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ParthenonGoldenRatio

The Parthenon's facade showing an interpretation of golden rectangles in its proportions.

Aesthetics (also spelled esthetics or æsthetics) is a branch of value theory which studies sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment or taste. Aesthetics is closely associated with the philosophy of art.

Etymology

The term aesthetics comes from the Greek αἰσθητική "aisthetike" and was coined by the philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten in 1735 to mean "the science of how things are known via the senses."[1] The term aesthetics was used in German, shortly after Baumgarten introduced its Latin form (Aesthetica), but was not widely used in English until the beginning of the 19th century.[2] However, much the same study was called studying the "standards of taste" or "judgments of taste" in English, following the vocabulary set by David Hume prior to the introduction of the term "aesthetics."


Aesthetics and the philosophy of art

KinjoPot1656

Contemporary pottery from Okinawa, Japan.

It is not uncommon to find aesthetics used as a synonym for the philosophy of art, although it is also not uncommon to find thinkers insisting that we distinguish these two closely related fields.

What counts as "art?"

How best to define the term “art” is a subject of much contention; many books and journal articles have been published arguing over even the basics of what we mean by the term “art”.[3] Theodor Adorno claimed in 1969 “It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident any more.”[4] Indeed, it is not even clear anymore who has the right to define art. Artists, philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists and even programmers all use the notion of art in their respective fields, and give it operational definitions that are not very similar to each others. Further it is clear that even the basic meaning of the term "art" has changed several times over the centuries, and has changed within the 20th century as well.

The main recent sense of the word “art” is roughly as an abbreviation for creative art or “fine art.” Here we mean that skill is being used to express the artist’s creativity, or to engage the audience’s aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience towards consideration of the “finer” things. Often, if the skill is being used in a lowbrow or practical way, people will consider it a craft instead of art, yet many thinkers have defended practical and lowbrow forms as being just as much art as the more lofty forms. Likewise, if the skill is being used in a commercial or industrial way it may be considered design instead of art, or contrariwise these may be defended as art forms, perhaps called applied art. Some thinkers, for instance, have argued that the difference between fine art and applied art has more to do with value judgments made about the art than any clear definitional difference.[5]

Chicks-from-avignon

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Pablo Picasso, 1907

Even as late as 1912 it was normal in the West to assume that all art aims at beauty, and thus that anything that wasn't trying to be beautiful couldn't count as art. The cubists, dadaists, Stravinsky, and many later art movements struggled against this conception that beauty was central to the definition of art, with such success that, according to Danto, “Beauty had disappeared not only from the advanced art of the 1960’s but from the advanced philosophy of art of that decade as well.”[6] Perhaps some notion like “expression” (in Croce’s theories) or “counter-environment” (in McLuhan’s theory) can replace the previous role of beauty.

Perhaps (as in Kennick's theory) no definition of art is possible anymore. Perhaps art should be thought of as a cluster of related concepts in a Wittgensteinian fashion (as in Weitz or Beuys). Another approach is to say that “art” is basically a sociological category, that whatever art schools and museums and artists get away with is considered art regardless of formal definitions. This "institutional definition of art" has been championed by George Dickie. Most people did not consider the depiction of a Brillo Box or a store-bought urinal to be art until Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp (respectively) placed them in the context of art (i.e., the art gallery), which then provided the association of these objects with the values that define art.

Proceduralists often suggest that it is the process by which a work of art is created or viewed that makes it art, not any inherent feature of an object, or how well received it is by the institutions of the art world after its introduction to society at large. For John Dewey, for instance, if the writer intended a piece to be a poem, it is one whether other poets acknowledge it or not. Whereas if exactly the same set of words was written by a journalist, intending them as shorthand notes to help him write a longer article later, these would not be a poem. Leo Tolstoy, on the other hand, claims that what makes something art or not is how it is experienced by its audience, not by the intention of its creator. Functionalists like Monroe Beardsley argue that whether or not a piece counts as art depends on what function it plays in a particular context; the same Greek vase may play a non-artistic function in one context (carrying wine), and an artistic function in another context (helping us to appreciate the beauty of the human figure). '

What should we judge when we judge art?

