The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Arnold Berleant

The Sensuous and the Sensual in Aesthetics

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 23 (2)

Winter 1964, 185-192.



I – Sense Perception

II – Aesthetic Experience

III – Moral Beliefs

IV - Sensuous and Sensual



AMONG ALL THE AREAS of cultural activity, the arts have occupied a position of considerable dependence during most of the course of the development of Western civilization.  Indeed, the claim of artistic expression to the status of equal merit with the other manifestations of the human creative genius is of comparatively recent occurrence and has rarely been freely allowed.  More commonly, the arts have been tolerated as a means of enhancing those beliefs and values and their institutional expressions which have dominated intellectual activity and which were regarded as embodying unquestionable truth.  So thoroughly has the belief in the subordinate role of the arts pervaded Western thought, moreover, that during recent times, when the arts have largely emancipated themselves from subservience to the church, state, and social interests, concepts under which much aesthetic discussion is conducted betray the extent to which aesthetic theory still remains bound to biases deriving from the inferior origins of the arts.

While the scope of critical inquiry that can be made in these directions is vast, we shall confine our remarks here to a traditional distinction which has become so deeply engrained in our thinking about the arts that it has acquired the position of a largely unquestioned postulate in most modern aesthetic theory.  This is the distinction between the sensuous and the sensual as employed in characterizations of aesthetic experience and the objects which evoke it.  The sensuous is commonly regarded as connoting the pleasurable attraction of the sensations of sight, hearing, and the other senses.  The sensual, on the other hand, refers to that experience of the senses which is confined to bodily pleasures as contrasted with intellectual satisfaction, where appeal is to the “grosser” bodily sensations, particularly the sexual.  Discrimination between these notions is commonly encountered in aesthetic theory and is maintained to be coterminous with the bounds of art, the sensuous being reluctantly admitted into the province of aesthetic experience and the sensual rejected.

While one hardly wonders at meeting this distinction among aesthetic theorists with a commitment to a religious or moral doctrine or to a spiritualistic metaphysic, it is more surprising to find it accepted without serious question by writers on aesthetics whose naturalistic or scientific bent might cause one to have expected otherwise. 1  Our object is to reveal how the restraining hand of the moral censor, gloved in metaphysical doctrine, is still a powerful force in aesthetic theory, an influence which exhibits itself in this commonly observed distinction.  Moreover, we shall show that

ARNOLD BERLEANT is assistant professor and acting chairman of the philosophy department at C. W. Post College of Long Island University. He has written several articles and reviews for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.


such a discrimination has a distorting influence on aesthetic theory in general, eliminating a large area of experience from the possibility of aesthetic perception of which it is intrinsically capable.



Sense Perception

Irrespective of theoretical commitment, every treatment of aesthetic issues involves reference to human experience.  Independent of the ontological status attributed to the art object, the relation of men to it, in producing, appreciating, appraising it, is an experiential relation.  That this is a perceptual experience involving the various senses has long been acknowledged, explicitly so since the formal establishment of the discipline by the very name given it.  In choosing the Greek word aesthesis, Baumgartner, in the eighteenth century, made clear the primary commitment of the theory of art to sensation, to sense perception, and since that time aestheticians have continued to acknowledge the importance of the sensuous element in art.  Among the significant attempts to accord adequate recognition to this aspect of art is Prall’s concept of aesthetic surface, by which he meant the sensuous surface of experience.  Indeed, he went so far as to maintain that “Experience is genuinely and characteristically aesthetic only as it occurs in transactions with external objects of sense or with the objects of sensuous imagination held clearly before the mind in intuition…” and, the sensuous elements of experience in general… are the very materials of beauty... [T]hey are our first concern, the primary subject matter of aesthetic theory.” 2

