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Aesthetics (from ancient Greek αἴσθησις aísthēsis “perception”, “sensation”) was primarily the study of beauty , of laws and harmony in nature and art until the 19th century .

Aesthetics literally means: teaching of perception or of sensual viewing. Everything that moves our senses when we look at it is aesthetic: beautiful, ugly, pleasant and unpleasant. A teaching that deals only with beautiful things is called callistics .

In everyday language, the expression aesthetic is mostly used today as a synonym for beautiful , tasteful or appealing . In science , the term describes the entire range of properties that determine how people value perceived objects.

In philosophy the word is often used differently. Aesthetics describes either the theory of sensory perception in general (not just of art), or a philosophical (or sociological ) theory of art or design . According to some (especially following Immanuel Kant ) views, it is not simply purely subjective categories such as “beautiful” and “ugly” that decide on aesthetic evaluations, which are attached to the object because of certain properties. Rather, the decisive factor is the manner of sensuality or meaningfulness. Other ( semiotic ) aesthetic theories emphasize that the latter in particular can only be understood within the framework of specific sign systems. Especially in empirical studies (for example in experimental psychology, but also in some philosophical theories that are related to this) one speaks (as in everyday parlance) of aesthetics with reference to how people see things - also beyond art - as "beautiful" or " ugly ”and examines, for example, the empirically accessible criteria according to which such judgments are made. In the Anglo-Saxon world, aesthetics is sometimes understood more in this sense. Some, especially recent, approaches also try to bring both aspects together.

Concept history

With his Meditationes (1735) Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten established aesthetics in Germany as an independent philosophical discipline. In his Aesthetica from 1750/58 Baumgarten defines aesthetics as “the science of sensual knowledge” (§ 1).

As a science, Baumgarten differentiates aesthetics from natural aesthetics, which describes the “natural state” “in which the lower faculties of knowledge develop through mere exercise without any methodical training” (Baumgarten 1983, § 2). The “lower cognitive faculties ” include sensus (feeling, sensation), imaginatio (imagination, fantasy, imagination), facultas fingersi (poetry, ability to write poetry) and memoria (memory, memory).

As a methodically developed “art teaching”, Baumgarten (Hamburg 1983) attributes the following “benefits” to aesthetics. Above all, it consists in “that they

  1. provide suitable materials for the sciences that are mainly based on intellectual knowledge,
  2. adapts the scientifically recognized to the capacity of any person,
  3. drives the improvement of knowledge beyond the limits of what is clearly recognizable,
  4. lays good foundations for all contemplative spiritual activities and for the liberal arts,
  5. gives a certain superiority over all other people in the practice of daily life under the same conditions. "(§ 3)

Traditional aesthetics assumes that universal and timeless criteria exist for the taste evaluation of works of art .

The metaphysical aesthetics of German idealisms ( romanticism , concept of genius ) was criticized as a prescribed aesthetic that no longer does justice to the times. From this critical attitude two currents developed: the psychological aesthetics and the art history of Konrad Fiedler .

Aesthetic (sensual) knowledge has also long been seen as the opposite of rational knowledge.

In the 19th century, the physician Gustav Theodor Fechner made a distinction between an aesthetic from below and an aesthetic from above. The aesthetics from above is the “aesthetic” aesthetic of traditional philosophy and literary studies, which regards aesthetics almost exclusively in connection with art. The beauty of landscapes, objects of daily use or scientific theories was excluded or, at best, dismissed as a marginal aspect. In contrast, the aesthetics from below strives for an empirical basis. She did not reduce aesthetics to art, but regarded the experience of beauty as an everyday psychological phenomenon that can be investigated in experiments (so-called experimental aesthetics ).

Aesthetics as a Philosophical Discipline

The term aesthetics (Greek for “sensual perception”) was first used in the 18th century by Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten as part of a philosophical treatise. Baumgarten is therefore often seen as the founder of “philosophical aesthetics”, although philosophers like Aristotle were already concerned with the subject in ancient times .

Aesthetics is not a closed philosophical discipline, as there are different views as to which subject areas it includes. Aesthetic is often used as a synonym for beautiful, tasteful or appealing. However, aesthetics also include other value judgments and aesthetic predicates, such as sensual, fascinating, ugly or boring. A particularly important role for philosophical aesthetics are their definitions. Up until the 19th century there were three main definitions:

  1. Aesthetics as a theory of the beautiful
  2. Aesthetics as the theory of art
  3. Aesthetics as the theory of sensual knowledge

Since the 19th century, however, these theories have been labeled as inadequate because they either do not include all areas of aesthetics or even describe facts that go beyond aesthetics. For this reason, an alternative definition of aesthetics emerged.

Various methods are also important in order to define and understand aesthetics. For example, a concept analysis is first carried out in order to then store lexical or stipulative definitions or explications . In addition, your own intuitions can help you to recognize the deeper meaning of aesthetics, as these can be used as a “red thread” to understand aesthetics.

Non-European aesthetics

As a result of the one-sided orientation of research on Europe, relatively little material is available on the development of aesthetics in non-European countries. An exception is the study by the Italian philosopher Mario Perniola, Estetica Contemporanea (Bologna 2011): “Aesthetics seem to be dissolving in our present age and can no longer be traced back to a coherent image. And yet: in view of the overwhelming number of studies that have been presented over the past 100 years on questions of aesthetics, this age could justifiably be defined as the “century of aesthetics” ”. The Estetica Contemporanea captures international thinking on aesthetics in a new light from the perspective of Mario Perniola, one of the leading contemporary Italian thinkers. Based on four conceptual fields - life, form, knowledge, action - Perniola traces the lines of aesthetic reflection that derive from them and describes them in the light of their main representatives: from Dilthey to Foucault (aesthetics of life), from Wölfflin to McLuhan and Lyotard ( Aesthetics of Form), from Croce to Goodman (aesthetics and knowledge), from Dewey to Bloom (aesthetics and action). The fifth chapter deals with the aesthetic thinking of Freud, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Derrida and Deleuze and thus leads over into the areas of affectivity and emotionality. Perniola's investigation culminates in the extensive sixth chapter, which is devoted to aesthetic thinking in Japan, China, India, Islam, Brazil, South Korea and Southeast Asia and finally focuses on the current ongoing threat to which Western aesthetic sensibility is exposed by itself, the threat of suffocating on yourself.


In China, references to aesthetic education have been known since Confucius (551–478 BC). High artistic achievements already had a long tradition back then. Confucius underlined the role of the arts (especially music and poetry) to expand the realities of human nature and to support the etiquettes and rites in bringing people closer to what is important about being human. Opponents of this opinion such as Mozi argued against it that music and art are costly and wasteful and thus reserved for privileged classes and only these benefit from it, but not the common people.

Writings from the fourth century BC are known in which artists discuss appropriate and true goals of art. For example, three works by Gu Kaizhi have survived on the theory of painting. Even later, it is not uncommon for writings on art and works of art to be found equally by one and the same.

Religious and philosophical influences on art were widespread and vice versa, but by no means always present - in any period in China it is easy to find works of art that ignore any philosophy or religion.

