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Reviewed by:
  • Introducing Aesthetics
  • James McRae
Introducing Aesthetics. By David E. W. Fenner. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. Pp. 170.

David E. W. Fenner's Introducing Aesthetics offers a comprehensive introduction to the major traditions of Western aesthetics. Fenner confines his study to Western aesthetics and does not address the aesthetic traditions of Asian philosophy. This is not, by any means, a limitation, as this restriction of scope makes Fenner's work more concise and readily accessible to those unfamiliar with aesthetics.

Fenner divides his book into four parts: "Experiences," "Objects and Events," "Meaning," and "Judgment." Part 1 discusses the meaning and scope of the term "aesthetic" and analyzes the significance of "aesthetic experiences" and "aesthetic properties." Here, Fenner also explains the notion of aesthetic attitude as it is understood from the traditional perspective of disinterest (which includes thinkers such as Kant, Schopenhauer, and Stolnitz) and from modern points of view (such as Bullough's psychical distance and Aldrich's impressionistic vision).

Part 2 contains three chapters, which discuss the nature of aesthetic objects, the definition of "art," and the concept of creation and re-creation. The chapter that explores the definition of "art" provides a succinct explanation of the major traditions of aesthetics and art criticism: the Greek notions of imitation and representation (with sections on Plato and Aristotle), Romanticism (including Schopenhauer and Nietzsche), Expressionism (focusing on Tolstoy, Croce, and Collingwood), Formalism (particularly Moore and Bell), Anti-Essentialism (which includes Wittgenstein and Weitz), and a final section concerning perspectives on the art world (from theorists such as Danto and Dickie). The final chapter, on creation and re-creation, discusses the nature of creativity and the essential differences between fakes, forgeries, and reproductions.

Part 3 is devoted to an exploration of the meaning of art. The first chapter of this section concerns the problem of art interpretation and discusses such issues as the educated viewer, the intentional fallacy, and the possibility of a pluralism of artistic interpretations. The second chapter deals with censorship and examines various approaches to balancing the freedom of artistic expression with the moral concerns of society.

In Part 4, Fenner examines the theme of artistic judgment. The first chapter of this section analyzes three traditional approaches to defining the term "beauty": formalism, subjectivism, and naturalism. This chapter includes summaries of the aesthetic theories of thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, and Dewey, to name but a few. The final chapter is devoted to a discussion of art criticism. Here, Fenner gives a detailed description of the four aspects of critical review (description, information, interpretation, evaluation) and explores the various challenges raised against the very possibility of criticism (such as emotivism). [End Page 515]

Because of the clarity of its presentation and the quality of its scholarship, this book would serve well as a text for either introductory or upper-division undergraduate philosophy classes. One of the more useful features of Fenner's book is an extensive appendix that presents the history of Western aesthetics in outline form. Here, the ideas of the most important movements and philosophers of Western aesthetics are neatly summarized and presented in a chronology that clearly illustrates the historical shift in trends of thought and patterns of influence. This appendix would be an indispensable study guide for graduate students who are preparing for comprehensive examinations in the history of aesthetics. [End Page 516]



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