Smoktun

Innokenty Smoktunovsky as Hamlet in the acclaimed 1964 film by Grigori Kozintsev.

Art can be tricky at the metaphysical and ontological levels as well as at the value theory level. When we see a performance of Hamlet, how many works of art are we experiencing, and which should we judge? Perhaps there is only one relevant work of art, the whole performance, which many different people have contributed to, and which will exist briefly and then disappear. Perhaps the manuscript by Shakespeare is a distinct work of art from the play by the troupe, which is also distinct from the performance of the play by this troupe on this night, and all three can be judged, but are to be judged by different standards.

Perhaps every person involved should be judged separately on his or her own merits, and each costume or line is its own work of art (with perhaps the director having the job of unifying them all). Similar problems arise for music, film and even painting. Am I to judge the painting itself, the work of the painter, or perhaps the painting in its context of presentation by the museum workers?

These problems have been made even thornier by the rise of conceptual art since the 1960s. Warhol’s famous Brillo Boxes are nearly indistinguishable from actual Brillo boxes at the time. It would be a mistake to praise Warhol for the design of his boxes (which were designed by James Harvey), yet the conceptual move of exhibiting these boxes as art in a museum together with other kinds of paintings is Warhol's. Are we judging Warhol’s concept? His execution of the concept in the medium? The curator’s insight in letting Warhol display the boxes? The overall result? Our experience or interpretation of the result? Ontologically, how are we to think of the work of art? Is it a physical object? Several objects? A class of objects? A mental object? A fictional object? An abstract object? An event?

What should art be like?

Jackson Pollock Galaxy

Jackson Pollock's Galaxy, a part of the Joslyn Art Museum's permanent collection.

Many goals have been argued for art, and aestheticians often argue that some goal or another is superior in some way. Clement Greenberg, for instance, argued in 1960 that each artistic medium should seek that which makes it unique among the possible mediums and then purify itself of anything other than expression of its own uniqueness as a form.[7] The Dadaist Tristan Tzara on the other hand saw the function of art in 1918 as the destruction of a mad social order. “We must sweep and clean. Affirm the cleanliness of the individual after the state of madness, aggressive complete madness of a world abandoned to the hands of bandits.”[8] Formal goals, creative goals, self-expression, political goals, spiritual goals, philosophical goals, and even more perceptual or aesthetic goals have all been popular pictures of what art should be like.

What is the value of art?

Closely related to the question of what art should be like is the question of what its value is. Is art a means of gaining knowledge of some special kind? Does it give insight into the human condition? How does art relate to science or religion? Is art perhaps a tool of education, or indoctrination, or enculturation? Does art make us more moral? Can it uplift us spiritually? Is art perhaps politics by other means? Is there some value to sharing or expressing emotions? Might the value of art for the artist be quite different than it is for the audience?

Might the value of art to society be quite different than its value to individuals? Do the values of arts differ significantly from form to form? Working on the intended value of art tends to help define the relations between art and other endeavors. Art clearly does have spiritual goals in many settings, but then what exactly is the difference between religious art and religion per se? Is every religious ritual a piece of performance art, so that religious ritual is simply a subset of art?

Modern aesthetics

From the late 17th to the early 20th century Western aesthetics underwent a slow revolution into what is often called modernism. German and British thinkers emphasized beauty as the key component of art and of the aesthetic experience, and saw art as necessarily aiming at beauty.

For Baumgarten aesthetics is the science of the sense experiences, a younger sister of logic, and beauty is thus the most perfect kind of knowledge that sense experience can have. For Kant the aesthetic experience of beauty is a judgment of a subjective but universal truth, since all people should agree that “this rose is beautiful” if it in fact is. However, beauty cannot be reduced to any more basic set of features. For Schiller aesthetic appreciation of beauty is the most perfect reconciliation of the sensual and rational parts of human nature.

