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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Aesthetics is a branch of art and philosophy that deals with style, beauty, appearance, and more generally the sense experience of things. Given that aesthetics is described in terms of style and appearance, it has been compared to art itself. However, aesthetics is more accurately the style, creation, and perception of art; and in this sense, aesthetics has more to do with form than content. Art, on the other hand, can be much more involved with content, be it political commentary or what have you. This is not to say that aesthetics deals with superficial themes; it is to say that aesthetics deals with the creation, style, and perception (of art, life, objects) and this does not necessarily have to be based on a theme. 

In philosophy and art, aesthetics has often been linked to ideas of beauty. That is to say: that which is beautiful in art resembles beauty in life and both are therefore aesthetically beautiful. Again, we are dealing with sense (sight here) experience but with the idea that something subjective like beauty can have an objective (universal) appeal as what is aesthetically beautiful. This gets into debates about what we all agree is aesthetically beautiful or if such a conclusion could be reached. This goes beyond art, gets into philosophical realms, and even in every day life: in terms of aesthetics, is there a certain way a female or male should look? Are there, or should there be agreed upon notions of beauty? Are these notions driven by culture? Should they be? Is beauty something inherent and universal or can there be different ideas of beauty? 

Different theorists and artists have argued whether the importance of aesthetics is located in the artist's mind, the art itself, or the perception of art by others. One could well argue that there is aesthetic significance in all three. If the maxim "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" holds true, then there may be a bit more emphasis on perception: the reader, the living person, the actual viewer of the painting. We might all agree, objectively, that it is universally agreed that a colorful sunset is beautiful. However, this does not meant that all individuals have, or should have, the exact same ideas about beauty. We might all agree that Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel is beautiful, but would we all agree that Picasso's "The Young Ladies of Avignon" is beautiful as well? There's seems to be room for both arguments: that we might all agree that X is beautiful (objective, a universal) and that Y is beautiful depending upon the perception (subjective, individual). 

Modernist artists, such as Picasso and Dali, really changed the conversation of aesthetics in art, challenging traditional notions of beauty and artistic beauty. In this shift, artists, philosophers, and critics started talking less about beauty and more about style, perception, and experimentation. This is why you might hear a phrase like the "Cubist aesthetic" (meaning Cubist style) to refer to Picasso. And if there are different styles, there are different opinions on what is aesthetically beautiful (or aesthetically pleasing to be more broad). This is also why you might here/read aesthetic and style as synonymous: the Cubist aesthetic in Picasso, the Modernist aesthetic of James Joyce, and the punk aesthetic of The Clash. 

Aesthetics is not just about style (although it is often used this way); it also has to do with sense experience, what classifies as "good" art, and the objective/subjective debate on beauty. 

thewanderlust878 | Student

The dictionary definitions of aesthetics are:

1) pertaining to a sense of the beautiful or to the philosophy of aesthetics

2)  of or pertaining to the study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty

3) pertaining to, involving, or concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectually

Basically, aesthetics means an aspect of something that is purely for looks or show. It does not go any deeper than the surface, which is most always the way something looks.

We planted the trees purely for aesthetics. 

Hope this helped!  

sid-sarfraz | Student

Aesthetics, also spelled esthetics ,  the philosophical study of beauty and taste. It is closely related to the philosophy of art, which is concerned with the nature of art and the concepts in terms of which individual works of art are interpreted and evaluated.

The nature and scope of aesthetics

Aesthetics is broader in scope than the philosophy of art, which comprises one of its branches. It deals not only with the nature and value of the arts but also with those responses to natural objects that find expression in the language of the beautiful and the ugly. A problem is encountered at the outset, however, for terms such as beautiful and ugly seem too vague in their application and too subjective in their meaning to divide the world successfully into those things that do, and those that do not, exemplify them. Almost anything might be seen as beautiful by someone or from some point of view; and different people apply the word to quite disparate objects for reasons that often seem to have little or nothing in common. It may be that there is some single underlying belief that motivates all of their judgments. It may also be, however, that the term beautiful has no sense except as the expression of an attitude, which is in turn attached by different people to quite different states of affairs.

Moreover, in spite of the emphasis laid by philosophers on the terms beautiful and ugly, it is far from evident that they are the most important or most useful either in the discussion and criticism of art or in the description of that which appeals to us in nature. To convey what is significant in a poem, we might describe it as ironic, moving, expressive, balanced, and harmonious. Likewise, in characterizing a favourite stretch of countryside, we may prefer to describe it as peaceful, soft, atmospheric, harsh, and evocative, rather than beautiful. The least that should be said is that beautiful belongs to a class of terms from which it has been chosen as much for convenience’ sake as for any sense that it captures what is distinctive of the class.

At the same time, there seems to be no clear way of delimiting the class in question—not at least in advance of theory. Aesthetics must therefore cast its net more widely than the study either of beauty or of other aesthetic concepts if it is to discover the principles whereby it is to be defined. We are at once returned, therefore, to the vexing question of our subject matter: What should a philosopher study in order to understand such ideas as beauty and taste?

Three approaches to aesthetics

Three broad approaches have been proposed in answer to that question, each intuitively reasonable:

1. The study of the aesthetic concepts, or, more specifically, the analysis of the “language of criticism,” in which particular judgments are singled out and their logic and justification displayed. In his famous treatise On the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), Edmund Burke attempted to draw a distinction between two aesthetic concepts, and, by studying the qualities that they denoted, to analyze the separate human attitudes that are directed toward them. Burke’s distinction between the sublime and the beautiful was extremely influential, reflecting as it did the prevailing style of contemporary criticism. In more recent times, philosophers have tended to concentrate on the concepts of modern literary theory—namely, those such as representation, expression, form, style, and sentimentality. The study invariably has a dual purpose: to show how (if at all) these descriptions might be justified, and to show what is distinctive in the human experiences that are expressed in them.

2. A philosophical study of certain states of mind—responses, attitudes, emotions—that are held to be involved in aesthetic experience. Thus, in the seminal work of modern aesthetics Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790; The Critique of Judgment), Immanuel Kant located the distinctive features of the aesthetic in the faculty of “judgment,” whereby we take up a certain stance toward objects, separating them from our scientific interests and our practical concerns. The key to the aesthetic realm lies therefore in a certain “disinterested” attitude, which we may assume toward any object and which can be expressed in many contrasting way

glendamaem | Student

What is aesthetics?

Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy concerned with the study of the idea of beauty.

user3327097 | Student

of or pertaining to the study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty;