Is Philosophy of Art Normative?

I’ve been reflecting on philosophy of art, which I admittedly know next to nothing about.

Philosophy of art is an entire field about which I know almost nothing. It studies aesthetics and questions like “What is art?”; “What is beauty?”; and the like.

Now it seems to me that if one were to say “Art should reflect reality” or “Art should ____” or “Beauty is ____” then they’re making a normative statement. They’re making a statement which suggests that whatever fills in the blank reflects reality, and whatever does not is not reality. Thus, if someone says “Beauty is that which attracts us,” then they’ve made a statement about the world. Yet how can philosophy of art dictate such truths? How can a statement about art be normative?

It seems to me that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder–it has a subjective nature. But it also seems possible to say that the overarching idea of “beauty” is a universal.

These are the questions on which I have been reflecting. I admit already that I know little to nothing about philosophy of art and don’t really have time to investigate it. But I would be very curious if anyone had some thoughts or ideas about these questions.

Transition into a different, but related topic: The image I’ve included here reminds me very much of an experience I had during my undergraduate studies on my history internship. My task was to track down names of people who showed up in various pieces (not art, but rather just random items like irons, stirrups, and the like) which had been given to a museum of local history. Basically, I spent much time trying to track down names online and see if I could find anything at all about them. I failed to find many, but one I did find was from a painting. I discovered that a landscape painting they had been given was by a rather well known painter in the Midwest. It was a pretty awesome feeling to track this guy down and tell the museum that they had an artwork by a guy who had painted for the White House. I don’t remember his name, but I will never forget the awesome feeling of uniting artist to background, art to artwork.

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