Improvisation and social aesthetics
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Although the social sciences directed their attention toward the production, circulation, and consumption of art from at least the early twentieth century, the dominant academic discourse on art and aesthetics for a long time has been, and in some quarters continues to be, an expression of neoKantian and neo-Humean philosophies. While the details and the value of both Kant’s and Hume’s aesthetics continue to be debated, it is fair to say that both theories, in different yet related ways, have neglected the ways in which one’s location and embeddedness in a particular culture and social milieu affect one’s aesthetic judgments, the role that such social location might play in aesthetics, and questions of whether and how social experience might itself be immanent in aesthetic experience.1 Instead, both traditions have looked to what they consider to be universal human capacities and cross-cultural generalities to elucidate the sources of aesthetic pleasure and judgment. Such a focus on the perceptual and cognitive aspects of aesthetic experience and belief—and, in particular, the attempt to treat them as human capabilities that transcend culture, time, and place—has led to a focus on such issues as the existence or nature of aesthetic connoisseurship and the possible objectivity of aesthetic evaluation, as well as to attempts to isolate a distinctive aesthetic attitude and even a distinctive aesthetic mode of perception. In this respect, such aesthetic theories are atomic in that they elevate individual agents and their mental beliefs and perceptual capacities as the primary concern.
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