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Aesthetics

Aesthetics

The creation of art

Meaning and understanding in art

Effects of art on viewer or audience

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Although the term aesthetics has other special meanings, it has come to refer, in the context of social science, to the whole body of generalized inquiry especially relevant to the arts. Aesthetics is the study of man’s behavior and experience in creating art, in perceiving and understanding art, and in being influenced by art. Work in aesthetics thus far has been principally concerned with music, literature, and the visual arts, paying little attention to the performance aspect of even these arts. The scope of the subject is greater, however.

The creation of art

In common with other human activities, art raises many questions about motives, skills, and other conditions leading to novel and socially valuable creations. These questions have been broadly investigated; and results show that creativity, whether in the arts or elsewhere, has some common origins in personality and environmental circumstances and that there are also distinctive influences on creativity in distinct areas.

Another set of problems or questions deals with whether, and in what ways, a work of art embodies the manner in which the artist perceives or understands the world. Visual representational art, for example, could be claimed to embody the way the artist perceives that which is represented; if less persuasively, the same argument could be applied to nonrepresentational art. A closely reasoned case for this view is presented by Arnheim in his book Art and Visual Perception (1954), which emphasizes the influence of the medium (and the artist’s manner of using it) on the interaction between the perception of the world and the making and perception of objects. Going beyond the work of artists, he applies his reasoning to the visual productions of children, making sense of developmental sequences in children’s art by demonstrating that what children produce is in a very real sense a portrayal of what they see. At a more complex level, it is often assumed that works of art embody the artist’s understanding of the world. There has, as yet, been little attempt to examine this common critical assumption with the methods of psychology or social science.

The artist’s personality

The argument that a close relationship exists between motivational themes in an artist’s personality and the themes in his work has been made in a number of psychoanalytically oriented interpretations. Because there are fuller and more explicit statements of motivational themes in literary works of art, such interpretations have been more commonly made of the work of poets, novelists, and dramatists than of composers or visual artists. To the person trained in scientific criteria of evidence, such work is necessarily lacking in conviction, but it is replete with hypotheses that might be tested in other ways.

The effort to read an artist’s personality in his work is parallel to the clinical psychologist’s effort to read a patient’s personality in his responses to projective tests. Indeed, some projective tests require the patient to be an amateur artist, producing stories or pictures. If it be useful to consider under aesthetics amateur as well as professional art, the interpretation of these tests is a problem in aesthetics. In any event, the two efforts—penetrating to the personality of both artist and nonartist—face the same uncertainties. The very scoring of the document may be excessively subjective; once scored, the method of interpretation may be obscure and controversial. Attempts to objectify the scoring of projective tests have been many. A similar attempt has been made to render explicit and objective the analysis of works of art for purposes of inference about the personality of the artist. Notable work of this sort has been done by McCurdy in analyses of work by Shakespeare, D. H. Lawrence, the Brontës, and others, which he has summarized briefly in a recent publication (1961, pp. 413–427).

An even more basic problem becomes evident here: What assumptions are to be made about how characteristics of the artist are reflected in his work, and under what circumstances? The psycho-analytic “case studies” of artists and more controlled analyses, such as those by McCurdy, depend upon such assumptions; but these assumptions are not always the same and are not adequately tested in these single case studies. A major problem is to distinguish or determine when the artist’s manifest characteristics will be expressed and when his latent characteristics will be expressed.

Empirical studies of personality factors. In research on productions by nonartists, the aforementioned problems have been studied. For example, in a study of graphic productions by college women, Wallach and Gahm (1960) have found that in those women who have little conscious anxiety the amount of expansiveness, as opposed to contraction, in their work is directly related to the extent to which they are socially extroverted, as opposed to introverted; whereas in those who have a great deal of such anxiety, expansiveness and extroversion are negatively related. A variety of similar findings justify a tentative generalization: For personality characteristics not subject to great interference by anxiety, guilt, or other sources of conflict, simple consistency between manifest behavior and characteristics of imaginative production tends to be the most conspicuous relationship; for those personality characteristics present to some degree in everyone, but inhibited from normal, direct expression by anxiety, guilt, or other sources of conflict, a compensatory or inverse relationship is more likely.

