Work of art

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In philosophy, the examination of the concept “work of art” has been prompted by the desire to find a starting point for aesthetic inquiry which, to begin with at any rate, will arouse no dispute. The problem is that much of the world is like a work of art, insomuch as we all interpret it differently. A claim for general agreement such as Clive Bell's: “The starting point for all systems of aesthetics must be the personal experience of a pecular emotion”, is countered by I. A. Richards's “the phantom aesthetic state”, and any attempt to claim “beauty” as the central concept is straightway confused by the varied contexts in which “beauty” and “beautiful” may function. We hear much more often of a beautiful stroke in cricket than in painting, and many of our moral judgments have an aesthetic flavour. An action may be bold, dashing, mean, underhanded, unimaginative, cringing, fine, as well as right or wrong. Aesthetic adjectives and adverbs may occur in any context, and part of the job is to separate out the various uses and establish their inter-relationships.