Abstract

Kristeller's article ‘The Modern System of the Arts: A Study in the History of Aesthetics’ is a classic statement of the view, now widely adopted but rarely examined, that aesthetics became possible only in the eighteenth-century with the emergence of the fine arts. I wish to contest this view, for three reasons. Firstly, Kristeller's historical account can be questioned; alternative and equally plausible accounts are available. Secondly, ‘the modern system of the arts’ appears to have been neither a system nor an agreed upon entity, but only a historical construct of Kristeller's own making that matches up with no known historical reality. Thirdly, while the concept of the fine arts existed in the eighteenth century, the assumption that it had an impact on the rise of aesthetic theory remains unproven and unnecessary. A more satisfactory account of aesthetic thought in antiquity can be given, once the ‘fine-arts’ objection has been cleared away.

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