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Encyclopedia > Aesthetic

Aesthetics (or esthetics) (from the Greek word αισθητική) is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty. The word aesthetics was first used by German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, who helped to establish the study of aesthetics as a separate philosophical field of study. The word aesthetic can be used as a noun meaning "that which appeals to the senses." Someone's aesthetic has a lot to do with his artistic judgement. For example, an individual who wears flowered clothing, drives a flowered car, and paints his home with flowers has a particular aesthetic.

Some of the meaning of aesthetic as an adjective can be illuminated by comparing it to anaesthetic, which is by construction an antonym of aesthetic. If something is anaesthetic, it tends to dull the senses or cause sleepiness. In contrast, aesthetic may be thought of as anything that tends to enliven or invigorate or wake one up.


The philosophy of aesthetics

Since actions or behavior can be said to have beauty beyond sensory appeal, aesthetics and ethics often overlap to the degree that this impression is embodied in a moral code or ethical code. Schopenhauer's aesthetics is one developed variation on this theme; Schopenhauer contrasted the contemplation of beauty against the evil world of the Will.

Aesthetic arguments usually proceed from one of several possible perspectives, i.e.: art is defined by the intention of the artist (as Dewey); art is in the response/emotion of the viewer (as Tolstoy); art is a character of the item itself; art is a function of an object's context (as Danto); or art is imitation (as Plato).

The elements that contribute to the aesthetic appeal of an object depend upon the medium under design; some elements are listed below.

Aesthetics in art

Of course art appreciation is in the eyes of the beholder, although there are certain elements that we can define across a group of paintings that can be generalized or delineated, and hence discussed and analyzed on their own merits.

Generally, art adheres to the aesthetic principles of symmetry/asymmetry, focal point, pattern, contrast, perspective, 3D dimensionality, movement, rhythm, unity/Gestalt, and proportion.

One cannot take a sample of artwork, lay it down, critique it across aesthetic dimensions, and reach some kind of quantitative judgement as to its quality. Great paintings touch our souls; they may violate some guidelines or lend different weights to various aesthetic principles (sometimes a piece of art veers violently from an aesthetic principle specifically for effect; the "anti-art" Dadaist movement deliberately violated as many artistic principles as possible). Yet the principle of aesthetics gives us a basis for discussion.

Aesthetics in music

Main article: Aesthetics of music.

Music has the ability to affect our emotions, intellect, and our psychology; lyrics can assuage our loneliness or incite our passions. As such, music is a powerful art form whose aesthetic appeal is highly dependent upon the culture in which it is practiced.

Some of the aesthetic elements expressed in music include lyricism, harmony, hypnotism, emotiveness, temporal dynamics, resonance, playfulness, and colour (see Musical development).

Aesthetics in architecture

Applying aesthetics to buildings and related architectural structures is complex, as factors extrinsic to visual design (such as structural integrity, cost, the nature of building materials, and the functional utility of the building) contribute heavily to the design process.

Notwithstanding, architectural designers can still apply the aesthetic principles of ornamentation, edge deliniation, texture, flow, solemnity, symmetry, color, granularity, the interaction of sunlight and shadows, transcendence, and harmony.

Aesthetics in the performing arts

Performing artists appeals to our aesthetics of storytelling, grace, balance, class, timing, strength, shock, humor, costume, irony, beauty, and sensuality.

Aesthetics in literature

Encompassing 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 affect creates an awareness of the deep structures of reading and receiving literary works. Affect refers to the emotional sense created in the reader or receiver of a literary work. These affects may be broadly grouped by their mode of writing, and relationship the reader assumes with time. Catharsis is the affect of dramatic completition of action in time. characters become integrated in time. Kenosis is the affect of lyric poetry which creates a sense of emptyness and timelessness.

Aesthetics in landscape design

Landscape designers employ design elements such as axis, line, landform, horizontal and vertical planes, texture, and scale to create variations of landscape space and aesthetics. They may additionally utilize pools or fountains of water, plants, seasonal variance, stonework, fragrance, exterior lighting, statues, and lawns as aesthetic elements.

Culinary aesthetics

Although food is a basic and frequently experienced commodity, careful attention to the aesthetic possibilities of foodstuffs can turn eating into dining. Chefs inspire our gastronomy with regionalism, spices, diversity/contrast, anticipation, seduction, and decoration/garnishes.

Aesthetics in information technology

The push to make all aspects of information technology as user-friendly as possible has led to a number of advances during the study of human-computer interaction. The design of the graphical user interface has been shown to have a great effect on productivity and the design of the computer hardware has seen unappealing boxes develop into common devices that no longer seem out of place in a living room.


Cognitive science has also considered aesthetics, with the advent of neuroesthetics, pioneered by Semir Zeki, which seeks to explain the greatness 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.

External links

  • Aesthetics in art
  • Aesthetics in music
    • Norton: Musical Materials (http://www.wwnorton.com/enjoy/index/materials/materials.htm)
    • Malloy: Music Outline (http://www.uwgb.edu/malloyk/music_outline.htm)
  • Aesthetics in architecture
    • Lee/Stroik: Christian Architecture (http://www.catholic.net/beauty_and_truth/template_article.phtml?article_id=400&channel_id=4)
    • Salingaros: Life and Complexity in Architecture (http://www.math.utsa.edu/sphere/salingar/LifeandComp.html)
  • Aesthetics in the performing arts
  • Culinary aesthetics
    • Susheela Uhl: Ethnic Entrees (http://www.foodproductdesign.com/archive/1998/0698CS.html)
    • Leslie English: To Eat is Human (http://www.chronogram.com/backIssues/1998/07july/articles/english.html)

See also: morality, ethics, aestheticism

  Results from FactBites:
Aesthetics [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy] (7342 words)
Aesthetics may be defined narrowly as the theory of beauty, or more broadly as that together with the philosophy of art.
In fact, he thought the term “aesthetic” could be used in all cases, rejecting the idea that there was some authorized way of using the word just to apply to surface or formal features— the artwork as a thing in itself.
A study of Aesthetics from the eighteenth century onwards, from the point of view of a Marxist, with particular attention to German thinkers.
ArtLex on Aesthetics (423 words)
There are many aesthetic theories, including imitationalism, emotionalism and formalism.
The American Society for Aesthetics is the main professional organization for aesthetics in the United States, promoting study, research, discussion and publication in aesthetics.
The International Institute of Applied Aesthetics is an independent academic institute established in Lahti, Finland, in 1993 by the University of Helsinki, the Finnish Society for Aesthetics, the city of Lahti, and the Päijät-Häme Association for Higher Education.
  More results at FactBites »



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