While we, like Prall, are not suggesting that such other fundamental aspects of aesthetic experience as the formal and the conceptual or significant are unimportant, they have perhaps been overemphasized in recent discussion at the expense of the sensuous, possibly because of their greater adaptability to discourse and explication.  Although one can comment on the formal characteristics of a musical work like Wozeck or a Mondrian canvas, or advance another interpretation of Ulysses, one can hardly make someone see the colors in a watercolor or an article of common use, feel the texture of cloth or stone, or hear the sounds of a modern musical work regarded as “offensive” by the prejudiced ear. 3

At the time of endless talk about art, it would seem fitting to recall our attention to what is perhaps one of art’s most characteristic features.  For the distinctive quality of art is neither harmony, 4 unity in variety, aesthetic form, symbolic meaning, or the like, but rather what may be termed the intrinsic perception of sensation, either directly, as in painting, music, and sculpture, or indirectly, as in the case of the literary arts.  For every perception is potentially aesthetic.  When intellectual, moral, or emotional elements begin to obtrude, experience becomes less aesthetic and more cognitive, homiletic, or affective. Furthermore, recognition of the sensuousness of art emphasizes the particularity, the specificity of the aesthetic experience.  The negation of aesthetic is, in every sense, anaesthetic.



Aesthetic Experience

In asserting the sensuousness of aesthetic perception, it is appropriate to consider, if briefly, the role of the senses in aesthetic experience.  This is a topic which is usually given but passing attention in most treatments of the questions of aesthetics.  The classic opinion that the aesthetic senses are the visual and the aural is dutifully echoed as a truth whose obviousness renders justification superfluous, after which attention is turned to seemingly more pressing matters.  Yet this proposition is worth serious examination, if for no other reasons than that the senses are a necessary condition for most if not all aesthetic experience, and the bearing this has on the roles of the sensuous and the sensual in aesthetic perception.

The belief that sight and hearing are the aesthetic senses occurs in Greek philosophy, receiving the endorsement of Plato, Aristotle, and their later followers including Plotinus and Aquinas.  This is no isolated judgment, however.  Following the rational


bent of the dominant tradition of Greek thought, sight and hearing were regarded as the higher senses because they were held to be the senses most closely related to the operations of reason. 5  This belief complements the classical attitude which considers theoretical activity distinct from and superior to practical doing, and concurs with the Platonic metaphysic which relegates the material, the physical, to an inferior status, a belief which was reinforced during the centuries that the Christian influence was dominant in aesthetic theory.  Since the organs of sight and hearing are distance receptors, detachment from direct contact with the physical may be retained, for the other senses call attention to the body, so destroying the isolation of the contemplative mind.  Thus the aristocratic attitude of classical Greek culture has been preserved: the conviction of the superiority of the essentially passive aloofness of the meditative spirit and contempt for the practical and manipulative. 6

Indeed, this division between the distance receptors and the contact senses corresponds to the distinction between the sensuous and the sensual.  The sensuous is admissable only when made safe by being perceived through the senses of sight and hearing, while the senses of taste, smell, and especially touch, are ineradicably suggestive of the sensual.  In modern times, this view has obtained considerable prominence in aesthetics through the notions of psychical distance and disinterestedness.  Thus, while it is sometimes allowed that the aesthetic attitude be taken toward any object of which we may be aware, 7 the enjoyment of some kinds of beauty has usually been regarded as possible only through the intervention of distance. 8  Only when the sensual has been depersonalized, removed from proximity, spiritualized, does it render itself aesthetically acceptable.  Love as beauty, for example, has been held to demand the use of the principle of distance for its most complete development and fulfillment. 9  And, as might have been expected, transcending the physical presence entirely has been taken as affording the greater beauty. 10

In such a way, aesthetic theory has become subservient to the tenets of a metaphysical position whose truth may well be questioned.  Not only this.  In addition to the a priori rejection of the possibility of aesthetic perception as involving the other senses, experience is distorted by categorizing it on the basis of the sense through which it is obtained.  This is encountered in discussions in aesthetics which isolate the senses and associate them with specific art media.  And since there are no major art forms corresponding to the senses of touch, taste, and smell, they are excluded from any role in aesthetic perception.

