Aesthetic Judgement

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Judgments of aesthetic value rely on our ability to discriminate at a sensory level. Aesthetics examines our affective domain response to an object or phenomenon. Immanuel Kant, writing in 1790, observes of a man “If he says that canary wine is agreeable he is quite content if someone else corrects his terms and reminds him to say instead: It is agreeable to me,” because “Everyone has his own (sense of) taste”. The case of “beauty” is different from mere “agreeableness” because, “If he proclaims something to be beautiful, then he requires the same liking from others; he then judges not just for himself but for everyone, and speaks of beauty as if it were a property of things.”

Aesthetic judgments usually go beyond sensory discrimination. For David Hume, delicacy of taste is not merely “the ability to detect all the ingredients in a composition”, but also our sensitivity “to pains as well as pleasures, which escape the rest of mankind.” (Essays Moral Political and Literary. Indianapolis, Literary Classics 5, 1987.) Thus, the sensory discrimination is linked to capacity for pleasure. For Kant “enjoyment” is the result when pleasure arises from sensation, but judging something to be “beautiful” has a third requirement: sensation must give rise to pleasure by engaging our capacities of reflective contemplation. Judgments of beauty are sensory, emotional and intellectual all at once.

Viewer interpretations of beauty possess two concepts of value: aesthetics and taste. Aesthetics is the philosophical notion of beauty. Taste is a result of an education process and awareness of elite cultural values learned through exposure to mass culture. Bourdieu examined how the elite in society define the aesthetic values like taste and how varying levels of exposure to these values can result in variations by class, cultural background, and education.[70] According to Kant, beauty is subjective and universal; thus certain things are beautiful to everyone.[71][citation needed] The contemporary view of beauty is not based on innate qualities, but rather on cultural specifics and individual interpretations.[citation needed]

Factors involved in aesthetic judgment
Rainbows often have aesthetic appeal.

Judgments of aesthetical values seem often to involve many other kinds of issues as well. Responses such as disgust show that sensory detection is linked in instinctual ways to facial expressions, and even behaviors like the gag reflex. Yet disgust can often be a learned or cultural issue too; as Darwin pointed out, seeing a stripe of soup in a man’s beard is disgusting even though neither soup nor beards are themselves disgusting. Aesthetic judgments may be linked to emotions or, like emotions, partially embodied in our physical reactions. Seeing a sublime view of a landscape may give us a reaction of awe, which might manifest physically as an increased heart rate or widened eyes. These unconscious reactions may even be partly constitutive of what makes our judgment a judgment that the landscape is sublime.

Likewise, aesthetic judgments may be culturally conditioned to some extent. Victorians in Britain often saw African sculpture as ugly, but just a few decades later, Edwardian audiences saw the same sculptures as being beautiful. Evaluations of beauty may well be linked to desirability, perhaps even to sexual desirability. Thus, judgments of aesthetic value can become linked to judgments of economic, political, or moral value.[72] In a current context, one might judge a Lamborghini to be beautiful partly because it is desirable as a status symbol, or we might judge it to be repulsive partly because it signifies for us over-consumption and offends our political or moral values.[73]

Aesthetic judgments can often be very fine-grained and internally contradictory. Likewise aesthetic judgments seem often to be at least partly intellectual and interpretative. It is what a thing means or symbolizes for us that is often what we are judging. Modern aestheticians have asserted that will and desire were almost dormant in aesthetic experience, yet preference and choice have seemed important aesthetics to some 20th-century thinkers. The point is already made by Hume, but see Mary Mothersill, “Beauty and the Critic’s Judgment”, in The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics, 2004. Thus aesthetic judgments might be seen to be based on the senses, emotions, intellectual opinions, will, desires, culture, preferences, values, subconscious behavior, conscious decision, training, instinct, sociological institutions, or some complex combination of these, depending on exactly which theory one employs.
Are different art forms beautiful, disgusting, or boring in the same way?

A third major topic in the study of aesthetic judgments is how they are unified across art forms. We can call a person, a house, a symphony, a fragrance, and a mathematical proof beautiful. What characteristics do they share which give them that status? What possible feature could a proof and a fragrance both share in virtue of which they both count as beautiful? What makes a painting beautiful is quite different from what makes music beautiful, which suggests that each art form has its own language for the judgement of aesthetics.[74]

At the same time, there is seemingly quite a lack of words to express oneself accurately when making an aesthetic judgment. An aesthetic judgment cannot be an empirical judgement. Therefore, due to impossibility for precision, there is confusion about what interpretations can be culturally negotiated. Due to imprecision in the standard English language, two completely different feelings experienced by two different people can be represented by an identical verbal expression. Wittgenstein stated this in his lectures on aesthetics and language games.

