Abstract Aesthetic attitude theories suggest we must attend disinterestedly to the properties of objects to experience aesthetic delight in them: we view them without regard to their use for us. Bence Nanay’s recent revival of the concept explains it through the distribution of our attention over the many properties of individual objects. While agreeing with Nanay’s approach, I argue such perception presupposes certain intentionality towards the object in the Fregean-Husserlian sense. Whether we see the same object as informative or aesthetically gratifying depends on whether we understand it as, say, a map or as a work of design or art. Furthermore, intending an object as aesthetic means we treat it as internally coherent: its properties are defined in relation to one another, rather than the purposes of a subject. This, I conclude, even affects the presentation of historical or moral values that obviously originate outside the object of aesthetic appreciation. 1. Introduction For Kant, ‘beautiful art displays its excellence precisely by describing beautiful things that in nature would be ugly or displeasing’.1 By this metric, The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939–45 is a success. It reproduces hand-coloured maps produced by local authorities in Britain’s capital during the Luftwaffe’s aerial assaults in the Second World War, as well as photographs documenting the damage taken by two police officers at the time.2 These maps recorded the location and extent of the destruction, classifying the degree of damage at each site. Nearly 30,000 people were killed in the attacks. Seventy thousand buildings—homes, workplaces, centres of their community—were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands more damaged. These maps had a clear purpose: they were to inform and assist local government in dealing with the damage of this horrific bombardment. Published in book form in 2015, the maps have a different aim. Much of the information they contain is now freely available online.3 This is rather a typical coffee-table book, doubtless passed round at dinner parties to coos of admiration from well-heeled urbanites. This is not to minimize it by sociological over-explanation: it is (as rapturous reviews attest) a delightful book, bringing pleasure in its mere appearance, its careful design, and its sheer materiality.4 I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of those who relish it. It does not, I think, qualify as art, but it is undoubtedly aesthetically gratifying—and is manifestly issued with that intent. The book of maps, then, meets Kant’s criterion—but does so through a peculiar double transformation of that which it represents. Compare it with, say, a painting of a war scene, whether a Guernica or a classically-figurative work. Here, the experience offered by the painting could be attributed directly to its properties—the way the artist depicts real events with form and structure, in aesthetically-pleasing fashion. The original maps effect a similar transformation, turning London’s ruins into a visual image, but they translate these ruins into cool, easily-legible information for the administrator, rather than offering them to be admired at leisure. Yet these same maps, re-presented in book form, become objects of aesthetic appreciation for a contemporary audience—on account of the very qualities that merely facilitated the transmission of information decades earlier. This difference might once have been explained by the aesthetic attitude. With roots at least as far back as Kant, aesthetic attitude theories assume that the pleasure we take in art comes from the way we look at an object, not directly from the properties of the work itself.5 It follows that almost anything can in principle be an object of aesthetic appreciation: artworks, the natural world, a heap of garbage, even the misery of wartime Londoners could bring us delight if we look at it correctly. As Jerome Stolnitz put it, ‘an object is “aesthetic” whenever we perceive it in a certain way’.6 In the case of the maps, little significant has changed about them objectively between the 1940s and the present day; what is different is the way we attend to them. Most such theories (including those of Kant, Stolnitz, and Bullough) have at their heart some notion of disinterest or distance as the explanatory factor: when a parent judges their son to be the handsomest boy in class, we take the verdict with a grain of salt; it is only when we fully detach ourselves from practicalities and personal entanglements that we really appreciate something as beautiful. The 1940s officials who looked at the maps did so with pragmatic intent; modern audiences, removed from the pressing needs of their makers, can examine them disinterestedly and so appreciate them. Aesthetic attitude theories fell out of fashion in the wake of George Dickie’s 1964 article, ‘The Myth of the Aesthetic Attitude’.7 Dickie contends that the pivotal notion of ‘disinterest’ is empty and uninformative. It would make sense only if we could contrast it with a meaningful definition of interested attention—perception of the object that is exclusively focused on it, but for some reason other than aesthetic appreciation. In fact, any supposed instances of interested attention turn out to involve inattention, or distracted attention: the impresario who watches the performance of a play in order to see the size of the audience is really attending to his profits, not attending to the play in an interested fashion. There is, Dickie concludes, but one type of attention: it may be more or less focused, but does not vary in kind. Following Dickie’s paper, aesthetic attitude theories largely disappeared. However, by the 1990s, those who returned to the problem found his critique wanting. Fenner acknowledges some of Dickie’s points, but insists that the notion of the aesthetic attitude does indeed express some common experience of the way we engage with art.8 Fenner’s cautious rebuttal was followed by Gary Kemp’s more scathing attack, which eviscerates Dickie’s argument as ‘theory-free philosophical analysis’.9 For Kemp, Dickie’s claim that there is only one way to pay attention is palpably false—a point reinforced recently by Bence Nanay from the perspective of the philosophy of perception.10 Attention, Nanay explains in rebutting Dickie, can be overt/covert, endogenous/exogenous, or (crucially for his own rebuilding of the aesthetic attitude) focused/distributed; it is inaccurate to describe any of these as inattention. Similarly, the attitude of the 1940s officials attending to the bomb damage maps could hardly be described as inattentive: their duty demanded they pay very close, focused attention to the maps, but without experiencing aesthetic pleasure as a result. Nevertheless, the debate around Dickie’s critique does point to certain ambiguities in the