This generalization surely provides a better guide to thinking about probable relationships between the personality of artists and the characteristics of their productions than is provided by the vague idea that there is some kind of consistency. Yet knowledge has not advanced to the point where even such a generalization can be stated with perfect confidence, but clarification is to be expected in coming years from continuing work with projected techniques.

Simultaneously, comparable techniques may come to be applied to the work of genuine artists. No amount of study of nonartists will tell us for certain what relations are to be found between the personality and work of artists themselves. Perhaps the secret of successful artistry lies partly in the ability to sever the usual motivational connections between self and imaginative product.

Societal factors in art

The questions considered about the individual artist in relation to his work can be extended to the societal level. Are variations in modal personality to be found among the determinants of variations in artistic creativity from one people or one epoch to another? Do the artistic productions of a society express the ways of perceiving and understanding that characterize its typical member? Can important motives in the personality of a typical member of the society be inferred from inspection of its works of art? These and similar questions are posed by many humanistic scholars. There have, as yet, been few attempts to apply to them the comparative and systematic approach of social science, except that very useful beginnings have been made in answering the third question.

Empirical studies of societal determinants. The most convincing beginning, because it includes several parallel studies of sequences of change, covering different societies and different centuries but yielding similar findings, is a set of studies reported by McClelland (1961, chapter 4). A single theme is investigated here, that of concern with achievement. McClelland and his associates have systematically sampled bodies of literature and graphic art from several societies at periods of economic growth, peak, and decline. These samples have been scored by methods developed for measuring concern with achievement as an individual personality variable. Although the findings are not perfectly uniform, they tend to show that there is an increase in achievement themes during periods of economic growth and a decrease in achievement themes in advance of a decline in economic growth. This relationship between long-term economic change and the expression in art of a motivational theme that is obviously relevant to economic productivity supports the view that the art produced in a society at a given time is expressive of themes that occupy members of the society.

Art productions of preliterate societies also permit quantitative study. A pioneer effort in this direction is that of Barry (1957), who found evidence that complexity of style in the visual art of preliterate societies was positively related to a motivational characteristic, the degree of anxiety likely to be produced by traditional child training practices. His analysis of features of style has been used by Fischer (1961) to demonstrate several relationships between structural characteristics of societies and stylistic features of their art, relationships that support the assumption that art gives symbolic expression to the thoughts and wishes of members of a society. For example, the relative predominance of curved versus straight lines may be thought of as possibly symbolizing femininity versus masculinity. Fischer provides intriguing hypotheses about personality as mediating a relationship between this variation and social structure. In a society offering solidarity and security to a particular sex (for example, men in a patrilocal society), that sex might be free to enjoy artistic symbolization of the opposite sex as objects of erotic fantasy; when, on the other hand, a particular sex is placed in a relatively insecure position (for example, men in a matrilocal society), it might be interested in artistic fantasy that provides a model or ideal pattern of its own sex. The correlations obtained between features of social structure and of art support this hypothesis.

Meaning and understanding in art

What do works of art mean? Philosophical aestheticians have offered a variety of answers to this perennial question. Modern psychological theory offers new constructs to use in its exploration, and psychological research permits an observational test of any resulting hypotheses that have clear empirical meaning.

For most of the verbal and visual arts, meaning is not an obvious problem. Referential meaning (by linguistic convention in the case of literature and by similarity to the person or place represented in the case of some visual art) and the meaning derived from practical use, most conspicuous in architecture, provide a ready commonsense answer to the question of what these arts mean.

Music

The meaning of music is more obviously a problem, and it has been examined psychologically. Pratt (1931), for example, has argued that an important element in the meaning of music (although he did not use the word meaning in this way) derives from the similarity between musical structure and human emotional experience: “Music sounds the way an emotion feels” is the way he summarized his view at a later time. Thus music is in part iconic, like visual art, but without specific reference. The iconic quality of music might be likened to the iconic quality of the color, lines, and forms in an abstract painting, insofar as they aptly symbolize a state of emotion.

A later treatise by Meyer (1956) on the meaning of music, drawing upon modern developments in psychology and communication theory, describes the emotional portion of the meaning of music as simply one way of viewing the structure of the music. A musical composition arouses in the listener a series of expectations that are either fulfilled or delayed or frustrated. Emotional terms are one way of describing such a series of arousals, delays, and resolutions.

