Aesthetics and Art: Some Basics




From the Greek word “aesthesis” = sensation or perception.


Aesthetics became associated with the perception of art, or the heightened perception of other significant sense objects, in the 18th century when it was used in this way by the German scholars Baumgarten and Kant. We’ll read some Kant later.




(Of course, this is a term we will be debating all semester!) It originally means something like skill or craft.  In this sense there can be an art of almost anything: the art of shoe-making, or sheet metal construction, seduction, finding oil, cooking, salesmanship, etc. Often, though, a distinction gets made as follows:

Fine Art: the traditionally elevated arts that take years of learning, such as painting, music, sculpture, etc. (Sometimes called “high arts.”)


Performing Art: also often thought of as elevated and taking years of training and practice, such as dance and theater.


Craft: arts practiced by people who lack the usual sort of arts education or apprenticeship, such as woodworking, quilt-making, basket-weaving, pottery-making, etc.


Do these distinctions make sense? We’ll be considering them later in the semester.


More questions we will consider:


·      Why is “high art” better than “craft”? (Is it?)


·      Does art require “genius”? What is genius, anyway? Is a genius born or made?


·      Why should we care about art at all?


·      Can something in nature be art?


·      How do people from other time periods and culture define art? Do they have the same idea of it we do?


·      Why are some weird contemporary things art?


·      Is there any objectivity in opinions about art?


·      How do new brain sciences improve our understanding of artists and how they create?


·      What is going to be the impact of digital technology and the Internet upon art?