concept of a disinterested attitude that perhaps explain the scarcity of efforts to revive it. Not least of these is the question of what is to be classified as ‘disinterested’: as Zangwill points out, for Kant at least it was the pleasure that was disinterested, not the attitude adopted by the subject.11 If it refers to the latter, then it is unclear what conscious steps we take—or what psychological processes we undergo—in adopting a disinterested aesthetic attitude: Dickie insisted that he never needed to take such a stance towards a work of art in order to enjoy it, and it would be futile to claim we knew his inner mental states better than he. If the concept of the aesthetic attitude is to be revived, it needs fuller definition. I suggest that we should understand the aesthetic attitude as a particular phenomenological stance towards the object. Drawing on the notion of intentionality developed by Brentano, Frege, and Husserl, I will argue that aesthetic appreciation entails understanding objects as specific kinds of entity—ones that must be understood on their own terms, as it were, in which the significance and aesthetic value of their properties are defined in relation to one another and to the whole object, rather than in relation to anything outside that object. To explain this, I shall first examine Nanay’s recent enlightening analyses of the kinds of perception involved in aesthetic appreciation. Though very useful, his account does not quite distinguish between the attitudes of a 1940s official and of a contemporary reader to the London maps. Instead, I suggest they can be differentiated by the kind of object to which they attend: what we see the whole object as defines how we see its individual properties—and thus whether our attention is aesthetic. I shall then offer a closer analysis of this attitude, suggesting it means seeing the objects as internally coherent: the significance of their properties is defined in relation to one another, not any external purpose. It is this that allows us to characterize the aesthetic attitude as disinterested. Finally, I shall consider one possible objection to my argument. It might seem that certain kinds of art cannot be self-contained because they presuppose some value external to the aesthetic object: for example, modern audiences could be admiring an idealized image of wartime London by way of these bomb damage maps, meaning that their pleasure depends on the value signified by the work rather than the work itself. On the contrary, I will argue the reverse: the presentation of such values within the self-containment of the artwork may instead contribute to their lustre more generally. 2. Aesthetic Intention In place of a subjective attitude, Dickie suggests that the pleasure we take in art is produced by certain features of the object itself.12 Objects have real aesthetic properties, he argues, which strike us in a way that causes pleasure. Such properties cannot be defined a priori: there may be any number of them and he cites Sibley’s suggested terms approvingly as a starting-point.13 If an individual remains unmoved by an artwork or other aesthetic object, it is because they have failed to notice the relevant property rather than that they have perceived it with the wrong attitude. Thus, if we are unmoved by a poem when reading it as a socio-historical document, it is because we are attending to the wrong properties—those that reveal information rather than give pleasure.14 All that is required, then, is that we direct our attention at the correct properties, not that we adopt a particular attitude towards them. We can rely, Dickie suggests, on discerning critics who point them out to us. The bomb damage map challenges Dickie’s argument. The problem here is that the same non-aesthetic features of the object that underlies its aesthetic properties—its colour or its formal organization—do not necessarily produce the same effects in different subjects. The 1940s official examining the maps would do so with the greatest attention to precisely these features, but without deriving any aesthetic experience from them; even if a passing critic pointed out the aesthetic properties of the maps, it seems unlikely that the official would lapse into reveries. Dickie’s claim that we might simply overlook aesthetic properties seems entirely implausible here. This suggests that it is not the degree of attention, but its kind that picks out the aesthetic properties of the map: there must, that is, be some contribution by the subject that involves looking at the same properties differently. Bence Nanay offers one possible explanation for the kind of attention in question.15 Drawing on the philosophy of perception, he rejects Dickie’s claim that there is but one kind of attention. Nanay points to one distinction as particularly relevant for understanding aesthetic pleasure: that between focused attention, concentrating on one experiential object, and distributed attention, which includes numerous such objects. He proposes extending this notion such that attention may be focused or distributed both in regard to objects and to properties of those objects. For example, when ‘we need to sort through a pile of blue and red socks … we are attending to lots of objects, but only to one property of these objects (in this example: their colour—whether they are red or blue)’.16 The aesthetic attitude entails attention of the opposite sort: it focuses on a single object but to many properties of that object (its colour, its spatial organization, its texture). This diffusion of attention to multiple properties of one object, he suggests, is what characterizes many (though perhaps not all) aesthetic experiences. Moreover, it counts as ‘disinterested’ by contrast with other possible forms of attention: when we focus on one property of one object, it is likely that we seek to use it, whereas attention distributed with regard to both properties and objects is more akin to an uninterested wandering mind. Only object-focused but property-distributed attention can really be called disinterested. Nanay’s wonderfully clear, multi-layered argument is a definite advance: not only does he uncover multiple kinds of attention (removing the central plank of Dickie’s argument) he also places the distinction between the object as a whole on the one hand and its individual properties on the other at the heart of his definition. It is also a considerable strength of his argument that he shows that this account is a good description of a variety of paradigmatic aesthetic experiences reported by a range of individuals from Proust to his barber. However, this is not yet enough to distinguish the two percipients of our bomb damage maps. The attention of the wartime official could be categorized in the way Nanay describes aesthetic experience, focused on one object but distributed over its