10F PHI 381 - summary of 2010-0902
Madiha Hamdi and Tom Was
At the beginning of the class, students examined the different branches of philosophy and the respective position of Aesthetics as an area of philosophy. Other areas include; Metaphysics (literally meaning “beyond physics”), epistemology (the study of knowledge), ontology (the study of being), logic, philosophy of science, ethics, philosophy of religion, political philosophy, philosophical psychology, the history of philosophy, and axiology (the study of values).
Aesthetics is a relatively new field of philosophy, nonexistent at the time most other branches of philosophy developed. Aristotle’s Poetics was the closest notion to Aesthetics at the time of the Greeks. It included theories of and about theater, lyric poetry, tragedy, and comedy, and emphasized ideas of catharsis and purgation. Umberto Eco later wrote The Name of the Rose, which is about the “lost” second book of Aristotle’s Poetics concerning “comedy.”
Plato had written dialogues illuminating ideas of beauty, the good, and truth in such works as The Republic. The question of beauty came about, which Aesthetics would further develop eventually. Poetry and literature were banned for youths in Plato's ideal polis with the belief that it would corrupt the youth with ideas of grandeur. For Plato there can be no conflict in literature.
During the Renaissance the question of art and beauty were elevated to a higher level i.e. closer to the ideal or the divine. Michelangelo's David has the ideal form of a man. Artists in the Renaissance attempted to create the ideal forms of things in reality.
In the 18th century Alexander Baumgarten, a German philosopher, coined the term “aesthetics”. The root is aisthesis, Greek for feeling, sensation, or having to do with the senses. Poiesis is the act of creation and techne is translated as art, craft, or skill. Aesthetics from Baumgarten to the present day includes the questions of beauty, sublime, art, craft, skill, judgement, taste (as in what is preferred), and the perception of external objects of sense in general. It is an attempt to develop a valid theory based on all these concepts.
Three main elements of Aesthetics were outlined and are as follows: (1) The Artist--which can be the creator, architect, performer, or writer—(2) the Work of art, and the observer—and (3) the reader, spectator, audience. Aesthetics addresses questions of the relationship between each of these elements. What is art? What effect does the observer have on the art? Is the meaning of a work of art created by the artist or the observer? What are we judging? What are the limits or frames of the art?
The artist, in making a work of art, is creating something. He/she is involved in the production of the work of art. The artist attempts to convey a specific intention, but the observer can instill the work with his own meaning. What is the proper embodiment of an artist? Or the proper embodiment of the work? What qualifies something as a work of art? Is it only something that is created? Does the era or time period have an effect on the work? Is a work more relative in a certain time period? Is the work of art a thing in itself? Or is it something more, does it have a connection to the sublime? How important is the artist’s imagination? What things can be considered inspiration? Do the materials used in creating the work distinguish art from non-art? Do they affect the work? What are the effects of presentation? How important is the art to the era? How much does the environment or socio-political context impact a work of art? What should art do for individuals? What should art do for society? What should be censored? Do institutions have an effect on art? Should they? Where should artists gain funding from? Should endowments be made for the arts? What is the value of a unique piece of art? What is the value of its imitation or reproduction? Is a reproduction still a work of art? Is it a creation? How much should an observer judge or interpret a work of art? How does counterfeiting affect the work?
These are just some of the questions that come under the general aegis of “aesthetics.”