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Abstract

In contemporary aesthetics, artistic creativity and the perception of beauty are the key concepts in explaining aesthetic consciousness. From the birth of modern aesthetics, an underlying assumption has been that artistic creativity and the perception of beauty are each genuinely universal in human experience, which is worthy of particular attention. To examine the universal validity of Western aesthetic claims on these two distinctive subjects, this paper presents a very brief outline of pre-modern Chinese interpretations of both concepts. Specifically, in comparison to Kant’s concept of genius and aesthetic judgment, I draw two conclusions. First, although there was no concept equivalent to art as an umbrella term to embrace diverse artistic activities, pre-modern Chinese intellectuals paid particular attention to originality, naturalness, and ineffability as common and essential features of artistic creativity, which show a high degree of similitude with the Western accounts. The similitude, along with its spontaneous emergence, attests, to a large extent, to the universality in experiencing, characterizing, and interpreting artistic creativity. Second, although there were many words in Chinese vocabulary similar to beauty, pre-modern Chinese intellectuals did not give particular conceptual significance to the perception of beauty. More specifically, in relation to Kant’s conception of aesthetic judgment and Stolnitz’s definition of aesthetic attitude, despite its long tradition of a disinterested attitude towards objects, pre-modern Chinese intellectuals did not relate this attitude to aesthetic experience. These tentative conclusions also lead us to question the universal validity of the association between art and beauty that was created by modern aesthetics and which contemporary aesthetics still claims as its legitimate field of research.

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