properties. They would surely attend to a number of properties of the map (the single object) on which they focused—the colours indicating severity of damage, the spatial areas indicating the extent of the bombing, or the relative positions of different damaged areas, for example. But their attention could hardly be described as ‘aesthetic’, and none of those properties appears aesthetically relevant. This ambiguity in attention to individuated properties raises a second problem: what counts as the whole thing on which we focus our attention, the properties of which we should attend to? This is less straightforward than it might appear. Nanay notes that when we look at a picture of a landscape, we are looking at the whole image, not individual trees or hills in it.17 Here, however, the different details of the object have been pre-sorted into an image for us. It is a different case when looking at natural landscapes: we may select certain features on which to focus our attention, tuning out electricity pylons or traffic noise. Conversely, the number of pleasurable properties of any given object might be extended indefinitely: its aesthetic boundaries are not fixed. We may learn to find the age of the stone used in a building adds to our aesthetic pleasure while the exact kind of stone used or its location do not, for example. In short: the object of aesthetic attention (in Nanay’s sense) is not identical with the underlying material, and so the properties over which our attention must be distributed remain unspecified. These two problems are related, I suggest, insofar as our attention to individual properties is not a direct apprehension of sensory data, but is always in some sense interpreted and meaningful. The individual properties of an object are taken as aesthetic if the object as a whole is intended aesthetically: the whole determines the parts. Here I rely on the concept of intentionality developed by Franz Brentano, Gottlob Frege, and Edmund Husserl. What Brentano pointed out is that our mental images of objects necessarily entail aspects that could not conceivably be attributed to the object itself: Every mental phenomenon is characterized by what the Scholastics of the Middle Ages called the intentional (or mental) inexistence of an object, and what we might call, though not wholly unambiguously, reference to a content, direction toward an object (which is not to be understood here as meaning a thing), or immanent objectivity. … In presentation, something is presented, in judgment something is affirmed or denied, in love loved, in hate hated, in desire desired and so on.18 Mental states, Brentano claims, inevitably intend or are directed towards objects: we cannot love without loving something. Therefore, such states can be said to include this object. This, however, raises the question of the ontological status of such objects. It is perfectly possible for us to admire or hate a fictional or mythical character—to intend an object that does not exist outside of consciousness. When we intend objects that do transcend consciousness, then, are our mental states directed towards the object as it exists outside consciousness, or (as with the fictional character) merely to the image of the object within consciousness? One solution to the conundrum is to distinguish between the object as it is intended or referred to and the object beyond intentionality. The most parsimonious account is Frege’s distinction between Bedeutung and Sinn, which frames the problem in terms of the meaning of different sentences. Any two words may have the same referent (Bedeutung) but quite different senses (Sinn). In Frege’s example, the sentence ‘Hesperus is Phosphorus’ differs in meaning from the sentence ‘Hesperus is Hesperus’, even though both ‘Hesperus’ and ‘Phosphorus’ have the same referent: they are different names for the planet Venus. ‘Hesperus is Phosphorus’, however, deploys two different senses—the ‘evening star’ and the ‘morning star’ respectively—so offering more than a logical identity claim. Hesperus and Phosphorus are quite distinct. Husserl’s phenomenological explanation of intentionality combines something like the Fregean account of sense and referent with his teacher Brentano’s concern with consciousness. He distinguishes between the raw data of our senses (which he terms hyle) and the object that we actually perceive and experience. We never naively and directly perceive any object we encounter: instead, we know it as a particular kind of thing. In fact, the same sense data could be the basis of any number of quite distinct experiential objects. Føllesdal explains Husserl’s point through reference to Jastrow’s duck-rabbit: the same set of lines on a page (the hyle) could be perceived as the head of either a duck or a rabbit.19 But it is not simply a matter of recognizing different kinds of objects. As Husserl puts it, ‘concrete data of experience are to be found as components in concrete experiences of a more comprehensive kind which as wholes are intentional, and indeed so that over those sensile phases lies as it were an “animating” meaning-bestowing stratum’.20 In other words, the individual properties of the experienced object depend on the way the whole is intended. For example, we may know the same individual as both ‘the President’ or as ‘my old childhood friend’; each of these distinct complexes of meaning (or noema) incorporates properties that cannot be disentangled from the sense of the object as a whole.21 We may perceive the same behaviour as ‘arrogantly aloof’ or as ‘dignified’, and correspondingly feel either resentment or respect, depending on whether we intend this individual as our friend or as the head of state. Significantly, Husserl follows Brentano in explaining this intentionality in terms of a mental act, or noesis. Our attitude is inextricable from and constitutive of the experienced object as a whole. Going beyond merely recognizing and categorizing an already-complete object as a particular kind of thing, how we intend a mass of sensory perceptions is what composes them as a meaningful experience. The aesthetic attitude, I suggest, can be understood as just such a particular way of intending an object. On Husserl’s interpretation, it is not strictly true to say that our 1940s official and the dinner guest are ‘seeing’ the same colours, lines, or spatial organization when looking at the map: while the same basic sense data may be present in both, the experience of that datum will be different depending on the way it is intended, or what the perception is about. Thus, our 1940s officials see the colours of the object as informative because they are looking at maps. The properties of maps are related to the information they provide; consequently, their colours, spatial organization, and keys are experienced for the information they provide. Well-trained officials do not