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Aesthetics (or esthetics) (from the Greek word αισθητική meaning a perceiver or sensitive) is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty. The word aesthetics was first used by German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, who helped to establish the study of aesthetics as a separate philosophical field of study. The word aesthetic can be used as a noun meaning "that which appeals to the senses."

Some of the meaning of aesthetic as an adjective can be illuminated by comparing it to anaesthetic, which is by construction an antonym of aesthetic. If something is anaesthetic, it tends to dull the senses or cause sleepiness. In contrast, aesthetic may be thought of as anything that tends to enliven or invigorate or wake one up.


Aesthetics in the visual arts

Within the visual arts aesthetic considerations are usually associated with the visual sense, however in both painting and sculpture the presence of the object is also perceived spatially and to some extent by the senses of smell, sound and texture as well as through recognised associations and context. The form of the work can be subject to an aesthetic as much as the content. With painting the aesthetic convention that we see a three dimensional representation rather than a two dimensional plane is so well understood that most people do not realise that they are making an aesthetic interpretation. This was the basis of abstract impressionism

Although any individuals aesthetic response to a work of visual art will be unique to that individual, many aesthetic principles can be identified and used by the creator of the work to achieve specific aesthetic effects. these include, tonal variation, juxtaposition, repetition, field effects, symmetry/asymmetry, perceived mass, subliminal structure, linear dynamics, tension and repose, pattern, contrast, perspective, 3 dimensionality, movement, rhythm, unity/Gestalt, matrixiality and proportion.

Aesthetics in music

Main article: Aesthetics of music.

Music has the ability to affect our emotions, intellect, and our psychology; lyrics can assuage our loneliness or incite our passions. As such, music is a powerful art form whose aesthetic appeal is highly dependent upon the culture in which it is practiced.

Some of the aesthetic elements expressed in music include lyricism, harmony, hypnotism, emotiveness, temporal dynamics, resonance, playfulness, and colour (see Musical development).

Aesthetics in architecture

Applying aesthetic considerations to buildings and related architectural structures is complex, as factors extrinsic to spatial design (such as structural integrity, cost, the nature of building materials, and the functional utility of the building) contribute heavily to the design process.

Notwithstanding, architects can still apply the aesthetic principles of ornamentation, edge deliniation, texture, flow, solemnity, symmetry, color, granularity, the interaction of sunlight and shadows, transcendence, and harmony.

Aesthetics in the performing arts

Performing artists appeals to our aesthetics of storytelling, grace, balance, class, timing, strength, shock, humor, costume, irony, beauty, and sensuality .

Aesthetics in literature

Encompassing poetry, short stories, novels and non-fiction, authors use a variety of techniques to appeal to our aesthetic values. Depending on the type of writing an author may employ rhythm, illustrations, structure, time shifting, juxtaposition, dualism, imagery, fantasy, suspense, analysis, humor/cynicism, and thinking aloud.

In literary aesthetics, the study of affect creates an awareness of the deep structures of reading and receiving literary works. Affect refers to the emotional sense created in the reader or receiver of a literary work. These affects may be broadly grouped by their mode of writing, and relationship the reader assumes with time. Catharsis is the affect of dramatic completition of action in time. Kairosis is the affect of novels whose characters become integrated in time. Kenosis is the affect of lyric poetry which creates a sense of emptyness and timelessness.

Aesthetics in landscape design

Landscape designers employ design elements such as axis, line, landform, horizontal and vertical planes, texture, and scale to create aesthetic variation within the landscape. They may additionally utilize pools or fountains of water, plants, seasonal variance, stonework, fragrance, exterior lighting, statues, and lawns as aesthetic elements.

Culinary aesthetics

Although food is a basic and frequently experienced commodity, careful attention to the aesthetic possibilities of foodstuffs can turn eating into gastronomy. Chefs inspire our aesthetic enjoyment through the visual sense using colour and arrangement, as well as our senses of taste and smell using spices, diversity/contrast, anticipation, seduction, and decoration/garnishes .

Aesthetics in information technology

The push to make all aspects of information technology as user-friendly as possible has led to a number of advances during the study of human-computer interaction. The design of the graphical user interface has been shown to have a great effect on productivity and the design of the computer hardware has seen unappealing boxes develop into common devices that no longer seem out of place in a living room.


Cognitive science has also considered aesthetics, with the advent of neuroesthetics, pioneered by Semir Zeki, which seeks to explain the greatness of great art as an embodiment of biological principles of the brain, namely that great works of art capture the essence of things just as vision and the brain capture the essentials of the world from the ever-changing stream of sensory input.

External links

See also: morality, ethics, aestheticism

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