A collective identification of beauty, with willing participants in a given social spectrum, may be a socially negotiated phenomenon, discussed in a culture or context. Is there some underlying unity to aesthetic judgment and is there some way to articulate the similarities of a beautiful house, beautiful proof, and beautiful sunset?[75] Defining it requires a description of the entire phenomenon, as Wittgenstein argued in his lectures on aesthetics. Likewise there has been long debate on how perception of beauty in the natural world, especially perception of the human form as beautiful, is supposed to relate to perceiving beauty in art or artefacts. This goes back at least to Kant, with some echoes even in St. Bonaventure.[citation needed]

What is “art”?

Harmony of colors

How best to define the term “art” is a subject of constant contention; many books and journal articles have been published arguing over even the basics of what we mean by the term “art”.[76] Theodor Adorno claimed in 1969 “It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident.”[77][78] Artists, philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists and programmers all use the notion of art in their respective fields, and give it operational definitions that vary considerably. Furthermore, it is clear that even the basic meaning of the term “art” has changed several times over the centuries, and has continued to evolve during the 20th century as well.

The main recent sense of the word “art” is roughly as an abbreviation for creative art or “fine art.” Here we mean that skill is being used to express the artist’s creativity, or to engage the audience’s aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience towards consideration of the “finer” things. Often, if the skill is being used in a functional object, people will consider it a craft instead of art, a suggestion which is highly disputed by many Contemporary Craft thinkers. Likewise, if the skill is being used in a commercial or industrial way it may be considered design instead of art, or contrariwise these may be defended as art forms, perhaps called applied art. Some thinkers, for instance, have argued that the difference between fine art and applied art has more to do with the actual function of the object than any clear definitional difference.[79] Art usually implies no function other than to convey or communicate an idea.[citation needed]

Even as late as 1912 it was normal in the West to assume that all art aims at beauty, and thus that anything that wasn’t trying to be beautiful couldn’t count as art. The cubists, dadaists, Stravinsky, and many later art movements struggled against this conception that beauty was central to the definition of art, with such success that, according to Danto, “Beauty had disappeared not only from the advanced art of the 1960’s but from the advanced philosophy of art of that decade as well.”[77] Perhaps some notion like “expression” (in Croce’s theories) or “counter-environment” (in McLuhan’s theory) can replace the previous role of beauty. Brian Massumi brought back “beauty” into consideration together with “expression”.[80] Another view, as important to the philosophy of art as “beauty,” is that of the “sublime,” elaborated upon in the twentieth century by the postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard. A further approach, elaborated by André Malraux in works such as The Voices of Silence, is that art is fundamentally a response to a metaphysical question (‘Art’, he writes, ‘is an ‘anti-destiny’). Malraux argues that, while art has sometimes been oriented towards beauty and the sublime (principally in post-Renaissance European art) these qualities, as the wider history of art demonstrates, are by no means essential to it.[81]

Perhaps (as in Kennick’s theory) no definition of art is possible anymore. Perhaps art should be thought of as a cluster of related concepts in a Wittgensteinian fashion (as in Weitz or Beuys). Another approach is to say that “art” is basically a sociological category, that whatever art schools and museums and artists define as art is considered art regardless of formal definitions. This “institutional definition of art” (see also Institutional Critique) has been championed by George Dickie. Most people did not consider the depiction of a store-bought urinal or Brillo Box to be art until Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol (respectively) placed them in the context of art (i.e., the art gallery), which then provided the association of these objects with the associations that define art.

Proceduralists often suggest that it is the process by which a work of art is created or viewed that makes it art, not any inherent feature of an object, or how well received it is by the institutions of the art world after its introduction to society at large. If a poet writes down several lines, intending them as a poem, the very procedure by which it is written makes it a poem. Whereas if a journalist writes exactly the same set of words, intending them as shorthand notes to help him write a longer article later, these would not be a poem. Leo Tolstoy, on the other hand, claims in his What is art? (1897) that what decides whether or not something is art is how it is experienced by its audience, not by the intention of its creator. Functionalists like Monroe Beardsley argue that whether or not a piece counts as art depends on what function it plays in a particular context; the same Greek vase may play a non-artistic function in one context (carrying wine), and an artistic function in another context (helping us to appreciate the beauty of the human figure). ‘

Marxist attempts to define art focus on its place in the mode of production, such as in Walter Benjamin’s essay The Author as Producer,[82] and/or its political role in class struggle.[83] Revising some concepts of the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, Gary Tedman defines art in terms of social reproduction of the relations of production on the aesthetic level.[84]
See also: Classificatory disputes about art

What should art be like?