see black, purple, and red data—rather, they directly perceive total destruction, damaged beyond repair, or seriously damaged respectively. Conversely, contemporary readers are looking at a coffee-table book, and so see the same sensory data as aesthetic properties: the typefaces used on the maps are not valued for their legibility (a central concern for the official) but for their elegance. Though any intentional object is, in a sense, complete in itself (we can appreciate the maps as maps without any regard for their aesthetic properties) the same underlying material can be intended in a number of ways, or as different noema with an entirely different set of properties. Crucially, this Husserlian approach implies that our contemporary readers are doing more than simply recognizing the book as belonging to a particular category of object and thereby gaining access to properties that are already there. Rather, it is because they intend it in the way they do that it becomes an object characterized by aesthetic properties rather than informational ones. It is not even necessary to commit to the full programme of Husserlian phenomenology here. From a very different tradition, Roger Scruton points to the peculiarity of the way we talk about art. When describing music as ‘moving’ or ‘sad’, we appear to commit a rather large pathetic fallacy, attributing human emotion to mere modulations of sound.22 To explain this, Scruton turns (in explicitly Kantian fashion) to the imagination, which allows us to see one thing as another. It is because of such ‘seeing-as’ that we can project emotion into music. Of course, it is difficult to picture our 1940s officials seeing the lines and colours on their maps as anything other than information while they are using them. Before seeing aesthetic properties in an artefact, then, I suggest it is necessary to ‘see it as’ a particular kind of object as a whole. Thus, while Nanay is right to turn to the relation between the object as a whole and as a collection of properties, that relation depends on the kind of object we take ourselves to be looking at. It is this attitude that determines which sensory perceptions underlie the aesthetic properties of the object, and which are irrelevant and hence not part of the intentional object. It allows us not only to pick out the total set of properties of the aesthetic object, but also to appreciate them appropriately. We must first see the object as a map or as a book if we are to see its properties as informational, aesthetic, historical, or emotional. It follows there is no a priori limit to the kinds of sensory data that could be intended aesthetically. If our attitude to such experiences is what constitutes them as particular kinds of thing, it is in principle possible that any set of sensations (or hyle) could provide the stuff out of which intentionality constructs aesthetic objects. 3. The Autonomy of Aesthetic Objects Interpreting an object as a map or as a coffee-table book could be merely a conceptual or semantic distinction, a matter of correctly categorizing objects. I have not yet shown that this would meet the requirement of ‘disinterest’ or any related notion, historically central to aesthetic attitude theories. What I will argue now is that previous explanations are right to define disinterest by engagement with all of the properties of an object, but that more is needed: these properties are understood and defined in relation to one another, rather than to anything outside the object. The aesthetic attitude is disinterested because it treats objects as formally unified wholes in which the significance of any property is determined in relation to its other properties. One common way to distinguish practical and aesthetic attitudes has been by the amount of the object we attend to. For both Stolnitz and Nanay, in taking a practical attitude towards an object, ‘our perception of a thing is usually limited and fragmentary. We see only those of its features which are relevant to our purposes’.23 For example, we might consider only the heft and solidity of a hammer. In contrast, under the aesthetic attitude, ‘the object is not seen in a fragmentary or passing manner. … Its whole nature and character are dwelt upon.’24 Rather than picking out only those parts that interest us, we accept the object as a whole, on its own terms—hence ‘disinterestedly.’ In Nanay’s terms, we distribute our attention over all of its properties, even those unrelated to our purposes. This argument is, I think, basically correct in its intuition—but must be reformulated to avoid certain difficulties. First, even the aesthetic attitude requires us to ignore or tune out as many material elements of the object as we focus on. Dickie rightly points out the role of conventions in directing our attention towards the relevant parts of objects but away from others—to the picture and not the frame, or—one of his favourite examples—away from the ‘property man’ who remains on stage to arrange the set in classical Chinese theatre, but who is not considered part of the action.25 But (second) it is equally possible to argue that the practical attitude is a complete, not a partial, approach to objects. We may examine a hammer with an eye to its hardness, its weight, its durability, and its size. It is no less complete a tool just because we ignore its colour or the tone it makes when struck; besides, we would ignore its practical qualities if appreciating it aesthetically. So the distinction cannot be that practical attention to an object is merely partial, while aesthetic attention views the whole object: each attitude is directed towards a different, but equally complete object. The answer to these problems lies, I suggest, in the kind of whole we take ourselves to be regarding in the aesthetic attitude. There are two steps to this argument: first, I will suggest that adopting the aesthetic attitude means we treat an object as a whole comprising a number of interrelated parts—not simply as an aggregate of properties. Second, we intend this whole in a way that treats it as autonomous and self-enclosed: its parts are defined in relation to one another, not to the external purposes of the subject. Rather than examining the sum total of properties of an object, then, the aesthetic attitude is distinguished by treating those qualities it does attend to as constituting a whole or complete object. Of course, completeness or similar terms such as ‘unity’ have a long tradition in aesthetics. John Dewey is one who emphasizes this notion. Distinguishing between experiencing and ‘having an experience’, Dewey characterizes the latter by a kind of completeness that appears ‘when the material experienced runs its course to fulfilment’, giving examples such as a game played to its end.26 Significantly, though, Dewey presents completeness as a property of objects, independent