Art’s Emotions: Ethics, Expression and Aesthetic Experience

Art’s Emotions is published in North America by McGill-Queens University Press, and in the rest of the world by Acumen Publishing.

  • To read about the book on the publisher’s website, click here.
  • To read a review in the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, click here.

Praise for Art’s Emotions

Malcolm Budd, President of the British Society for Aesthetics:

Art’s Emotions is bold, resourceful and ambitious. The structure is excellent. At every stage of the argument well-chosen examples are used to illustrate the abstract claims being made, and Freeman is meticulous in making clear the precise nature and limits of these claims. The work is very well researched and displays a command of all the materials referred to, both those of major and those of minor figures.”

Dominic McIver Lopes, University of British Columbia:

“A remarkably erudite, bold, and fascinating exploration of the nature of emotion, the distinctive emotional impact of art, and its value as a contribution to human flourishing… highly recommended reading for anyone who ponders why art matters.”

Raymond Geuss, University of Cambridge:

“Freeman starts from some very powerful intuitions about human emotional life and the role of the arts in our emotional life, and with a conviction that Wollheim has made a major contribution to telling us something important about that. He then goes on to develop this conviction, clarify it, argue against some apparent objections to it, and show how it could be relevant for interpreting some specific works of art. The result is an important book that is very much worth reading.”

Derek Matravers, Open University:

“The overarching concern of Art’s Emotions is the nature and structure of the emotional experience of art. This concern includes, but encompasses more than, the questions of whether and how art can be thought to express emotion, and of whether art can be identified with expression. Freeman claims that the emotional experience of art is sufficient to account for its value, and thus the book also broaches the question of the value of art. A variety of central issues in aesthetics is therefore engaged with in an original and thought-provoking way.”

Sarah Worth, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

“Damien Freeman takes on the monumental task of developing a theory of aesthetic experience that accounts for its emotional aspects, its ethical aspects, and the role certain kinds of aesthetic experience can play in a fulfilling life. Despite the enormity of the task, he does an excellent job in so few pages… Freeman’s argument takes as its context the expressivist theories of Tolstoy, Collingwood, and Wollheim; but I believe that he advances his argument to a more comprehensive account of the ways in which we engage with art emotionally and why it is good for us to do so…

[The] explanation of the plenary experience of emotion is the real achievement of this book… I think that the argument for the plenary experience is one that should make its way into the canon of expressivist theories alongside Collingwood and Bell…”

Ronald MooreJournal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism:

“Freeman has given us an ingenious, sophisticated theory that will become a benchmark for serious study in this field… This is a book anyone interested in aesthetic experience in general or in the role of arts in relation to emotions should read. It is clearheaded, well informed, methodical, and handsomely argued. It addresses issues everyone, and not just philosophers, should be concerned with: the role of art in society, the role of aesthetic experience in relation to other valued activities, the role emotions play in the world of arts, and reasons for thinking that emotions as presented in the arts play a peculiarly important role in relation to human flourishing. Art’s Emotions deserves to be recognized as one of the most important books in a field of burgeoning philosophical interest.”

To read the full review, click here.

Hugo MaynellThe Heythrop Journal:

“I find [Freeman’s argument] not only ingenious but quite convincing, as explaining how the expression of emotion in art is derivative from the natural and spontaneous expression of emotion by human beings.”

Duncan Robinson CBE, Chairman of the Henry Moore Foundation and formerly Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum:

“To tackle these questions, and to go on to discuss ‘the place of art in life as a whole’ requires not only a formidable knowledge of philosophy and art, but a certain courage, ‘where angels fear to tread’. Freeman has both to a [remarkable] degree…”

About Art’s Emotions

Despite the very obvious differences between looking at Manet’s Woman with a Parrot and listening to Elgar’s Cello Concerto, both experiences provoke similar questions in the thoughtful aesthete: Why does the painting seem to express reverie and the music, nostalgia? How do we experience the reverie and nostalgia in such works of art? Why do we find these experiences rewarding in similar ways? Our awareness of emotion in art, and our engagement with art’s emotions, is something that many an aesthete will tell you makes a special contribution to their life. So it is timely for a philosopher to strive to account for the nature and significance of the experience of art’s emotions.

In Art’s Emotions, Freeman develops a new theory of emotion that is suitable for resolving key questions in aesthetics. He then reviews and evaluates three existing approaches to artistic expression, and proposes a new approach to the emotional experience of art that draws on the strengths of the existing approaches. Finally, he seeks to establish the ethical significance of this emotional experience of art for human flourishing. Freeman challenges the reader not only to consider how art engages with emotion, but how we should connect up our answers to questions concerning the nature and value of the experiences offered by works of art.

Art’s Emotions was dedicated to the memory of Peter Avery, of whom Freeman writes:

“At the Royal Wedding in 2011, the Bishop of London remarked, ‘As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life.’ The occasion, and the sentiments expressed, would have appealed greatly to my friend, the late Peter Avery, an orientalist and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, who had devoted his life to Persian poetry, and in particular to the works of Háfiz of Shíráz. As I was unbuttoning Peter’s waistcoat after taking dinner in Hall at King’s last night, it occurred to me that the present work’s underlying idea, that art allows us to reconcile ourselves to the world in a way that personal relations cannot, was central to Peter’s life as much as it was to his passionate study of Háfiz.”

  • To read Peter Avery’s obituary in The Guardian, click here.