Elements of Aesthetics






At its core, “art” involves information that affects us by means of our senses.  It can be created or found, invented or discovered.    







Aesthetics is properly an investigation of everything that goes into human meaning-making, and its traditional focus on the arts stems primarily from the fact that arts are exemplary cases of consummated meaning. However, any adequate aesthetics of cognition must range far beyond the arts proper to explore how meaning is possible for creatures with our types of bodies, environments, and cultural institutions and practices.  [Mark Johnson here wants to open us up to the “bodily depths of human meaning-making [that works] through our visceral connection to our world.”]

Johnson uses “the term “meaning” in its broadest and most profound sense…. not just a matter of concepts and propositions, but also reaches down into the images, sensorimotor schemas, feelings, qualities, and emotions that constitute our meaningful encounter with our world. Any adequate account of meaning must be built around the aesthetic dimensions that give our experience its distinctive character and significance. A philosophy capable of making a difference for how people ought to live must be grounded on how we make sense of things.  What we need, in short, is an aesthetics of human understanding. This is a big, sweeping task, but one well worth the journey for anyone who cares about what it means to be human.”  (from Mark Johnson’s (2007) The Meaning of the Body (Univ Chi Press, Preface xi-xii) 


AESTHETICS The study of the perception of beauty and good taste. According to the venerable Oxford Dictionary of English, aesthetics is a nuanced appreciation of the beautiful. Aesthetics is also a branch of philosophy, a critical study of art that goes out on a limb to study the way people judge the beautiful, art, and good taste. Depth psychologist James Hillman elucidated an aspect of the word that takes my breath away: “The activity of perception or sensation in Greek is aesthesis,” he writes in A Blue Fire, “which means at root ‘taking in’ as in breathing in the beauty of the world, which is a far cry from the dryasdust notion, perpetrated by the likes of John Donne, that what is aesthetic is merely physical sensation.” Digging deeper into the loam of the word we find aesthe-tikos , sensitive, perceptive, from aisthanesthai, to perceive, to feel through the senses and the mind. By extrapolation, if it doesn’t take your breath away, it ain’t art. Deep and abiding beauty takes your breath away. This “in-search,” as Hillman calls it, culminated in the French esthetique, the study of art itself, which in turn inspired Immanuel Kant, who regarded aesthetics as “the science which treats of the conditions of sensuous perception.” The French polymath André Malraux wrote in Museum without Walls, “From aesthetic stems the idea of beauty, not so much that only beautiful things should be painted but only such things that would be beautiful if they existed.” Companion words include aesthete, “a professed appreciator of the beautiful,” according to the OED, and beauty sleep, the sleep taken before midnight, presumably because it amounts to the most refreshing rest of all, the one that allows us to appear young, attractive, even breathtaking.” (Cousineau, Phil. The Painted Word: A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and Their Origins (pp. 6-7). Viva Editions. Kindle Edition.)


 “…aesthetic experience  relies on a distributed neural architecture, a set of brain areas involved in emotion, perception, imagery, memory, and language,’’ and that it ‘‘emerges from networked interactions, the workings of intricately connected and coordinated brain systems that, together, form a flexible architecture enabling us to develop new arts and to see the world around us differently.”         (Hartley (2015)[i]