The aesthetic potential of wonder
Coletta, Neil L.
MetadataShow full item record
Wonder in the Western philosophical tradition may be traced to antiquity, emerging perhaps most famously in Socrates' assertion that philosophy itself begins in wonder. However, its origin in the discourse of psychology, and in particular its characterization as a unique human emotion, is naturally much more recent. In English, the word "wonder" assumes dual construction and utility, as both a verb ("I wonder why...?"), and a noun ("It is a wonder to behold"), thus preserving the connection between "intellectual curiosity...and the pleasure of amazement, that is, wonder taken in the aesthetic sense of admiration, delight in the qualities of a thing." Here, I attempt to situate wonder, in part, as an emotion that is reactive in character and capable of appreciative aesthetic power. I argue that the arousal of wonder constitutes a unique means by which the artwork engages the participant such that in "dwelling on the encounter, the emotion constitutes a singular comprehension of the value and significance of its objects." As a point of departure, I will consider Jennifer Robinson's non-cognitivist theory of emotions will be examined and then considered as a possible operational framework from which an analysis of wonder might emerge and proceed. On this basis, if wonder may be seen as a distinct emotion arising from the affective appraisals of an aesthetic encounter, I will consider its potential for meaningful engagement in relation to a selection of visual media. My intent is not to suggest a comprehensive theory or philosophy of either art or wonder, but rather to examine certain possibilities for how wonder, as an emotion experienced according to Robinson's model, might be evoked in response to particular aesthetic encounters, and how, as a result, enhanced understandings and appreciation of this experience might emerge.