Why do people read novels, go to the theater, or listen to beautiful music? Do we seek out aesthetic experiences simply because we enjoy themor is there another, deeper, reason we spend our leisure time viewing or experiencing works of art? Aesthetics, the first short introduction to the contemporary philosophy of aesthetics, examines not just the nature of the aesthetic experience, but the definition of art, and its moral and intrinsic value in our lives.
Anne Sheppard divides her work into two parts: In the first, she summarizes the major theories defining art and beauty; in the second, she explores the nature of aesthetic evaluation and appreciation. As Sheppard explains, there are three main approaches to defining art, all focused on what art objects share. One proposes that all art imitates something in life, another that it expresses something (such as anger or ecstasy), still another suggests that all art has formal qualities. There is also a fourth which offers that all art shares the quality of beauty.
In the second part, which concentrates on literary art, Sheppard explores such philosophic topics as critical judgment, meaning and truth in literature, and the relationship between art and morals. She raises such questions as whether there is one correct interpretation of a work of art and whether art has a moral effect on its audience and, citing specific examples, explores the views that have been put forth. A wide-ranging, intriguing book, which assumes no formal knowledge on the part of its readers, Aesthetics opens the door to a greater understanding and appreciation of art.