Both views commit an identical error.  We are misled by thinking that since the various senses have their seats in specific bodily organs and areas, their signals are distinguishable on such grounds in actual perceptual situations.  The ability to discriminate among the data of the various sense receptors results from selective experience and reflection and is not a spontaneous recognition.  On the contrary, it is most usual for several or all of the senses to be involved in ordinary perception, although the fact usually comes as a surprise when this widespread misconception is revealed as such to an individual as a result of the impairment of one or another sense organ. 11  In like manner, characterizing art media on the basis of the sense through which they are perceived, as in describing music as an aural art and painting as a visual one, leads to gross distortion of aesthetic experience by making its major media conform to the several senses.  It has been argued convincingly that sculpture, nominally a visual art, is not primarily visual in appeal but tactile, 12  and the sense of touch is appealed to in much graphic art, albeit indirectly, through the concern with texture, surface, and the like.  Music, perhaps, fits this theory more easily than the other arts, but the experience of music is inseparable from its performance, and this introduces the influence of the visual spectacle. 13  The case of the theatrical arts hardly supports the theory of direct correspondence between major art and major sense, and the literary arts are inexplicable in its terms.

There is another explanation for the difficulty commonly alleged to exist in at-


taining an attitude of aesthetic sensitivity toward sensory experiences involving those senses requiring contact or close proximity for their employment.  Activities involving these senses have frequently been excluded as possible occasions for aesthetic experience because of their failure to meet the criteria of aesthetic acceptability imposed by the “higher” senses.  One of the more illustrative examples of this occurs in Plato’s Hippias Major. 14  In proposing pleasure as a definition of the beautiful, Socrates restricts aesthetic pleasure to that received through the senses of sight and hearing.  Although it cannot be denied that pleasure is to be found in taste, love, and the like, these things may be termed pleasant, he argues, but hardly beautiful.  “… [E]verybody would laugh at us if we should say that eating is not pleasant but is beautiful, and that a pleasant odour is not pleasant but is beautiful; and as to the act of sexual love, we should all, no doubt, contend that it is most pleasant, but that one must, if he perform it, do it so that no one else shall see, because it is most repulsive to see.” 15  This is scarcely a surprising conclusion, since the major sensory channel through which love is experienced is not the visual but the tactile, not the distance but the contact receptors.  Were the touch to be the standard for judging the aesthetic level of a pleasurable experience, the visual enjoyment of an object, then, would hardly prove passable.

Indeed, there is a powerful aesthetic appeal which touch, smell, and taste possess, an appeal which resides almost entirely in their immediate and direct sensuous attraction and not in their potentialities for meaning and for structural organization.  Perhaps this sensuous immediacy limits us from developing art forms and techniques dependent largely on these senses that are on a par with those appealing to sight and hearing which do possess these potentialities, but such perceptual experience retains, nevertheless, a strong aesthetic quality as sensuously perceived, which often plays a part in aesthetic perception occurring mainly through the other senses.

It would seem that the most accurate resolution of the issue may be obtained through the recognition of the interrelated action of the senses and their connection with the total organism. 16  If we admit the continuity of man with nature, the constant transaction between the human organism and his natural surroundings, we are led to the conclusion that separation between man and nature, discrimination between the sensory data of the various receptors, between active involvement and passive contemplation, between the material and the spiritual and their opposing values, and the like, are products of a highly developed analysis which, in turn, is a consequence of traditional metaphysical commitments which are not beyond challenge.  Direct aesthetic experience, on the other hand, is largely undifferentiated, and discussion of it must be made on its own terms, and not as a consequence of non-aesthetic convictions.



