Experimental Aesthetics or the Science of Art

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<ul><li><p>Leonardo</p><p>Experimental Aesthetics or the Science of ArtAuthor(s): F. MolnarSource: Leonardo, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Winter, 1974), pp. 23-26Published by: The MIT PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1572732 .Accessed: 17/06/2014 05:45</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p><p> .</p><p>The MIT Press and Leonardo are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access toLeonardo.</p><p>http://www.jstor.org </p><p>This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 05:45:07 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=mitpresshttp://www.jstor.org/stable/1572732?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>Leonardo, Vol. 7, pp. 23-26. Pergamon Press 1974. Printed in Great Britain </p><p>EXPERIM ENTAL AESTHETICS </p><p>OR THE SCIENCE OF ART </p><p>F. Molnar* </p><p>Abstract-The author discusses the part of philosophy called aesthetics and points out the difference between factual science and the philosophy of essence. He finds that the philosophy of essence is of no use in helping artists or other creative individuals to find really valuable paths to follow among the vast number of theoretically possible paths. He finds that such guidance can be found only through a better understanding of relevant facts by resorting to controlled experiments. </p><p>The difficulties of applying the principal method of science to experimental aesthetics are reviewed and some of the positive achievements of this new science are mentioned. Hefinds that it is the right and duty of those working in experi- mental aesthetics to take advantage of the knowledge accumulated by experi- mental psychologists in collaboration with physiologists, biologists and mathe- maticians. He ends with the hope that the science of art will become a part of the science of human behavior. </p><p>I. </p><p>The part of philosophy dealing with works of art is called aesthetics. It involves discussing, giving an opinion, approving or disapproving, having a feeling of satisfaction or simply perceiving a painting or sculpture as a work of art. Valery said that aesthetics and ethics are the two wings of philosophy [1]. The first preoccupation of a philo- sophy is ontology. Beauty becomes the incentive towards being, according to Hegel, just as enflamed enthusiasm is the romantic's incentive towards truth. </p><p>Now being, in this sense, is no more a necessary element of an art object than fiery enthusiasm is an ingredient constituting truth. One knows that existence is problematic. But faced with an art work, the real existence of this work is hardly questioned in aesthetics perception. Husserl makes a clear distinction between factual science and the science of essence [2]. Factual science can be analyzed by starting with the natural world, whereas the science of essence cannot be. Nevertheless, there exists a close relationship between these two sciences. The science of essence underlies factual science but does not give it precise indications and through studying facts one never manages to understand their essence. The knowledge of the truth concern- ing essence does not contain the least reference to facts and, thus, from essence alone one cannot derive the slightest truth about facts. </p><p>A philosopher thus examines an art work by </p><p>* Aesthetician living at 54 rue Halle, 75014, Paris, France. (Received 10 February 1973.) (Original in French.) </p><p>turning immediately to questions of essence. I do not know if I have succeeded in clarifying the reader's knowledge of essence but one says nothing new about facts if one says that all that an artist knows comes from his body, his body becomes music or an art object, and then he takes liberties... </p><p>The last statement could be true for a music virtuoso but one does not always like virtuosos. It has no value whatsoever in the case of the painter Cezanne, for example. Can one imagine the elderly Cezanne hesitating, drawing awkwardly and struggling more with his body than with the medium in order to paint a masterpiece ? It is true that the young Cezanne tried sometimes to be a 'virtuoso' but one does not find the least trace of one in the older Cezanne. </p><p>A phenomenological explanation of art, however pleasant, also does not satisfy me. Husserl speaks of aesthetics in his book [2]. He contemplates the engraving 'Knight, Death and the Devil' by Diirer. Firstly, he sees an engraved plaque. Secondly, his experience permits him to see, for example, the knight and the horse. But in aesthetic contempla- tion of an art work thoughts do not turn to subjects as they are in reality but to their pictorial represen- tation. But, if when contemplating an art work one only considered what was represented of reality, there would be no problem as to what is art but there would be no art either. Husserl does not contemplate Diirer's work as such; he only sees what it represents and not what turns it into a work of art. For him, the engraving does not consist of an arrangement of forms capable of provoking an aesthetic response by their very arrangement but </p><p>23 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 05:45:07 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>F. Molnar </p><p>it is an object that refers to another object. Husserl has hardly advanced Plato's method of analyzing art works. I recall Plato writing first of the idea of a bed, of a carpenter making a bed (he copied the idea) and an artist drawing a bed (he copied the idea, so to speak, to the second degree). </p><p>Again in his book [2], Husserl, after a long analy- sis, writes: 'It is important to follow these analyses with care, if we wish to understand objective axiological (and practical) essence and, conse- quently, if we wish to deal with the problem of their meanings and their ways of knowing and judging the origin of the concepts and knowledge of ethics and aesthetics.' He is searching for the essence of art. But cannot one see that, according to him, there is little hope of drawing from essence the slightest truth that has a bearing on facts ? </p><p>Husserl is a philosopher and his book does not really deal with aesthetics. Let one not despair. One can, perhaps, find something more practical in a more specific study of aesthetics. In 1950, Heidegger published a book [3] in which at the beginning he asked the question: 'What is the origin of a work of art?' From the eighth page on he enquires about the essence of art. At the end of his book one knows less about art than at the beginning. From time to time, however, in Being and Time (Sein und Zeit) he comes down to earth from the clouds of essence to discuss a specific art work. He describes a well-known painting by Van Gogh in the following terms: 'The dark openings of the shoes, revealing their worn interiors, are marked by the fatigue of heavy steps. The heavy and rough shoes have condensed the tenacious firmness of the slow walks across fields constantly swept by the fierce winds. Their leather is marked by the mould and the richness of the earth. Their soles have accompanied the solitude of steps that crossed fields as night approached. These shoes reflect the secret call