of subjective intentionality—just as he later explains the aesthetic pleasures of rhythm as echoing natural rhythms of the blood coursing through the body or environmental changes of season.27 In similar vein to eighteenth century theorists such as Francis Hutcheson, he implies that any aesthetic attitude would merely entail directing our attention to properties of the object that exist independently of us—in this case, its completeness. This might simply be a different way of designating the attention to the whole object that Stolnitz describes. In contrast, the aesthetic attitude entails intending a set of properties as if they form a whole. Completeness follows from the way the object is intended; it is not a property of the object that we perceive directly. This claim depends on Husserl’s account of the relationship of whole and parts in the third of his Logical Investigations. ‘Objects,’ he argues, ‘can be related to one another as Wholes to Parts; they can also be related to one another as coordinated parts of a whole. … Every object is either actually or possibly a part.’28 The significance of a part qua part is connected to its place within the whole. Husserl gives the example of a musical tone: while it has its own distinct parts (its pitch or its intensity, etc), its meaning within a melody is given by its place within that complete tone-sequence.29 In the latter case, the distinct parts of the tone are only mediated parts of the melody as a whole. Some parts, of course, can only be conceived of as parts: Husserl mentions colour, which can only be thought of as a particular shade of a specific thing. But other parts are thinkable as relatively independent even of wholes they are obviously related to: Husserl suggests we can imagine a horse’s head detached from any context, including the body of the horse. (We can even imagine it placed by the Mafia in the bed of a Hollywood producer, giving it a quite different significance.) This implies that the completeness of an object depends on the way it is intended in relation to other entities. Even Dewey’s game is not ‘complete’ if intended merely as one game in a long season, its meaning changing in relation to that full series of other contests. In the case of our maps, the difference between the 1940s official and the contemporary reader is that the latter intend the maps as wholes in their own right, whereas the former intend them merely as parts of a broader whole. For the official, the meaning of the maps is defined by their place in a wider set of purposes; their properties are defined primarily in relation to something outside the map itself. Conversely, in adopting an aesthetic attitude towards the map, the contemporary admirer regards it as complete without reference to anything outside itself. It is viewed as a whole that is not itself part of anything else; its parts are defined and determined in relation to one another, and not to any external context. To explain this, it is necessary to go beyond Husserl’s abstract and general framework by drawing on a distinction made by the art historian Alois Riegl (1858–1905), which illustrates the relevant part–whole relation rather more concretely. Riegl is remembered above all for his concept of Kunstwollen, claiming that the entire art of a given epoch is shaped according to a central structural principle.30 He characterized such Kunstwollen by sets of concepts that identified the underlying rules governing the appearance of artworks—such as that between Nahsicht (‘near view’) and Fernsicht (‘far view’), distinguishing art that made most sense to a viewer standing close to the image, or one standing farther back to take it all in at once.31 The crucial distinction for my purposes appears in his Höllandischer Gruppenporträt, wherein he distinguishes between the internal and external coherence of paintings. The former is typical of Italian Renaissance painting. Consider Raphael’s Transfiguration: the figures in the image are arranged to form a series of triangles on the canvas. Their semantic properties are derived from their relations to one another, entirely within the painting itself: notwithstanding Raphael’s use of perspective, the viewer standing outside the painting has no meaningful role in the scene depicted. This is internal coherence: each component of the image, and the painting as a whole, makes sense in relation to other elements within it. Riegl contrasts this with Dutch group portraiture, characterized by its drive to external coherence. This reached its acme in Rembrandt’s Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild (aka De Staalmeesters).32 Rembrandt depicts a group of Dutch burghers gathered around a table, listening to their apparent leader commenting on what seems to be a book of cloth samples. Crucially, however, they are at the same time looking out towards the spectator: it is implied that the viewer is the one who has brought these samples for inspection. Thus, the viewer outside the canvas is a necessary part of the semantic construction of the image: its components only make sense if we assume such an interaction. Riegl thus distinguishes between works that seem to generate their meaning entirely within themselves, and those that presuppose a percipient as part of their narrative. Michael Gubser has shown the close relations between Riegl’s theory and the broader philosophical currents of his time—including parallels with Husserl.33 Here I will make a more limited use of this particular distinction in a phenomenological explanation of aesthetic objects. If we intend an object with a practical attitude, I suggest, it ‘makes sense’ on the basis of some kind of external coherence. The object appears as the means to an individual’s end; its properties are related directly to the person using it, insofar as they meet that person’s needs. When we intend the London bomb damage maps as maps, for example, the properties of those maps are obviously aimed at providing information efficiently and comprehensively—they are clear, concise, and easily-decipherable so as to ease the tasks of the officials examining them. They presuppose individuals seeking to use them. To understand this material as a map is to understand its position as part of a sequence of purposes centred on a certain kind of subject; without those purposes, it is indecipherable. (Consider the way an archaeologist might try to interpret some hitherto-unknown object uncovered during an excavation: they would seek to make sense of it by speculating on the purposes to which it might be put by those in a given cultural context.) Conversely, the aesthetic attitude entails intending objects as, in Riegl’s terms, internally coherent. Stolnitz is thus right to state that the aesthetic attitude means ‘isolating’ the object, but wrong to argue that this entails attention to all of its properties.34 Rather, aesthetic