Art Scents: Exploring the Aesthetics of Smell and the Olfactory Arts

ISBN : 9780190089818

Larry Shiner
372 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
May 2020
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Although the arts of incense and perfume making are among the oldest of human cultural practices, it is only in the last two decades that the use of odors in the creation of art has begun to attract attention under the rubrics of 'olfactory art' or 'scent art.' Contemporary olfactory art ranges from gallery and museum installations and the use of scents in music, film, and drama, to the ambient scenting of stores and the use of scents in cuisine. All these practices raise aesthetic and ethical issues, but there is a long-standing philosophical tradition, most notably articulated in the work of Kant and Hegel, which argues that the sense of smell lacks the cognitive capacity to be a vehicle for either serious art or reflective aesthetic experience. This neglect and denigration of the aesthetic potential of smell was further reinforced by Darwin's and Freud's views of the human sense of smell as a near useless evolutionary vestige. Smell has thus been widely neglected within the philosophy of art.

Larry Shiner's wide-ranging book counters this tendency, aiming to reinvigorate an interest in smell as an aesthetic experience. He begins by countering the classic arguments against the aesthetic potential of smell with both philosophical arguments and evidence from neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, history, linguistics, and literature. He then draws on this empirical evidence to explore the range of aesthetic issues that arise in each of the major areas of the olfactory arts, whether those issues arise from the use of scents with theater and music, sculpture and installation, architecture and urban design, or avant-garde cuisine. Shiner gives special attention to the art status of perfumes and to the ethical issues that arise from scenting the body, the ambient scenting of buildings, and the use of scents in fast food. Shiner's book provides both philosophers and other academic readers with not only a comprehensive overview of the aesthetic issues raised by the emergence of the olfactory arts, but also shows the way forward for further studies of the aesthetics of smell.


Part I. What Can the Nose Know?
Overview: The Challenge of the Olfactory Arts
Chapter 1: The Fear of Smell
Chapter 2: Neuroscience and Psychology of Smell I: What the Nose Can Do
Chapter 3: Neuroscience and Psychology of Smell II: What the Nose Can't Do
Chapter 4: Smell, Emotion, and Aesthetics
Part II. Smell Redeemed: Language, Culture and Memory
Overview: A Biocultural Approach
Chapter 5: The Dialectic of Deodorization: Smell in Western History
Chapter 6: Language, Culture, and Smell
Chapter 7: Writing Smell
Chapter 8: Odor, Memory, and Proust
Part III. Discovering the Olfactory Arts
Overview: What is Olfactory Art?
Chapter 9: Toward a Total Work of Art: Smell in Theater, Film, Music
Chapter 10: Sublime Stenches: Contemporary Olfactory Art
Chapter 11: Beautiful Fragrances: Is Perfume a Fine Art?
Chapter 12: Perfume Between Art and Design
Part IV. The Aesthetics and Ethics of Scenting
Overview: Varieties of Aesthetic Experience
Chapter 13: The Meanings and Morality of Scenting the Body
Chapter 14: Ambient Scenting, Architecture, and the City
Chapter 15: Enhancing Flavors with Scents in Contemporary Cuisine

About the author: 

Larry Shiner is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Illinois, his research focuses on the history of the concept of art, the relation of art to craft and design, the aesthetics of museum architecture, the aesthetics of smell, and the role of literary form in writing history.
His writings on those topics include numerous articles in major journals and two books: The Secret Mirror: Literary Form and History in Tocqueville's Recollections (Cornell University Press, 1988) and The Invention of Art: A Cultural History (University of Chicago Press, 2001).

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