one century now, the international association of aesthetics has organized
eighteen congresses all over the world, in Europe, Asia, and North and South
America. The first congress took place
in Berlin in 1913, the second one in Paris in 1937, while, interrupted by the
Second World War and its aftermath, those from 1956 onwards began to take place
at four-year intervals. These congresses were initiated by the Comité International d’Esthétique,
consisting of prominent scholars in aesthetics, such as Mikel
Dufrenne, Harold Osborne, Luigi Pareyson, Tomonobu Imamichi, Milan Damnjanovic,
and Thomas Munro. However in 1988, the International Association for Aesthetics (IAA) was established, having
a formal constitution which included membership for national societies and
individual scholars and specified election procedures for IAA’s officers and its
executive committee. Under
the auspices of the IAA most of the congresses afterwards took place at
three-year intervals: in Madrid (1992), Lahti, Finland (1995), Ljubljana,
Slovenia (1998), Tokyo (2001), Rio de Janeiro (2004), and in Ankara (2007).
recent congress was held on 9-13 August at Peking University in Beijing, P.R. China, organized by the IAA together with the
university and Beijing Municipal Education Commission.
Whereas the previous congress in Ankara had about 400 participants, as many as
1000 active participants attended the five-day congress in Beijing, about 400
of them stemming from China itself (with about 200 additional Chinese attendees). The attention and interest which the congress
received, not least within China, was certainly remarkable, and the fact that
Yuan Guiren, the Chinese minister of education, gave one of the opening speeches
Opening ceremony of the congress.
which has one of the best reputations in China (and indeed is ranked as no. 47 on the QS University Ranking List), and
its campus provided an excellent setting for the congress. Numerous shops and restaurants were
available, and park and garden areas with lakes invited relaxing strolls. Moreover, the university also hosts several
museums, and the architectural setting consists of modern buildings as well as
traditional Chinese houses and pagodas. Beijing
itself, having more than 20 million inhabitants, can sometimes be densely
crowded and busy, so the campus area felt something like an oasis in the middle
of this huge city.
Park area on the university campus.
In general, I
experienced the atmosphere on this beautiful campus as very friendly and
peaceful. Most of the participants were accommodated in
university residential facilities and hotels nearby (at subsidized prices), and
so the conference locations were quite easily accessible.
As for the
conference itself, I must admit that I and, as I heard later, some other
delegates had initial worries over its practical and organizational realization,
but these doubts were completely assuaged. The congress website with its call for papers,
launched at the end of 2009, was certainly promising. Ten main topics were suggested:
1. The global
and the local: Western and
definition of art and the analysis of concepts of art
and interactions between cultural studies
relationship between aesthetics and philosophy,
ethics, psychology, or
relationship between aesthetics and forms of art,
such as music, painting,
calligraphy, movie, and design, etc.
relationship between aesthetics and
relationship between aesthetics and economy,
society, and politics
8. Aesthetics and aesthetic education
historical traditions and modernization
10. Aesthetics: information technology and
customary, information about the congress fee (200 USD) as well as
instructions for the abstracts and the presentations etc. were included, the
latter with a suggested length of 30 minutes, including 10 minutes for
discussion. The initial website ceased
to work after a while, and no connection to it could be made. After about two months this site was replaced
by another one, which was much more elaborate, but where some of the function
buttons did not work. Moreover, the
communication by email to the executive staff proved to be difficult, expected
answers were often much delayed, and hotel reservations and payments in advance
proved in several cases to be difficult, even impossible, demanding a lot of time-consuming
correspondence. So my initial worries were perhaps understandable,
but they proved in the end to be unnecessary.
The XVIIIth International Congress of Aesthetics, I would say, turned
out to be a great success!
procedure at the beginning of the congress proceeded very smoothly at various locations
and with the help of innumerable student volunteers who, in my own experience, usually
had very good English skills.
One of the registration desks with student volunteers.
Each participant received a strong cloth bag
containing a book with all abstracts (the size of a phone book!), a set of
errata and corrections, a beautifully designed booklet about Chinese
aesthetics, information about artistic events, and free lunch/dinner vouchers
for all congress days. The enthusiastic
and responsive assistance of the volunteers here was outstanding, as well as at
the other locations, such as lunch/dinner places, during the cultural events, and
at the congress venues in general, and contributed to a large extent to the
friendly atmosphere during the congress! Their efforts undoubtedly deserve respect and much
One of the larger
university buildings functioned as the main venue for the presentations, so it was quite easy to get from one session to
another without any noteworthy delay.