attention is distinguished by the way it treats that set of properties and parts of the object it does attend to: their significance comes from their relations to one another, such that the aesthetic object appears as a self-enclosed whole, its meaning determined within itself. A colour might be ‘too garish’, for example, because it clashes with the muted palette of the rest of the picture. In the case of our book of maps, we might include the relations between the map’s colours, the typeface used, and the quality of the paper. Contemporary admirers view these maps as internally coherent wholes: it is this difference in the way their parts are intended by the subject that differentiates the coffee table book from the diagrams consulted by the wartime official. Similarly, we fail to appreciate the aesthetic significance of characters in a novel if we interpret them as an expression of the author’s life, or identify with them as reflecting our own experiences. When we adopt the aesthetic attitude, then, we intend objects entirely on their own terms, such that their parts and properties are defined in relation to themselves rather than any connection to our own lives and purposes. (Lest there be any confusion, I should emphasize that paintings exhibiting external coherence in Riegl’s art-historical sense could still be regarded as internally coherent phenomenological objects: Riegl’s spectator is, from this perspective, incorporated into the meaning-structure of the aesthetic object, their personal purposes temporarily suspended as they are redefined as part of the work of art as a whole.) This interpretation of the aesthetic attitude seems to describe the unique character of certain aesthetic experiences—as well as the fact that we are not always successful in having them. Adopting the aesthetic attitude means bracketing our engagement with the object out from the rest of our life: it might be described as a quasi-sacred experience in that it seems to be set apart from everyday existence. (If I may offer a personal anecdote: I recall with pleasure a deep sense of stillness and separation when looking at Leonardo’s Annunciation; despite being surrounded by a party of schoolchildren in a crowded Uffizi, I felt lost in contemplation of the image, barely aware of my surroundings.) Such experiences obviously require a certain intellectual and emotional effort to detach oneself from surrounding circumstances and one’s broader preoccupations. Nanay rightly sees the possibility of failed aesthetic experiences as evidence in support of the aesthetic attitude: if one and the same work of art has no effect on us when we are exhausted or distracted by crowds thronging around us, but moves us deeply on another occasion when we are able to ignore our surroundings, it points to the importance of the subject’s ability to adopt the aesthetic attitude deliberately.35 The difference here lies in the attitude of the spectator, not in anything about the objects: it is not that we attend to most or all of the properties of the object, but that we are able to isolate these properties from the everyday world around us and intend them as an object complete in itself. At the same time, this focus on internal coherence helps explain the open-endedness of aesthetic experiences. If we see the meaning of the whole object as defined by relations between its parts (rather than any external purpose), and at the same time the meaning of each property is defined in relation to other parts within the whole, then none of these meanings can be fixed. The significance of a tool is fairly unequivocal: it is defined in relation to the fixed point of the subject’s purpose. In contrast, if the meaning of property A is defined in terms of properties B and C, and in terms of the whole P that they constitute, there is no such fixed point. Our first understanding of A, B, and C produces an interpretation of P—but this interpretation then itself alters the way we see A, B, and C, leading to a second perspective on P and so on. This perhaps explains why we are not always satisfied with a single engagement with a work, but instead want to return to it, to look again and relish it more. Curiously, the more we seek to appreciate an object aesthetically, as internally coherent, the less fixed its meaning; consequently, the enjoyment it offers is not exhausted in a single glance. The aesthetic attitude is disinterested, then, in that it entails intending objects as significant on their own terms instead of defining their meaning in relation to the subject. The object is intended as a whole in its own right, rather than as a part of a greater web of purposes or events. Stolnitz and Nanay are right to describe this as attention to most or all of the properties of the object, rather than only a select group of them. But such an argument needs to be expanded: these properties must be understood as belonging to a whole that is internally coherent, their value determined by their relation to one another. What counts as the ‘whole’ is defined intentionally. To the extent that we understand the object as comprised of parts and properties defined in relation to one another—an internally-coherent semantic whole—then our attitude counts as disinterested. 4. Values and the Aesthetic Attitude There is an obvious question for my account—one again illustrated by the bomb damage maps. Appreciation of any given artefact often presupposes an understanding of specific cultural values or symbols that are not defined wholly within the object, as my argument seems to require. This is certainly the case with the book of maps, which (as the publisher states) ‘speak of the human experience of war—of loss and camaraderie, of tragedy and heroism—conjuring up the days of blackout and the “Spirit of the Blitz”. They tell a story, moreover, that was echoed in towns and cities across Britain and throughout the world’.36 Indeed, the design of the book contributes to conveying this ‘spirit’. The title on the cover is appealingly set in Johnston Sans—instantly recognizable as the typeface used by the London Underground system.37 The publishers clearly chose it to evoke a certain era and its associated values. Thus, an element of the book that might appear purely aesthetic-design oriented is relished and valued as much for what it represents as for its own beauty. When contemporary readers admire the book, then, they are also admiring the era it represents as much as its appearance. Indeed, we surely cannot claim to understand any artwork if we are entirely ignorant of the historical and social circumstances behind it, or the meaning of the cultural symbols embodied in it. All these elements might seem to be excluded by the aesthetic attitude as I have outlined it: to treat an aesthetic object as a self-enclosed source of its own meaning means they are systematically ignored. Moreover, it