Discussions of what is the meaning of music must be viewed as prescriptive as well as descriptive. They are concerned with what music means to some hypothetical ideal. But when one at least momentarily tries to take a purely descriptive approach, it is of course apparent that different listeners or viewers bring to the experience diverse kinds of meaning.

Empirical studies of inherent meaning

A survey of research based on a specific formulation of this diversity has been provided by Valentine (1962, pp. 54–58, 85, 130–135, 196–209). It shows clearly that people find differing meaning both in a complete work of art and in its simplest elements. It also shows, not surprisingly, that the kinds of meaning inherent in the work itself are more prominent in the experience of people who seem most appreciative of the given art and that extraneous kinds of meaning are more prominent in the experience of those less appreciative.

In the face of such diversity is there any constancy in the meaning of works of art and in their elements, except for conventional meanings one learns in becoming expert in a particular artistic tradition? This problem, too, is considered in psychological research—most notably and persistently that of Hevner—summarized by Valentine (1962, chapters 3, 4, 10, 13). That part dealing with music also is described by Farnsworth (1958, chapter 5). This research shows, for the general student population from which the subjects were drawn, that variations in hue, brightness, and saturation of color; in pitch, rhythm, and other features of music; and in metrical pattern, choice of phonemes, etc., in poetry produce reasonably dependable variations in connotative meaning. Several of these studies compare students especially knowledgeable in a particular art with those possessing little background in it. The general finding is that there is somewhat greater agreement among those most expert in an art than among those least expert, but that the difference is surprisingly small; there is clearly a tendency toward agreement on connotative meaning even among people with relatively little experience with a particular art. All the subjects necessarily have had some exposure to the artistic traditions of our society, and these studies leave open the question of whether the agreed-upon connotative meanings are conventional, dependent upon only this minimum of experience, or whether they are instead based on a natural appropriateness of various colors, rhythms, etc. as metaphorical expression of varying human emotions, accessible to any observant person regardless of his cultural background.

Universality or cultural relativity?

It is to be hoped that with new concepts and techniques available there will be a real attack on the problem of universality versus cultural relativity in meaning. Already in some studies of connotative meaning of concepts (cf. Osgood 1960), evidence is available that some (and decidedly not all) connotative meanings are remarkably constant from one culture to another. This work has not been oriented toward aesthetics, and as yet it provides no knowledge about crosscultural variation in connotative meaning of works of art and little about their elements. The problem of cultural relativity versus universality even applies to the elements of literature, despite the conventionality of language. The fact that it does may be illustrated by the lively controversy about whether the connotative meaning of various phonemic contrasts has transcultural validity. The same kind of question may be asked about more complicated aspects of the linguistic materials of literature, for example, features of metrical pattern such as may be incorporated in any system of meter, the difference between repetitive use of sounds and highly varied use of sounds, etc.

Perception and art

Understanding a work of art must, whatever its meaning may be, begin with the act of perceiving. The psychology of perception, principally developed in connection with momentary experience, has been mainly applied thus far to the visual arts. The most notable application of the psychology of perception is Arnheim’s (1954). His book provides an invaluable treatment of one after another aspect of perceptual processes as they relate to the artist’s vision, to what he is representing in his work, and to how it is perceived and understood by others. Throughout the book, Arnheim struggles against the naive assumption that what is perceived is simply an automatic representation of an objective reality. Instead, he emphasizes that perceiving is an active process, complex in character and diverse in outcome, although understandable in terms of general principles.

There has been no comparable thorough attempt to apply knowledge of perception to the understanding of the other arts. Pratt, however, in his book on music (1931), made effective use of the knowledge of hearing. The gestalt psychology of perception may have strengthened his assurance— at a time when atomism predominated in psychology—that each musical interval has a distinctive perceived quality and that to treat auditory experience simply as a series of discrete events would be fatal.

The understanding of a work of art goes, of course, beyond perception. In the past, aestheticians have had relatively little assistance from the psychological study of higher mental processes in their attack upon further problems in understanding the arts. Some years ago Ivor A. Richards (1929), using techniques but few conceptual tools from psychology, reported a brilliant study of how readers understand poems. The psychology of cognition has now advanced to a point where it may help in subsequent research.

