New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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'ART" AND "BEAUTY"
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that they do not reflect genuine differences in experience: "Those who find a contradiction among aesthetic theories have simply not taken the trouble to grasp the gist of each theory, and assume that a difference in terminology also represents a different conception of the nature of that to which the terminology refers." 32 While I heartily concur that a more searching interpretation of meanings may explain away as verbal differences some esthetic disagreements, to suppose that no esthetic contradictions exist seems patently false. Can one seriously contend, say, that the multiple debates concerning the place of cognition in esthetic experience are only and always disputes over different uses of the word "cognition'? An affirmative reply to this question would contradict much available evidence. For example, a juxtaposition of two quotations, one from a poet-critic, the other from a painter-critic will show that basic esthetic disagreements do exist among expert sensitivities. J. C. Ransom writes: "Art feels not hot but cool; . . . art in its reconstructions arranges matters so that, however it may have been in actual life, here the passion will not dominate the cognition; . . . art is among the highly reflective or cognitive activities, not recognizable when cited for its effectiveness as a mode of passion." 33 But Matisse says: " 'I think only about rendering my emotion. Very often, an artist's difficulty lies in his not taking into consideration the quality of his emotion, and in the fact that his reason misleads this emotion.' "34
Any further conclusions regarding this major preliminary problem of the relationship between esthetic sensitivity and the meanings given to "art" and "beauty" will depend in large measure upon one's philosophical position. Thus for an absolutist, qualities of experience are arranged according
32.  Max Schoen, "Aesthetic Experience in the Light of Current Psychology," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Spring, 1941, p. 30.
33.  The New Criticism (Norfolk, Conn., 1941), p. 16.
34.  Quoted by Lionello Venturi, Art Criticism Now (Baltimore, 1941), pp. 17-18.