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Tolstoy: What Is Art?

In this brief passage Tolstoy declares that art is, above all, the expression of the artist’s feelings so that others might experience those same feelings.

Bell: Art

Bell explains that art is significant form. Something is art, and elicits an aesthetic response, when the object combines lines, colors, and relations in a particular way.

Gardner: The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener

Gardner argues that works of art have objective properties by which we can judge their aesthetic goodness or badness. That is, there are standards of excellence in art that transcend individual tastes and social norms. These standards may be difficult to specify, but that does not undermine their objectivity.

Aristotle: The Poetics

Aristotle is an objectivist about art and says that art in general, and tragedy in particular, is expression. It is also a representation of things in the world and an expression of feelings (evoking pity and fear in the case of tragedy). The difference between the historian and the playwright is that the one tells us what happened and the other, the sort of thing that would happen.

David Hume: Of the Standard of Taste

Hume is a subjectivist who argues that the criteria for judging aesthetic value are entirely subjective. There are no objective standards by which we can tell whether one work of art is superior to another. Some agreement among opinions, however, is to be expected since humans have the same capacity—a similar “aesthetic sentiment”—for responding to aesthetic objects. There are common-sense “rules” of aesthetic judgment founded on the uniformities of human experience and feelings. But this does not mean that the feelings of humans will always conform to these rules.