Moral Beliefs

Although metaphysical opinions play a large part in the rejection of the sensual from aesthetic employment, moral beliefs closely related to them are probably the major reason for this practice.  To the imposition of distance is conjoined the rejection of the contact or lower senses, especially touch, as vehicles of aesthetic enjoyment.  Because touch and the other contact senses are so closely associated with physical pleasure, particularly erotic pleasure, their role in aesthetic experience is proscribed.  This argument is not altogether convincing, however, as soon as we recognize that art media involving the visual and auditory senses have also been regarded capable of erotic influence and consequently requiring moral controls.  From the time of Plato to the present, music, literature, and the other arts have been regarded with unabated suspicion on precisely these grounds.  For while it has been claimed that the intervention of distance is capable of allaying the suspicions of the censor and rendering his activities superfluous, theater, dance, sculpture, and music are acknowledged to have a strong tendency to decrease distance and hence would seem to justify the moralist’s concern. 17


For art, centering around the intrinsically perceived qualities of sensory experience, turns men’s eyes not to the glory of heaven but to the glories of the earth.  And yet not only to its beauties.  By intensifying our perceptual awareness, art can bring home to us directly, as can perhaps no other medium, the uglinesses, the meanness, the unbearables of life.  Be it a conveyor of the sublime or the sordid, artistic perception is a call to the world of natural existence of the present, and hence, in this respect, is the least illusory of all our experience.  For nothing is as undoubtedly real as the direct experience of the moment - the significant insight of empirical subjectivism. 18

It is not the contention of the moral critic of art that we are denying, but its aesthetic relevance.  There is an erotic appeal present in certain forms of artistic expression which is integral to the work and cannot be expunged without impairing, if not destroying, its aesthetic merit.  This is especially true of art employing the human figure, particularly the nude. 19  Yet the presence of powerful sensual appeal is hardly surprising, for probably no object is infused with such emotional meaning as the human body, and this is transferred with no effort to representations of and allusions to it.  This does much to explain the perennial attraction the human form possesses for the artist, for, from neolithic cave painting to the art of the present, objects and matters of human interest have occupied the creative artist, and nothing has obsessed him more than the unquenchable appeal of the human figure. 20

Not only does the form of the body have aesthetically sensuous attraction; the function of its members does as well.  Is there not a beauty in the free and graceful movement of the body, a beauty which is perhaps bound up with its form?  Such an appeal exists in the chance observations of daily life in addition to the art forms such as the dance and pantomime which take bodily movement for their materials.  Here, as in architecture and design, lies the basis for challenging the religiously repeated exclusion of objects and activities of mainly practical significance from aesthetic enjoyment.  Dewey’s query is highly appropriate:

Why is the attempt to connect the higher and ideal things of experience with basic vital roots so often regarded as betrayal of their nature and denial of their value?  Why is there repulsion when the high achievements of fine art are brought into connection with common life, the life that we share with all living creatures?  Why is life thought of as an affair of low appetite, or at its best a thing of gross sensation, and ready to sink from its best to the level of lust and harsh cruelty?  A complete answer to the question would involve the writing of a history of morals that would set forth the conditions that have brought about contempt for the body, fear of the senses, and the opposition of flesh to spirit. 21



Sensuous and Sensual

What then, can we conclude about the significance for aesthetics of the distinction between the sensuous and the sensual?  Largely that it is not a tenable one.  The differentiation resembles those other dichotomies that have had the intent of safeguarding the interests, the cherished domain of an institution or a tradition.  The traditional view in this instance sees aesthetic pleasure not as physical pleasure but completely dissociated from it, and while the role of the senses must be acknowledged, it is a role enacted on a spiritualized plane, disembodied, “de-physicalized,” as it were.  Yet by admitting the sensuous in the form of art to acceptable enjoyment, the time-honored mind-body dualism of which this distinction is the aesthetic manifestation destroys itself. 22  For the sensual enters with the sensuous, and in a vast area of aesthetic creation and experience the sensual becomes a major if not predominant feature of its sensuous appeal.  Indeed, the two are often indistinguishable.

If we regard the sensual as continuous with the aesthetic, numerous problems in aesthetic theory move closer to clarification and resolution, issues such as the significance of the nude in art, psychological theorizing about the relation of the artist to sexuality, and especially the place of the tactile and other contact senses in aesthetic experience.  For the tactile urge, undeveloped and unencouraged as it is, reveals itself surreptitiously (as may be observed at any sculpture exhibit), and becomes a fissure in the rock of aesthetic respectability.  And by thus acknowledging the physical


more openly and involving it more squarely in aesthetic experience, it becomes possible to explain differences of response to the same aesthetic stimuli through differences in physical states of receptivity and sensitivity.

