Established February 2008, Common Sense is an independent gallery space in downtown Edmonton, operated by the artists of the North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop, with a mandate to give 100% of proceeds from all art sales directly to the exhibiting artists.
On the Nature of Aesthetic Experience:
1. It is a stable feeling- our pleasure in the something pleasant does not of itself pass into satiety, like the pleasures of eating and drinking. We get tired, e.g., at a concert, but that is not that we have had too much of the music; it is that our body and mind strike work. The aesthetic want is not a perishable want, which ceases in proportion as it is gratified.
2. It is a relevant feeling- I mean it is attached, annexed, to the quality of some object – to all its detail – I would say “relative” if the word were not so ambiguous. One might say it is a special feeling, or a concrete feeling. I may be pleased for all sorts of reasons when I see or hear something, e.g., when I hear the dinner bell, but that is not an aesthetic experience unless my feeling of pleasure is relevant, attached to the actual sound as I hear it. My feeling in its special quality is evoked by the special quality of the something of which it is the feeling, and in fact is one with it.
3. It is a common feeling. You can appeal to others to share it, and its value is not diminished by being shared. If it is ever true that “there is no disputing about tastes,” this is certainly quite false of aesthetic pleasures. Nothing is more discussed, and nothing repays discussion better. There is nothing in which education is more necessary, or tells more. To like and dislike rightly is the goal of all culture worth the name.
Culture is simply the way in which people live. The culture of the cave man meant sitting on a rock gnawing a bone. The culture of Germany between 1935 and 1945 involved making soap out of Jews. One of our difficulties in Canada is that too many of us insist on thinking of culture as a kind of lacy frill which is attached to the edge of life, whereas to be worth anything it must be the whole fabric of life. We have a culture now which is in some respects remarkable, but which has not given rise to any art of a stature which commands the attention of the world. We may perhaps do so, but there is no reason why we should not absorb and make the fullest use of the art from other parts of the world. As Dr. W.A. MacKintosh of Queen’s University said to the Royal Society last June – “A national culture is not a direct object of endeavour. It is not created as a gown by a designer. It is a by-product. Further, a country can have a truly national culture, incredibly bad. Canadians should aim at what is excellent intellectually, aesthetically, socially. If it is real, it will ultimately prove to be Canadian but its justification will be that it is excellent.”
Things are defined by use. A work of art is a work of art because we call it a work of art, but it is not actually a work of art until we ask it to function as art so we can experience it as art. If we ask it to be something else—illustration, decoration, political message, cover for a hole in the wall, or whatever, it becomes, for the moment, something else.
Regardless of what lies behind our instincts for art, those instincts bestow it with a transcendence of time, place, and culture. Hume noted that “the general principles of taste are uniform in human nature… the same Homer who pleased at Athens and Rome two thousand years ago, is still admired at Paris and London.” Though people can argue about whether the glass is half full or half empty, a universal human aesthetic really can be discerned beneath the variation across cultures.
The consensus of taste confirms and reconfirms itself in the durable reputations of Homer and Dante, Balzac and Tolstoy, Shakespeare and Goethe, Leonardo and Titian, Rembrandt and Cezanne, Donatello and Maillol, Palestrina and Bach, Mozart and Beethoven and Schubert. Each succeeding generation finds that previous ones were right in exalting certain creators—finds them right on the basis of its own experience, its own exercise of taste. We in the West also find that the ancient Egyptians were right about Old Kingdom sculpture, and the Chinese about T’ang art, and the Indians about Chola bronzes, and the Japanese about Heian sculpture. About these bodies of art, practiced taste — the taste of those who pay enough attention, of those who immerse themselves enough, of those who try hardest with art — speaks as if with one voice. How else account for the unanimity, if not by the ultimate objectivity of taste?
The solution to the problem of aesthetics, I believe, lies in a more thorough understanding of the connections between the 30 visual centers in the brain and the emotional limbic structures (and the internal logic and evolutionary rationale that drives them). Once we have achieved a clear understanding of these connections, the insights they offer into the human brain will have a profound impact not just on the sciences but also on the humanities. Indeed, they may help us bridge the huge gulf that separates what C.P. Snow called the two cultures—science on the one hand, and arts, philosophy, and humanities on the other. We could be at the dawn of a new age in which specialization becomes old- fashioned and a 21st-century version of the Renaissance person is born.