New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

Home | About | Philosphy | Contact | Search

I N art criticism and esthetics the words "art" and "beauty" are interwoven in such a way that they can be most interestingly and profitably considered together; for in the first place, art and beauty are the two central components o esthetic theory; in the second, discussion of one of these terms usually involves the other; and in the third, the meanings of the termsboth connotative and denotativefrequently overlap. Furthermore, since the linguistic problems in each case are markedly alike, they can best be analyzed by using both terms as illustrations of the points to be made. An exhaustive historical account of the uses and abuses of either word would be decidedly instructive, but that would be necessarily a very long story and, inevitably perhaps, tedious. My purpose, then, is not to discuss a single term fully, but rather to indicate by specific references to a number of uses of "art" and "beauty" some prevalent verbal confusions.
But first it will be helpful to pose a problem which is primarily ontological rather than verbal: namely, to what extent may one say that the diversity of meanings given to the words "art" and "beauty" is proof of an equal diversity of esthetic sensitivitywhich is, after all, the main factor in assigning meanings to these words? In other terms: may one reasonably assert that degrees of esthetic sensitivity account for the diversity of meanings we are about to consider? The question might be raised by an analysis of any such more limited critical or esthetic problem as the following: is esthetic experience inextricably bound up with experiences of ordinary practical life or is it a separate and isolated phenomenon?
In solving such problems, I should first rule out the solution indicated by the following quotation, which claims that linguistic diflferences in esthetics are purely terminological in