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Pre-Columbian Rock Art and Sensitive Cognition
Author: Reinaldo Morales Jr. and Howard Risatti. Pages 9-24 from Aesthetics, Applications, Artistry and Anarchy: Essays in Prehistoric and Contemporary Art edited by Jillian Huntley and George Nash.

Pre-Columbian rock art is still not considered by many as a form of aesthetic expression, and many still do not consider rock art as art. These ideas seem to be sustained by popular notions about the nature of aesthetics and art that have had a particularly unfortunate impact on the study of non-Western and prehistoric art. There seems to be a general acceptance of the Kantian idea that aesthetic expression is about the beautiful, and this has come to define the aesthetic for most people today. In the long shadow of this modernity—a distinctly Kantian Modernity, with a marketplace that reinforces these expectations of art and aesthetic expression—pre-Columbian rock art can indeed seem out of place, even unwanted. But if we consider the critical heritage of Alexander Baumgarten, who coined the term aesthetics and was writing a generation before Kant, we find an aesthetic theory that better reflects art’s historical condition. When it is seen in terms of Baumgarten’s ‘science of sensitive cognition’ we gain a much richer formal and aesthetic understanding of pre-Columbian rock art.

Keywords. art, aesthetics, pre-Columbian rock art, Alexander Baumgarten, Brazil, Caribbean


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Aesthetics, Applications, Artistry and Anarchy: Essays in Prehistoric and Contemporary Art
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