Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Since presenting you with my definition of art in my very first post, (Art is an object, or an action framed in such a way as to make us reflect on and/or question our understanding of the world), people have been asking: where does aesthetics come in?  Don't we usually associate art with aesthetics, with beauty?  Isn't beauty essential to how we perceive and interact with art, how we judge it and determine its quality?  My short answer is "yes, definitely!".  My long answer:

One of my mother's favorite artists is Alexander Calder.  The undulating, animated aesthetics of his work appeals to her.  
Alexander Calder, Vertical Foliage, metal wire and paint, 1941, photo credit

My father, on the other hand, tends to prefer the Impressionists.  There work is often full of very appealing patterns of light, and a life found in simple moments.  
Auguste Renoir, Girl with a Watering Can, 1876, photo credit

My boyfriend has always been partial to the combination of precision and mystery present in Renaissance portraiture.  
Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Portrait of a Young Woman, 1465-70, Museo Poldi Pezzoli

And my landlady just told me in a conversation yesterday that she has always loved the works of Helen Frankenthaler.  
Helen Frankenthaler, Nature Abhors a Vacuum, 1973 photo credit

I've given all these examples because they show two things: that a gut feeling about how beautiful we find a work of art to be is probably the most important factor in how we judge and interpret art, and that this gut feeling is totally subjective.  

Which one of these people likes the most aesthetic work of art?  Ridiculous question, I know, but it makes a point.  Aesthetics is essential to our own personal relationship to art, (and is thus of the utmost importance), but it cannot be put into a definition of art because everyone's ideas of beauty are so different.  

Two corollaries which come out of my argument:  
- Aesthetics are not only personally, but culturally subjective.  One culture will generally tend to find a certain style beautiful while another culture doesn't see what the fuss is all about.  (The ancient greeks certainly thought their statues in contraposto were better than the ancient Egyptian symmetrical figures, but the ancient Egyptians had a different opinion.)
- Art experts and art critics may like or dislike a particular artist/art movement/art piece.  Their opinion of aesthetic quality does not, can not in any way invalidate your opinion, or my opinion if we feel otherwise about that art.  

1 comment: