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Is a beautiful painting a good painting because it's beautiful? If you answer

Is a beautiful painting a good painting because it's beautiful? If you answer "Yes" I would say that a beautiful painting is a good painting because it's good, and not because it's beautiful. What would you say?

This is a very similar question to another I answered a few months ago, so apologies if you've read that and are looking for a different reply!

I think that there are some paintings that are good paintings at least in part because they are beautiful. Being beautiful is one way in which a painting can be good; beauty is one kind of aesthetic good. But there are others, such as being thought-provoking or communicating deep emotion. So being beautiful is not necessary for being good as a painting. And there may be cases in which a beautiful painting is not good. Some beautiful works of art can be relatively superficial, e.g. they may express a superficial emotion (‘isn’t it lovely?’) or view of life, leaving us wondering dissatisfied with it as art, even if we admire the way it looks on the surface. So beauty is not be sufficient for being a good painting.

But we cannot infer from these points that when a painting is beautiful and good, its being beautiful is not what makes it good. In other words, there may be cases in which the beauty of the painting is what makes it good (or at least, is one reason why it is good). To appreciate this, we have to resist the thought that there must be universal rules that we apply in judging whether something is aesthetically good or not. Beauty might be sufficient on one occasion but not on another.

Perhaps an analogy with causes is helpful. Striking a match is neither necessary nor sufficient for lighting a match. I can light a match without striking it by placing its end in an existing flame. And I can strike a match without lighting it by doing so in an environment without oxygen (e.g. on the moon). But I still want to say that, under normal conditions, my striking the match causes the match to light. So if a good painting is beautiful, it may be that it is good because it is beautiful, though it may be that it is good because it is, in addition, deeply expressive or thought-provoking or.... Cases could differ.

I don't think we can say that a painting (beautiful or not) is good because it is good - the 'because' is misleading here. You might want to say that 'good' has no further definition (as Moore did about moral goodness), i.e. you can't define 'good painting' as 'beautiful painting'. This is a claim about the concept 'good'. Even if we accept this, we can allow that there are properties that make a good painting good - this is about the relation between the property of being good and other properties. Just as Moore thought that what makes a good action good is that it maximises happiness, so we can argue that makes a good painting good is its beauty, or perhaps a multiplicity of different aesthetic qualities. Or, put differently, we could think that a painting's being beautiful is a reason to think that it is good, without saying that being beautiful is the same thing as being good (as a painting).

Are all beautiful paintings good paintings?

Are all beautiful paintings good paintings? If you answer Yes I would say that it's impossible to view all the beautiful paintings in the world, so it would be impossible to conclude that all beautiful paintings are good paintings. If you answer No, if you view a beautiful painting how can you judge whether it's good or not, if not all beautiful paintings are good paintings? What would your answer be?

I’m going to say ‘no’. But before answering your challenge to saying 'no', a comment on your challenge to saying ‘yes’. You assume that in order to know that all beautiful paintings are good paintings, I must view all beautiful paintings. But this assumes, in turn, that the only way we can establish a connection between being beautiful and being good is through repeated experience, i.e. empirically. That’s not, I think, true. There could be – indeed, I think there is – a conceptual connection between beauty and aesthetic goodness. Compare: to know that all vixens are foxes, I don’t need to find all the vixens in the world, and check that they are foxes. I just need to understand the word ‘vixen’, meaning ‘female fox’. So if we could show that ‘beauty’ is, conceptually, a type of aesthetic goodness, a standard of what is good, aesthetically speaking, then we can know – without checking – that all beautiful paintings will be good.

But I’m not satisfied with this answer. Beauty is one kind of aesthetic good, but perhaps there are others. Maybe to be good as a painting, i.e. a work of art, requires something either different from, or in addition to, beauty. I think it does. And knowing what makes a painting a good painting – knowing the standard for good art - will help us know how to discover whether something is good art or not. This might not be foolproof, or give clear answers every time. That's not an objection. Compare: I can say, perfectly well, how I can judge that there is a table in front of me – I see it – without claiming that my vision is always correct, never confused (think of fog and bad lighting).

