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Western philosophical aesthetics tends to answer the question, “What is art?” by starting with the perspective of the art appreciator. What does the spectator perceive in the artistic entity at issue? For example, are these properties formal and tangible, an arrangement of lines and colors as provided by Clive Bell’s theory of significant form? Are they contextual—are they, for example, the expression of the experience of a particular culture? Or are these properties relational in the sense of being a comment on or response to another art-historical movement, such as Cubism?

Starting from this perspective, the methodology tends to begin with the appreciator’s response to the artistic object or product and deriving the artistic entity itself from that. The methodology then either stops there or takes a look around to see the historical context in which the art entity arose. It may even go one step further back to artistic intentions, but with care to avoid running afoul of the intentional or genetic fallacies.

Whatever intentions of the artist count must be in the art entity or the appreciative experience of the art entity and not solely in the inaccessible mind of the artist. It is the perspective of the appreciator that makes “objective” definitions of art and accounts of the ontology of artworks, art events, and art practices, defensible. They are answerable to what can be demonstrated to be true by attention to some feature or property that is accessible to the reader either in theory or in conjunction with an experience of the art entity. Examples of this methodological approach can be found in abundance in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, The British Journal of Aesthetics, and anthologies of articles on aesthetics and the philosophy of art.

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Lehrstuhl für Philosophie und Wissenschaftstheorie

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Munich, Germany