The arts have a history as old as any human social order. They exist in all cultures and under all conditions. And the arts are deeply compelling. They speak to pathos and grief, to humor and excitement. Why this deep appeal?
Experiencing the arts is deeply gratifying, and we can respond to them spontaneously and freely. Often the arts compel us to engage in them, to practice them in some way and at some level. But when we try to understand the arts we are often at a loss, and settle for some conventional, simplistic explanation: “Music is the language of the emotions.” “Painting depicts the world.” “Literature entertains us with imaginative fiction.” These conventional shorthand explanations may satisfy some but they are inadequate to the richness and complexity of the arts and to their power. The consideration of these questions is a field of philosophical inquiry called aesthetics.
This is a colloquy of questions to which there have been many answers. Some questions are better than others, and so are some answers. The colloquy will explore both and why.
Arnold Berleant is Professor of Philosophy (Emeritus) at Long Island University. Berleant is the author of numerous articles as well as eight books on aesthetics, the arts, and especially the aesthetics of environment. He is also the founding editor of the on-line journal, Contemporary Aesthetics.
Definitions of ‘art,’ ‘aesthetics,’ and other basic terms.
Differences among the arts. What is aesthetic appreciation of art and of nature?
What is art good for? The basis for valuating art. Judging art. Criticizing art.
Extensions of the aesthetic: art and everyday life; aesthetics and environment; social aesthetics; the relevance of social and moral values to the arts.
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