Around 300 BC Chr. Laozi formulated materialistic and aesthetic conceptions based on Daoism , which assumed generally valid (binding) laws of nature , which were in obvious contradiction to the interests of the ruling minority.

Calligraphy by Wang Xizhi (4th century) - Beginning of the orchid pavilion

The philosopher Wang Chong (1st century) is considered to be the most important exponent of the transition phase to China's medieval aesthetics. He assumed a basic element (called “qi”) peculiar to all material substance, its regular development and also human perception . That is why he regarded the material world as the source of the idea of ​​the beautiful and the ugly; artistic truth for him was correspondence with the facts.

Cao Pi (187–226) followed up on such considerations, but not only understood the content as a criterion of the beautiful, but also decidedly included the form. Xie He (479–502) concretized these ideas in the “six principles of painting”. The following were valid for him: the expression of the essence of life phenomena; the art of painting with a brush; the use of color in accordance with the character of the item; The composition; the correspondence of form with real things; imitating the best examples of the past.

Su Shi (Su Dongpo, 1036–1101) pointed to the role of inspiration and talent.

Despite these diverse considerations, the further development of Chinese aesthetics was severely hindered in the following period by the low development of the productive forces and the solidification of social relations in feudal or even older forms.

The compilation of paintings published by Wang Gai in the 17th century is little more than a compilation of views from the past. You have worked far beyond the borders of China.


Konark Sun Temple (Orissa)

Rasa is the central term in classical Indian aesthetics. It describes the mental state of joy and fulfillment that cannot be put into words, which occurs when the viewer enjoys a successful work of art. The earliest known aesthetic script dates from around the 1st century; above all it contains rules for the education of actors . In the 6th century, the important script Silpa Sastra was created with detailed information on the building of villages, houses, temples , palaces and on the attachment of sculptures to buildings . The philosopher Vamana (8th century) dealt with questions of poetic style. In the 10th century problems of the hidden content of art were discussed. Abhinavagupta combined the aesthetic perception with the apprehension of reality . The ancient Indian music theory Gandharva-Veda contains many of the foundations of classical Indian music that are still valid today.

Ancient Europe


Doric temple in Agrigento

In ancient Greece, aesthetics developed in close connection with a great development of art to a special climax with effects up to the most recent times. The Greek mythology with its humanized ideas of the deities and the development of the natural sciences , especially mathematics , played an essential part in this . Some of their discoveries were directly processed in art (such as the theory of proportions in construction); they also had a share in the high degree of theoretical penetration of the scientific considerations that apply to the aesthetic.

The heyday of aesthetics was in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. In the epoch of the fully developed polis democracy with its worldwide trade etc. connections and the development of the individual which fits into the whole of the polis . The centers of aesthetics were typically first the colonist cities on the coasts of Asia Minor , then Sicily and Italy, in the motherland they gained importance, especially in Athens .

Aesthetic terms and designations had already emerged in the early days. Homer (around the 9th century BC) already spoke of “beauty”, “harmony”, etc., but without fixing them theoretically. He understood productive manual work as artistic creation, and at the same time believed that a deity was at work in the aesthetic. Sober practice and mythology are similarly linked in Hesiod (around 700 BC), who paid great attention to measure as an aesthetic category and understood it in connection with peasant labor.

Heraclitus (around 554 to around 483 BC) explained the beautiful from the material quality of the real. Art brings harmony out of opposites “apparently by imitating nature”. Democritus (460–371 BC) sees the essence of the beautiful in a sensual order of symmetry and harmony of the parts of a whole. With the Pythagoreans , the theory of numbers and proportions played a major role in the cosmological and aesthetic ideas of beauty and harmony.


For Socrates (469–399 BC) good and good coincide. The visual arts mainly have to create a person who is beautiful in body and mind. Plato (427–347 BC), on the other hand, overlooks the real sense activity of humans. Beauty has a supersensible character and therefore turns as an idea to the mind, the human mind . Things are only reflections of ideas, and art merely imitates this reflection. He rates art particularly negatively as the imitation of actions, since people fluctuate in it. At the same time, Plato distinguished between imitative and creative art (including architecture ), which he placed above the former. Together with his conception of the state, the high esteem of hieratic ancient Egyptian art is characteristic.

At the same time in the 6th / 5th Century BC The myths were no longer viewed as reality , but as traditional material , which raised the question of truth. Those theorists who interpreted poetry as bound speech ( Gorgias ) and founded the doctrine of rhetoric by discovering the rhetorical structure of all human communication and making it usable for aesthetics also reacted to this (continued by Roman theorists, including Cicero ). In this sense, the (moralizing) allegory was also developed from the interpretation and criticism of myths (including Prodikos ).


Greek aesthetics reached its culmination point with Aristotle (384–322 BC). The great thinker of antiquity criticized the aesthetics of Plato, but also the rhetorician and allegorist, and developed his aesthetic views from studies of existing Greek art ( drama , epic, music , sculpture, painting). His attempt to determine the dialectic of essence and appearance and their relationship to artistic beauty became fundamental to the history of aesthetics . In Aristotle's work, artistic reproduction does not apply to the individual object remaining in the conspicuous. It is directed towards its essence and law, towards the tendency of nature in the formation of the object. Its idealization according to its character is therefore the artistic task. Thanks to their good solution, the work of art always becomes something beautiful, even if the reproduced object is not more beautiful than the ordinary ( tragedy ) or even less than this ( comedy ). In addition to this relationship of the artistic beauty to the artistically reproduced object, Aristotle considers qualities of the beautiful to be given which are inherent in its sensual existence (proportions, order, determinacy). At the same time Aristotle tries to grasp the connection between the good and the beautiful. Art serves to stimulate certain feelings and their catharsis (purification), noble delight and relaxation. He saw this primarily as the fact that artistic action was “playing through” alternatives, “as it could be”, not obligated to factual truth ( mimesis ). The artistically showing representation is therefore paradigmatic - mimesis means the "imitative representation of the acting person".

Late antiquity

Proportion scheme of the human figure after Vitruvius sketch by Leonardo da Vinci , 1485/90, Venice, Galleria dell 'Accademia

In late antiquity , Neoplatonism , especially in its systematization by Plotinus (204–270), occupies a special position. This allows the intelligible world to emerge step-by-step from the spiritual-divine All-One, from this, also in steps, the matter, which in this “descent” is increasingly judged negatively as the imperfect, also the primordial plain: “Everything that is already perfect begets and creates a lesser ". So that the soul (through knowledge or virtue) can participate in the highest beauty, it must free itself from its negativity , ascending from the sensuality . Plotinus, too, developed an idea of ​​salvation that pointed to the Christian Middle Ages. With his epistemology , Plotinus aimed against Epicurean materialism just as his ethics were directed against the collapse of the Roman Empire and also his project of an ideal city of Platonopolis, for which he also found interest in the emperor Gallienus . In contrast to Plato, art had a higher status in his system. It can be formed as a reflection of what is perfect and a reference to it, even if the contradiction of a weaker reflection of “intelligible beauty” remains. Yet art could produce beauty through the mastery of matter through the idea.