For Hegel all culture is a matter of "absolute spirit" coming to be manifest to itself, stage by stage. Art is the first stage in which the absolute spirit is manifest immediately to sense-perception, and is thus an objective rather than subjective revelation of beauty. For Schopenhauer aesthetic contemplation of beauty is the most free that the pure intellect can be from the dictates of will; here we contemplate perfection of form without any kind of worldly agenda, and thus any intrusion of utility or politics would ruin the point of the beauty.

William Hogarth 006

William Hogarth, self-portrait, 1745

The British were largely divided into intuitionist and analytic camps. The intuitionists believed that aesthetic experience was disclosed by a single mental faculty of some kind. For the Earl of Shaftesbury this was identical to the moral sense, beauty just is the sensory version of moral goodness.

For Hutcheson beauty is disclosed by an inner mental sense, but is a subjective fact rather than an objective one. Analytic theorists like Lord Kames, William Hogarth, and Edmund Burke hoped to reduce beauty to some list of attributes. Hogarth, for example, thinks that beauty consists of (1) fitness of the parts to some design; (2) variety in as many ways as possible; (3) uniformity, regularity or symmetry, which is only beautiful when it helps to preserve the character of fitness; (4) simplicity or distinctness, which gives pleasure not in itself, but through its enabling the eye to enjoy variety with ease; (5) intricacy, which provides employment for our active energies, leading the eye "a wanton kind of chase"; and (6) quantity or magnitude, which draws our attention and produces admiration and awe. Later analytic aestheticians strove to link beauty to some scientific theory of psychology (such as James Mill) or biology (such as Herbert Spencer).

Post-modern aesthetics

Kandinsky white

"On White II" (Kandinsky 1923)

As late as the Bloomsbury Group or Roger Fry’s exhibitions of “Post-Impressionist” art in 1910 and 1912 there is a pervasive assumption in the West that all art does and should aim at beauty, although Matisse and others are beginning to challenge this. Over the 20th century there is a fairly steady revolt against beauty as the cornerstone of aesthetics or art. Often attempts to integrate the aesthetic sensibilities of Western and non-Western cultures are an important component of post-modern aesthetics. Various attempts have been made to replace the central role of beauty with some other notion that can hold art and aesthetics together.

Croce suggested that “expression” is central in the way that beauty was once thought to be central. George Dickie suggested that the sociological institutions of the art world were the glue binding art and sensibility into unities. Marshall McLuhan suggested that art always functions as a "counter-environment" designed to make visible what is usually invisible about a society. Theodor Adorno felt that aesthetics could not proceed without confronting the role of the culture industry in the commodification of art and aesthetic experience.

Aesthetics in particular fields and art forms

Visual arts

Aesthetic considerations within the visual arts are usually associated with the sense of vision. A painting or sculpture, however, is also perceived spatially by recognized associations and context, and even to some extent by the senses of smell, hearing, and touch. The form of the work can be subject to an aesthetic as much as the content.

In painting, the aesthetic convention that we see a three-dimensional representation rather than a two-dimensional canvas is so well understood that most people do not realize that they are making an aesthetic interpretation. This notion is the basis of abstract impressionism.

Some aesthetic effects available in visual arts include variation, juxtaposition, repetition, field effects, symmetry/asymmetry, perceived mass, subliminal structure, linear dynamics, tension and repose, pattern, contrast, perspective, 3 dimensionality, movement, rhythm, unity/Gestalt, matrixiality and proportion.

Maps

Wu Jinglue

Qin player Wu Jinglüe 吳景略

Aesthetics in cartography relates to the visual experience of map reading and can take two forms: responses to the map itself as an aesthetic object (e.g., through detail, colour, and form) and also the subject of the map symbolised, often the landscape (e.g., a particular expression of terrain which forms an imagined visual experience of the aesthetic).

Cartographers make aesthetic judgments when designing maps to ensure that the content forms a clear expression of the theme(s). Antique maps are perhaps especially revered due to their aesthetic value, which may seem to be derived from their styles of ornamentation. As such, aesthetics are often wrongly considered to be a by-product of design. If it is taken that aesthetic judgments are produced within a certain social context, they are fundamental to the cartographer's symbolisation and as such are integral to the function of maps.

