Aesthetic Science and Artistic Knowledge
The scientific study of art, and in particular its latest incarnation in neuroaesthetics, has tended to treat works of art as perceptual stimuli with emotional effects. In my essay, I argue that that fails to address the semantic aspect -- the actual content -- of works of art, which has always been crucial to their understanding and appreciation. I also suggest that such semantics may be very hard for science, and especially brain science, to get at. This, I argue, is especially true given the desired variability of responses to works of art: a great work is great in part by virtue of the varied messages it's able to deliver over time; a fine interpretation of it only counts as fine if it triggers new thoughts and feelings about the work in question. Granted the flexibility of works of art and our responses to them -- a flexibility that can make the same urinal count as both plumbing and masterpiece -- can experimental science make strong claims about them? I conclude my essay with suggestions for areas where science might pay off in the study of art.
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