I don’t need no stinkin’ visual art!

So, I’m taking a course right now on Aesthetics and Cognitive Science, where we’re looking in detail at aesthetics and linking it to Cognitive Science.  Now, I didn’t do much Aesthetics in either Philosophy or  Cognitive Science, because it isn’t that interesting to me.  But the combination sounded interesting, and hence I took that class.

Now, when doing Aesthetics, a lot of the time is spent talking about art, because it seems specifically aesthetic and so is a good test for how aesthetics works for us.  And visual art is the most commonly discussed because the visual seems to be the sense that we most easily associate with beauty.  There’s just one problem.

I don’t like visual art.  Not only that, it’s clear that I don’t get the same experiences from visual art as others do.

This leads to me basically disagreeing with, oh, everyone in my class.  Okay, okay, being me would do that, but the disagreements are often more fundamental, in the sense where it seems that I can’t grasp the views that the others agree with, and the others can’t grasp what my complaint is.  And after thinking about it, I think that a lot of my objections to what constitutes aesthetic experence — particularly when visual art is used as a primary example — is this:

1) I know that I do not get anything like the same aesthetic experience/pleasure from visual art as other people.

2) This article proposes that X is what defines or is the most important in aesthetic experience/pleasure.

3) I think I can do X as well as everyone else, even wrt visual art.

4) I cannot get the same experience as everyone else from visual art, despite having unimpaired X.

5) Therefore, X cannot be the defining/critical property in aesthetic experience/pleasure.

If the examples were mainly, say, musical in nature, I might find the ideas more palatable, since that contradiction wouldn’t be there.  But since it is, the issues just leap out at me.

This actually brings up something important for Psychology and Cognitive Science:  unlike most other sciences, the cases that don’t fit are more important for testing your theory than the ones that work.  If you have a ton of data showing a correlation between your attribute and something — like aesthetic pleasure — that’s great, but it isn’t enough.  What’s better is showing that if someone is impaired in that quality, particularly in a way that can’t corrected for, things don’t work out as well.

So, for example, if trying to determine if X is a key factor in aesthetic pleasure, your best test is to find someone who simply cannot get aesthetic pleasure in a case — or, at least, where it’s greatly impaired — and see if your quality is also impaired in them in that case.  I don’t think that’s the case for me in a lot of cases, but my aesthetic pleasure from visual art is greatly impaired overall.

And getting me a painting as a gift is not likely to be appreciated, at least not in the way you’d like.  Music, on the other hand …

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