Aesthetics (or esthetics) 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 field has now branched into the realm of the scientific, however, with the advent of neuroesthetics, pioneered by Dr. Semir Zeki.
The word aesthetic can be used as a noun meaning "that which appeals to the senses." Someone's aesthetic has a lot to do with their artistic judgement. For example, an individual who wears flowered clothing, drives a flowered car, and paints their home with flowers has a particular aesthetic.
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.
The philosophy of aesthetics
This study of aesthetics is well-developed in theology, e.g. "water, greenery, and a beautiful face" were identified by Muhammad, founder and Prophet of Islam, as the key things that any person could differentiate from the background.
It is particularly important to the study of the individual's moral core, which is formed by epigenetics and s through his or her lifetime, but has a common human foundation explored in cognitive science, anthropology and primatology.
Since actions or behavior can be said to have beauty beyond sensory appeal, aesthetics and ethics often overlap to the degree that this impression is embodied in a moral code or ethical code. Schopenhauer's aesthetics is one developed variation on this theme; Schopenhauer contrasted the contemplation of beauty against the evil world of the Will.
The theory of surrealist automatism is extra-aesthetic in that it is supposed to be practiced without (conscious) moral or aesthetic self-censorship.
The writer Ayn Rand assumed a hierarchical nature of philosophy that builds in complexity & dependence from metaphysics through epistemology, ethics & politics to aesthetics ("Philosophy, Who Needs It?", 1974).
Aesthetic arguments usually proceed from one of several possible perspectives, i.e.: art is defined by the intention of the artist (as Dewey); art is in the response/emotion of the viewer (as Tolstoy); art is a character of the item itself; art is a function of an object's context (as Danto); or art is imitation (as Plato).
The elements that contribute to the aesthetic appeal of an object depend upon the medium under design; some elements are listed below.
Aesthetics in art
Of course art appreciation is in the eyes of the beholder, although there are certain elements that we can define across a group of paintings that can be generalized or delineated, and hence discussed and analyzed on their own merits.
You can't take a sample of artwork, lay it down, critique it across aesthetic dimensions, and reach some kind of quantitative judgement as to its quality. Great paintings touch our souls; they may violate some guidelines or lend different weights to various aesthetic principles (sometimes a piece of art veers violently from an aesthetic principle specifically for effect). Yet the principle of aesthetics gives us a basis for discussion. Regardless, recent research by Semir Zeki has given birth to the discipline of neuroesthetics which seeks to explain great artwork 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.
Aesthetics in 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.
Aesthetics in architecture
Applying aesthetics to buildings and related architectural structures is complex, as factors extrinsic to visual 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, architectural designers 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
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 use natural and artificial materials scaling from the size of a person to the expanse of a golf course. They may employ water (in pools, streams, or fountains), color, plants, reflection, seasonal variance, stonework, fragrance, variance of viewing expansiveness (depth of field?), exterior lighting, repetition, statues, and lawns as aesthetic elements.
Although food is a basic and frequently experienced commodity, careful attention to the aesthetic possibilities of foodstuffs can turn eating into dining. Chefs inspire our gastronomy with regionalism, spices, diversity/contrast, anticipation, seduction, and decoration/garnishes.