.

Dewey, J.

– 1980, Art as Experience, New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Elliot, R.

– 1982, Faking nature, “Inquiry”, 25, 1: 81-93.

Hainic, C.

– 2012, The heideggerian roots of everyday aesthetics: A hermeneutical approach to art, “Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics”, 4: 230-249.

Kant, I.

– 2007, Critique of Judgement, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Irvin, S.

– 2008, The pervasiveness of the aesthetic in ordinary experience, “British Journal of Aesthetics”, 48, 1 (January): 29-44.

Leddy, T.

– 2012a, The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: The Aesthetics of Everyday Life, Peterborough: Broadview Press.

– 2012b, Defending everyday aesthetics and the concept of ‘Pretty’, “Contemporary Aesthetics”, 10 (August 27th),

Light, A. and Smith, J. (eds)

– 2005, The Aesthetics of Everyday Life, New York, Columbia University Press.

Mathur, D.C.

– 1966, A note on the concept of ‘Consummatory Experience’ in Dewey’s aesthetics, “Journal of Philosophy”, 63, 9: 225-231.

Mattick, P.

– 2003, Art in Its Time: Theories and Practices of Modern Aesthetics, London - New York, Routledge.

Rațiu, D.E.

– 2013, Remapping the realm of aesthetics, “Estetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics” 6, 1: 3-26.

Rautio, P.

– 2009, On hanging laundry: The place of beauty in managing everyday life, “Contemporary Aesthetics”, 7 (July),

Saito, Y.

– 2001, Everyday aesthetics, “Philosophy and Literature” 25, 1: 87-95.

– 2007, Everyday aesthetics, New York, Oxford University Press.

Santayana, G.

– 1982, The Life of Reason; or The Phases of Human Progress, vol. 4: Reason in Art. New York, Dover.

Sartwell, C.

– 2005, Aesthetics of the everyday, in J. Levinson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, New York, Oxford University Press: 761-770.

Wilde, O.

– 2012, Intentions, edited by J. Manis (Pennsylvania State University), retrieved November 22nd, 2012,

Wilson, I.

– 1999, Conceptual art, in A. Alberro and B. Stimson (eds.), Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, Cambridge (Mass.), The Mit Press.

Ziff, P.

– 1984, Antiaesthetics: An Appreciation of the Cow with the Subtle Nose, Dordrecht, Reidel.

Torna su


2 Examples include, but are not limited to: Sartwell 2005: 761-770, Light and Smith 2005, Saito 2007, Leddy 2012a.

3 Wilson 1999: 414.

4 Bell 2005: 8-9.

5 Ivi: 6.

6 Ivi: 7.

7 Ivi: 10.

8 Ivi: 12.

9 For an excellent placement of this idea in the context of Modern thought, see Mattick 2003: 9-23.

10 Ivi: 13.

11 Kant 2007: 145.

12 Davey 2005: 26-27.

13 For a further study of the framework of historicity in art, I kindly direct the reader to my paper, Hainic 2012: 230-249.

14 Ziff 1984: 130. If the reader is unfamiliar with Ziff’s Antiaesthetics, it must be noted that the author does not use any comma throughout his book.

15 Ziff 1984: 134.

16 Ibidem.

17 Ziff 1984: 136.

18 For further specific distinctions between the process of painting landscapes and landscapes, see Santayana 1982: IV, 144-165.

19 Carlson 2000: 43.

20 Elliot 1982: 81-93.

21 Berleant 1991.

22 Carlson 2000: 77ff.

23 Dewey 1980: 35.

24 Mathur 1966: 226.

25 Carlson 2000: 49.

26 Saito 2001: 87-95.

27 Carlson 2000: 49.

28 See footnote n. 14.

29 Irvin 2008: 29-44.

30 Saito 2007: ch. 4.

31 Rautio 2009.

32 Leddy 2012b. For a more encompassing view, also see Rațiu 2013: 3-26.

Torna su

Indice delle illustrazioni

Titolo Figure 1
File image/jpeg, 1,4M
Titolo Figure 2
File image/jpeg, 633k
Torna su

Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliogafica

Cristian Hainic, « Early Theoretical Models for the Aesthetic Analysis of Non-Art Objects », Rivista di estetica, 63 | 2016, 188-202.

Notizia bibliogafica digitale

Cristian Hainic, « Early Theoretical Models for the Aesthetic Analysis of Non-Art Objects », Rivista di estetica [Online], 63 | 2016, online dal 01 dicembre 2016, consultato il 30 marzo 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/estetica.1334

Torna su

Diritti d'autore

Licenza Creative Commons
Rivista di Estetica è distribuita con Licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 4.0 Internazionale.

Torna su
  • Logo Rosenberg & Sellier