Roman aesthetic thinking is characterized by the summary of ancient ideas (e.g. Vitruvius on architecture and town planning ), as is the continuation of reflections on the relationship between nature and art (Horace, Ars poetica ), on the various theorems on Beautiful, for the z. B. Seneca explained as the ultimate cause "the working reason , and this is the working deity". The question of conveying the particular and the general, of the past and the present, etc. also preoccupied the early Christian authors. Paul ( Galatians 4:24) founded the allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament and New Testament (allegory), it was developed as a possible multiple sense of writing, especially by Origen in the 3rd century, although it has been contested since then (already John Chrysostom , who wrote the literary - emphasized the historical meaning of the Bible texts).

middle Ages

Portal of the
Notre-Dame de Chartres cathedral

Medieval aesthetics counted painting and sculpture as well as handicrafts to the artes mechanicae , which serve everyday life. Therefore, the fine arts are treated in the context of technology (as already in Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville ; † 636). Art was therefore seen as the skill of working on a material and fulfilling a purpose . This purpose was usually to symbolize an absolute reality metaphorically in such a way that a strong emotion is triggered in the viewer that can change his life.

Theoretically , the Schedula diversarium artium leads beyond the technical encyclopedia of Isidore . In the topographical and literary description of works of art, with the aftermath of antiquity and especially in Byzantium, there was interest in the beautiful shape.

The 2nd Council of Nicea confirmed in 787, in connection with the question of images, that the painters only do the ars , i.e. the craft, while ingenium and traditio , i.e. the creative part, are contributed by the church clients to the work of art. This conception of the relationship between artist and client retained fundamental importance throughout the Middle Ages. Architecture occupies a special position, which is closer to the scientific disciplines of the seven liberal arts, although it serves a practical purpose.

The foundations of medieval aesthetics, which remained valid until the 14th century, were established by early Christian thinkers such as Origen (185-254), Augustine (354-430) and Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita (late 5th to early 6th centuries) in the Christian confrontation with late ancient Neo-Platonism. On the one hand, they perceived everything sensuous as falling away from God, on the other hand they asserted an analogy between transcendent and material being, between divine and earthly beauty. This resulted in the most important principles:

  1. The earthly visible things are "dissimilarly similar" images of the invisible divine truths (Pseudo-Dionysius: imago dissimilis ): Pseudo-Dionysius explained, using the example of the sunbeam, how an increasingly dense matter affects the emanation of divine light until it only darkens , can appear in puzzles. The sensual “image” is of less importance than the supersensible “archetype” that is symbolically represented in it. The ranking also played a role in the relationship between ecclesiastical culture and art. For a long time the Eucharist , relics , cult room and device were granted a higher level of being, knowledge and beauty than the fine arts, whose cultic function was controversial in the early Middle Ages due to the Old Testament ban on images . Basil the Great (330–379) and John Chrysostomos (344 / 349–407) valued the pictures as room decorations, as a means of remembering biblical history and as instruction for the uneducated.
  2. Allegorical conception of beauty as an analogy of the highest beauty of God: Beauty is an objective quality of being, the artist ( artifex ) does not create it, he only has to emphasize it.
  3. The beautiful is equated with the categories of the true and the good. Since beauty is defined as perfection, beauty also has the smallest things, including matter itself, including evil and ugliness, because they have their place in the hierarchically ordered totality of creation.
  4. The “ anagogical ” conception of art. Abbot Suger of St. Denis (1081–1151): "The weak spirit rises to truth through the material". By contemplating ( contemplatio ) the works of art in which the artifex has brought out the objective existing beauty, the human mind can be led to understand the supersensible world. Ultimately, in this conception, sensual perception is assigned a higher value than rational knowledge. Richard von St. Viktor († 1173) sets contemplatio as the highest form of knowledge over cogitatio (thinking) and meditatio ( thinking ). Therefore art, although counted as a craft, is even superior to the sciences , since it makes the universally intelligible visible to man, which remains inaccessible to his understanding.
  5. The didactic conception of the work of art. In addition to the function of making the invisible visible, the instructive aim of art, directed towards earthly life, played a major role, its conception as “memoria rerum gestarum” (remembrance of the events), the end of the 6th century Gregory the Great and 791 the Libri Carolini (II, 10) formulated. It justifies and demands nature-imitating and narrative representations in order to explain to the audience the world order, the place of all things and people in it, as well as the desired behavior. According to Bernhard von Clairvaux (1090–1153), art should "hold up light to the spirit, form for morals, punishment for sins , piety for emotions, discipline for the senses".
  6. Throughout the Middle Ages, the main component of the beautiful is the beauty of material light as the image of spiritual light. The Neoplatonic metaphysics of light was determined by Johannes Scotus Eriugena (approx. 810 to after 877) in his translation and interpretation of Pseudo-Dionysius for the European Middle Ages. In beauty as luminosity, the objective beauty of matter (provided it is shiny, translucent, reflective) and the technical processing of matter by the artist, who had to make it as luminous as possible, are combined. The appreciation of gold, bright colors, gemstones and materials such as alabaster and rock crystal, especially the color glazing of the Gothic sacred buildings, is related to the metaphorical perception of light.
Light-flooded room: the choir of the Prague Cathedral
“Madonna im Rosenhag”, around 1448, mixed media on wood, Cologne , Wallraf-Richartz-Museum

In the course of the development from patristic to scholasticism and beyond, the theories differentiated themselves as part of the theological controversies, especially between philosophical nominalism and realism. In the conception of artistic beauty, on the one hand the rational and on the other hand the emotional-mystical accents increased, and there was a growing awareness of aesthetic independence (the Schedula diversarum artium (Roger von Helmarshausen), around 1060/90, is theoretically based on a technical encyclopedia beyond). The most important criteria of beauty were light and colors, the variety of parts in the whole, which also includes the careful observation and reproduction of natural reality. Bernhard von Clairvaux had already set an ideal of beauty of calm and simplicity against the Dionysian-Augustinian imago dissimilis with the terms rationalis species and spiritualis effigies , which corresponded to the theological concept of love mysticism (see mysticism ) instead of the previous idea of ​​the punishing judge god and above all to each other who used light metaphysics (union of the enlightened soul with the highest light). On the other hand, proportions based on mathematical relationships played no role in the Middle Ages and only reappeared in the transition from the late Middle Ages to the Renaissance in the course of the rediscovery of ancient architectural aesthetics.

Light and colors are at Hugh of St. Victor (1096-1141) in the center , where he the variety and diversity of perceptible beauty emphasized as opposed to the highest divine beauty ( multiplicatio et variatio universorum ), which is also the scientific knowledge the Cathedral of Chartres corresponded.

With Thomas von Aquin (1224 / 1225–1274) there is an (Aristotelian influenced) classical ideal of beauty of clarity, balance and order. Claritas , perfectio , proportio are his criteria for the beautiful that evokes the satisfaction of perceiving knowledge in people, based on the consciously designed form, which has to be clear and definite. The separation of the categories good and beautiful, the assessment of the beauty of matter in terms of its purpose, are the essential innovations compared to the traditional understanding.

