Tag Archives: aesthetics

Aesthetics and the 4E mind Conference July 2016

Slides from my talk, Embodying Aesthetics through Proprioception


A Dancer Reflects: Deliberation in Action

Here is a draft of A Dancer Reflects Deliberation in Action which was published in Mind, Reason, and Being-in-the-World: The McDowell-Dreyfus Debate, 2013, Routledge, 303-319.

Abstract: The idea that performing a ballet typically involves tremendous effort is contrary to the widely touted view that great performances, in ballet and elsewhere, are natural and effortless. Although practice may be hard work, it is thought that when performing, an expert just lets the movement happen.  Indeed, thinking about what you are doing during a performance is, if anything, thought to interfere with expert skill. Here, I argue against such views.


The Artist as Critic: Dance Training, Neuroscience and Aesthetic Evaluation

Barbara Gail Montero, “The Artist as Critic: Dance Training, Neuroscience and Aesthetic Evaluation,”  Published in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Volume 71, Issue 2, pages 169-175, May 2013

The published version was revised significantly from this earlier version, which might nonetheless be of interest. The Artist as Critic

It is exactly because a man cannot do a thing that he is the proper judge of it (Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist).

It is difficult, if not impossible, for those who do not perform to be good judges of the performance of others (Aristotle, The Politics).

Abstract. Despite the recent flurry of interest in ballet after the release of the psychological thriller, Black Swan, dance is suffering at the box office.  Yet while interest in attending live performances wanes, interest in dance as a tool for scientific research—in particular, for the purpose of understanding links between action perception and action execution—is burgeoning.  In this paper, I address some of this rapidly developing research and suggest a way in which it may be relevant to the question of how dance training affects one’s perception and aesthetic evaluation of dance.

Effortless Bodily Movement

Barbara Gail Montero, Effortless Bodily Movement

(2011) Philosophical Topics, 39:1, pp. 67-79

Abstract. According to the Renaissance theorist Baldassare Castiglione, perhaps the most important quality to cultivate in oneself is effortlessness, what he refers to as “sprezzatura.”  In his Book of the Courtier, he writes,

 I have discovered a universal rule which seems to apply more than any other in all  human  actions or  words: namely, to steer away from affectation at all costs, as if it were a rough and dangerous reef, and ….to practice in all things a certain nonchalance (sprezzatura) which conceals all artistry and makes  whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.

But just what is it for an action to be effortless?  What are we appreciating when we admire Castiglione’s effortless courtier, a dancer’s effortless leaps, a basketball player’s effortless shot, or even a seagull’s effortless soar?  For Castiglione, effortlessness was socially valuable; the façade of effortlessness enabled individuals to gain recognition, approval and promotion to higher positions in the Royal court.  Though perhaps no less relevant to politics now than it was in Castiglione’s day, my concern is more with aesthetic rather than social value, and it is with movements rather than manners.  Accordingly, the question I am to address is this: What does it means for bodily movements to be effortless and what makes such movements aesthetically valuable?

Practice Makes Perfect: The Effect of Dance Training on the Aesthetic Judge

Barbara Montero (2011). Practice Makes Perfect: The Effect of Dance Training on the Aesthetic Judge. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences:-.

Abstract. According to Hume, experience in observing art is one of the prerequisites for being an ideal art critic. But although Hume extols the value of observing art for the art critic, he says little about the value, for the art critic, of executing art. That is, he does not discuss whether ideal aesthetic judges should have practiced creating the form of art they are judging. In this paper, I address this issue. Contrary to some contemporary philosophers who claim that experience in creating art is irrelevant to one’s ability to judge that art form, as well as to some dance critics who see dance training as possibly even detrimental to one’s aesthetic judgment, I suggest that having practiced dancing makes one a better observer of certain aesthetic qualities of dance. Dance training, I argue, can facilitate a kinesthetic experience upon watching dance without which some aesthetic aspects of a dance performance—such as grace, power, and precision, as perceived kinesthetically—may go unnoticed. Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-10 DOI 10.1007/s11097-011-9236-9 Authors Barbara Montero, Philosophy Program, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, 365 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10016, USA Journal Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences Online ISSN 1572-8676 Print ISSN 1568-7759.

Proprioception as an Aesthetic Sense

Barbara Montero (2006). Proprioception as an Aesthetic Sense. Journal Of Aesthetics And Art Criticism 64 (2):231-242.

The aesthetic senses are the senses by which we experience beauty, grace, and other aesthetic properties. Vision and hearing are commonly recognized as aesthetic senses, while smell, taste, and touch are not. Proprioception is the sense by which we acquire information about the positions and movements of our own bodies, via receptors in the joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin. My claim is that proprioception is an aesthetic sense and that one can make aesthetic judgments based on proprioceptive experience. I will argue that, just as one can deem a painting beautiful based on one’s visual experience of the painting, one can deem a certain movement beautiful based on one’s proprioceptive experience of the movement. In addition, I posit that in a certain sense an observer can proprioceive the beauty of another’s movement. Although this may sound surprising, I argue that recent discoveries about the function of mirror neurons—neurons that are activated both when one performs a task and when one sees that task performed—as well as other empirical studies illustrating that when seeing others move we kinesthetically represent their motion, support the case and potentially pave the way toward a third-person proprioceptive aesthetics.