It occurred to me that when e.g. reading poetry, I attach a lot of significance to a kind of sentiment. It seems independent of how genteel the work is.

I am interested in finding a way of thinking about it, which is reasonably strong i.e. which isn't specific to one group of philosophers but widely held or at least usually uncontentious.

So I want to know what is near universally claimed about 'sentiment', especially its limits: in the sense of whether all art can be fruitfully approached as an object of (aesthetic) sentiment.

  • 4
    How do you define "art" and how do you define "sentiment?" I'm particularly concerned with the latter, as the former is a question a lot of people have asked before.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jan 2, 2016 at 20:38
  • @Daniel i don't know hot to define what i mean beyond the term "sentiment". the original question included a note on what some philosophers have said about it. should i edit that back in?
    – user6917
    Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 19:07
  • Some art is purely decorative and devoid of sentiment. I'm thinking of the kind of corporate art you'd see in the lobby of a bank's corporate headquarters. So inoffensive and bland as to barely deserve being called art. Yet undeniably something that somebody painted. Or maybe they have AI's paint corporate art these days. Wouldn't be difficult.
    – user4894
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 1:24
  • hm, that's interesting, thanks. good that people seem to have (intuitively) grasped the use of 'sentiment' here @user4894 makes me wonder about the difference between art and style, sentiment and decoration...
    – user38026
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 2:41

5 Answers 5


I personally define Art as any attempt to be understood. This reflects essentially all writing, rhetoric, painting, and the like. Some of those things involve sentiment, and some do not. An attempt to be understood which does not involve sentiment might include a passage in a math textbook, or a scientific paper (depending on what you consider sentiment to be, and what threshold level of it is relevant). Personally, I feel that expressing a mathematical truth in such a way that it can be understood is art, whether there is sentiment in it or not. Euler's Formula is a rather beautiful piece of art, I would say, and the derivations I have seen inspire me in much the same way as other art does.

Your question hinges on how you define art. If you would like a cold mathematical textbook with no sentiment in it to qualify as art, as I do, the answer to your question is "no." If you would not like to consider that art, the answer seems to be "yes," but we still need a definition to see if we can falsify the premise. Try not to use the word "sentiment" in your definition.



The stochastic processes were used in music to create small fixed composed pieces. There were a number of specific theories from physics, statistics and mathematics that were used and applied to create a number of the stochastic musical pieces. The Greek, Xenakis was a pioneer of this movement and he also gave it the name stochastic music. Prior to Xenakis though, there were other composers such as John Cage who had created a music style called indeterminate music and this was also created on a chance basis though not as strictly mathematical as that of stochastic music. One piece by Cage, Music of Charges was simply based on a chart for the I-Ching. Other notable composers were Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Issacson who used Markov chains in one of their larger compositions though this has become known as Generative music.


Xenakis is particularly remembered for his pioneering electronic and computer music, and for the use of stochastic mathematical techniques in his compositions, including probability (Maxwell-Boltzmann kinetic theory of gases in Pithoprakta, aleatory distribution of points on a plane in Diamorphoses, minimal constraints in Achorripsis, Gaussian distribution in ST/10 and Atrees, Markovian chains in Analogiques), game theory (in Duel and Strategie), group theory (Nomos Alpha), and Boolean algebra (in Herma and Eonta). In keeping with his use of probabilistic theories, many of Xenakis’ pieces are, in his own words, “a form of composition which is not the object in itself, but an idea in itself, that is to say, the beginnings of a family of compositions”.


  • not a bad reply. but does the work, then, the idea not the composition, have sentiment?
    – user38026
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 2:39
  • Maybe a (mild) sense of curiosity
    – user35066
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 13:44

An open question, not critical but elucidatory - by 'sentiment' do you mean feeling in the sense of 'emotional reaction'?

If so, then you might be asking one or both of two things:

1.Is there a common and distinctive emotional reaction that we have to all and only art?

2.Is it possible for art, recognised as such, not to educe any emotional reaction at all?

Common and distinctive emotional reaction?

It doesn't seem to me that when I experience an emotional reaction to art, considering it only as art and bracketing out any ethical, religious or other dimensions, I have an invariant kind of emotional reaction to different types or instances of art. For example, when I read certain lines from Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' I certainly experience an emotional reaction. I find it hard to specify this reaction; perhaps I can best express the experience by saying that it is a response to a perfection of fit between language and imagination.

Now, whatever can be made of that, I want to say that the experience it describes is - to swing examples - nothing like my emotional reaction to the two-dimensional images of ancient Egyptian wall paintings. These I recognise as art, yet it is (I think) the shapes and symmetries that produce the reaction here.

But the reaction is different in kind. I can find no commonality or sameness in the emotional reaction I experience in reading Shakespeare and the emotional reaction I experence in viewing the wall paintings - let alone a commonality that is distinct from my emotional reaction to non-art.

No emotional reaction?

I think it perfectly possible to experience something as art without any emotional reaction at all. I would not deny the status of art to conceptual art, taken here as exemplified in artifacts imbued with ideas (a characterisation that begs for more clarification, I readily admit), but it provokes no emotional reaction in me so far as I am aware.

Maybe I have misinterpreted the meaning you attach to 'sentiment'. If so, this is an honest mistake and its exposure might at least help to bring your question into clearer focus.

Note that I have said nothing here of art as expressive of emotion - the Croce/ Collingwood approach. I have kept to the observer's emotional reaction, which is a separate topic from that of whether art is expressive of emotion or not.


Damien Freeman, Art's Emotions: Ethics, Expression and Aesthetic Experience. ISBN 10: 1844655121 / ISBN 13: 9781844655120 Published by Routledge, 2011.

Jacques Maquet, The Aesthetic Experience: An Anthropologist Looks at the Visual Arts. ISBN 10: 0300041349 / ISBN 13: 9780300041347. ISBN 10: 0300041349 / ISBN 13: 9780300041347 Published by Yale University Press, 1988


Does all art have a sentiment?

Sentiment is an attitude or judgment strongly influenced by emotion. An overriding purpose of art is to elicit an emotional or intellectual response. So clearly, the two are linked.

So this simplifies to: Does art require emotion as part of the creative process?

AI can compose music without any sentiment. If the music created by AI illicits an emotional response in the listener, then the listener may claim the music contains sentiment that has no meaning to the composer and not deliberately written into the composition. A listener is determining sentiment based on personal history.

A composer writing an ad jingle deliberately inserts sentiment designed to manipulate the listener (minor chords vs major, dissonance) but may have no emotional interest in the jingle.

So there is no global answer to your question other than:

"Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder


All objects, indeed all concepts can be "fruitfully approached as an object of (aesthetic) sentiment" since this is a decision of the observer to do so. The measurement of fruitful is also a decision of the observer. As such these remain tightly bound to the realm of 'premise'.

  • 1
    This answer doesn't cite any sources or explain why we should accept this view. As such, it reads like a personal philosophy.
    – virmaior
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 5:59
  • i can't see what you're referring to, and would suggest references for that reason. i suppose you mean that, independent of premises, anything is aesthetically pleasing as anything else. right? but are you reinforcing the need for "premises" or stating that anything is aesthetic?
    – user38026
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 2:45

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