In addition to the Dominican rationalism of Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura (1221–74) represented a conception of beauty as light, which, according to Franciscan emotionality, is understood as the lead of the soul to God, i.e. in the anagogical sense. What they both have in common, however, is the theory of realistic images, which have to bring things and events closer to the viewer's senses in a classically disciplined manner by being as close to nature as possible. This activates the old principle of the memoria rerum gestarum and at the same time bridges the gap to the perfect "visualization" of the Renaissance .


The mediation can be found in the theory and practice of Dante (1265-1321) and the other Florentine writers of the Trecento. In the Renaissance a qualitatively new level of art and aesthetics became visible. Its basis was the beginning, drawn-out transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era, in Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries it was based on the development of pre- and early capitalist relationships (these more likely in the 14th than in the 15th century) of a highly developed urban bourgeoisie (especially Florence and Venice ), which also included aristocratic elements. The new art and aesthetics served his revolutionary attempt at emancipation from the traditional, above all feudal conditions, his tendency to be “cosmopolitan” resulting from life's activities and the “need to exist” contradicting socio-economic and political developments and events.

Reality was their starting point and destination in the interests of the practically active and responsible individual. Its various needs corresponded not only to a diverse art that is increasingly based on experience, but also to a far-reaching and richly structured aesthetic and art theory:

Palladio Villa Capra "La Rotonda" in Vicenza
  • In them, as in the practice of many artists (especially Leonardo da Vinci ), despite the advancing general division of labor and the increasing specialization of artists, the complexity of the objectification of human essential forces was preserved, also in relation to practical-useful production. The architect, painter, philosopher and poet Leon Battista Alberti , the most versatile systematic theorist of the Italian Renaissance, with recourse to Vitruvius, understood architecture as building par excellence and taking into account functionality, technical solidity and sensual effect. The same universal basic relationship to reality was represented by Leonardo, Dürer , Michelangelo and others. a. as an artist and as a theorist.
  • All art theoretical thinking was directed towards the perfection of man and society, just as humanism was to a high degree moral teaching, both sides reflected on the relationship between vita activa and vita contemplativa and human behavior in general. So beauty and harmony in art were not understood as an end in themselves, but as a means, as a paradigm for this perfection, measure and order as an expression to help bring it about. All considerations, u. a. in Leonardo's (historically limited) attempt to determine the typical, to the dialectic of essence and appearance in the beautiful, the dignity of man and the role of personality applied with a strong humanistic certainty . In his writings, Alberti treats ideal ideas for the visual arts as well as for architecture and the city (ideal city), for the individual, for the family and for society as a whole. Such ideal ideas were found among others. a. also reflected in the glorification of great personalities of different times ( Uomini illustri ).
  • Originated u. a. From philosophical nominalism, the high esteem of visible reality, especially of nature, was driven on in various ways in the 15th century. Leonardo explained that the visual arts have to do with the "forms and appearances of nature". Painting focuses on the visible world, on color, shape, light and form of objects, while science, on the other hand, focuses on the interior of the body. This important distinction carries on insights from Aristotle and Lucretius. The reflections that characterize the aesthetics of the Renaissance about the imitation of reality, about the "medium size" in the beautiful, its proportions, the beauty of light and shadow etc. apply to the scientific clarification of the presumed "legally beautiful", its basis in nature Is accepted. So Leonardo thought that the painter's mind should be like a mirror . On the other hand, he knew that the artist only creates the beautiful in art who also takes into account what the “public reputation” considers beautiful. Dürer formulated similar thoughts with the words that art is in nature, but the painter must be full of pictures inside (see Rise from sensual to intelligible beauty according to Pico della Mirandola's 'Commento sopra una canzona d'amore', 1486, in Melencolia § I .: 'angelo terrestre per sei gradi'). The precise considerations on the typical, as well as on the dialectic of essence and appearance, also belong here. In this way, however, the imitation theory of the Renaissance consciously also reflects the opposition between subject and object, in that both “similarity” was demanded and “added beauty” (Alberti). Art perfects nature through imagination and invenzione (inventiveness) or the artist discovers the inner (divine) essence of nature. This also results in the artist's high esteem as alter deus, deus in terris , especially in the Neoplatonic ideas, but also among theological theorists such as Nikolaus Cusanus . For the Florentine Neo-Platonist Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) this could come to a head to the idea of ​​the beautiful as a triumph over nature, beautiful is that object that resonates most perfectly with the (divine) idea of ​​the beautiful. His Theologia platonica designs a harmoniously ordered world, permeated by the divine splendor of the beauty that can be experienced through the Platonic amor intellectualis . Particularly in the Neoplatonic ideas, the artist was ascribed the (ambivalent) creative melancholy .
  • This is how the new position of the artist emancipating himself from the guild shackles was established; his mimetic ability is his ability to express himself, which makes use of inventiveness and rhetorical styles. In this respect it also became possible and necessary to work out the teachable aspects of art (e.g. in the treatises on perspective, proportions, anatomy , etc., among others in Alberti, Piero della Francesca or Leonardo). This also included the expansion of the iconography through the increased resumption of ancient material from history and mythology. According to Alberti, the painter should acquire the education through familiarity with rhetors and poets, which enables him to represent such istoriae . At the same time, a basis was created for the hierarchy of genres and genres, which was especially developed by the academies, and the dispute over the rank of the arts ( Paragone ) was also established.
  • The humanistic ideals were contradicting esoteric and elitist views. For intellectual separation from the mass of the people, a. Characteristic of the fact that only a few ideal city projects envisaged residential areas for craftsmen (Leonardo reserved roads that were subordinate to the people and used for the movement of goods). The tendency to give greater space to the ideal increased towards the end of the 15th century.

Development after the Renaissance

Aesthetics and art theories after the Renaissance are characterized by contradicting, opposing and intertwined socio-economic, political and cultural phenomena and movements: absolutism and court society or the demarcation from them, development of early capitalism, revolutions (Holland, England), Reformation and Counter-Reformation ( not least due to the protracted picture dispute in the 16th century), rise of the sciences and philosophical rationalism , deeper and more conscious foundation of human practice on experience.


Parmigianino: Madonna with the long neck

The crisis-ridden changes and the new position of the emancipated artist or artist who was once again taken into court service were reflected in mannerism. In his theory those Renaissance traditions were first emphasized, which put the imagination, the invention, also the learning of the artist and the disegno interno (the inner "image") over the imitation of nature, the disegno esterno . In the contest of pictorial art with the poetry that was Ut pictura poesis of Horace often reversed in "a painting is like a poem." On the one hand, it promoted subjectivism and emphasized the “artificial” of art, on the other hand, shape and color imagination and efforts to increase expression received strong impulses (e.g. Tintoretto , El Greco ).

