“What is Beauty?” YouTube, uploaded by CNN, 16 Mar. 2018.
What is beauty?
In 2018 CNN made a brief video tracing how women’s beauty has been defined over time and how those perceptions of beauty “leave women in constant pursuit of the ideal.” How have perceptions of beauty changed over time? How do those definitions apply to things beyond women’s beauty? Rory Corbett addresses beauty from an interesting perspective in his essay, “What is Beauty?” in which he notes that, “beauty is not just a visual experience; it is a characteristic that provides a perceptual experience to the eye, the ear, the intellect, the aesthetic faculty, or the moral sense. It is the qualities that give pleasure, meaning or satisfaction to the senses, but in this talk I wish to concentrate on the eye, the intellect and the moral sense.” What does the author mean by “the moral sense”? How does Corbett’s essay expand your thinking of what beauty is?
Art and the Aesthetic Experience
Beauty is something we perceive and respond to. It may be a response of awe and amazement, wonder and joy, or something else. It might resemble a “peak experience” or an epiphany. It might happen while watching a sunset or taking in the view from a mountaintop, for example. This is a kind of experience, an aesthetic response that is a response to the thing’s representational qualities, whether it is man-made or natural (Silverman). The subfield of philosophy called aesthetics is devoted to the study and theory of this experience of the beautiful; in the field of psychology, aesthetics is studied in relation to the physiology and psychology of perception.
Aesthetic analysis is a careful investigation of the qualities which belong to objects and events that evoke an aesthetic response. The aesthetic response is the thoughts and feelings initiated because of the character of these qualities and the particular ways they are organized and experienced perceptually (Silverman).
The aesthetic experience that we get from the world at large is different than the art-based aesthetic experience. It is important to recognize that we are not saying that the natural wonder experience is bad or lesser than the art world experience; we are saying it is different. What is different is the constructed nature of the art experience. The art experience is a type of aesthetic experience that also includes aspects, content, and context of humanness. When something is made by a human, people know that there is some level of commonality and/or communal experience.
Why aesthetics is only the beginning in analyzing an artwork
We are also aware that beyond sensory and formal properties, all artwork is informed by its specific time and place or the specific historical and cultural milieu it was created in (Silverman). For this reason people analyze artwork through not only aesthetics, but also, historical and cultural contexts. Think about what you bring to the viewing of a work of art. What has influenced the lens through which you analyze beauty?
How we engage in aesthetic analysis
Often the feelings or thoughts evoked as a result of contemplating an artwork are initially based primarily upon what is actually seen in the work. The first aspects of the artwork we respond to are its sensory properties, its formal properties, and its technical properties (Silverman). Color is an example of a sensory property. Color is considered a kind of form and how form is arranged is a formal property. What medium (e.g., painting, animation, etc.) the artwork is made of is an example of a technical property. These will be discussed further in the next module. As Dr. Silverman, of California State University explains, the sequence of questions in an aesthetic analysis could be: what do we actually see? How is what is seen organized? And, what emotions and ideas are evoked as a result of what has been observed?
Corbett, J Rory. “What Is Beauty?: Royal Victoria Hospital, Wednesday 1st October 2008.” The Ulster Medical Journal, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699193/.
Ginsburg, Anna. “What Is Beauty? .” YouTube, CNN, 16 Mar. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5utnc_yspSo.
Silverman, Ronald. Learning About Art: A Multicultural Approach. California State University, 2001. Web. 24, June 2008.
“What is Beauty?” YouTube, uploaded by Merav Richter, 16 Mar. 2.
Questions to consider: What has influenced the lens through which you analyze beauty?