What is an aesthetic experience? It poses a question which is extremely difficult to answer. It is not possible to give a clear and simple answer to it as aesthetic experience does not
partake of the nature of our workaday experience of life. When we experience a sensation, we acquire some knowledge of the objective world. When we are offended by
somebody we feel angry which is an experience of emotions. Aesthetic experience does not appear to be like either of them. Yet in a way it encompasses elements of both.
Ordinarily, we associate it with what is called an art object like say, poetry, music, painting, dance, drama etc. These are objects not meant to be cognised merely or to rouse our
emotions although it must be conceded that their appreciation involves association with both cognition and emotion.
Let us take a concrete example. What do we do when we read a poem, say composed by Wordsworth or Rabindranath Tagore? At the first instance, we have to read the poem
and try to comprehend it. This involves functioning of the cognitive faculty. We find that by a skilful use of fancy and imagination dressed up in choice versified language, the poet
has given expression to an emotion deeply felt by him. So this poem is not so much directly interested in communicating to the readers any knowledge of the objective world as to
express the emotion felt by the poet. It is not, however, a case where the emotion described in the poem infects the mind of the reader. For example, if the theme of the particular
poem being read, is grief of joy, reader comprehends it, but does not in consequence, himself feel the pangs of grief or the thrills of joy. What happens is something unique. The
comprehension of the theme triggers off a kind of experience in the mind of the reader, which is something quite different from the emotion the theme conveys. It is something akin
to emotion but more refined. It is a feeling of extreme exhilaration and well-being resulting from the detached appreciation of the beauty inherent in the poem. It transcends both
feelings of pleasure and pain alike and in fact, it may as well be triggered off by a painful theme as by a pleasant theme. The Indian aestheticians use the term nanda to signify this
and they even go so far as to say that it can claim parity with the nanda felt by the creative principle working in the universe.
It is apparent, therefore, that the aesthetic experience is a very complicated experience. It has many facets which are subtle and, therefore, difficult to comprehend. It will help our
understanding of the problem of Aesthetics if we try to make a comprehensive analysis of its constituent elements.
Aesthetic experience evidently involves participation of two parties. On the one side, is the artist who creates art objects by the application of his imagination and skill. On the other
side, there is the connoisseur who appreciates it. On his part also a certain amount of sympathy and sensitivity is an essential prerequisite for the right type of appreciation to trigger
off the aesthetic experience proper. It is the end product of an understanding co-operation between the two partners. The Indian aesthetician was very conscious of this aspect of
aesthetic experience. Bharata in his N tyas Stra gives a clear analysis of this by pointing out that what the artist creates is the bh va with a specific dominant emotional content and
what the connoisseur cognises is the rasa which is the subjective comprehension of this emotion which in its turn gives rise to the aesthetic experience proper.
On the artist’s side the creative aspect of art is very much in evidence. He gets an inspiration and tries to translate it into an object of art. Whatever medium he chooses, his
imagination plays a major role in his creative effort. In this matter however, he borrows liberally from nature. He does not quite reproduce nature but imitates it. There is thus an
element of mimicry involved in art. This aspect has been brought to relief by Western Aesthetics. Again, what he creates with the aid of his imagination and fancy and skill is
something which is unique and forms a class by itself. What the artist creates cannot be labelled with a class name, because it cannot be duplicated; its uniqueness is marked out by
everyone of its component parts and their peculiar combination. This aspect of an object of art impressed Rabindranath Tagore deeply. That is why he called fine arts the language
On the side of the connoisseur, his appreciation is not of a passive kind, but involves an active participation to culminate in the final sense of joy and exhilaration. He should be
able to cultivate a spirit to detachment and yet be sympathetic to the artist’s efforts. Detachment is called for to create the proper atmosphere for full appreciation. Sympathy is
called for to help the artist to enter in his own personality to be able himself to imaginatively experience what the artist wants to convey to him. This is what is technically called
empathy. In this matter the person who appreciates has also to play an active role by allowing himself to be deluded to believe what the artist fictitiously creates. The aesthetic
experience is thus very much the product of an active cooperative effort between two partners.
The above analysis will make it clear that the aesthetic experience is a highly complicated affair. It has many facets which are at once subtle and elusive. No wonder, therefore, that
it has attracted the attention of world’s great thinkers who have contributed towards building up a theory of Aesthetics. From Aristotle to Croce in the West, from Bharatamuni to
Rabindranath Tagore in Indian there is a long line of thinkers who have dealt with the different aspect of this complicated experience. Yet it appears that the last word has not yet
been said on it. We very much miss a theory which comprehends all its different aspects in a systematised unity.
On this background, it is refreshing to find that Dr. Prabas Jiban Chaudhury carried on extensive studies on this difficult field and with some amount of success. The fruits of his
labour have been collected together in this volume in form of essays dealing with different aspects of the aesthetic problem. They will show that these studies are both extensive as
well as intensive in character. They cover a wide variety of subjects and also involve studies on the subtler aspects of the aesthetic experience. To his pleasant surprise, the reader
will find that he speaks with competence and rare insight. This is partly explained by the fact that his versatile mind had acquired mastery over disciplines which are widely
divergent in character. This is also explained by the fact that he was equally at home in both the Western and the Indian school of Aesthetics. He is so sure of his ground that he
even ventures to suggest a theory of his own to explain the aesthetic experience in which he defines art as conscious self-delusion. It is a pity that so much talent and so much
promise was nipt in the bud by the tragic and untimely death of this great scholar. How one wishes that he had been alive to-day to write the preface of his own book.
This brings us to a touching aspect of this publication. It was principally due to the efforts of the widow of the author, Shrimati Ashabari Chaudhury, that this book sees the light of
the day. She not only collected the materials but also placed them at the disposal of this University for publication with singular devotion. She herself painted the design for the
jacket to enrich the quality of the publication. We consider it to be a privilege to be able to publish this notable contribution to knowledge in a difficult subject.
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