What this interpretation suggests, then, is that aesthetic experience at its fullest and richest is experience by the whole man; the entire person is now involved in the aesthetic event.  And instead of making aesthetic experience a “spiritual” communion of “kindred souls,” effete and insubstantial, we have indicated how it may be revitalized by being brought into the world of natural events, universal in its inclusiveness - experience perhaps more fundamental, vital, and intrinsically significant than any other.



1. Santayana, for example, distinguishes between physical and aesthetic pleasures.  The former are lowly and call attention to the part of the body in which they arise, while in the latter the bodily organs do not capture our attention but direct it to an external object.  Cf. The Sense of Beauty (New York, 1896), pp. 36-37.  Dewey makes the distinction on similar grounds: “Any sensuous quality tends, because of its organic connections, to spread and fuse.  When a sense quality remains on the relatively isolated plane on which it first emerges, it does so because of some special reaction, because it is cultivated for special reasons.  It ceases to be sensuous and becomes sensual.  This isolation of sense is not characteristic of esthetic objects, but of such things as narcotics, sexual orgasms, and gambling indulged in for the sake of the immediate excitement of sensation.  In normal experience, a sensory quality is related to other qualities in such ways as to define an object.” Art as Experience (New York, 1934), p. 124.

2. D. W. Prall, Aesthetic Judgment (New York, 1929), pp. 28, 56.  Peirce’s metaphysical category of firstness, by which he meant immediacy, feeling, quality, suchness, corresponds to this feature of the aesthetic experience.  Recently his three categories have been adapted to a theory of art.  Cf. Albert William Levi, “Peirce and Painting,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, XXIII, 1 (1962), 23-36.

3. The neglect of the aesthetic appeal of art by the intellectualistic absorption in organization and meaning has occasionally been remarked upon.  Hanslick was well aware of this in the case of music: “The reason why people have failed to discover the beauties in which pure music abounds, is, in great measure, to be found in the underrating, by the older systems of aesthetics, of the sensuous element, and in its subordination to morality and feeling – in Hegel to the ‘idea.’  Every art sets out from the sensuous and operates within its limits.  The theory relating to the expression of feelings ignores this fact, and disdainfully pushing aside the act of hearing, it passes on immediately to the feelings.  Music, say they, is food for the soul, and the organ of hearing is beneath their notice.” Eduard Hanslick, The Beautiful in Music, in Problems in Aesthetics, ed. M. Weitz (New York, 1959), p. 383.

The perceptive critic has not been the only one to remark upon the primacy of the aesthetic in art.  While poetry is sensuous in its effect mainly indirectly through its ability to stimulate imaginative recollection, the poet, too, has engaged in similar observations:  “Art bids us touch and taste and hear and see the world, and shrinks from what Blake calls mathematic form, from every abstract thing, from all that is the brain only, from all that is not a fountain jetting from the entire hopes, memories and sensations of the body.  Its morality is personal, knows little of any general law…”  William Butler Yeats, in The Creative Process, ed. B. Ghiselin (New York, 1955), pp. 106—107.

4. Although its meaning has been modified periodically, the philosophy of art has regarded harmony historically as the goal of artistic struggling and identical with beauty.  Cf. K. E. Gilbert and H. Kuhn, A History of Esthetics, rev. ed. (Bloomington, Ind., 1954), pp. 186 ff.

5. lbid., pp. 117, 139.

6. Cf. the brief but excellent discussion of some of these questions in Jerome Stolnitz, Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art Criticism (Boston, 1960), pp. 223-226.  Dewey has suggested that the influence of this attitude of Greek culture does much to account for the late development of modern scientific knowledge and the methods by which it is acquired, since the latter have arisen out of the practical concerns, activities, and experiences of daily life.

7. lbid.,pp. 39ff.

