New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

Home | About | Philosphy | Contact | Search

is of necessity but one, so there can be but one great mode of painting." 34 Yet if various kinds of objects are valued for all sorts of reasons, what can they, or do they, have in common? Such a sensible answer as "unity" in fact helps little, since there are as many sorts of unity as there are types of art objects. Another suggested reply, "richness and purity," is not only vague but self-contradictory, for an art which stresses one of these qualities will tend to neglect the other. When we search further for explanations of the phrase "esthetic quality," we usually find only such tautologies, or examples of what is called in logic the "vicious circle in the definition," as "aesthetic quality is the lowest common denominator of all aesthetic objects," or "anything may be said to possess 'aesthetic quality' which evokes an aesthetically re-creative response in a sensitive person." 33
Indeed the objectivism if pressed for a meaning, is forced to consider "beauty," "artistic quality," and "esthetic quality" as unanalyzable ultimates which are variously described as unique, irreducible, ineffable, indefinable. Thus Greene states: "Like color and sound, beauty is an irreducible, unique, and ineffable quality/'36 This contention is held not only by all absolutists but even by such a relativist, or con-textualist as he calls himself, as S. C. Pepper, who entitles a book Aesthetic Quality, a phrase which turns out to represent an ultimate notion which, according to Pepper, cannot be defined but only emotionally intuited. An explanatory passage from Greene's book will make the objectivist position upon this point more explicit:
Like life, consciousness, rationality, and moral goodness, aesthetic quality and its variants are ultimate and unique. As such, they
34.  Reynolds, Discourses, III, p. 64. Roger Fry, ed.
35.  Greene, op. cit., pp. 6, 5.
36.  "Beauty and the Cognitive Significance of Art/' Journal of Philosophy, July, 1938, p. 365.