Art Term

Aesthetics

Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature of beauty and taste

Edward Allington, ‘Ideal Standard Forms’ 1980
Edward Allington
Ideal Standard Forms 1980
Tate
© Edward Allington

What constitutes beauty has been a much-debated topic in Western art. In Grecian times, the philosopher Aristotle thought beauty was about function and proportion, while in the early 1700s, the Earl of Shaftesbury argued that goodness and beauty are one and the same. In 1735 the German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten posed the question ‘What is beauty?’ and it is from this moment that our modern reading of the word begins to evolve. He used the word ‘aesthetics’ to describe his process of understanding what makes something beautiful or ugly and how we make these judgements. The term 'aesthetcis' is derived from the Greek word ‘aesthesis’ meaning perception.

Later, the philosopher Immanuel Kant sought to clarify what aesthetics meant by writing Critique of Judgement, in which he tried to work out how to analyse beauty, as well as taste and the Sublime. He concluded that there is no scientific rule for determining what beauty is, as it is subjective, and in the eye of the beholder.

Related terms and concepts

Sublime

Theory developed by Edmund Burke in the mid eighteenth century, where he defined sublime art as art that refers to ...

Aesthetic movement

The aesthetic movement was a late nineteenth century movement that championed pure beauty and ‘art for art’s sake’ emphasising the ...