So – this next bit is very contentious! Art is about the communication of thought and feeling. Tolstoy (‘What is art?’) says “Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously by means of certain external signs, hands onto others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by those feelings and also experience them.” There are lots of problems with this at it stands, but I think the kernel is right. To judge a piece of art as good or not, we must first understand it, and we should judge it in light of what we come to understand. We need to understand what the artist is trying to do, and then experience that effect ourselves. The first part covers their psychological processes, both conscious and unconscious, but also the artistic conventions and climate of their time (e.g. aesthetic conventions, systems of symbolism, available modes of production, the original purpose of the work, and much else). What you know will make a difference to what you perceive, just as a bird-spotter can see and distinguish different species when the uninformed will just see birds. With this deeper understanding, we can see what succeeds in the painting and what does not, what the artist is aiming at. We can also understand the profundity (or not) of what is expressed there. Some conceptual art, for instance, is gimmicky – once you get the idea, the artwork quickly loses interest. But it needn’t be, e.g. there can be much to reflect on in the way in which the concept is expressed through the medium.

Some beautiful works of art can be relatively superficial, e.g. they may express a superficial emotion (‘isn’t it lovely?’) or view of life, leaving us wondering dissatisfied with it as art, even if we admire the way it looks on the surface. So not all beautiful paintings are good paintings. To know whether they are, I’d need to know much more about the painting and the context of its creation, and then see whether the painting succeeds in communicating what the artist aimed at.

Are 'dangerous' and 'aesthetically ugly' one and the same thing?

Are 'dangerous' and 'aesthetically ugly' one and the same thing? I read somewhere once, that arachnophobia evolved as a defence mechanism against dangerous spiders. Even though most spider species are harmless, this evolved response is still there, as it is better to avoid all spiders, even the harmless ones to avoid being bitten by the really deadly ones. Seeing as this aesthetic disgust and fear arose for the purpose of keeping one safe, and very few spiders are actually dangerous, would it be incorrect to view the harmless ones as ugly? Similarly, there are some dangerous animals I consider quite beautiful: tigers, for example. Would it be incorrect to view them as beautiful because they are dangerous? Basically, what I'm trying to ask is, because perception of ugliness evolved to keep us from danger, is danger synonymous with ugliness and is any visual beauty we ascribe to a dangerous animal simply an illusion? Conversely, are non-dangerous animals that we find ugly actually visually beautiful even...

I think the answer is pretty clear and is implicit in things you've said. Yes: something dangerous can be beautiful. Tigers would be a widely-accepted example. "Dangerous Beauty" isn't just the name of a movie that got a 70% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's an idea that's something of a cultural touchstone.

Maybe the perception of ugliness evolved to keep us from danger, or maybe the story is more complicated than that. (I'd strongly suspect the latter.) But however things evolved, the concepts have long since come apart. If someone commented on the beauty of a tiger, and someone else tried to correct her on the grounds that tigers are dangerous, a blank stare would be an appropriate response. We find the appearance of tigers beautiful. They'd look the same way if, somehow, they magically became the protectors of humans. We also find their movements graceful; same comment.

The second question you ask is whether non-dangerous animals that we find ugly might actually be beautiful. The first point is that the mere fact that they aren't dangerous wouldn't be enough. However implausible it is that "dangerous" implies "ugly," it's even more implausible that "not dangerous" implies "beautiful." The reason is simple: that's not how we use the words. But perhaps more importantly, beauty seems to be a response-dependent property. The idea that something might genuinely be beautiful and yet no one—not even careful, disinterested observers who've taken the time to look—find it beautiful strikes me as very close to unintelligible.

