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The Aesthetics of Perception: Form as a Sign of Intention

1 August 2012


Aesthetic judgment has often been characterized as a sensuous cognitively unmediated engagement in sensory items whether visual, auditory, haptic, olfactory or gustatory. However, new art forms challenge this assumption. At the very least, new art forms provide evidence of intention which triggers a search for meaning in the perceiver. Perceived order excites the ascription of intention. The ascription of intention employs background knowledge and experience, or in other words, implicates the perceiver’s conceptual framework. In our response to art of every description we witness the incorrigible tendency in humans to construct meaningful narratives to account for events. Such meaningful narratives always implicitly involve the ascription of intention, even when the agent of the intention is not explicitly acknowledged or even clearly conceived. This principle of intention-in-order may seem incompatible with another truism which is that art is a source of novel ideas and essentially a critique of prevailing values and norms including conceptual schemes. I argue on the contrary that the human impulse to read intention in order is a precondition of art’s critical edge. Creativity is possible even though there is no raw perceptual data to which we have conscious access. That is, there are no sensory items, unmediated by the concepts we have internalized through our interaction with our communities, to which we have conscious access.


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