The Power of the Perceiver

Johann Joachim Winckelmann says that beauty exists irrespectively of the perceiver and that people must receive training on that which is beautiful in order to correctly judge what the beautiful is. Immanuel Kant, on the other hand, suggests that the subjective (though universally agreed upon) judgment of a perceiver establishes that which is beautiful. Kant suggests, then, that beauty does not exist apart from the perceiver, but rather that it is created through the perceiver. From Winckelmann to Kant, the power of the perceiver shifts tremendously—from the perceiver as someone who must be schooled in how to judge beauty correctly to the perceiver as the determinant of beauty. Under Kant’s logic, the perceiver is more powerful than the object of beauty itself because the object of beauty does not exist without the perceiver. This suggests, then, that an artwork cannot be beautiful if its audience and critics do not perceive it to be so.

-Laura Biagi


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