I just finished watching Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, and it was easily

I just finished watching Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, and it was easily amongst the top five of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. I use the word "beautiful" because any other superlatives like "great" doesn't seem to reflect the aesthetic dimension. In fact, if the film had been entirely non-fictional and the cameras had captured real actual events of sexual torture, I would not think any differently of it. Does one's taste of the beautiful reflect upon the viewers morality and is that important? Is beauty more important than morality or vice versa?

I don't know the film , but on many accounts of beauty one should separate ideas of morality from those of aesthetic appreciation. We can often find something beautiful yet also disgusting, although it is not easy to keep these two responses separate from each other. This does not mean that beauty is more important than morality but that we can suspend our principles in one area when we are concentrating on the other. Often that involves concentrating on some aspect of the object while ignoring its wider implications, which would perhaps put it within some other and less agreeable context. It might be said that the more sophisticated one becomes aesthetically, the more one is able to dissociate judgments of beauty from those of morality.

Can being constantly surrounded by ugly things and people ruin own's sense of

Can being constantly surrounded by ugly things and people ruin own's sense of the aesthetic? Conversely, can constantly being surrounded by beautiful things and people ruin own's sense of the aesthetic?

Let's start with the phrase "ruin one's own sense of the aesthetic." There might be different ways to interpret that, but the reading that first occurred to me was something like "undermine one's ability to appreciate things aesthetically" or perhaps "undermine one's ability to make sound aesthetic judgements."

In either case, the question isn't just philosophical. It's partly a matter of what the actual psychological effects of being surrounded by beautiful—or ugly—things actually is. And although we might have guesses about the answers, our guesses might not be good ones.

With due regard for the fact that philosophers can't really answer the question, however, we can still ask some rather more conceptual questions. What about aesthetic value might suggest that being surrounded by ugly things could ruin our aesthetic sensibilities? One possible reason is that if we're surrounded by ugliness, we may have trouble noticing things that are beautiful or in some other way aesthetically rewarding. However, it's at least possible that if we only rarely encounter beauty, we might be more attuned to it. Which, if either, of these is true isn't something we can answer by guessing.

A related possibility: it can take time, effort and attention to appreciate the aesthetic value of some things. It could be that if our spirits are beaten down by ugliness, our capacity for certain kinds of subtle perception might be damaged. But again: all we've done is identify a possibility; whether things really work this way is another matter.

At first your second question might seem odd: we might wonder how being surrounded by beauty could ruin our aesthetic sensibility. But it's not too hard to imagine some ways this could work. Perhaps if we're constantly surrounded by beauty we become insensitive to it—we stop noticing. Another possibility: not everything that's aesthetically valuable is beautiful. For example: there's music that I value highly, but that doesn't seem beautiful. It's too fierce for that. It could be that an overdose of beauty makes it hard to appreciate other kinds of aesthetic value.

Though I'll now sound like a broken record, a philosopher can't tell us which of these speculations is correct. But it does seem to me that there's some potentially interesting and fruitful research that might come out of combining methods in experimental psychology with the insights of artists, appreciators of art, and aestheticians. I'd be very curious to see what we'd actually uncover if we pursued this sort of multi-disciplinary investigation.

dear sir/ madam

dear sir/ madam i have studied aesthetic at university, but i would like to work on aesthetics for kids at elementary school and students of high school. i would really appreciate it if you could help me with this case and introduce me some books and resources, and also i would like to know if there is a specific philosopher who had worked on this case. best regards, H.

Dear H. - Let me start by pointing you towards the American Society for Aesthetics. They have a really good teaching resource page here: I also can recommend the book Puzzles about Aesthetics: A Casebook, edited by Battin, Fischer, Moore, and Silvers, widely available online. I'm not sure all of the book's commentary will be suitable for high school students, let alone younger ones, because it is a sophisticated introduction to the topic. But many of the cases there would work very well in those classroom settings. Finally, I think the best way to start a lesson on aesthetics is with the students' own aesthetics experiences, perhaps by asking them to share or write about the music, tv shows, books, outdoors experiences, etc. that move them most. Good luck!