Music

Main article: Aesthetics of music

Some of the aesthetic elements expressed in music include lyricism, harmony, hypnotism, emotiveness, temporal dynamics, volume dynamics, resonance, playfulness, color, subtlety, elatedness, depth, and mood (see musical development). Aesthetics in music are often believed to be highly sensitive to their context: what sounds good in modern American rock might sound terrible in the context of the early baroque age.

Performing arts

Performing arts appeal to our aesthetics of storytelling, grace, balance, class, timing, strength, shock, humor, costume, irony, beauty, drama, suspense, and sensuality. Whereas live stage performance is usually constrained by the physical reality at hand, film performance can further add the aesthetic elements of large-scale action, fantasy, and a complex interwoven musical score. Performance art often consciously mixes the aesthetics of several forms. Role-playing games are sometimes seen as a performing art with an aesthetic structure of their own, called RPG theory.

Literature

Main article: literary merit

In poetry, short stories, novels and non-fiction, authors use a variety of techniques to appeal to our aesthetic values. Depending on the type of writing an author may employ rhythm, illustrations, structure, time shifting, juxtaposition, dualism, imagery, fantasy, suspense, analysis, humor/cynicism, and thinking aloud.

In literary aesthetics, the study of "effect" illuminates the deep structures of reading and receiving literary works. These effects may be broadly grouped by their modes of writing and the relationship that the reader assumes with time. Catharsis is the effect of dramatic completion of action in time. Kairosis is the effect of novels whose characters become integrated in time. Kenosis is the effect of lyric poetry which creates a sense of emptiness and timelessness.

Gastronomy

Desserts

A selection of desserts

Although food is a basic and frequently experienced commodity, careful attention to the aesthetic possibilities of foodstuffs can turn eating into gastronomy. Chefs inspire our aesthetic enjoyment through the visual sense using color and arrangement; they inspire our senses of taste and smell using spices, diversity/contrast, anticipation, seduction, and decoration/garnishes. In regard to drinking water, there are formal criteria for aesthetic value including odour, colour, total dissolved solids and clarity. There are numerical standards in the USA for aesthetic acceptability of these parameters.

Information technology

Aesthetics in information technology has focused upon the study of human-computer interaction and creating user-friendly devices and software applications; aesthetically pleasing "graphical user interfaces" have been shown to improve productivity. Software itself has aesthetic dimensions ("software aesthetics"), as do information-technology-mediated processes and experiences such as computer video games and virtual reality simulations. Digital culture is a distinct aesthetic to judge the appeal of digital environments such as browsers, websites, and icons, as well as visual and aural art produced exclusively with digital technologies. The notion of cyberspace has sometimes been linked to the concept of the sublime.

Mathematics

Main article: Mathematical beauty

The aesthetics of mathematics are often compared with music and poetry. Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős expressed his views on the indescribable beauty of mathematics when he said "Why are numbers beautiful? It's like asking why is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony beautiful." Math appeals to the "senses" of logic, order, novelty, elegance, and discovery. Some concepts in math with specific aesthetic application include sacred ratios in geometry, the intuitiveness of axioms, the complexity and intrigue of fractals, the solidness and regularity of polyhedra, and the serendipity of relating theorems across disciplines.

Neuroesthetics

Cognitive science has also considered aesthetics, with the advent of neuroesthetics, pioneered by Semir Zeki, which seeks to explain the prominence of great art as an embodiment of biological principles of the brain, namely that great works of art capture the essence of things just as vision and the brain capture the essentials of the world from the ever-changing stream of sensory input.

Industrial design

Barcelona

Ludwig Mies van der Rohes Barcelona chair (1929)

Beyond providing functional characteristics, designers heed many aesthetic qualities to improve the marketability of manufactured products: smoothness, shininess/reflectivity, texture, pattern, curviness, color, simplicity, usability, velocity, symmetry, naturalness, and modernism. The staff of the Design Aesthetics section focuses on design, appearance and the way people perceive products. Design aesthetics is interested in the appearance of products; the explanation and meaning of this appearance is studied mainly in terms of social and cultural factors. The distinctive focus of the section is research and education in the field of sensory modalities in relation to product design. These fields of attention generate design baggage that enables engineers to design products, systems, and services, and match them to the correct field of use.

