The concept of “aesthetics” can range from the nature of beauty to the philosophy of art. The core focus of aesthetics involves human notions of beauty. “What is art” is the question that the philosophy of aesthetics strives to address.
Since the notions of art and beauty have been examined over the centuries, the topic of aesthetics have become a broad and complex one. In the 1700s, the noted philosopher Immanuel Kant tried to codify Western European society’s’ definitions of aesthetics. He laid out four aspects of aesthetics to consider for the attainment of beauty. First is that the object exists for itself, and has no other purpose. Second is the objectivity of the piece. Third is the disinterest of the viewer who has no emotional investment in the art. And finally, the piece is enjoyed as it is and no other meaning than to exist (Art for art’s sake).
Aesthetics then becomes a system of how to perceive art. Aesthetics can be the matrix of how we see art such as how we respond to color, line, shape, texture, and value. We can see the formal qualities of the art or understand the metaphysics of the piece. How do we engage with the art determine our sense of aesthetics.
José Clemente Orozco (Mexico, 1888-1949) said, “Painting assails the mind. It persuades the heart.” Many lay people would agree with that. We see a work of art and have an emotional reaction to it. Then aesthetics could guide us in how we respond and why.
In the 19th Century, a movement called the Aesthetic Movement came into being. This movement was a reaction to the ongoing Industrial Revolution. Various artists wanted to restore the sense of beauty that was lost. They wanted to turn ordinary household objects such as furniture, ceramics, and even books into works of art. The artists strove to have ordinary people be surrounded by beauty.