Effects of art on viewer or audience

The effects claimed for art are many, and sometimes contradictory. Dramatic presentation of human violence has been thought by some to purge the viewer of latent aggression and by others to incite him to similar violence. Cultivation of fine artistic appreciation has been claimed to awaken fine sensitivity to the nuances of human feeling and thus develop useful participants in society, or, on the other hand, to produce an effete withdrawal. The establishment of the long-range effects of art, social and moral, may be assisted by social science. Indeed a contribution has already been made, although to date extensive investigation has been confined to the immediate effects of art.

The immediate effects principally studied are two: liking versus disliking and aesthetic evaluation or judgment.

Research on likes and dislikes

Research on likes and dislikes is the oldest kind of quantitative research in aesthetics. In the early days of experimental psychology, much work was done on the extent to which different colors, different forms, etc. were liked or disliked. This work has continued and has revealed that there are some remarkable uniformities, as well as interesting differences, among people responding to these simple stimuli. The uniformities may in time be convincingly shown to have a significance for response to works of art, but they have not as yet.

Likes and dislikes in response to works of art have also been directly investigated, mostly among the general or the school population rather than among experts. Such studies suggest that liking or disliking is often determined by relations between personality characteristics of the viewer and the thematic structure or style of the work of art. These studies have not been highly unified in their attack on the underlying theoretical problem of exactly how a person’s impulses or emotions are changed through interaction with works of art. This research, like the research on expression of the artist’s personality in his work, needs clarification in relation to basic psychological processes.

Personality factors in liking and disliking. Thus far, research on likes and dislikes has dealt mainly with general aspects of personality in relation to general type or style of art preferred. This research illuminates old questions and concepts, as shown by Knapp’s work (1964) on personality characteristics associated with preference for each of three types of visual art. Among the college students he studied, Knapp found liking for realistic representational paintings associated with practicality and worldliness. Geometric abstract paintings tended to be liked by intellectual and inhibited students. Expressionist abstract paintings tended to be liked by those who might be described as imaginative, impractical, and sensitive. Knapp suggests that the orientation of these three kinds of person is extremely reminiscent of the classical definitions of Apollonian, Pythagorean, and Dionysian orientations. Here is confirmation of the importance on the contemporary scene of a traditional classification of value orientation and a promise of relating it to psychological understanding of relevant personality characteristics.

A similar inquiry, by quite different methods, is found in psychoanalytically oriented writing on the gratifications people obtain from the arts. In these discussions, the quality of the work of art as such is rarely mentioned and has little relation to what is said; the work of art is treated as though it were the viewer’s own fantasy and is supposed to offer him the same gratifications as a spontaneously produced fantasy of his own.

Aesthetic evaluation

A contrasting kind of inquiry has been directed at studying some sort of distinctively aesthetic appreciation of works of art. Indeed, some of the early research on likes and dislikes had this orientation; it was supposed that through some method of averaging, variable personal reactions would be eliminated and a universal and genuine aesthetic tendency would be revealed (Eysenck 1957, chapter 8). But the likes and dislikes of experts in an art, or their evaluative judgments, provide a more reasonable criterion for aesthetic quality; and, as Peel (1945) has shown, the stimulus correlates of such judgments may differ greatly from the stimulus correlates of the general likes and dislikes of nonexperts. Child (1962) found, moreover, that college students who agree with student consensus about works of art are not the same students as those who agree with expert consensus and that the personality correlates of these two kinds of agreement are not at all the same. In this and subsequent research among college men, Child found that those who agree with expert evaluation of visual art tend to show an active, inquiring orientation to the world; tolerance of, or even liking for, complexity, ambivalence, and unrealistic experience; and independence of judgment rather than conformity.

Recent advances in the psychology of knowing increase chances that the complexities involved in genuine aesthetic experience may come to be usefully analyzed with the concepts of general psychology. Berlyne’s treatment (1960) of interestarousing variables in experience illustrates the beginning of such a movement. Here seems to lie the special promise of future work in aesthetics—improved understanding of aesthetic experience through application not merely of the methods of social science but also of basic concepts and principles adequate to the complexities of the task.

Irvin L. Child

[Other relevant material may be found in the articles listed underArt.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnheim, Rudolf 1954 Art and Visual Perception. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Barry, Herbert 1957 Relationships Between Child Training and the Pictorial Arts. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 54:380–383.