Are all beautiful paintings good paintings?

Are all beautiful paintings good paintings?

It's an interesting question.

An obvious preliminary: whether or not all beautiful paintings are good, not all good paintings are beautiful. "Beauty" is sometimes quite beside the point in judging that a painting is good. But your question was about the converse implication.

Here's one sort of problem case. Suppose I see a painting that strikes me both as beautiful and as a genuinely good painting. I then find out that it's completely and totally unoriginal. It's slavishly derived from another painting. The extreme case might be a forgery, but highly derivative works raise the same sort of problem. The original might be both beautiful and a good painting; the derivative work might be every bit as visually beautiful as the original, and it might have taken enormous skill to create. It might be a good copy; it might even be a good forgery. Whether we want to say that it's a good painting is not as clear. We might think that to count as a good painting, a work has to have at least some measure of originality.

This brings us to a related but different point. If we say that something is a good painting, we're already making a different sort of judgment than when we say that it's skillful, for example. At least roughly, when we call something a good painting, we're saying that it has artistic or aesthetic merit. A painting could be skillfully-created kitsch; if it is, we're not likely to say that it's a good painting, even if we agree that the painter has skill. That's one reason why it's clear that if the question was "Are all pretty paintings good paintings?" the answer would be no. Kitschy things are often pretty, and the prettiness is often merely sentimental or, worse, manipulative. "Pretty" isn't the same as "beautiful," and prettiness isn't enough to make a painting good.

What if the painting is genuinely beautiful? Leaving aside issues of originality, is that enough to make it good?

It's not clear that we've escaped the problem we just raised for prettiness. It seems possible—you may even have your own pet examples—that a painting could aptly be described a beautiful, and yet be cloying or sentimental or manipulative. Once again, if that's so we may not call it a good painting, except perhaps in the technical sense. Beauty doesn't seem to be a guarantee of artistic merit, even if it takes skill to create a beautiful painting. And if we don't think a painting has artistic merit, we might well say that it isn't a good painting, whatever else it may be.

That said, things get murky here. Someone might insist that if something is cloying or manipulative or sentimental, it isn't genuinely beautiful. Someone who says this has probably already decided that "beauty" entails artistic value, and in that case your question would be settled by fiat. For my own part, I think that's a bad way to go. It seems that we really do use the word "beautiful" in a way that allows beautiful things to be of dubious artistic or aesthetic value. And if a genuinely good painting is aesthetically valuable, then the answer to your question seems to be no: there seems to be room for a painting to be beautiful and yet not to count as a good painting.

If an environment, or just a very secluded 'biome' was artificially produced

If an environment, or just a very secluded 'biome' was artificially produced would it still be considered 'beautiful'? Even considering that this particular secluded artificial environment had a perfectly in sync ecosystem, was self-sustaining, and never tired of resources for human use, would it still be beautiful and fantastical even though it was subject to human manipulation of Earth natural way of nature?

This feels like a question informed by Kant’s understanding of beauty. Whether it is or not, it’s certainly a question in tune with Kant; because, for Kant, natural beauty dominates his examples of beautiful objects and sets the tone for his analysis of beauty in general. There seems to be a constant suspicion in Kant that art we find beautiful is somehow a contrivance, something put together in a way that the artist knows will appear beautiful to human beings, or at least pleasant in appearance. And because the artist aims at pleasing the human senses, so-called beautiful art threatens to collapse into a species of the merely pleasant.

A beautiful flower, on the other hand, has not been contrived. Kant seems to understand nature mechanistically – or rather, he thinks it is always open to a mechanistic interpretation. And given that it is, the spontaneous appearance of something in nature like a beautiful flower or a magnificent sunset gives one the sense of having discovered beauty, not just been prodded into finding beauty where it had been put.

