Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Clive Bell writes in this chapter from Art:

    Yet, though all ęsthetic theories must be based on ęsthetic judgments, and ultimately all ęsthetic judgments must be matters of personal taste, it would be rash to assert that no theory of ęsthetics can have general validity.

    Compare Clive Bell's 1914 view on the unity of ęsthetic judgements as expressed here with Ludwig Wittgenstein's explication of language-games in his 1958 Philosophical Investigations:

    [T]his the position you are in if you look for definitions corresponding to our concepts in ęsthetics or ethics.… For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that.… I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances" … And I shall say: games form a family.[1]

  2. Bell points out that all art evokes a kind of ęsthetic emotion:

    The starting-point for all systems of ęsthetics must be the personal experience of a peculiar emotion. The objects that provoke this emotion we call works of art. All sensitive people agree that there is a peculiar emotion provoked by works of art.

    Is he simply supporting his observation with an ad populum appeal or does he think ęsthetic emotion is a capacity of all persons?

  3. Walter Pater argues that life's significance inheres in the variety and intensity of everyday nonconceptual experience. Experiencing sensation and feeling are the meaning of the experience—not the product of the experience:

    Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most. For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality of your moments as they pass, and simply for these moments' sake.[2]

    Explain whether or not Pater's notion of immediacy of experience is essential to the foundation of Bell's "significant form."

  4. Is Bell's "significant form" a simple or complex quality? He writes about temporal combinations of line and color, "These moving combinations and arrangements I have called … 'Significant Form.'" Bell notes that great art can be intellectually recognized prior to, and independently of, the distinctive ęsthetic emotion produced by significant form. Does "significant form" have one consistent essential meaning?

  5. Is Bell's theory of art viciously circular? If "significant form" produces " ęsthetic response," a peculiarly unique emotion arising directly from "significant form," and only felt by the artistically competent, how could these relationships be proved in any other manner than a self-verifying experience?



Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: Macmillan, 1958. ¶ 66-67 and ¶ 77.


Walter Pater. The Renaissance. London: Macmillan. 1873. 238-239.