Two Thumbs UpHow Critics Aid Appreciation

Two Thumbs UpHow Critics Aid Appreciation

Stephanie Ross

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226064284

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Two Thumbs Up draws on David Hume’s famous 1757 essay “Of the Standard of Taste” to examine the nature of aesthetic appreciation and the workings of critical advice. I begin by considering gustatory taste and asking whether it is educable. Hume thought some individuals—true judges or ideal critics—are specially positioned to understand art. He believed their converging verdicts would constitute the objective standard we seek. After examining and supplementing the set of traits Hume ascribes to ideal critics, I assess the likelihood of irresolvable disagreement within this group. Following Frank Sibley, I accord aesthetic qualities a central role here. The ascription of aesthetic qualities to works of art is often contestable. I weigh possible resolutions of a sample dispute and propose a Suitability Requirement to address the threat critical disagreement poses to realism in aesthetics. Not every critic can appropriately judge every work of art. Acknowledging the developmental arc of critical taste, I take up the practical problem of identifying the Humean critics among us. I also consider how critics shape the taste of the amateurs they advise and probe an analogy comparing the friends we can make to the artworks we can come to like. A closing chapter compares and contrasts the appreciation of nature with the appreciation of art, takes up appreciative puzzles that arise for the arts of literature, film, and architecture, investigates complications that identity politics pose for critical practice, and considers the challenges of bad art and mean critics.