Last year I gave several lectures on “intelligence and the appreciation of music among animals.” Today I am going to speak about “intelligence and the appreciation of music among critics.” The subject is very similar.Eric Satie, quoted by Machlis (1979: 124)
The aesthetic evaluation of artworks (paintings, literature, movies, musical compositions or interpretations, etc.) is and always has been a very controversial exercise. Philosophers, starting with Plato, are not the only ones who keep arguing about beauty. Mathematicians (including Leibnitz, Euler, Helmholtz, and Weyl), physiologists (Fechner), biologists (Rashevsky, the founder of mathematical biology), and economists (Bentham and others) have also tried to contribute to the field, and no obvious path-breaking or definitive view has emerged. We find it convenient to follow Shiner (1996) and distinguish between philosophers who suggest that beauty lies in the artwork itself and those like Hume (1757: 6) who believe that “beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”
We identify three ways in which beauty of a work of art can be evaluated: as an attribute of the work, as determined by experts, and as confirmed by the passage of time. We begin this chapter with a brief discussion of these three approaches.
Beauty as an attribute of a work
Trying to break an artwork into attributes (also called properties by analytic philosophers, and characteristics or qualities by economists) is as old as Aristotle, who suggests in his Poetics that an object is defined by its essential attributes.