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Aesthetics

Paul Messaris


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In the context of communication studies, aesthetic theory may be defined as the attempt to understand people's enjoyment of certain forms of communication – such as stories, movies, music, dance – that are apparently attended to for their own sake, despite their lack of any ostensible instrumental value. Although this type of enjoyment can be considered an inherent feature of human biology ( Dissanayake 1992 ), the specific experiences that give rise to it differ widely among the cultures of the world (→  Intercultural and Intergroup Communication ). Simply put, the study of aesthetics seeks to answer two basic questions: what do people like or dislike about such experiences – and why? The idea that aesthetic judgments have a bearing on, or somehow derive from, real-world practical imperatives has traditionally met with considerable resistance in the western intellectual tradition, from A. G. Baumgarten and Immanuel Kant to certain postmodernist theories ( Prettejohn 2005 ; →  Postmodernism and Communication ). Such resistance has been accompanied by a normative insistence that what is distinctive about the aesthetic realm is whatever goes beyond the type of response that connects a work of art to the utilitarian goals of everyday life. Indeed, in this view of aesthetics, our contemplation of objects and events in the environment is aesthetic only if it is disinterested (see N. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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