Berlyne, D. E. 1960 Conflict, Arousal, and Curiosity. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Child, Irvin L. 1962 Personal Preferences as an Expression of Aesthetic Sensitivity. Journal of Personality 30:496–512.

Eysenck, hans J. 1957 Sense and Nonsense in Psychology. Baltimore: Penguin.

Farnsworth, Paul R. 1958 The Social Psychology of Music. New York: Dryden.

Fischer, J. L. 1961 Art Styles as Cultural Cognitive Maps. American Anthropologist New Series 63:79–93.

Knapp, Robert H. 1964 An Experimental Study of a Triadic Hypothesis Concerning the Sources of Aesthetic Imagery. Journal of Projective Techniques and Personality Assessment 28:49–54.

McClelland, David C. 1961 The Achieving Society. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

McCurdy, Harold G. 1961 The Personal World: An Introduction to the Study of Personality. New York: Harcourt.

Meyer, Leonard B. 1956 Emotion and Meaning in Music. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Osgood, Charles E. 1960 The Cross-cultural Generality of Visual–Verbal Synesthetic Tendencies. Behavioral Science 5:146–169.

Peel, E. A. 1945 On Identifying Aesthetic Types. British Journal of Psychology 35:61–69.

Pratt, Carroll C. 1931 The Meaning of Music. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Richards, Ivor A. (1929) 1956 Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment. New York: Harcourt.

Valentine, Charles W. 1962 The Experimental Psychology of Beauty. London: Methuen.

Wallach, Michael A.; and Gahm, Ruthellen C. 1960 Personality Functions of Graphic Constriction and Expansiveness. Journal of Personality 28:73–88.

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Aesthetics

Aesthetics

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The philosophy professor and writer Jerrold Levinson defines aesthetics as the branch of philosophy devoted to conceptual and theoretical inquiry into art and aesthetic experience (Levinson 2003, p. 3). What makes an experience an aesthetic one is a contentious matter, however, and is indeed one of the main subjects of the theoretical inquiry. Nonetheless, there is general agreement that people experience something aesthetically when, for example, they find it beautiful, elegant, or vulgar. Levinsons definition, which is a fairly orthodox one, indicates that aesthetics developed out of different, though overlapping, concerns: for art, and for an allegedly distinctive type of human experience. The two are different because not only artworks, but also natural scenes and objects encountered in everyday life (coffee-machines, say), may be appreciated for their aesthetic qualities, such as garishness or symmetry. In addition, not all philosophical questions about artworks are about their aesthetic properties (e.g., questions about the role of poets intentions in determining the meaning of poems). The two concerns overlap, however, because the identification of an artworks aesthetic qualities is often an important ingredient in its appreciation.

Levinsons definition blends two early and different ways of using the term aesthetics. Derived from a Greek word for sensation, it was first introduced by the German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten in 1735 as a name for the science of how something is sensitively cognized (Baumgarten 1954, §16). The scope of the term was later restricted by Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Judgement (1790), to sensation-based judgements of taste or beauty. For Kant, aesthetics had nothing peculiarly to do with art. G. W. F. Hegel, however, doubted the possibility of a general science of beauty, and in his Lectures on Fine Art in the 1820s he equated the term with the philosophy of fine art.

Of course, although aesthetics was an eighteenth-century coinage, the discipline it refers to has an ancient pedigree. Plato and Aristotle, for example, addressed such paradigmatically aesthetic topics as beauty and the role of emotion in art.

Reflecting the divergent approaches of Kant and Hegel, later aestheticians have often been divided between those focused primarily on the philosophy of art and those concerned with understanding the character of aesthetic experience. Attention of the latter sort has tended to concentrate on an examination of Kants characterization of aesthetic experience as disinterested, as disengaged from cognitive and practical interests, and therefore sensitive solely to the appearances and forms of things.

Within philosophy, the status of aesthetics is disputed. For some it is a relatively discrete subdiscipline, while for others it is necessarily parasitic on the insights of other areas of philosophy, including metaphysics. Some thinkers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, have held that its place is central, since aesthetic concepts such as style and elegance are involved in ethical reflection on the good life and even in philosophical reflection on scientific method.

