The aim of this project was to conduct research in analytic aesthetics through a series of conversations with 10 leading figures in the field. The project was supported by the British Society of Aesthetics and the American Society for Aesthetics and the resulting conversations are published by Oxford University Press (2017). The book gives readers new insights into key issues in aesthetics and a better understanding of the theoretical approach and outlook of the individual philosophers who participated in the project. The book also contains black-and-white portraits of all contributing philosophers made by the internationally renowned photographer Steve Pyke (MBE, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, staff photographer at The New Yorker, whose work is held in many permanent collections, including National Portrait Gallery and V&A in London). The portrait of Noël Carroll was made by Claire Anscomb.


An excerpt from Professor Murray Smith’s Foreword:

“Maes pulls off something rather remarkable with Conversations: a book which works well as both an introduction and as a more advanced text. In part this arises from the fact that Maes fully exploits the potential of conversation, at once the possession of all of us, and a major tool for philosophical inquiry. For the novice and the lay person, on the one hand, the format of the conversation encourages directness and simplicity, for as it unfolds a conversation requires a high degree of ongoing, mutual comprehension on the part its participants in order to continue; at least in its original live incarnation, a conversation offers no opportunity to pore over lengthy statements. For the expert, on the other hand, there is an equally great reward, for the informality of the interview encourages a cut-to-the-chase clarity and no-beating-around-the-bush frankness, compelling interviewees to lay their cards on the table. 

In Conversations Maes has gathered together and interviewed at length a group of aestheticians of the top rank, and in doing so he has created a unique introduction to and overview of contemporary aesthetics and the philosophy of art. Other books might have other strengths, but no book will give you a richer and more dialectical account of the state of contemporary aesthetics, a more diverse account of its objects of study or the variety of stances taken towards them.”


Review of the book by Andrew Huddleston (Birkbeck College, University of London)

Published on Notre Dame Philosophical Review: read full review here

“For better or for worse, contemporary philosophy of art, like most every philosophical sub-discipline, is dominated by the academic journal article and the scholarly monograph as the main media of publication. This book marks an interesting change. Following and adapting the format of a similar volume relating to ethics, this book offers ten discussions, led by Hans Maes, with distinguished figures in the field.

Although the dialogue form has a long philosophical history, many of the most famous examples in the canon are not actually conversations, in any full-blooded sense. They are scripted exchanges written by a single author. And, however philosophically insightful, they are often poor examples of even a fictional version of the back-and-forth of a conversation that is genuinely mutual — so dominant is the perspective of one philosophical voice, as in many of the Socratic dialogues. We also, increasingly, have the format of the intellectual interview where questions are a prompt for further expatiation and elaboration by the interviewee. The present book sometimes operates in that interview mold, and informatively so. But at its best, it lives up to its title of Conversations, where Maes and his interlocutor get a good philosophical discussion going and where both parties seem to be learning from each other.

Maes’s questions and comments are exceptionally well-informed, and he draws on a rich stock of artistic examples, whether to illustrate his points or to provide a challenging case to think about. Although there are a few standard questions that Maes will repeat across different figures being interviewed, in general the shape of the discussion was adjusted to fit the interests of the philosophers he was conversing with. (These were Noël Carroll, Gregory Currie, Arthur Danto, Cynthia Freeland, Paul Guyer, Carolyn Korsmeyer, Jerrold Levinson, Jenefer Robinson, Roger Scruton, and Kendall Walton.) While a few of the discussions were via email, most, Maes notes in his introduction, were conducted in person and taped. Maes has transcribed these recordings and edited them considerably so that they read with concision and focus. But he has nonetheless kept a bit of the fluidity of informal speech. The conversations are divided into useful sub-sections, and good guidance is given as to relevant further reading at the end of each discussion.” … [read the full review on NDPR]