From Bullfights to Bollywood : The Contemporary Relevance of Jean-Baptiste Du Bos’s Approach to the Arts
This paper takes up the somewhat neglected work of one of the earliest pioneers of modern European aesthetic theory, Jean-Baptiste Du Bos. It aims to correct views in which Du Bos is pigeon-holed as a ‘sentimentalist’, dismissed as a radical subjectivist, or, at best, acknowledged as an influence on the more important work of David Hume. Instead, it presents Du Bos as an original thinker whose highly intuitive approach to the arts is still relevant to contemporary concerns, and can be favourably contrasted with the tradition of disinterested, universalist aesthetics that rose to such strong prominence in the century following his work. It highlights several of his ideas that have not received sufficient attention, including his emphasis on boredom as a motivation for turning to artifice, his notion of the ‘artificial emotions’ that can result from such encounters, his community-based conception of taste, his faith in the general public as legitimate judges of artwork, and the importance he places on different forms of interest when thinking about art. In the course of this discussion, Du Bos’s work is presented as presciently questioning clear cut distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural spheres, as well as exploring contemporary questions about the constitution of ‘the public’ and the legitimacy of its judgement. It also argues that the vocabulary of ‘artificial emotion’ can be as helpfully applied to the increasingly sophisticated world of mass entertainment as it can be to the world of contemporary art.