would be wrong simply to dismiss this by stating that such responses are not really part of our aesthetic pleasure at the object—not least because this would imply we could in principle break down complex experiences of art and isolate their ‘genuinely’ aesthetic elements. Instead, I suggest, when we encounter symbolic values of this kind through works of art, we intend them quite differently from the way we might normally regard them. Strictly speaking, we are not really responding to those values at all. Rather, intending them aesthetically, we treat a number of distinct elements as a meaningful whole. We exclude elements that do not accord with this whole—ignoring the looting that went on in the wake of the bombing so as to contemplate instead the supposed unity of the people in the face of this threat. Often the parts that make up this whole might even be mutually contradictory when considered separately: the modernist Johnston Sans had little real connection with the Victorian terraces levelled by Nazi bombs. But when we gather such elements together beneath an aesthetic gaze, we treat them as a whole in which each part complements the others. In the bomb damage books, a form of life—a particular culture captured at a moment of time—is manifest as a complete whole for aesthetic contemplation. The daily fear of death from above is reduced, as part of this whole, to an element counterbalanced by the supposed ‘Blitz spirit’: neither makes sense without the other. The differences become mere aesthetic contrasts. Of course, any such interpretation is objectively false: it presents a reified, idealized, and limited image of a complex set of social and historical circumstances that were by no means as coherent as they appear in the imagination of the book’s readers. For the original users of these documents, the officials of the 1940s, such detachment was simply impossible. Not only were they approaching the maps with a particular intent, they were also too acutely aware of the complexities and divisions of the society they lived in to see it as a unified whole. Too many of the elements of that world related directly to them, their significance derived from a personal connection: that world was externally coherent, not internally so. At seven decades’ removed, we can regard that complex social reality with disinterest, imbued with an order and harmony by the way we intend it. Indeed, the world conveyed by the book is thereby cut off from its connection to the present: it appears as historical, but also irretrievably severed from modern times, generating nostalgia for loss of a world that never really existed. By detaching our consideration of these objects from their relation to our own lives, then, the aesthetic attitude may endow them with a false completeness, but this falsity is perhaps responsible for the aura they gain from their artistic representation. 5. Conclusion I have argued that the aesthetic attitude entails understanding objects as complete, internally-coherent wholes. While Bence Nanay is right to connect this attitude with focused perception on a single object in combination with distributed perception of its properties, perception alone is not quite sufficient. Rather, the aesthetic attitude requires more mental processing: we must imagine the object as a complete, internally-coherent whole, the value and meaning of which is in the first instance derived from the relations between its parts. The classic notion of ‘disinterest’ as a central component of the aesthetic attitude refers, I suggested, to the self-contained character of this confrontation with an object: its parts are considered without relation to their significance for us as subjects. Even aesthetic objects that obviously include certain values and symbols within them are understood at least momentarily as autonomous; we intend a contradictory social world as if it were an internally-coherent whole and so are able to suspend ethical critique or existential engagement with it. Some may object to my assertion that aesthetic appreciation centres on seeing an object as the kind of thing to which we should respond disinterestedly: it might depend heavily on our having a prior notion of suitable aesthetic objects. I agree that it does—but I do not see this as a problem. Indeed, any aesthetic attitude theory rather presupposes such an understanding: if we interpret the attitude as a more-or-less consciously-adopted stance towards objects, by definition we need to know when to adopt it. Here, another of Dickie’s theories is of rather more use than his critique of the aesthetic attitude. In his institutional theory of art, he suggests that social conventions are responsible for directing our attention to those aspects of an object that are fit sources of aesthetic enjoyment.38 I would only disagree here in stating that such conventions do not direct us simply to certain properties of an object—they direct us to treat selected masses of sensory data as coherent, complete wholes. They may be responsible for teaching us to address our attention to a painting as art, rather than an object of religious devotion, or to the natural world around us as a landscape, not a source of food. As both Jacob Burckhardt and Augustin Berque have argued, humans have not always seen landscapes as beautiful—it required certain developments to perceive the natural world this way.39 Pointing to the circumstances that make this possible need not entail sociological reductionism: as Zangwill has argued, it is perhaps to the credit of any society that has produced such possibilities that it enables such unique experiences.40 I have not explained why seeing objects as coherent and complete in themselves must bring us the pleasure historically associated with aesthetics. I do not think it is necessary to do so. In the first place, such a concern with pleasure loads us with the baggage of a metaphysical notion of the subject—whether the complex Kantian one in which this pleasure is explained in terms of the free play of rational faculties, or a simpler one of the kind proposed by some of Kant’s eighteenth-century predecessors, who posited a single faculty affected by aesthetic properties.41 But, second, turning away from an exclusive focus on pleasure also allows consideration of experiences other than beauty alone. To consider something aesthetically is not necessarily to find it beautiful: as Karl Rosenkranz argued long ago, there is a certain aesthetics of the ugly too.42 Similarly, it is perhaps misleading to characterize the attitude of contemporary readers of the book of bomb damage maps as one of pleasure at the beauty of the maps and accompanying photographs: that suggests rather too cold-hearted a disposition towards signifiers of death and destruction. Perhaps ‘wonder’ would be a better word to encompass the sense of immersion in contemplation of an object that comes with peak aesthetic experiences. What characterizes such moments, I suggest, is their radical separation from the everyday, not merely the gratification they bring: they are almost otherworldly. To return to Kant’s statement that ‘beautiful art displays its excellence precisely by describing beautiful things that in nature would be ugly or displeasing’: it is not that the ugly is made beautiful, but that the aesthetic attitude allows us to contemplate the beauty or ugliness of a scene without regard to its practical relevance.43 In adopting this attitude, we separate that which we contemplate from the daily reality that would normally define its meaning. Aesthetic experiences are, in a sense, utopian: it is because they present a self-enclosed world that does not otherwise exist that that we feel ourselves lifted above our everyday experience.44 Footnotes 1 Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Paul Guyer & Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 190. 