Reformation and the consequences

Against the forced intrinsic value of art rose, z. Partly religiously motivated, also critical voices. It also had consequences for the new understanding of art that the reformers initially relied on words and scripts rather than images ( Calvin : "If you want to be properly instructed, you have to learn what you need to know about God elsewhere than with images") . At the same time, the new attention to the human senses, experiences and affects and their critical reflection (beginning with the humanists of the 16th century such as Erasmus of Rotterdam ; in counter-Reformation sensualism ( Ignatius von Loyola ; Theresa von Ávila ); in philosophical thought up to Descartes and Spinoza ; in emblematics, etc.).

As a result of all changes and controversies, the rhetorical power of the image, its illusionism and artistic invention was re-established, each with different accentuations of docere, permovere, delectare (teaching, moving, enjoying ). Through the Catholic Counter-Reformation emphasis was placed on visual didactics and finally on sensualistic overpowering; Polemics against profane and lascivious representations such as those around the Tridentine Council had only limited effect.

Johannes Vermeer: Allegory of Painting , 1665

The full development of the fictitious pictorial principle, illusionism in particular, led theorists who dealt with an art “after life” to discussions about the essence and meaning of this “mirror of nature, that of things that are not there are, pretended and deceived in a legally pleasurable and laudable manner ”(van Hoogstraten 1678). Not only did Dutch artists see themselves as “imitators of life ... because they bring you closer to natural things” (Philips Angel, 1641), but they also knew that they wanted to please the “minds of art lovers”. For the religious picture there was also the high awareness of the “effect on the eye through painting”: “Nobody could deny that a well-painted picture strongly promotes devotion and mood” (Zuccari, 1607).

All authors reflected on the relationship between appearance and reality , between truth and probability, on the artistic techniques of persuasion (persuasion), especially the rhetorical artifacts to create this. Artists like Poussin referred in their art to the ancient theory of modes, which brought visual art into relation to music and poetry theory , but also rhetoric and even architectural theory .



Orangery of the Palace of Versailles

GP Bellori (around 1615–1696) summarized the classicistic art theory of Italy since the High Renaissance. He started out from Christian Neoplatonic ideas when he saw the most perfect archetypes (ideas) in God, which the artists come close to by “developing a concept of higher beauty in their imagination” and “forming the natural beauty to perfection through the idea ”. At the same time, he should follow the advanced development and recognize different kinds of beauty. Bellori's writings show the increased familiarity with the aesthetic thinking of Aristotle , whose concept of mimesis he strives for, but does not go beyond the contemporary contradiction between imitation of nature and “embellishment that transcends nature” (M. Fontius). Only in the 18th century did people become more aware of the difference between “mimesis” and “imitation”. Bellori's reflection on probability is also neo-Aristotelian. The absolutistic regulation of life influenced the art processes. It expresses itself in artistic projects where one main motif dominates all other elements. According to this point of view, mathematically strict (rational) forms were used (e.g. the extremely axial and mirror-correct symmetry of absolutist palace complexes such as Versailles , the analogue artistic order of the baroque garden, especially the French one).


The development of the French academy under the presidency of Charles Lebrun and the discussions he initiated about the rules of art were significant for aesthetics and art theory . Two protracted debates are particularly significant: the so-called “Querelles des anciens et modern” and the dispute between the Poussinists and Rubenists.

The first-mentioned controversy was about the relationship between the present (at the height of French absolutism) and the (overpowering) ancient heritage. Charles Perrault et al. a. tried to put this into perspective, while Nicolas Boileau (1636–1711) a. a. Representatives of the opposition (the “Noblesse du Robe”) defended the ancient ideal and thereby normatively derived beauty from artistic beauty. This mixed up the dispute over sensitivity in general. Perrault argued in the name of common sense in 1692 and wrote an Apology des femmes , which Boileau rejects, who was far more close to Descartes' rationalism. Following the example of the French academy, normative-classicist ideas also spread in other European countries (Germany: Johann Christoph Gottsched ; Russia: Wassili Tredjakowski ).

The dispute between the Poussinists and Rubenists, which also lasted for decades and was fought inside and outside the Paris Academy, was also about the validity or relativity of norms. On the question of the priority of drawing or color, the debate about an absolutist statecraft or an art more beneficial to the individual was carried out. The writings of Roger de Piles , which defended sensualism, gained particular importance on the side of the Rubenists, who finally won the day at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries . Finally, in 1719, the Abbé Du Bos was able to reject the instructive function of art in favor of touching, the official representation (whose main criterion was gravitas ) in favor of individual taste and the application of art to " sensation " ("Réflexions sur la poésie et la peinture" ). This established aesthetic ideas that corresponded to the art of the Régence and the Rococo.

This complex process of developing the senses in the encounter with reality , unrestricted or rationally controlled or morally criticized sensuality had been prepared since the Renaissance. The immediately captured appearance was artistically developed and understood as an element of a moving context. Thus the painterly took the place of the linear or plastic determinateness of the phenomena customary in the Renaissance, the color and the light were aesthetically captured directly as elements of existence , i.e. not primarily directly as object properties. That was a new step in the sensual-emotional confrontation with reality . Rembrandt's work is particularly impressive evidence of this.


Francis Bacon

Important art theoretical attempts at this development were also made in England. As a natural philosopher , Francis Bacon (1561–1626) understood beauty as an objective property of nature. He was so consistent that he opposed the idealized and regular determinateness and thus the "abstractness" of the beautiful of the High Renaissance with the thesis of the "unusualness of proportions" in the beautiful. This view resulted both from the increased insight into the diversity of reality and from the dynamic change of its appearances (and the desire to classify them); it also corresponded to the increasing liberation of the natural individual in his diversity and without idealizing, elite exaggeration of personality.



The Earl of Shaftesbury

The Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) is considered the leading art theorist of the English Enlightenment . He was convinced of the real existence of the world, but denied matter any element of order and formation and declared the direct sensory experience to be ugly. He identified the beautiful, the good, the true and explained them together with order and proportionality as a reflex of the spirit or the world soul. So he took up Plato's thoughts and also said that the human soul demands order and proportions. With this and with the declared unity of good, true, beautiful, he underlined the role of the responsible person with regard to the beautiful. He thought everyone was capable of beauty. That is why he placed great value on the educational task (effect) of the aesthetic or art.


Baron de Montesquieu

Shaftesbury and John Locke (1632–1704) had a great influence on the aesthetics of the French Enlightenment and on German art theory in the second half of the 18th century. In France, Locke's empirical sensualism is particularly evident in Montesquieu (1689–1755). This established a connection between beauty and taste and consequently defined the latter as the ability to quickly and precisely determine the type and extent of enjoyment that any object gives people. Montesquieu made a distinction between the enjoyment that a practically useful quality of an object triggers and the impression of beauty that a not directly useful object causes, but he saw no fundamental difference between the two. Montesquieu, too, attributed a desire for order and symmetry to the human soul, as well as for diversity and contrast. He believed it only existed in ancient art, so he followed the path of the classicists. Like the English theorists, Montesquieu based his investigations into beauty on psychological statements. At the same time, he saw this connected with social conditions.


