Beauty, Deautomatization

The 20th century Russian Formalist literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky said that art is the deautomatization of perception. At first this seems a specialized perspective best suited to various kinds of modern art, but on deeper reflection it may apply more broadly. Most traditional art, whether representational or pattern-based, is grounded in some kind of nonordinary perception or apprehension of things.

Kant in the Critique of Judgment talks about the sense of beauty as a kind of feeling of pleasure that is disinterested, in the sense of not being determined by impulse. He says it is even our duty to regard beauty as the “special symbol” of morality. For Kant, a moral will is grounded in deautomatization of action. It makes sense that this would be supported by deautomatizations of perception. Sensitivity to Kantian beauty also helps reinforce the acquired emotional intelligence that grounds ethical development. (See also Freedom Through Deliberation?)