2 Laurence Ward, The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939–45, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2015) 3 For example, see the maps made available by The Bomb Sight Project (version 1.0) <http://www.bombsight.org/#15/51.5050/-0.0900> accessed 20 July 2017. 4 See, for example, J. Mordaunt Crook, ‘Colour-Coded for Destruction’ in The Times Literary Supplement, 6 April 2016. 5 Jerome Stolnitz, ‘On the Origins of “Aesthetic Disinterestedness”’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 20 (1961), 131–143; Jerome Stolnitz, ‘On the Significance of Lord Shaftesbury in Modern Aesthetic Theory’, Philosophical Quarterly, 11 (1961), 97–113; Jerome Stolnitz, ‘The “Aesthetic Attitude” in the Rise of Modern Aesthetics’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 36 (1978), 409–423. But see also George Dickie, ‘Stolnitz’s Attitude: Taste and Perception’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 43 (1984), 195–203. 6 Jerome Stolnitz, Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art Criticism: A Critical Introduction (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960), 29. 7 George Dickie, ‘The Myth of the Aesthetic Attitude’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 1 (1964), 56–65. 8 David Fenner, The Aesthetic Attitude (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1996), 112–130. 9 Gary Kemp, ‘The Aesthetic Attitude’, BJA, 39 (1999), 392–9, at 399. 10 Bence Nanay, Aesthetics as Philosophy of Perception (Oxford: OUP, 2016), 21. 11 Nick Zangwill, ‘Unkantian Notions of Disinterest’, BJA, 32 (1992), 149–152. 12 George Dickie, Evaluating Art (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1988). 13 Frank Sibley, ‘Aesthetic Concepts’, Philosophical Review, 68 (1959), 421–450 14 Dickie, ‘Myth of the Aesthetic Attitude’, 60. 15 Nanay, Aesthetics as Philosophy of Perception, 13–36. 16 Ibid., 24. 17 Ibid., 25. 18 Franz Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, trans. A. C. Rancurello, D. B. Terrell, and L. McAlister (London: Routledge, 1973), 88. 19 Dagfin Føllesdal, ‘Husserl on Evidence & Justification,’ in Robert Sokolowski (ed.) Edmund Husserl and the Phenomenological Tradition: Essays in Phenomenology, (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 108. 20 Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. F. Kersten (Dordrecht, Holland and Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991), 175. 21 There is considerable debate on the precise meaning of noema, exacerbated by Husserl’s prose. My use here is closest to Sokolowski’s interpretation, and furthest from Gurwitsch’s. For a full review of the debate, see David Woodruff Smith, Husserl (London: Routledge, 2007), 304ff. See also Aron Gurwitsch, The Field of Consciousness (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1964), 184, and Robert Sokolowski, Introduction to Phenomenology, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 59. 22 Roger Scruton, Art and Imagination: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind (London: Methuen, 1974), 84–133. 23 Stolnitz, Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art Criticism, 33. 24 Stolnitz, Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art Criticism, 35. 25 George Dickie, Art and the Aesthetic: An Institutional Analysis (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974), 87–89. 26 John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Perigee, 1980), 35. 27 Dewey, Art as Experience, 150. 28 Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, trans. J. N. Findlay (London: Routledge, 2001). Two vols, ii.4. 29 Husserl, Logical Investigations, ii.31–2. 30 For the clearest definition, see Alois Riegl, Late Roman Art Industry, trans. Rolf Winkes (Rome: Giorgio Bretschneider Editore, 1985), 231. 31 Riegl, Late Roman Art Industry, 24–27. 32 Alois Riegl, The Group Portraiture of Holland, trans. Evelyn M. Kain and David Britt (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 1999), 253ff. 33 Michael Gubser, Time’s Visible Surface: Alois Riegl and the Discourse on History and Temporality in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2006). 34 Stolnitz, Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art Criticism, 33. 35 Nanay, Aesthetics as Philosophy of Perception, 31. 36 Taken from the website of the publisher (Thames and Hudson), <https://www.thamesandhudsonusa.com/books/the-london-county-council-bomb-damage-maps-1939-1945-hardcover> accessed 21 July 2017. 37 The ‘S’ appears slightly different, but in other respects it is obviously Johnston Sans. 38 Dickie, Art and the Aesthetic, 147–181. 39 Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, ed. Peter Burke, trans. S. Middlemore (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990); Augustin Berque, Thinking Through Landscape (London: Routledge, 2013). 40 Nick Zangwill, The Metaphysics of Beauty (Ithaca, NY, 2001), 215. 41 For the history of such ways of thinking about art, see Stolnitz, ‘The Significance of Lord Shaftesbury’; Stolnitz, ‘Origins of “Aesthetic Disinterestedness”’; George Dickie, The Century of Taste: The Philosophical Odyssey of Taste in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: OUP, 1996). 42 Karl Rosenkranz, Aesthetics of Ugliness, trans. Andrei Pop and Mechtild Widrich (London: Bloomsbury, 2015). 43 Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgement, 190. 44 I am grateful to Rae Chen, whose insightful comments and aesthetic sensibilities helped improve this paper. Thanks also to the anonymous reviewers for their useful suggestions. © British Society of Aesthetics 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society of Aesthetics. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The British Journal of Aesthetics – Oxford University Press
Published: May 21, 2018
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