Denis Diderot

Also Denis Diderot (1713-84) continued the English Enlightenment, especially at Shaftesbury. He opposed the aesthetics represented in the absolutist field and by classicism with a materialist conception: "The perception of relationships [is] the basis of the beautiful" and "everyday nature was the first model of art". In doing so, Diderot understood the whole of reality by “nature”, including social existence, and particularly focused on the study of man with all of his social, ethical, etc. components. For him, artistic appropriation was related to scientific acquisition. For both, truth is the goal: it is achieved through agreement of the judgment or (in the beauty) of the picture with the matter. According to this factual (object) relatedness, which was a progressive attitude after the illusionism of the Baroque and towards the normative aesthetics of form of the classicists, Diderot saw the line as the decisive aesthetic quality of form in the fine arts, so it remained firmly attached to the classicists (but studying antiquity at best as a means of learning to see nature). The color was not negated, but Diderot had no relation to its specificity and meaning as a sensory experience. Like many of his contemporaries, he lagged behind the achievements of e. B. Dutch painting of the 1st half of the 17th century. Diderot postulates the just human being as the basis for his harmony between the individual and society.



In pre-revolutionary France, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) decidedly based on the fundamental, more precisely: political equality of all people. Only in it did the natural appear to him and thus the truth achieved, both of which are at the mercy of corruption or falsification as a result of the socialized, bourgeois way of life.

In the treatise on the question: Has the resurgence of the sciences and arts contributed to the purification of morals? From 1750, Rousseau criticized the dependence of artists and cultural workers on the oligopoly of the client (court, church princes, patrons). Under the rule of absolute absolutism, artists are subjected to the structural constraints of alienated work, which essentially consisted of decorating the palaces of the rulers. And only “true” geniuses were allowed to work freely and creatively.

Rousseau campaigned for a democratic, popular art. He characterized her as natural and simple and yet at the same time as manly and strong beauty. He considered the content and the line as its main aesthetic medium to be decisive. The ideal-emotional content of painting is concentrated in it; only this gives life to the color. However, the line is not primarily intended as a fixation of facts, but as a carrier and reflex of the feeling that Rousseau opposed to ratio and considered important together with nature. The appreciation of the natural feeling was a correlate to the growing scientific-rational appropriation of reality. His emphasis on emotions included opposition to the absolutist order and the artificiality of their art.


Immanuel Kant uses the term in his Critique of Pure Reason (1787) in the original Greek sense of the word “perception”. By his “ Transcendental Aesthetics ” he understands the principles of sensual perception that underlie the human cognitive process regardless of experience ( a priori ). He comes to the conclusion that the ideas of space and time are necessary prerequisites for the perception of objects and that these must therefore already be given to the human being before the experience. Also the ability to recognize shape , i.e. H. the ability to order the world that can be experienced (“the manifold”) according to certain conditions is a priori in man.

In contrast, Kant dealt with the subject of aesthetics as the theory of the beautiful and sublime in the Critique of Judgment as a doctrine of aesthetic judgment.

Edmund Burke

The Irish-British writer Edmund Burke led his published in 1757 font A philosophical inquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful (German: Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful ), the first time the concept of the "sublime" as an aesthetic category alongside that of the beautiful, which Kant took over from him.

Germany since the Enlightenment

Title page of the “Thoughts” by Winckelmann, 2nd edition, 1756

The views in parts of the German Enlightenment ( Christian Fürchtegott Gellert , Johann Georg Sulzer ) were directed towards the moral function of art . The latter emphasized in the "General Theory of Fine Art" (1773–1775):

"Their purpose is to lively stir the minds, and in their application they have the exaltation of the mind and heart for attention ... to stimulate virtue".

Around 1770 Goethe turned against this narrowing view.

Inspired by the valuable achievements of the English and French Enlightenment, the aesthetics of the German Enlightenment detached itself from its tendency towards the unhistorical and wanted to understand art as a sensual expression of the life of the peoples, which had become historical. Like literature in the Enlightenment and Classics, aesthetics was an instrument in the striving for emancipation of the “3rd Standes ".

Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768) took the first significant step towards this . His longing for a free fatherland was combined with a rejection of feudal fragmentation. By studying classical Greek art he became convinced that the first reason for their greatness was freedom . This idea exerted a decisive influence on the emergence of the aesthetic views Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) and Herders (1744–1803), who declared art as a world and national gift and not as a privilege of individual "preferred spirits".


Johann Gottfried von Herder

On the basis that art is the image of life, Herder examined its specific character and recognized that it presupposes the real sensory activity of humans and the sensual effect of real objects. The beautiful in art must therefore be examined from the side of active human sensuality and from the side of the beautiful in the object. Both are linked in the artistic form, which as a beautiful form is at the same time a sensual phenomenon of the true and the good. That is why Herder called the form the essence of art and defined the beautiful as an essential form of the thing, which in the aesthetic judgment ultimately also includes a moral and conceptual-logical form.

In his main aesthetic work, Kalligone , Herder rejects the abstract subjectivism of Kant's aesthetics, for whom what pleases without interest and without a concept is beautiful. Herder, on the other hand, develops the idea that every sense consists in enjoying one's object and at the same time affirms itself. In Kant's system, only ornaments , arabesques, wallpaper patterns and aesthetics were capable of "free beauty", since only they are disinterested and do not presuppose any concept of what the object should be. For Herder, art is always enjoyment, because through it people “perceive everything of the same kind without losing anything specific, with idealistic joy”. Herder's realization that the truth of life of an artistic figure depends on how far one succeeds in seeing in her "the ground that describes the whole genre", was an aesthetically formulated new insight in which the revolutionary development up to the French Revolution had knocked down. Herder therefore expressly acknowledges Diderot's point of view in 1794 that individuality remains ultimately subject to social relationships.


Goethe, Color Circle for the Symbolization of Human Spiritual and Spiritual Life, 1809

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832) called the art “image of life”, “preliminary sensation of the world”, “spiritual-practical-mechanical method” or “spiritual-sensual” method of appropriating reality. In order to do justice to this, art is subject to laws that clearly distinguish it from the general aesthetic relationship of man. Everything in a work of art should be comprehensible, nourishing, educational and uplifting for the senses and the spirit. This distinguishes the specifically aesthetic aspect of the work of art from the aesthetic aspect of nature, including all objects that humans produce outside of artistic creation. The artist appropriates reality spiritually and practically by striving not to produce a natural work, but a completed work of art.

Goethe condemned the tendency to isolate art from nature and the basic questions of society and to prescribe a second, mysterious, higher world for it as an object. In his opinion, art must give strength and courage to survive the struggles of life; his respect for the living and natural and his historical sense made those periods of art seem valuable to him.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) understood history as a process of self-generation, the overall work of humans. The first stage, in which the absolute as human consciousness grasps itself and brings it to perception and sensation, is for Hegel art; H. knowledge in the form of the sensual and objective, the second religion as “devotion to the interior related to the absolute object”, the third and highest philosophy .

Hegel declared that not every truth could become an object of art. For this it is necessary that they potentially carry the possibility of the transition to the form of the sensual-concrete in order to be able to grasp the artistic beauty as an ideal. Herder had already defended himself in 1770 against the innumerable emerging “aesthetics”, the abstractions of which led away from the arts rather than towards them. Herder's “Sculpture” and Lessing's “ Laocoon ”, on the other hand, would be orientations towards the peculiarity of the art forms compared to a speculative concept of aesthetics and “art”.