of the earth, the quiet ripening of the grains and their rejection of the desperate nakedness of winter fields. These shoes are penetrated by the silent worry of daily bread, by the quiet joy of victory over need, by the fear one faces before the birth of a child and by trembling before the menace of death. These shoes belong to the earth . .' [3]. One wonders if it would not have been preferable for the author to have remained in the world of essence instead of writing mediocre poems. For- getting the poetic qualities of the description, I wonder why Heidegger expects me to see the same thing as he in Van Gogh's picture of old shoes. </p><p>In reality, one can see in a work of art almost anything one wishes to see and this has been proved experimentally. Since Van Gogh's work is appre- ciated today, why did art critics not appreciate it while he was alive? Were they 'blind' or fools? And who can assure me that I am neither 'blind' nor a fool when I face the works of certain contem- porary artists? One looks for guidance to philo- sophy but finds none. What then is the use of philosophy, even of the most brilliant kind ? </p><p>An artist about to make a painting or when judging </p><p>the work of another needs facts. The truth of facts, however limited. An artist is similar to any indi- vidual who must make complex decisions. Each faces, at least in theory, an infinite number of possible ways to proceed. A choice must be made and the choice is rarely justified (or, in the best of cases, only later). In reality, on the level of facts, there are but very few valuable possible paths. The point in question is precisely this, can one determine, through a better understanding of relevant facts, which are the really valuable paths among the vast number of theoretically possible ones? The only way to make this determination is by resorting to tests by the method of trial and error, that is, one must make experiments. </p><p>II. </p><p>The principal method of science involves the following steps: observation, classification, formu- lation of hypotheses and verification of hypotheses by experiments to learn if they satisfy the truth of facts. </p><p>The above method immediately poses a difficulty when applied to aesthetics because subjective factors rather than objective external physical factors are of primary importance. One becomes concerned with what Mach calls experiments on thoughts or ideas (Gedanken-experiment) [4]. Such experimentation is used to the highest degree in intellectual develop- ment (and put into practice, according to Mach, by those who carry out projects, propose utopias and by poets, and one can add Surrealist artists). </p><p>Another real difficulty is encountered when one tries to define the term human experience. Most often experience is considered as a kind of extension of thought. William James in his discussion of religious experience described the difficult experience of patient endurance [5]. But one also calls exper- ience all mental manifestations resulting from individual and collective life. In fact, one dis- tinguishes between an individual's experience and an experience of the human species (ancestral experience). </p><p>In the theory of knowledge the term has still another meaning, for external experience (percep- tion) is distinguished from internal experience (awareness) and neither are an aspect of memory. </p><p>One speaks of experience when, after starting from well-defined conditions of a phenomena, one makes an observation that sheds light on the charac- ter of the phenomenon or on the law governing it. (Indeed, in this sense it includes moral experience.) </p><p>It should be understood, however, that in experi- mental aesthetics one wishes to use only verifiable physical and psychological experiences. It thus aims at being a science that depends on experimentation as opposed to purely speculative aesthetics ('arm- chair' aesthetics), just as experimental psychology is opposed to introspective and clinical psychology. </p><p>However, experimental psychology itself has put the objectivity of scientific experiments in doubt. </p><p>24 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 05:45:07 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>Experimental Aesthetics or the Science of Art </p><p>It seems, in the light of research of the recent past, that experiments are much less objective than was once thought. There is evidence that the behavior of animals under controlled conditions in a labora- tory is influenced by the experimenter. Even the results of strict statistical treatment appear to depend on the experimenter. Certain theorists (Edwards [6]) therefore advise the use of several different statistical methods in order to arrive at dependable conclusions. </p><p>The subjective aspects of research have been of concern to scientists for a long time. Galton (1822- 1911) already showed that some observations made by astronomers were influenced by subjective interpretations [7]. K6hler [8], after analyzing an experimental situation, does not differentiate between subject, experimenter and measuring instrument. Even a physicist who observes some- thing on the screen of an instrument that is a part of his visual field has a direct experience of the instru- ment. This direct experience is as much a part of the objective conditions of the experiment as the mechanism of the instrument. As K6hler says, the physical phenomenon under study, the measuring instruments used and the eyes of the experimenter form a linked system in which each component is hierarchically equally important. Thus, one can conclude that experimental aesthetics is as objective or as subjective as any other field of science. One cannot attach an absolute value to the results of experimental aesthetics but then one can be satisfied with approximations to the truth of facts. </p><p>Philosophy allows one to maintain this attitude. Husserl [2] admits explicitly the legitimacy of science being related to facts as opposed to pheno- menology being related to essence. Modern logic admits approximations to the truth of facts. In stochastic logic, a proposition can be more or less true, that is, more or less near to 1, where 1 is true and 0 is false. The considerations in this section lead me to conclude that experimental aesthetics can legitimately claim to be a science. </p><p>III. </p><p>It remains for me to deal with one more obstacle. Experimental aesthetics, especially that of the English school, evokes empiricism. The term, at least in philosophy, is based on the conception that knowledge is based only on experience and obser- vation, without due regard for system and theory. When I speak of experimental aesthetics, I mean, on the contrary, that it is systematic and that it involves the elaboration of hypotheses subject to experi- mental verification. </p><p>To avoid the ambiguity of the term experimental aesthetics, it has been suggested that it be called the science of art. I, myself, prefer the latter desig- nation. But what's in a name? The science that experimental aesthetics is concerned with is a fact- finding science in the sense of David Hume. Further- more, it depends mainly on statistical approxima- </p><p>tions to truth obtained by systematic experiments. In any case, there does not appear...</p></li></ul>