UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A matter of taste Day, Alan John


The development of interpretive criticism in the arts has raised doubts concerning the possibility for explaining the affective power of works of art within the same theoretical framework. Works of art provide pleasure; however, they also possess meritous properties that can be accurately assessed in terms of objective criteria. The object of this thesis is to investigate the institutional dimensions of artistic excellence and merit in order to outline the relation between aesthetic feeling, aesthetic value and aesthetic taste. Modern aesthetics has its origins in the 18th century British Enlightenment, specifically the works of Joseph Addison, Francis Hutcheson and David Hume. A detailed analysis of these philosophers' works on taste is undertaken in order to outline the historical foundation and original logic of aesthetic theory and the role that aesthetic taste plays within it. The main theme of this analysis is that the "middle-ground" view of aesthetic taste (between reason and the passions) developed by these philosophers is, in fact, untenable in the face of modern critical practices and theory. Two contemporary views of aesthetic taste are then assessed in order to show that even with the additional clarity provided by philosophical analysis, the middle-ground view is still flawed. The general architecture of this criticism is provided by an institutional view of art. A general appraisal of this view is undertaken with special emphasis on the role of art institutions as generators of standards and theories of critical evaluations. Lastly, two meta-critical theories are analysed to determine whether valid, non-affective theories of aesthetic evaluation are available. It is concluded that this approach to art is a valid development, in one direction, from the notion of taste developed in the 18th century, and that this approach is logically independent of that which seeks to explain the psychological dimensions of aesthetic perception.

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