Schiller (by FG ​​Weitsch, 1804)

Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805) dealt with the subject in his treatise “ On the aesthetic education of man ”. In this he differentiates between the ideally beautiful and the real beautiful (“beauty of experience”). In his view, these two forms are opposed to each other.

He divides the real beauty into “melting” and “energetic” beauty, which serve different functions. The “melting” beauty, the beauty in the narrower sense, is supposed to unite the two basic human drives “sensuality” and “reason”, while the “energetic” beauty, the sublime, is supposed to stabilize them, whereby both have to act reciprocally, thus neither on the one hand “softening” and on the other hand “hardness” arises, but both are balanced.

The “ideally beautiful”, however, is not tied to a specific purpose, it finds no truths or fulfills obligations. Instead, it creates a transition as it can only be known with the mind when felt simultaneously with the senses. “Ideal” beauty is “sincere” and “independent”, it neither fakes reality nor does it need it to be effective. As an “aesthetic culture”, the ideally beautiful leads people into an “aesthetic” state, an intermediate state between the two extremes of the basic instincts. In this way, according to Schiller, man reaches an ideal state in which he experiences his greatest possible personal freedom, since the two basic instincts “sensuality” and “reason” are balanced. The highest human good happens to him because he is neither forced by the nature of his “sensuality” nor by “reason”.

According to Schiller, this transition to the ideal state is only possible through "aesthetic play" and the enjoyment of real art that is neither performing nor representative. The human being should be able to use the effect of real art to check whether it is real and to bring him into an aesthetic state through enjoyment. However, as Schiller emphasizes, humans must also be able to perceive them.


In contrast to the aesthetics of the German Classic, the Romantics drew conclusions from the development of the economic division of labor and the formation of bourgeois society and its rationality , which they viewed as the upside-down world. Based on different philosophical roots (including Fichte's subjective idealism ), in the extreme up to a kind of theosophy ( Novalis , Friedrich Schlegel ), they often saw "imagination, fantasy, feeling, intuition as decisive organs of knowledge" (W. Heise). Against the prose of everyday life, they set the poetic, identical with the romantic.

Caspar David Friedrich ,
"Abbey in the Eichwald (monk burial in the oak grove)" (1810)

Wackenroder's pouring out of the heart of an art-loving monastery brother (1797), as well as Wackenroder and Tieck's fantasies about art, saw this redemption and religion as a renewed foundation of art. Likewise, the classicist Schlegel, who initially had a republican mindset, turned to the abandoned "heights and castles" in 1803 using the example of the Wartburg , "Art seems lost". With the appreciation of the imagination as a refuge for subjectivity , Romanticism also differs from the Enlightenment aesthetics, where Sulzer still characterized it as “in itself reckless, dissolute and adventurous like the dreams that are their work”.

After that, however, Kant had already shown a positive way to determine the (transcendental) imagination, and in Wilhelm von Humboldt's work it was bound to art, it “presents nature to us in a new form”. In FWJ Schelling's system of transcendental idealism , in particular , the active subject is emphasized ("the I ... as producing itself"), which is perfectly represented in the art product: this is

"The productive view that is repeated to the highest degree ... the only thing by which we are able to think and summarize the contradicting - the imagination".

Art as "abbreviation of work" and again as a refuge for human identity. Since then, in aesthetic thinking in aesthetic activity, the contradiction between theory and practice as the only possible human meaning has been resolved (among others, Nietzsche).

Heinrich Heine deliberately created a reference to the epoch when he spoke of the end of the classical "art period", but meant that

"The new time ... also (will) give birth to a new art ... which no longer needs to borrow its symbolism from the faded past and which even has to produce a new technology".

Heine emphasized the sensualist. Creator. Subjectivity as a “dreaming mirror image of time” also against the renewed conception of art as an imitation of nature (Rumohr): “In art I am a supernaturalist”. This should u. a. Charles Baudelaire refer to ("Salon de 1846"). In fact, all modern issues of aesthetics and art theory have been forming since around 1830: around L'art-pour-l'art and l'art engagé (or utile ), around artistic subjectivity and its autonomy or the social function of art Sensualism and its trivialization and therefore ascetic rejection, for and against modernity (modernism), for individual self-realization and / or social emancipation, for realism, etc.


The question of the relation to reality of poetry is discussed in realism with the concept of imitation or mimesis . This central category is of Greek origin and was understood in various ways: On the one hand, Plato in his writing Politeia expresses himself generally critical of poetry. Only able to imitate the empirical world, which he in turn understood only as a representation of ideas (cf. Platonic allegory of the cave), poetry becomes a representation of the second order and is thus far from true knowledge. Plato's pupil Aristotle, on the other hand, sees the idea as an immanent educational principle of beings. So the idea is the ideal of being and everything that is possible. However, it cannot always be realized in the empirical world by chance. Poetry alone, as the central medium of knowledge, is able to grasp and imitate these ideas, i.e. the ideal educational principle underlying all beings.

The program of realism does not follow the Aristotelian concept, as is often assumed, but rather the view of Plato, who fundamentally criticizes imitation. Poetry should neither imitate reality nor that which underlies reality in the form of ideas, but rather create a new reality itself. Literature is supposed to be an expression of creative subjectivity that uses reality only as material. Reality should then be "aesthetically recoded" when it enters literature, so that the real is transformed into an aesthetic construct. As a result, literature is no longer “heteronomous”, that is, subordinate to reality, but rather “autonomous”, that is, independent and based on the productive power of the subject.

19th century

The history of aesthetics in the 19th century is finally marked by the disintegration of classical systems.

The tendency towards subjectivism popularized the teaching of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), who pessimistically judged life in a world as will and idea . Sören Kierkegaard (1813–55) attempted a turn that anticipated existentialism by raising the individual above the general public .

The main factors by which the development of aesthetics is moved and through which it arrives at its concrete historical content are:

  1. the real development of the arts in the 20th century and the position of society towards them.
  2. the general dependence of aesthetics on the conceptions, theories and methods of philosophy.

Pioneers of aesthetics at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries are: Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801–87), the founder of psychological aesthetics, who elevated aesthetics “from below” to a principle and thus rejected philosophical aesthetics; Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911), whose method of “understanding” developed for the humanities became the stimulus for contemporary hermeneutics .


Bacchus, painting by Rubens

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) opposed Schopenhauer's pessimism with an ambiguous (Dionysian) activism, against irrationalism and feeling the desire for the grand style that arises “when the beautiful triumphs over the monstrous”. Nietzsche initially regarded Richard Wagner as the perfecter of aesthetics, but broke with Wagner even before his Christian opera Parsifal .