Peking University Hall, venue for the opening ceremony and the dance performance.
session rooms were bright, modern and functional, with up-to-date technical
equipment. The various presentations
were, as usual, structured as plenary or panel sessions and (more or less
coherent) thematic paper sections with a great variety of topics, certainly
doing justice to the congress title, “Diversities in Aesthetics.” These included, for example, analytic as well
as continental aesthetics and philosophy, art education, architecture and urban
planning, music, cinema, environmental aesthetics, literary theory,
neuroscience and psychology of art, contemporary art, Marxist aesthetics,
calligraphy, history of aesthetics, and digital art. Notable was also the occurrence of numerous
sections on dance aesthetics, which usually have not been as prominent in other
IAA congresses of aesthetics I have attended so far. Illustrations 1-3 show so-called “word clouds,” which
reveal the emphasis put on certain issues presented during the congress. The size of a word in each of these
visualizations is proportional to the number of times the word appears in the
input text, in this case the most common nouns and predicates in the titles of
all presentations. In cloud 2, I have
filtered out "Aesthetics", "aesthetic", and "Art". In cloud 3, I've filtered out
"Chinese", "China", and "Dance."
Word Cloud 1. (click image to enlarge)
Word Cloud 2. (click image to enlarge)
World Cloud 3. (click image to enlarge)
Due to the
vast number of presentations held at numerous parallel sessions, it is obviously
quite difficult to give an all-embracing outline of them. It would also seem to be somewhat unfair and
arbitrary, I think, to pick out certain speakers, while at the same time
ignoring other commendable presentations.
It suffices to say that I personally found a great number of them
utterly inspiring, touching upon important issues as well as giving new
insights into the various domains of aesthetic research.
surprisingly, a great number of presentations of course dealt with Asian
aesthetics, i.e. from Korea, Japan,
India and, not least, China, itself. Several
presentations attempted to elucidate differences as well as similarities
between Western and Chinese aesthetics. One
question that became apparent was in which way it might be reasonable to talk
about a specific “Chinese aesthetics” rather than “aesthetics in China.” As a matter of fact, since the nineteenth century,
aesthetic research in China has to a considerable extent been influenced by
Western traditions, such as the works of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Schopenhauer,
Schiller and Nietzsche, just to mention a few philosophers whose works were
translated into Chinese and were widely discussed in certain academic circles. Moreover, Marxist aesthetics was introduced
as early as 1919 (when the Chinese “May Fourth” movement took place) and became
especially prominent after the 1950’s when the Communist party under Mao Zedong
came to power. On the other hand,
aesthetic discussions in China had occurred as early as the third century B.C.E.
onwards, influenced by Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist thinking. A detailed discussion of traditional Chinese
aesthetics would unfortunately go beyond the scope of this report, but we may
note that rather holistic views of nature and humankind were embraced and
artistic practices attempted to resonate with nature as well as the social
landscape. Generally speaking, much less
emphasis is put on originality, individuality and the expression of personal
feelings compared with Western aesthetic practices.
Chinese main speakers’ lectures were simultaneously translated into English
(portable transmitting devices with earphones were available for this purpose),
financial reasons prevented most of the Chinese presentations from being
translated simultaneously, and so they were incomprehensible to most foreign
participants. (This, I have been told,
is a common difficulty at international congresses.) This was unfortunate, as the titles show that
a great number of them might have given non-Chinese listeners substantial and
important insights into Chinese culture and artistic practices. However, there were numerous possibilities for
informal meetings and inspiring discussions besides the actual lecture sessions. Apart from meetings at the congress venues
and during the lunches, two large banquets with exquisite Chinese cuisine were
arranged. One especially noteworthy highlight
of the congress took place one afternoon when bus excursions to the Forbidden
City and to the Qing emperors’ Summer Palace, respectively, took
place and also provided many opportunities for discussion. Another cultural highpoint was an aesthetically
absolutely overwhelming dance performance one evening by members of the Beijing
Moreover, at the
university library an exhibition took place showing traditional Chinese arts
and crafts, as well as calligraphy. At
the congress’s main venue, another exhibition of contemporary (though, I think,
hardly controversial) Chinese painting could also be seen.
I would say that this congress was well-organized. It provided many opportunities for stimulating
intellectual and personal meetings, as well as outstanding aesthetic
experiences, and it had a generally friendly and open-minded atmosphere. In these respects, the Beijing congress
indeed met the high standards already set at the exceptionally well-arranged
congresses in Tokyo 2001 and in Ankara 2007.
All of the presentations will be issued on a CD, while a selection of
them will be published in book form. Hopefully,
these publications will also include translations of (at least some of) the
Chinese presentations into English. So there is
every reason to congratulate the congress organizers, most notably perhaps, Gao
Jianping, Peng Feng, Ye Lang, and Zhu Liangzhi, and all the other persons involved,
not least the student volunteers, on this very successful gathering. The next International Congress of Aesthetics
will take place in Kraków, Poland in 2013.
To see additional
images of the Congress, please follow this link:
Michael Ranta holds a Ph.D. in the History of Art from Stockholm
University, Sweden, and is a research fellow at CCS
(Centre for Cognitive Semiotics) at Lund University. He has done research in cognitive psychology,
art history, and aesthetics, and has written on aesthetic and art historical
issues, as well as art criticism.
Published on October 21, 2010.
 Venice 1956, Athens 1960,
Amsterdam 1964, Uppsala 1968, Bucharest 1972, Darmstadt 1976, Dubrovnik 1980,
Montreal 1984, Nottingham 1988.
 I would like to thank Jos
de Mul and Arnold Berleant, who both were participants at the congress, for
their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this report.