Aesthetics and modern art

An article from the Guardian titled Why Modern Art is All in the Mind reviews Paul Bloom’s upcoming book called How Pleasure Works. Two quotes in the article caught my attention.

In developing his general theory about how humans decide what they like or dislike, he lines up evidence to show that what people believe about a work of art is crucial to the way they feel about it. He goes on to suggest that modern art collectors are partly motivated by the way they wish to be seen by the rest of the world.

And then this.

Humans are incapable of just getting pleasure from the way something looks, he argues. “The history of an artwork is absolutely critical, although you might argue that it shouldn’t be. It is just the way our minds are built.”

Mammatus overhead from mid-June.

On first read I have a very hard time — thinking about myself — believing that humans are incapable of getting pleasure from the way something looks. However, I regularly talk about the importance of associations in how works of art are interpreted, how they’re viewed. Does that mean, however, that something can’t give pleasure on viewing without certain history does it? The associations I refer to are more or less the same thing as making history a prerequisite to pleasure.

It’s hard for me to imagine not liking the structure in a storm over the prairie, the colors on it as the sun sets, the many shades of purple the clouds are tinged with as lightning courses through it after dark. Yes,I have a history with storms but going back to my childhood it isn’t a positive one. I was scared to death of them until I was about twelve years old. How I came to love them is a mystery even to me.

What about flowers? Why do we consider, pretty much universally (right?) flowers beautiful? We may not all like the same ones, and guys may claim to not like them at all in a pretentious and ignorant show of masculinity.

I suppose Bloom’s book explains a good deal more of his research and theories than the article lets on, but I’d also guess that it won’t necessarily quell in me what suggests that there is some sort of innate [Divinely appointed] basis for beauty.

About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to Aesthetics and modern art

  1. Julie says:

    THIS human is entirely capable of getting pleasure from how something looks. Just sayin’.

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