In addition, at the turn of the century, various variants of Neo-Kantianism (including the revitalization of Fichtean ideas), which found their way into the most diverse currents, via Windelband and Rickert and others, worked a. into the aesthetic value theories, some of which were directed against the penetration of scientific thinking into aesthetics, among the so-called formalists (Charles F. Bell, Roger Fry , E. Souriau), or into the formulation of symbol theory (man as producer of Signs and symbols, art as intuition , expression and imagination, etc.), which was particularly influenced by Ernst Cassirer on the formulation of iconology (Warburg circle around Erwin Panofsky ).

20th century

Philosophy and social sciences

In the 20th century, social philosophy increasingly focused on the social function of aesthetics. In this case, it is hardly about the original question of beauty, but rather about the social role of art and style. In particular, the critical theory of art dealt with the revolutionary potential. Herbert Marcuse and Theodor W. Adorno dedicated central works to the topic, while Adorno's last book is entitled Aesthetic Theory . In the late twentieth century, the problems and phenomena of art created by postmodernism moved to the center of aesthetic philosophy. This also includes the changes that go hand in hand with the reproducibility of works of art, as with Walter Benjamin , the blurring of the boundaries between popular and high culture, the dissolution of traditional style boundaries, the media specifics and the specific social production conditions.

Aesthetics as a sales argument for consumer goods such as automobiles

The social sciences have also discovered aesthetics as a topic. They break away from reducing aesthetics to art, but rather describe the aestheticization of the everyday world, from design to architecture , political culture and scientific aesthetics .

Aesthetics as a subject of empirical research

Since the 20th century there have been various attempts to explore beauty and aesthetics using scientific methods. This includes B. the information aesthetics from the second half of the 20th century, which eventually gave birth to cognitive aesthetics . Scientists in this direction consider the information processing in our brain to be the decisive factor in determining the beauty of an object. Objects with a certain - but not too great - complexity that stimulate our brain and stimulate pattern formation, but do not overwhelm it, are therefore beautiful.

Approaches that were motivated by semiotics and that viewed aesthetic processes primarily as drawing processes had a more lasting effect . Nelson Goodman's book Languages ​​of Art was pioneering . The focus here is on questions such as: What distinguishes aesthetic and especially artistic from other drawing processes? Are there certain types of relationships between signs and what they signify that lead to aesthetic experiences? This approach also addressed specific aesthetic problems such as the ugliness paradox .

The evolutionary aesthetics again tried our preferences for certain colors, shapes, landscapes or faces evolutionary psychology to explain. It is assumed that what was good for our ancestors was programmed into our genetic make- up as a preference .

Neuroscientific research tries to find out what happens in the brain when we find something “beautiful”. Previous studies clearly indicate that there is no isolated “beauty center” in the brain, but that different areas of the brain contribute to the perception of beauty. This includes in particular regions that belong to the so-called “reward system”, such as the nucleus accumbens and the orbitofrontal cortex (which is younger in terms of development), which generally plays an important role in decision-making and judgment processes. Scientists from various disciplines try to combine such neuroscientific findings with artistic experiences ( neuroesthetics ).

Pop culture in the 21st century

On the TikTok video portal, users exchange ideas about aesthetics, some of which are niche.

Name of the aesthetic meaning
Cottage core Return to nature
Light Academia Enjoying the little things in life
Dark Academia Opposite of Light Academia, self-discovery, passion for knowledge and learning

See also


Philosophy bibliography : Aesthetics - Additional references on the topic

Introductions to Philosophical Aesthetics

Lexicon article

reference books

  • Michael Kelly (Ed.): Encyclopedia of aesthetics. 4 volumes. Oxford University Press, New York, NY et al. 1998 - online at Oxford Art Online
  • Karlheinz Barck (Ed.): Aesthetic basic terms: historical dictionary in seven volumes. Metzler, Stuttgart et al. 2000-2005, ISBN 3-476-02353-2 .
  • Wolfhart Henckmann, Konrad Lotter (Hrsg.): Lexicon of aesthetics. 2nd, expanded edition. Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-52138-X .
  • Achim Trebeß (Ed.): Metzler Lexicon Aesthetics: Art, Media, Design and Everyday Life. Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-476-01913-6 .
  • Hans Rainer Sepp, Lester Embree (Ed.): Handbook of Phenomenological Aesthetics. (= Contributions To Phenomenology. Vol. 59). Springer, Dordrecht / Heidelberg / London / New York 2010, ISBN 978-90-481-2470-1 .

Overview of the history of aesthetics

Aesthetics in Education

  • Norbert Kühne , Peter Hoffmann : Understanding reality and reinventing it - promoting aesthetic awareness and design. In: Katrin Zimmermann-Kogel, Norbert Kühne (Ed.): Practical book social pedagogy - working materials and methods. Bildungsverlag EINS, Troisdorf 2007, ISBN 978-3-427-75411-4 , pp. 93-119.
  • Peter Sitte : Aesthetics as a basic value in education. In: Martin Lindauer , Winfried Böhm (ed.): “Not much knowledge saturates the soul”. Knowledge, recognition, education, training today. (= 3rd symposium of the University of Würzburg ). Ernst Klett, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-12-984580-1 , pp. 323-348.

Aesthetics in the film

Aesthetics in Art

  • Mark Greenlee, Christian Wolff, Christoph Wagner (Eds.): Aisthesis. Perceptual processes and forms of visualization in art and technology. (= Regensburg studies on art history. Volume 12). Schnell & Steiner Verlag, Regensburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-7954-2241-7 .
  • Christoph Wagner : 'Kolorit' and 'Farbe' as categories of the history of aesthetics. In: Jakob Steinbrenner, Oliver Jehle, Christoph Wagner (Hrsg.): Colors: in art and humanities. (= Regensburg studies on art history. 9). Schnell & Steiner Verlag, Regensburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-7954-2243-1 , pp. 94-121.

Text collections

  • Marco Schüller (Ed.): Texts on Aesthetics. An annotated anthology . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2013, ISBN 978-3-534-24645-8 .

Web links

Commons : Aesthetics  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Aesthetics  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
More general overview displays
History of aesthetics
More special

Individual evidence

  1. ^ AG Baumgarten: Theoretical Aesthetics. The basic sections from the "Aesthetica" (1750/58). Translated and edited by Hans Rudolf Schweizer. Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1983.
  2. Rosario Assunto : The theory of the beautiful in the Middle Ages. Cologne 1982, p. 26 f.
  3. Assunto 1982, p. 22 f.
  4. J.-J. Rousseau: Discourse on Inequality. Discours sur l'inégalité. Critical edition of the integral text. With all fragments and additional materials based on the original editions and the manuscripts, newly edited, translated and commented by Heinrich Meier. Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, Paderborn et al. 1990, 2nd through. u. exp. Ed.
  5. J.-J. Rousseau: Writings on cultural criticism (The two discourses of 1750 and 1755). Introduced, translated and edited by Kurt Weigand. 4th edition, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1983.
  6. Audra Schroeder: Everybody's talking about their aesthetic on TikTok. March 12, 2020, accessed August 11, 2020 .
  7. Cottagecore. Retrieved August 11, 2020 .
  8. ^ Light Academia. Retrieved August 11, 2020 .
  9. ^ Dark Academia. Retrieved August 11, 2020 .