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Aesthetics and Art History: Converging Perspectives

Kathryn Brown
School of Drama, Film and Visual Art, University of Kent

Alan Thomas
Department of Philosophy, University of Kent

This session explores points of convergence and divergence between art history and aesthetics. Historically, art history and philosophical aesthetics have been viewed as two separate disciplines with very little methodological overlap and with distinct concerns. This has been borne out not just in the works of each discipline, but also in seminars that have sought to theorize the distinctions between the two subjects such as the 'Aesthetics versus Art History' workshop held at the University College, Cork in 2006. Rather than seeing these two approaches to visual art as being in opposition, the current session proposes to test the boundaries of each subject and to seek ways in which art history and aesthetics can complement each other. Each discipline seems to be ready for this type of self-reflection. Art history frequently threatens to be subsumed by cultural, historical or political critique and has reason to explore an autonomous methodology. Philosophical aesthetics, in turn, has abandoned grand theory and no longer theorizes independently of the contexts supplied by particular institutions, genres and traditions. In order to give the session focus, papers would be particularly welcome that explore theories of looking, the role of the spectator and the interplay between philosophical ideas and their working out in the specific practices of particular artists. By examining intersections between these two disciplines, this session aims to identify new and innovative approaches to the way in which we writeabout, and respond to, visual art.