Mind you, these views do not necessarily have to follow from the basic Kantian principles of beauty and taste. Many readers have drawn quite different conclusions from the Critique of Judgment about what to say about art. But this is Kant’s own application of his basic principles.

The Critique of Judgment entertains the possibility (in section 42) that someone might fake a natural environment, as your example proposes. He grants what the example assumes, that if you didn’t know it had been artificially manipulated you would enjoy the scene exactly as you would enjoy a natural scene. (As I say, the example assumes this much. It wouldn’t be a duplicate landscape unless it looked exactly the same.) But then Kant asks what would happen once the deception was revealed. The nature-lover’s admiration for what had seemed to be the beauty of natural life would disappear, although it might be replaced (Kant adds) with an admiration that follows from the person’s vanity, e.g. the wish to decorate one’s home with these artificial flowers and bushes. (In this connection also see the “General Remark on the First Section of the Analytic.”)

All this is by-the-book Kant. If you are not a Kantian, however, I would think the problems don’t arise. If art can be beautiful, then why shouldn’t artificial nature also be beautiful?

what is the reason or purpose for us differentiating between beautiful and ugly.

what is the reason or purpose for us differentiating between beautiful and ugly.

Many answers have been given to this question. Before we try out such answers, consider one broad way to categorize them. Is experiencing beauty about getting us to do something, or is it about our thinking or feeling a certain way? In other words, if there’s a purpose or function to finding things beautiful, do you think that should be a pragmatic function issuing in action? Or can it be a contemplative function issuing in a kind of thinking (or feeling, etc.)?

This might even come down to Yes or No regarding the first question. Sometimes people say something like “The instinct to find people and things beautiful originates in sexual desire. It begins with our wish to propagate.” An answer like that connects the judgment of beauty with action. All the way back to Aristotle, philosophers have objected that beauty can be understood without reference to sexual desire; and in fact it can get complicated to try to trace every sense of beauty to such desire. Consider landscapes, sunsets, etc. More broadly, you could connect those judgments of beauty with a sense of safety. You find open grassy landscapes beautiful because your primitive ancestors connected such sights with safety from predators, etc. Again there is a pragmatic origin to the sense of beauty.

It can be difficult to connect every experience of beauty with such a pragmatic evolutionary argument. But this is the foundation of the discussion. If you want a function for beauty-experiences in the pragmatic, action-oriented sense of the word, that would be a place to start. Otherwise, a contemplative function suggests itself. And here you have greater latitude in explaining what the function of beauty might be.

are we programed to respond favorably to those subjects that we consider

are we programed to respond favorably to those subjects that we consider beautiful, rather than considering them unappealing. I imagine if we did not have positive responses to things we consider beautiful, it would make our lives extremely unsatisfying and we would not strive to attain that which gives us emotional pleasure...Is this nature's way of having us adapt and assimilate to our natural surroundings....a joke played on us....making us turn away from the ugliness that truly exists all around us.......rn.

I don't think so. We often do not find the beautiful attractive. The ugly may attract us, there is something fascinating about a very ugly person or situation. I think you are right in thinking that aesthetic features make life more interesting, but it is too simple to think that beauty attracts and the reverse repels.

There is a wonderful phrase in French describing a certain sort of woman, une jolie laide, both pretty and ugly, which brings out the complexity of these terms. Models with a slight imperfection are often advised to keep it, since it makes their faces more interesting. On the other hand, there is obviously a limit to the number of imperfections we can accept before we are likely to be repelled.

Right now I have blisters all over my left arm from poison ivy, and it looks quite grotesque. They are also of course very painful. On the other hand, they are very interesting to look at, with a strange smooth surface and an uncanny yellow color since they are full of disgusting pus. They are also all over my body on the surface of the skin, and that is uncanny since that area of my body is usually quite smooth. It is difficult to say what is beautiful and what is ugly here, and I think that brings out that there is far more to the beauty/ugly dichotomy than we often suspect.