Anthony Cross: "Aesthetic Alienation and Meaningful Relationships with Aesthetic Objects"

The Higher Seminar in Aesthetics

(NB, time.)

Anthony Cross, Texas State University: "Aesthetic Alienation and Meaningful Relationships with Aesthetic Objects"

Theories of aesthetic value make claims about how we ought to structure our engagement with aesthetic objects; each theory establishes not only an account of aesthetic value itself, but also a picture of aesthetically ideal agency. In this talk, I focus on two such theories of aesthetic value—aesthetic value hedonism and primitivism about aesthetic value—and argue that each faces a risk of aesthetic alienation. Aesthetic alienation occurs when there is a tension between the ideals of aesthetic agency established by our aesthetic theories and our conception of what it is to lead an aesthetically good life. The risk for each of these theories is that the normative claims they make on us would undermine our meaningful relationships with aesthetic objects—in much the same way that modern moral theories might be thought to undermine our attempts to form valuable personal relationships. Alexander Nehamas and Nick Riggle have argued that this is problematic because it would make us unable to develop personal style—a concern which, I suggest, is too individualistic. By contrast, I argue that both the hedonist and primitivist approaches lead to aesthetic alienation because they fail to account for the normative significance of the aesthetic practices, communities, and traditions in which we find ourselves. I conclude by considering how we might develop our theories of aesthetic value—and our pictures of ideal aesthetic agency—to be more attuned to the importance of these social commitments.