Consciousness Thought

The Nature of Aesthetic Value by Hugo A. Meynell (auth.)

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By Hugo A. Meynell (auth.)

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To apply a distinction of Augustine's, they are primarily for use rather than enjoyment. 40 Now such criteria of value, for all that they are not strictly aesthetic in the sense which I have been describing, are certainly of great importance in themselves. A Marxist might argue about the value of a work of art highly esteemed in a capitalist society somewhat as follows: 'This work contributes only to the happiness of one class at the expense of another. At present the supplanting of this privileged class should be our primary concern.

Of course, all the arts do all these things; but one would not expect of a piece of music or of a painting or sculpture such a scrutiny of the preconditions and consequences of a typical decision that one finds in novels like Anna Karenina or Lord Jim. Handel's music for Alexander's Feast is visually evocative; the opening of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is sensuously evocative in rather a different way; but I think that no piece of music could bring before us just what it is to see, to touch, to feel the resistance of physical objects to the pressure of one's hands, to the degree that do some of Cezanne's still-lifes or parts of Keats's St Agnes' Eve.

Our senses and imaginations are refreshed by being tried out in novel ways; so is our capacity to grasp meaning and intelligible form in data, which we use in scientific and scholarly investigations as well as in the ordinary business of living. Coleridge's statement that nothing can permanently please in a work of literature, which does not have a good reason for being as it is,51 is in accord with this; it is characteristic of our appreciation of good works of art, that we enjoy the manner in which each element plays its appropriate part within the whole.

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