The relation of aesthetics to the social sciences is also disputed, but many philosophical questions about art and aesthetic experience are certainly closely related to social-scientific issues, and aestheticians often invoke the findings of social science. One such question is What is art? John Dewey and Thorstein Veblen, for example, argued against timeless conceptions of art. They maintained that the modern concept of art is a nineteenth-century product that reflects the predilections of a dominant and leisured social class. A related theme was developed in Pierre Bourdieus social critique of such distinctions as that between aesthetic and less pure pleasures.

Several issues concerning aesthetic experience, especially that of beauty, also engage with cultural anthropological ones. Thus, there has been considerable debate about whether there are broadly universal standards of, say, womens beauty, explicable perhaps in terms of evolutionary factors, or whether such standards are relatively local ones, explained instead as functions of cultural pressures exerted by advertisers and the fashion industry. While aestheticians both contribute to and draw upon such empirical debates, most of them also maintain that these debates involve conceptual and evaluative issues that it is not for empirical enquiry to settle, but that instead call for philosophical analysis.

SEE ALSO Bourdieu, Pierre; Cultural Studies; Culture; Distinctions, Social and Cultural; Literature; Music; Preferences; Psychology; Tastes

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baumgarten, Alexander. 1954. Reflections on Poetry. Trans. K. Aschenbrenner and W. Holther. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Cooper, David E., ed. 1992. A Companion to Aesthetics. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell.

Levinson, Jerrold, ed. 2003. The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

David E. Cooper

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AESTHETICS

AESTHETICS, AmE also esthetics. A branch of philosophy concerned with the understanding of beauty and taste and the appreciation of art, LITERATURE, and STYLE. It seeks to answer the question: is beauty or ugliness inherent in the object in question, or is it ‘in the eye of the beholder’? The term aesthetic often refers to responses, judgements, and statements that are subjective and emotive rather than objective, clinical, and detached. These have social power, and serve a variety of rhetorical ends, such as asserting a point of view (What thrilling words!; That accent is ugly), presenting opinion as fact (Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the world), seeking to persuade (Don't you think he speaks very coarsely? Doesn't she have a delightful voice!), seeking to coerce (You really must learn to appreciate the classics), dismissing the unacceptable (Can't they write better than that?), and asserting or maintaining stock responses, especially of a social, ethnic, or linguistic kind (BBC English is the best English; I really like her soft Irish lilt; I don't like her Irish brogue).

The ability to appreciate and produce language that is considered aesthetically pleasing (or at least adequate) has been associated with such concepts as ‘refinement’, ‘culture’, and ‘cultivation’. A refined or cultured person is widely taken to be able to distinguish the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, and to know when it is not right to make such judgements at all; it is also often considered that the less cultured or the uncultured should learn, gladly or grudgingly, from such a person. Ability with language has been ascribed to divine inspiration or grace, to good breeding or the right social background, to the right kind of teacher, to proper observance of the rulings of a group with privilege and authority, or to a mix of these. By and large, good taste has traditionally been considered to have an absolute form: some people have it or approximate to it; others do not have it or are deficient in it. Sometimes, creative speakers and writers may be seen as having great skill but deplorable taste in how they use that skill.

Sociologists of language generally consider that a sense of the correctness, goodness, or beauty of something results from exposure to the norms and expectations of a community: the individual learns or fails to learn how to respond in terms of the values of the group. Aesthetics, from this point of view, is relative, and good taste varies from community to community. A sense of the acceptable may be more fully reinforced in the centre or heartland of a society than at its periphery, where other societies may exert an influence. When distinct groups (tribes, nations, classes, religions, and speakers of certain languages or varieties of a language) are neighbours, become mixed, or are in competition, uncertainties about aesthetic and other values arise, along with problems of choice. These may lead to a search for security in terms of fundamentals (good religion, good grammar), may prompt an eclectic pragmatism (a certain thing is good in one place but not in another; is sometimes good and sometimes not), or may offer greater or less confusion (with no clear conception of what is good or bad, or with uneasily shifting conceptions). Whatever the case, however, people constantly make aesthetic judgements and often institutionalize them in terms of praise or abuse, compliments or insults, affectionate or dismissive names, and a wide range of judgemental expressions such as (for language) the adjectives bad, good, harsh, lovely, PLAIN, and PURE. See ACCENT, DESCRIPTIVISM AND PRESCRIPTIVISM, EDUCATED AND UNEDUCATED, HARD AND SOFT, STYLE, USAGE.