8. “That the appeal of Art is sensuous, even sensual, must be taken as an indisputable fact.  Puritanism will never be persuaded, and rightly so, that this is not the case...  [T]he whole sensual side of art is purified, spiritualized, ‘filtered’… by Distance.  The most sensual appeal becomes the translucent veil of an underlying spirituality, once the grossly personal and practical elements have been removed from it.  And - a matter of special emphasis here - this spiritual aspect of the appeal is the more penetrating, the more personal and direct its sensual appeal would have been BUT FOR THE PRESENCE OF DISTANCE.”  Edward Bullough, “‘Psychical Distance’ as a Factor in Art and an Esthetic Principle,” in A Modern Book of Esthetics, ed. M. Rader, 3d ed. (1960), p. 410.

9.  “This limitation and restriction of amatory intercourse is demanded by the aesthetic rule of distance.  In the long run the petty incidentals of physical presence menace the beauty of the visionary image that I have created of the human being I love.  Insofar as beauty is of decisive significance in my love relationship - since, according to my understanding and interpretation, it is only thus that the primitive forms of sensuality acquire a


content of infinite meaning - the destruction and obfuscation of the image created by the desire for beauty will cause the strength of love itself to wane and gradually disappear.  For a short period, to be sure, the love object may be given to the lover, to touch and blissfully embrace, without any danger to the beauty of the love relationship.  After all, the full sense of love includes a demand for the development of sensual desire.  Even in a love formed on the basis of aesthetic values sensual desire must be accorded its due.  It cannot be a question of mere beholding, of the kind of disinterested pleasure with which we meet dead works of art, and those living works of art that are and remain created forms for my artistic enthusiasm; for in the love relationship, a coming together and a fusion, with heavenly moments of passing intoxication, is of the essence; but the observance of the law of distance will reveal itself in the courage of leave-taking, in the consciously willed separation from the object of my love.

“Certainly, love is destined to die insofar as it is interwoven with the temporal fate of the senses.  It has its moment of fulfillment in the most beautiful surrender and the attained understanding of the lovers, and then must necessarily wane in consequence of sickness, age, misunderstanding, and death.  Nevertheless, the law of distance is able to counter certain dangers that threaten this beautiful relationship, and protect it from tiring and cooling off.  For this, too, a certain keeping of distance, a concealment of emotional qualities from the object of love is required.  The great value relations in life, love and friendship, should never be quite clear and transparent as we live them.  We should spread over them the beautiful veil of illusion, and they should always hold a last residue of insolubility for us.”  Georg Mehlis, “The Aesthetic Problem of Distance,” in Reflections on Art, ed. S. Langer (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1958), pp. 84-85.

10. “The pleasure of the present may be greater than the enjoyment of the past and the future; but the appearance of the unreal, of that which was or is to come, is more beautiful, because here the obstructive and weakening elements of embodiment have been replaced and enhanced by felicitous allusions and connections.  Thus beauty gains by the distance of expectation, just as it gains by the distance of the past.”  To this, a fitting conclusion: “If, then, love itself has an aesthetic character, the feeling of love must also be controlled by the law of distance.  Those who love only the beautiful, whose affections are destroyed by ugliness and bad taste, should be ever reminded of the law of distance; for profane proximity destroys the bliss of pure aloofness, as ugly frequency and intimacy annihilate the enjoyment of the rare and unknown.”  Ibid., pp. 87-88.

11. “ -. [M]any sense data apprehended as sight and sound are actually complex in origin, having been built by the combined action of eyes, ears and hands… In experience our sense organs are seldom exercised separately but are simultaneously engaged in exploring objects which appeal to several senses at once.  After the interrelations of the various qualities of experience have been learned… we can then get the complex of these qualities indirectly through the mediation of any one of the senses involved.”  Frances W. Herring, “Touch the Neglected Sense,” JAAC, VII (1949), 210. Cf. also pp. 200-201, 203.