Architecture and interior design

Although structural integrity, cost, the nature of building materials, and the functional utility of the building contribute heavily to the design process, architects can still apply aesthetic considerations to buildings and related architectural structures. Common aesthetic design principles include ornamentation, edge delineation, texture, flow, solemnity, symmetry, color, granularity, the interaction of sunlight and shadows, transcendence, and harmony.

Interior designers, being less constrained by structural concerns, have a wider variety of applications to appeal to aesthetics. They may employ color, color harmony, wallpaper, ornamentation, furnishings, fabrics, textures, lighting, various floor treatments, as well as adhere to aesthetic concepts such as feng shui.

Urban life

Clifton suspension bridge from hotwells 600

Towns and cities have been planned with aesthetics in mind; here in Bristol (England), 19th century private sector development was designed to appear attractive.

Nearly half of mankind lives in cities; although it represents a lofty goal, planning and achieving urban aesthetics (beautification) involves a good deal of historical luck, happenstance, and indirect gestalt. Nevertheless, aesthetically pleasing cities share certain traits: ethnic and cultural variety, numerous microclimates that promote a diversity of vegetation, sufficient public transportation, a range of build-out (or zoning) that creates both densely and sparsely populated areas, sanitation to foster clean streets and graffiti removal (or co-ordination), scenic neighboring geography (oceans or mountains), public spaces and events such as parks and parades, musical variety through local radio or street musicians, and enforcement of laws that abate noise, crime, and pollution.

Landscape design

Landscape designers draw upon design elements such as axis, line, landform, horizontal and vertical planes, texture, and scale to create aesthetic variation within the landscape. They may additionally make use of aesthetic elements such as pools or fountains of water, plants, seasonal variance, stonework, fragrance, exterior lighting, statues, and lawns.

Fashion Design

Fashion designers use a variety of techniques to allow people to express the truth about their unconscious minds by way of their clothing. To create wearable personality designers use fabric, cut, colour, scale, references to the past, texture, color harmony, distressing, transparency, insignia, accessories, beading and embroidery.

See also

References

  1. Kivy, Peter ed. The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics 2004
  2. See J. H. Bernard's 1892 translation of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement.
  3. Davies, 1991, Carroll, 2000, et. al.
  4. Danto, 2003
  5. Novitz, 1992
  6. Arthur Danto, The Abuse of Beauty, 2003.
  7. Clement Greenberg, “On Modernist Painting”.
  8. Tristan Tzara, Sept Manifestes Dada.

Further reading

  • E. S. Dallas, The Gay Science - in 2 volumes, on the aesthetics of poetry, published in 1866.
  • Kent, A.J. (2005) "Aesthetics: A Lost Cause in Cartographic Theory?" The Cartographic Journal, 42(2) 182-8
  • Kivy, Peter ed. The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics 2004
  • Arthur Danto, The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art. 2003
  • John Whitehead. Grasping for the Wind. 2001
  • Noel Carroll, Theories of Art Today. 2000
  • Evelyn Hatcher, ed. Art as Culture: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Art. 1999
  • Korsmeyer, Carolyn ed. Aesthetics: The Big Questions 1998
  • Goldblatt, David and Brown, Lee ed. Aesthetics: A Reader in the Philosophy of the Arts 1997
  • Bender, John and Blocker, Gene Contemporary Philosophy of Art: Readings in Analytic Aesthetics 1993
  • David Novitz, The Boundaries of Art. 1992
  • Stephen Davies, Definitions of Art. 1991
  • Władysław Tatarkiewicz, History of Aesthetics, 3 vols. (1–2, 1970; 3, 1974), The Hague, Mouton.
  • A History of Six Ideas: an Essay in Aesthetics, The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1980.

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