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aesthetics

aesthetics (ĕsthĕt´Ĭks), the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature of art and the criteria of artistic judgment. The classical conception of art as the imitation of nature was formulated by Plato and developed by Aristotle in his Poetics, while modern thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, F. W. Schelling, Benedetto Croce, and Ernst Cassirer have emphasized the creative and symbolic aspects of art. The major problem in aesthetics concerns the nature of the beautiful. Generally speaking there are two basic approaches to the problem of beauty—the objective, which asserts that beauty inheres in the object and that judgments concerning it may have objective validity, and the subjective, which tends to identify the beautiful with that which pleases the observer. Outstanding defenders of the objective position were Plato, Aristotle, and G. E. Lessing, and of the subjective position, Edmund Burke and David Hume. In his Critique of Judgment, Kant mediated between the two tendencies by showing that aesthetic judgment has universal validity despite its subjective nature. Among the modern philosophers interested in aesthetics, the most important are Croce, R. G. Collingwood, Cassirer, and John Dewey.

See K. E. Gilbert and H. Kuhn, A History of Esthetics (rev. ed. 1953, repr. 1972); M. C. Beardsley, Aesthetics from Classical Greece to the Present (1965); H. Osborne, Aesthetics and Art Theory (1970); G. Dickie, Aesthetics: An Introduction (1971); A. C. Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (1986); D. Sumner, The Judgment of Sense: Renaissance Naturalism and the Rise of Aesthetics (1987).

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aesthetics

aesthetics (Gk. aisthēsis, perception) Specialized branch of philosophy concerned with the arts. Plato's classical formulation of art as a mirror of nature was developed by Aristotle in his Poetics. As a distinct discipline, aesthetics dates from Alexander Baumgarten's Reflections on Poetry (1735). Common problems in aesthetics include a definition of beauty and the ascribing of artistic value. For Plato and Aristotle beauty is objective, it resides in the object. While Plato argued that art represented the form of particular objects, Aristotle believed that art imitated a universal essence through a particular form. David Hume argued that the value of art was dependent on subjective perception. In Critique of Judgement (1790), Immanuel Kant mediated between the two, arguing that artistic value may be subjective, but it has universal validity in the form of pleasure. Later philosophers, such as George Santanyana and Benedetto Croce, focused on art as a socially symbolic act.

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aesthetics

aesthetics is the branch of philosophy which deals with the nature of art and of artistic judgment. Some of the central questions of aesthetics focus on the beautiful: under what circumstances it may be said to exist, what criteria are to be used to judge the beautiful, and whether or not these criteria apply equally to literature and music.

There are two traditional views concerning what constitutes aesthetic values. The first finds beauty to be objective, that is, inherent in the entity itself. The second position holds that beauty is subjective, in that it depends on the attitude of the observer. Immanuel Kant argued that judgments of taste, as he called aesthetic judgments, rest on feelings, which, though subjective, have universal validity. The instrumental theory of value, an extension of subjectivism, holds that the value of art consists in its capacity to produce an aesthetic experience.

Kristen L. Zacharias


See also art and the body; beauty.

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"aesthetics." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Aesthetics

Aesthetics


Aesthetics is the aspect of axiology that deals with the intrinsic value found in people's immediate sense experiences or their responses to sense experiences: judging them ugly, beautiful, or sublime. Aesthetics, which focuses on the uniquely particular, contrasts with science, which focuses on the general laws those particulars illustrate. Aesthetic theories can be about experiences of natural objects and events, but are usually concerned with art works and artistic creations. Aesthetic judgments are usually said to be disinterested, an enjoyment of the unique content of an immediate experience for its own sake. Marxists, postmodernists, and feminist theorists disagree, however, claiming that all such judgments are expressions of an interest.


see also axiology; beauty; value; value, scientific

george allan

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"Aesthetics." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Aesthetics

AESTHETICS.

This entry includes three subentries:

Africa
Asia
Europe and the Americas

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"Aesthetics." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Aesthetics." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved October 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/aesthetics