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03 OCTOBER 2014

Arnold Berleant: engagement as the participatory alternative to the aesthetic concept of disinterestedness

"Berleant (1991) proposes the explanatory concept of engagement as the participatory alternative to the aesthetic concept of disinterestedness and illustrates throughout his work the essentially participatory nature of appreciating art, nature, and the human built environment. Some forms of participation are overt in nature and require people to physically interact with the artwork – e.g. an artwork may require people to physically interaction in order to experience the artwork. Yet, Berleant argues, even more 'traditional' artworks require participatory engagement in that they are realized in the reciprocal relation between person and artwork. When we are immersed in aesthetic appreciation of an artwork, e.g. a painting, it is a process of participatory engagement in which we may imaginatively enter and explore the space of the painting. Moreover, engagement, according to Berleant, unfolds within a complex field of forces – the aesthetic field - that shape peoples experience Berleant (1970)"

(Christian Dindler and Peter Dalsgaard, 2009, p.2-3)

Berleant, A. (1991). 'Art and Engagement', Temple University Press, Philadelphia.
Berleant, A. (1970). 'The Aesthetic Field', CC Thomas, Springfield, Ill.

Dindler, C. and P. Dalsgaard (2009). "Peepholes as Means of Engagement in Interaction Design". Nordes 2009 - Engaging Artifacts. Oslo, Norge, Nordes – Nordic Design Research.


2009 • aesthetic appreciation • aesthetic disinterestedness • aesthetic encounters • aesthetic engagement • aesthetic enquiry • aesthetic field • aesthetic of disinterestedness • aesthetic perception • aestheticsArnold Berleantart appreciationart objectartworks • Christian Dindler • Classical arts • contemporary artexplanatory concept of engagementimmersive experience • Nordic Design Research • participatory engagement • Peter Dalsgaard • physical interaction • traditional aesthetics


Simon Perkins

Aesthetic disinterestedness: axiom of modern Western aesthetics

"The concept of aesthetic disinterestedness is surely one of the axioms of modern Western aesthetics, if not its central principle. Developed mainly in the eighteenth century in the writings of Alison, Shaftesbury, Addison, Hutcheson and others of the British school, the notion of disinterestedness denoted the perception of an object 'for its own sake.' This central idea became the mark of a new and distinctive mode of experience called the aesthetic, a kind of experience that was distinguished from more common modes, such as practical, cognitive, moral, and religious experience. During the same century many of these writers grouped what we now call the fine arts into a generally accepted set in which they were all organized by the same principles and could be compared with one another.[1] Finally, in the latter part of the century and especially in Germany, the general theory of the fine arts achieved the status of a separate discipline and, in the work of Kant, came to occupy a distinct and integral place in a philosophical system. Kant's formulation of disinterestedness is generally regarded as definitive:

'...[T]aste in the beautiful is alone a disinterested and free satisfaction; for no interest, either of sense or of reason, here forces our assent...Taste is the faculty of judging of an object or a method of representing it by an entirely disinterested satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The object of such satisfaction is called beautiful.'[2]

...What might we say is the historical significance of aesthetic disinterestedness? Disinterestedness served to identify intrinsic normative experience. As first developed it was used in a moral context to help the recognition of things and actions that were good in themselves, apart from their usefulness. Thus Shaftesbury, who, along with Hutcheson and Alison, was one of the principal contributors to this view, contrasted 'the disinterested love of God,' a love pursued for its own sake, with the more common motive of serving God 'for interest merely.' The disinterested love of God has, then, value that is entirely intrinsic.[3] When applied to the experience of beauty, it denoted the same recognition of intrinsic value. There is a valid insight here, for we often find ourselves valuing a work of art for its own sake. Somehow the value of good art seems to be self-contained. The work commands respect and admiration in itself, apart from practical considerations such as monetary value, the conferring of social status, or its association with the hand of genius."

(Arnold Berleant and Ronald Hepburn, Contemporary Aesthetics)

[1] Paul Oskar Kristeller, "The Modern System of the Arts," in Renaissance Thought II (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 163-227.

[2] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (l790), Sect. 5. For an extended critical account see A. Berleant, "The Historicity of Aesthetics I," The British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol.26, No.2 (Spring 1986), 101-111; "The Historicity of Aesthetics II," The British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol.26, No.3 (Summer 1986), 195-203; and "Beyond Disinterestedness." The British Journal of Aesthetics, 34/3 (July 1994).

[3] Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics, ed. Robertson (London, 1900), II, 55, 56. The definitive discussion of this history is Jerome Stolnitz, "On the Origins of 'Aesthetic Disinterestedness'," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, XX, 2 (Winter 1961), 131-143. The history of the idea of disinterestedness continues to be debated. See my Art and Engagement, Ch. 1, esp. n. 3, pp. 215-216.


18th centuryaesthetic disinterestednessaesthetic experienceaesthetics • Anthony Ashley-Cooper • appreciative experience • Archibald Alison • Arnold Berleantart for arts sakebeauty • British school • cognitive experience • critique of human actions • Dabney Townsend • David Hume • disinterested love • disinterested satisfaction • disinterestedness • dissatisfaction • experience of beauty • fine arts • Francis Hutcheson • George Dickie • god • human creations • Immanuel Kant • intrinsic normative experience • intrinsic value • Jerome Stolnitz • John Locke • Joseph Addison • judgement • moral experience • Paul Oskar Kristeller • practical experience • religious experience • Remy Saisselin • Ronald Hepburn • taste • usefulness • Western aesthetics


Simon Perkins

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