Area by Editors of Phaidon Press

By Editors of Phaidon Press

Negative caliber picture test. slightly legible.

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Chapter one in the limelight, beauty seemed to falter in establishing a common standard. In a world where “pleasure reaches us in the plural,” how can the experience of beauty yield unity and consensus? 17 Amid the easy and quick availability of art—or at worst, commodified entertainment such as magic lantern shows, peep shows, cheap stage productions, dime novels, and shoddy lithographs of the old masters—how can emotions and instincts be channeled into predictable responses and disciplined reactions?

16 Efforts to train citizens from all walks of life in aesthetic appreciation attracted publishing houses whose multivolume projects on beauty and art comprised hundred of pages and included detailed plates and engravings that make a stapled syllabus titled Aesthetics look positively rinky-dink. Yet even in these massive and expensive efforts, the popular tone of aesthetic education remained in full force. When Scribner’s published The Philosophy of the Beautiful (1891), a textbook “designed to aid the University Extension Movement throughout Great Britain and America,” the cultivation of disinterested judgment among the masses took center stage.

Located in the inwardness of subjects, this lesson stemmed not just from moral philosophy but from notions of science, as the title of Bascom’s Aesthetics; or, the Science of Beauty shows. The untutored longing of the capmaker’s daughter for beauty is ushered by the academy into the domain of institutional aesthetics. Except that capmakers’ daughters did not often have the opportunity to attend Wellesley or Williams. Still, if aesthetics were a matter of instinct, college classrooms were not absolutely necessary to awaken ethical feelings among the populace.

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