Emilia Dilke on Aesthetics

Stone, Alison (2023) Emilia Dilke on Aesthetics. Estetika. ISSN 2571-0915

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This article contributes to recovering the history of women’s contributions to aesthetics by examining Emilia Dilke’s writings on aesthetics from the mid-1860s to early 1870s. Initially Dilke took the historicist view that art-works are inescapably the products and expressions of their social and historical circumstances and that art is better, as art, the more it distils its time. Dilke also thought that in the modern world art had separated inexorably from morality and religion. On that basis she came to endorse aestheticism, arguing that art should be made for beauty’s sake and not subordinated to moral purposes. However, this led after all to some tensions between her aestheticism and historicism. In the end she resolved these tensions by distinguishing between various kinds of value, or uses, that art-works can have. The best art-works have properly aesthetic value and transcend history, whereas the majority of art-works have only historical value as expressions of their eras. Overall, Dilke put forward a forceful defence of aestheticism and negotiated between aestheticism and historicism in a unique way. She deserves recognition as a significant female figure in the history of aesthetics.

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23 Sep 2022 10:55
Last Modified:
21 Sep 2023 03:19