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Aesthetics | Philosophy


Everyday aesthetics as a new subdiscipline within aesthetics benefits by constantly going back to and borrowing from earlier theorists, even those who were primarily concerned with the aesthetics of art. To that end, I will begin my discussion of everyday aesthetics and photography with a look at that classic formalist aesthetician from the beginning of the 20th century, Clive Bell (1958). Bell was notoriously very negative about photography. He basically saw photographs as mechanical imitations of reality. He also famously criticized illustrative or descriptive painting for doing what photography can do better. One of the problems he had with people who have no taste is that they read into art facts for which they can feel emotions of ordinary life, i.e. any emotion that is not the aesthetic emotion. These people, when confronted by a painting, instinctively refer back to the world of ordinary life. They treat created form as though it were imitated form, a painting as though it were a photograph. Instead of «going out on the stream of art into a new world of aesthetic experience, they turn a sharp corner and come straight home to the world of human interests» (Bell [1958]: 29). This is using art «as a means to the emotions of life» (ibid.) not as a means to aesthetic emotion. Similarly, photography takes people away from aesthetic interest into the world of human interest.


This article was originally published in Aisthesis, Volume 7, Issue 1, 2014. It can be found online at this link.

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