12. Cf., for example, Herring, pp. 206-207.

13. Stravinsky’s comment is worth citing: “... one sees music.  An experienced eye follows, adjudges, sometimes unconsciously, the performer’s least gesture.”  Quoted in Ernest Bacon, Words on Music (Syracuse, 1960), p. 21.

14. The question of this dialogue’s authenticity is irrelevant to the point here being made.

15. Hippias Major, trans. Fowler, 299A.

16. Cf. the discussion by Dewey in Art as Experience, pp. 121 ff.

17. Cf. Bullough, pp. 402-403.

18. Cf. Irwin Edman, Arts and the Man (New York, 1949), pp. 39 ff.  Here, too, lies the utility of distance for him who would pare art of any appeal to vital interests of all sorts: “... {E]xplicit references to organic affections, to the material existence of the body, especially to sexual matters, lie normally below the Distance-limit, and can be touched upon by Art only with special precautions.  Allusions to social institutions of any degree of personal importance - in particular, allusions implying any doubt as to their validity - the questioning of some generally recognized ethical sanctions, references to topical subjects occupying public attention at the moment, and such like, are all dangerously near the average limit and may at any time fall below it, arousing, instead of esthetic appreciation, concrete hostility or mere amusement.”  Bullough, p. 400.

19. “… [T]he human body, as a nucleus, is rich in associations, and when it is turned into art these associations are not entirely lost.... This is an aspect of the subject so obvious that I need hardly dwell on it; and yet some wise men have tried to close their eyes to it.  ‘If the nude,’ says Professor Alexander, ‘is so treated that it raises in the spectator ideas or desires appropriate to the material subject, it is false art, and bad morals.’  This high-minded theory is contrary to experience.  In the mixture of memories and sensations aroused by Rubens’ Andromeda or Renoir’s Bather are many that are ‘appropriate to the material subject.’  And since these words of a famous philosopher are often quoted it is necessary to labor the obvious and say that no nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling, even though it be only the faintest shadow - and if it does not do so, it is bad art and false morals.  The desire to grasp and be united with another human body is so fundamental a part of our nature that our judgment of what is known as ‘pure form’ is inevitably influenced by it; and one of the difficulties of the nude as a subject for art is that these instincts cannot lie hidden, as they do, for example, in our enjoyment of a piece of pottery, thereby gaining the force of sublimation, but are dragged into the foreground, where they risk upsetting the unity of responses from which a work of art derived its independent life.  Even so, the amount


of erotic content a work of art can hold in solution is very high.  The temple sculptures of tenth-century India are an undisguised exaltation of physical desire; yet they are great works of art because their eroticism is part of their whole philosophy.

“Apart from biological needs, there are other branches of human experiences of which the naked body provides a vivid reminder - harmony, energy, ecstasy, humility, pathos; and when we see the beautiful results of such embodiments, it must seem as if the nude as a means of expression is of universal and external value.  But this we know historically to be untrue.”  Kenneth Clark, The Nude, (New York, Bollingen Foundation, 1953), pp. 28-29; quoted by permission of the Bollingen Foundation.  Cf. also Herring, p. 208.

30. [T]he body provides an inexhaustible source for a vocabulary of expressive forms, a vocabulary that is continually being enriched.  Whether we consider the immense sensuous appeal of the living body, the equally powerful ascetic revulsion from it as loathsome, or any of the host of intermediate experiences, we are compelled … to reckon with the response to the body as an integral and ineradicable component of artistic and aesthetic experience.”  Matthew Lipman, “The Aesthetic Presence of the Body,” JAAC, XV (1957), p. 434. Cf. also p. 428.

31. Dewey, p. 20. Cf. also Chap. II in its entirety.

32.  “The moralist knows that sense is allied with emotion, impulse and appetition.  So he denounces the lust of the eye as part of the surrender of spirit to flesh.  He identifies the sensuous with the sensual and the sensual with the lewd.  His moral theory is askew, but at least he is aware that the eye is not an imperfect telescope designed for intellectual reception of material to bring about knowledge of distant objects.”  Dewey, p. 21.