Posted at 11.13.2018
In 'The Misconception of the Cosmetic Attitude', George Dickie argues that the notion of the aesthetic attitude is a myth and attempts to argue against all varieties of the theory. Whilst there are other convincing theories concerning the presence of the cosmetic attitude, he presents a strong case against it, arguing that all attempts to specifically describe this attitude fail. His discussion targets the notions of the aesthetic attitude proposed by Bullough and Stolnitz, which I will outline in this essay.
Initially, Dickie considers Edward Bullough's theory of psychical distance. Bullough shows that in order to acquire an aesthetic attitude and judge an object aesthetically, the topic must distance themselves from that thing and separate "the object and its appeal from one's own do it yourself, by putting it out of equipment with practical needs and ends. " In doing this, Bullough says that "contemplation of the object becomes exclusively possible" and you are no longer directly associated with the thing. Bullough illustrates his idea using his fog at sea example, where he represents how annoying and dangerous the fog might appear to a person, but also how beautiful the fog is. Bullough considers that it is the aesthetic attitude which allows one's view of the fog to improve through the "change by distance" as the fog is allowed to "stand outside the context of our personal needs and ends" and one can look at it objectively.
For Bullough, only the right amount of distance permits the aesthetic frame of mind to be used and he talks about "cases where people cannot bring off an action of distancing or are not capable of being induced into circumstances of being distanced. " Bullough's example of "the jealous hubby at a performance of Othello" struggling to concentrate as he is thinking about his own wife's dubious behaviour shows being under-distanced as the subject is too emotionally involved with the play. In the same way, a light tech working on the play might be over-distanced as he's preoccupied with the lighting and lacking any emotional engagement with the play itself. Dickie may undermine Bullough's concept of distance here as he questions whether one can intentionally distance oneself or whether one can be induced into a "awareness denoted when you are distanced. " Dickie undermines the concept of distance here - recommending that there is no such experience to be distanced - and so undermines Bullough's theory.
Furthermore, Dickie criticises Bullough's use of new conditions discussing distance, as he considers to create these terms "does only send us running after phantom acts and states of awareness. " Dickie infers that "there is absolutely no identifiable psychological connection with being distanced" and so no value in Bullough's notion of distance. Furthermore he suggests that being under or over-distanced is simply being more or less centered on something and "two different conditions of inattention. " Therefore, being distanced means just focusing one's attention on something and is also not a new "kind of function" or special "state of consciousness".
Whilst Dickie places forward a reasonably persuasive debate against psychical distance, his explanation of aesthetic experiences as simple cases of attention or inattention may well not be adequate in detailing what it really is with an aesthetic experience. If, as Dickie advises, we reject the aesthetic attitude, one might dispute that we would struggle to answer some important questions about visual experience. Specifically, one might dispute that the visual attitude is required to be able to pinpoint what exactly the judgment of style is and what prompts us to discover objects as visual things. Therefore, Dickie's argument may be less effective in refuting the visual frame of mind, as Bullough's theory of distance may be nearer to providing answers to such questions.
Importantly, Dickie remains his discussion by criticising other ways of conceiving the visual frame of mind when he talks about Jerome Stolnitz's theory which implies that the cosmetic frame of mind is "marked out by its disinterestedness" and its detachment from useful purposes. Stolnitz's explanation is that it is the "disinterested and sympathetic attention to and contemplation of any subject of understanding whatever, because of its own sake by themselves. " Stolnitz elaborates upon this idea - describing that disinterested attention means taking a look at the object with "no matter for any ulterior purpose". Similarly he says that sympathetic attention means that the topic can experience the object's individual attributes without prejudice. For Stolnitz, this aesthetic perception includes the subject's dynamic attention being directed at the object exclusively, without considering or requesting questions and being emotionally open and in a position to react to it. This results within an enhanced connection with the object which permits us to concentrate on "the look of the stones, the sound of the sea, the colors in the painting, " whilst contemplating an object with a functional perception inhibits us from truly appreciating it and restricts our connection with the object.
Dickie's criticism of Stolnitz's visual attitude only really focuses on this idea of disinterested attention. Stolnitz distinguishes between disinterested attention and interested attention which he says differ in line with the purpose of the attention. For example when looking at Warhol's Campbell Soup Cans, easily admire it as a lovely piece of art then I experience it with disinterested attention. Alternatively, if I look at it and think about how exactly starving I am and exactly how I would like to consume the soup, I experience it with an interested attention.
However, Dickie objects to Stolnitz's proven fact that such a notable difference in purpose leads to a difference in attention. Dickie proposes that the concept of disinterest does little or nothing to make clear what this means to "attend to" an subject. To bolster his point, Dickie uses a good example of two people listening to music with different purposes - Jones with the purpose of analysing the music for an exam and Smith without such purpose apart from simply hearing it. Dickie suggests that "Jones has an ulterior purpose and Smith does not, but this will not mean Jones's tuning in differs from Smith's. " Dickie demonstrates that the sole difference between the listening of Jones and Smith is their purpose and shows that in reality there may be nothing at all different about their attention whatsoever. Therefore, Dickie argues that the notion of disinterestedness can't be used to refer to a kind of attention, as attention has no special feature such as disinterest. Instead, Dickie feels that it can only just make reference to whether attention is determined by an objective or not. Hence, Dickie may concern Stolnitz's theory as he questions the validity of the principles of interested and disinterested attention which is paramount to Stolnitz's whole theory of the visual attitude.
In addition, Dickie reinforces his discussion using the example of the artwork critic attending a piece of art. Dickie points out that matching to Stolnitz's theory, the art critic could not critique the skill as well as appreciate it, as the critic has an ulterior purpose - "to analyse and measure the subject he perceives. " Dickie remarks that Stolnitz "confuses a perceptual distinction with a motivational one" as the critic only varies from other themes attending the skill in his motives and goal. For Dickie, this example only further highlights that it is not possible to attend to art work interestedly nor disinterestedly - only with or with out a motive or goal.
Whilst Dickie advances a convincing debate against Stolnitz's theory of the cosmetic attitude, he will only really focus on one aspect of it - disinterestedness - and doesn't effectively address the thought of sympathetic attention, for example. In his argument, Stolnitz stresses the importance of considering all the areas of his description of the cosmetic attitude, so for this reason, Dickie's try out at challenging Stolnitz's theory may not be as successful. Furthermore, Stolnitz himself argues in response to Dickie's criticism that, "Leading aestheticians continue to take disinterestedness to be foundational in their thinking. " Stolnitz shows that the incomparable longevity of the concept shows its validity, as it "continues to activate thought. " As interesting as the concept may be, however, this aspect might not be successful as an effective counter-argument to Dickie.
Dickie's debate convincingly refutes Bullough's and Stolnitz's theories of the visual attitude, but it may well not follow that rejecting the ideas of distance and disinterestedness means that no special visual attitude is out there. One might dispute that from the "vantage point" of the topic there are always a "set of features that identify cosmetic experience" which, whilst difficult to spell it out accurately, constitute the visual attitude. Furthermore, it might be argued that Dickie is more worried about the aesthetic thing than the aesthetic experience, as his own alternate for the visual attitude - the institutional theory of art - targets the nature of art and exactly how an object can become art, alternatively than on visual experience and our respond to an object. Finally, however, whilst there are several persuasive counter-arguments towards the aesthetic frame of mind, I feel that Dickie's argument that it is a myth is convincing and effectively undermines both Bullough's and Stolnitz's notions of the visual attitude.