I know it might be naive of me to ask that question. But when confronted with a modernist abstraction, I know some of us have that question in mind. Admit it.

This is, after all, an age-old question: that paintings should be like “a mirror held up to nature,” as Plato would suggest in the Ion. And speaking of Plato and that work of his, here’s a PowerPoint presentation from Prof. Jeff Strayer of Indiana University-Purdue Fort Wayne.

plato.jpgWhat Plato suggests in the Ion is the idea that art is three times removed from the Ideal, and is thus three times removed from the Truth. The artist can only produce “appearances” and not the real thing. As such, they may be called “deceivers” who may lead you away from what is true (and good).

So one may say that Plato wasn’t really gung ho about art, or was he? He wrote Ion as a dramatic exchange, after all. Which lead us to ask, what was he really trying to say — on the one hand he seems to be against imitation, and on the other he uses imitation to diss imitation. Hmmm.

One thing he did succeed in doing was to define what and how we think and talk about when we talk about painting.


georg_hegel.jpgI’ll mostly be quoting and paraphrasing (again) from Dabney Townsend’s introduction to Hegel in Aesthetics: Classic Readings from the Western Tradition (Belmont, California: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001).

According to Townsend, if 19th-century aesthetics was the legacy of Kant’s synthesizing of the empiricist and rationalist traditions, G. W. F. Hegel extended the rational side of Kantian aesthetics “into a logical and historical system” (145). As such, he is referred to as “the great philosophical systematizer” (150).

Hegel used the method of philosophical idealism to put together “all that could be thought.” Idealism posits that “the totality of worlds includes both things and ideas, minds and objects . . . [and] accounts for objects in terms of ideas and ideas in terms of minds” (150). While things and objects have to be experienced, ultimately the “principles of description and explanation are mental, not physical” (150-51).

Hegel’s idealism is dialectical.* According to Townsend, Hegel points out that “[what] we know is a product of relations between what is and what logically can be. We can discover those relations only by thinking through a fundamental opposition between what is and what is not. In order to know what something is, I must know what it is not — what its form of being excludes and what is excluded from . . . . To know the form is to know that it is present in the [object], but also that it is not there alone” (151). [Shades of Kant there, right?]


*Prof. Raymund Pavo enlightened you about dialectics in his short lecture

Beautiful mind


Some scholars say Immanuel Kant is “the inventor of modern aesthetics … [guiding] aesthetic philosophy in one way or another for the next one hundred and fifty years” (Townsend 123).

Standardizing taste?

hume1.jpgDavid Hume’s “Of the Standard of Taste” may be considered as having inaugurated how we study aesthetics today.

What is the sublime?

burke.jpgQuite a lot gave their own takes on the excerpt from Edmund Burke’s “Sublime and the Beautiful.” Some of you even related your reading to personal experiences that illustrates how you were able to grasp Burke’s concepts. Others posed philosophical queries that will allow us to explore Burke’s ideas as we tackle specific art forms — particularly those created in our times.

You may also be interested in reading Longinus’s On the Sublime, where he provides some criteria of what may be considered sublime in a work.

Defining aesthetics

Here are some definitions of “aesthetics” I came across in my readings. First off is the entry in Wikipedia on the etymology of the word “aesthetics,” as well as its nature:

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

The term aesthetics comes from the Greek αισθητική “aisthetike” and was coined by the philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten in 1735 to mean “the science of how things are known via the senses.” 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. 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.”

Today the word “aesthetics” may mean (1) the study of the aesthetic (all the aesthetic phenomena), (2) the study of perception (of such phenomena), (3), the study of art (as a specific expression of what is perceived as aesthetic).

Another definition comes from ArtLex:

Aesthetics or æsthetics — The branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and value of art objects and experiences. It is concerned with identifying the clues within works that can be used to understand, judge, and defend judgments about those works. Originally, any activity connected with art, beauty and taste, becoming more broadly the study of art’s function, nature, ontology, purpose, and so on.

Still another definition may be found in Daniel MacAdam’s site:

AESTHETICS, a branch of study variously defined as the philosophy or science of the beautiful, of taste or of the fine arts….

The name is something of an accident. In its original Greek form (aisthetikos) it means what has to do with sense-perception as a source of knowledge; and this is still its meaning in Kant’s philosophy (“Transcendental Aesthetic”). Its limitation to that function of sensuous perception which we know as the contemplative enjoyment of beauty is due to A. G. Baumgarten. Although the subject does not readily lend itself to precise definition at the outset, we may indicate its scope and aim, as understood by recent writers, by saying that it deals successively with one great department of human experience, viz. the pleasurable activities of pure contemplation. By pure contemplation is here understood that manner of regarding objects of sense-perception, and more particularly sights and sounds, which is entirely motived by the pleasure of the act itself. The term “object” means whatever can be perceived through one of the senses, e.g. a flower, a landscape, the flight of a bird, a sequence of tones. The contemplation may be immediate when (as mostly happens) the object is present to sense; or it may be mediate, when as in reading poetry we dwell on images of objects of sense. Whenever we become interested in an object merely as presented for our contemplation our whole state of mind may be described as an aesthetic attitude, and our experience as an aesthetic experience. Other expressions such as the pleasure of taste, the enjoyment and appreciation of beauty (in the larger sense of this term), will serve less precisely to mark off this department of experience.


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