Many goals have been argued for art, and aestheticians often argue that some goal or another is superior in some way. Clement Greenberg, for instance, argued in 1960 that each artistic medium should seek that which makes it unique among the possible mediums and then purify itself of anything other than expression of its own uniqueness as a form.[85] The Dadaist Tristan Tzara on the other hand saw the function of art in 1918 as the destruction of a mad social order. “We must sweep and clean. Affirm the cleanliness of the individual after the state of madness, aggressive complete madness of a world abandoned to the hands of bandits.”[86] Formal goals, creative goals, self-expression, political goals, spiritual goals, philosophical goals, and even more perceptual or aesthetic goals have all been popular pictures of what art should be like.
The value of art

Tolstoy defined art as the following: “Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them.” However, this definition is merely a starting point for his theory of art’s value. To some extent, the value of art, for Tolstoy, is one with the value of empathy. However, sometimes empathy is not of value. In chapter fifteen of What Is Art?, Tolstoy says that some feelings are good, but others are bad, and so art is only valuable when it generates empathy or shared feeling for good feelings. For example, Tolstoy asserts that empathy for decadent members of the ruling class makes society worse, rather than better. In chapter sixteen, he asserts that the best art is “universal art” that expresses simple and accessible positive feeling.[87]
This section possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original research should be removed. (December 2012)

Other possible views are these: Art can act as a means to some special kind of knowledge. Art may give insight into the human condition. Art relates to science and religion. Art serves as a tool of education, or indoctrination, or enculturation. Art makes us more moral. It uplifts us spiritually. Art is politics by other means. Art has the value of allowing catharsis. In any case, the value of art may determine the suitability of an art form. Do they differ significantly in their values, or (if not) in their ability to achieve the unitary value of art?

But to approach the question of the value of art systematically, one ought to ask: for whom? For the artist? For the audience? For society at large, and/or for individuals beyond the audience? Is the “value” of art different in each of these different contexts?

Working on the intended value of art tends to help define the relations between art and other acts. Art clearly does have spiritual goals in many contexts, but what exactly is the difference between religious art and religion per se? The truth is complex; art is both useless in a functional sense, and also the most important human activity.[citation needed]

An argument for the value of art, used in the fictional work The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, proceeds that, if some external force presenting imminent destruction of Earth asked humanity what its value was—what should humanity’s response be? The argument continues that the only justification humanity could give for its continued existence would be the past creation and continued creation of things like a Shakespeare play, a Rembrandt painting or a Bach concerto. The suggestion is that these are the things of value which define humanity.[88] Whatever one might think of this claim — and it does seem to undervalue the many other achievements of which human beings have shown themselves capable, both individually and collectively — it is true that art appears to possess a special capacity to endure (“live on”) beyond the moment of its birth, in many cases for centuries or millennia. This capacity of art to endure over time — what precisely it is and how it operates — has been widely neglected in modern aesthetics.[89]
Aesthetic universals

The philosopher Denis Dutton identified six universal signatures in human aesthetics:[90]

Expertise or virtuosity. Humans cultivate, recognize, and admire technical artistic skills.
Nonutilitarian pleasure. People enjoy art for art’s sake, and don’t demand that it keep them warm or put food on the table.
Style. Artistic objects and performances satisfy rules of composition that place them in a recognizable style.
Criticism. People make a point of judging, appreciating, and interpreting works of art.
Imitation. With a few important exceptions like abstract painting, works of art simulate experiences of the world.
Special focus. Art is set aside from ordinary life and made a dramatic focus of experience.

It might be objected, however, that there are rather too many exceptions to Dutton’s categories. For example, the installations of the contemporary artist Thomas Hirschhorn deliberately eschew technical virtuosity. People can appreciate a Renaissance Madonna for aesthetic reasons, but such objects often had (and sometimes still have) specific devotional functions. “Rules of composition” that might be read into Duchamp’s Fountain or John Cage’s 4?33? do not locate the works in a recognizable style (or certainly not a style recognizable at the time of the works’ realisation). Moreover, some of Dutton’s categories seem too broad: a physicist might entertain hypothetical worlds in his/her imagination in the course of formulating a theory. Another problem is that Dutton’s categories seek to universalise traditional European notions of aesthetics and art forgetting that, as André Malraux and others have pointed out, there have been large numbers of cultures in which such ideas (including the idea “art” itself) were non-existent.[91]
Criticism

The philosophy of aesthetics as a practice has been criticized by some sociologists and writers of art and society. Raymond Williams argues that there is no unique and or individual aesthetic object which can be extrapolated from the art world, but that there is a continuum of cultural forms and experience of which ordinary speech and experiences may signal as art. By “art” we may frame several artistic “works” or “creations” as so though this reference remains within the institution or special event which creates it and this leaves some works or other possible “art” outside of the frame work, or other interpretations such as other phenomenon which may not be considered as “art”.

Pierre Bourdieu disagrees with Kant’s idea of the “aesthetic”. He argues that Kant’s “aesthetic” merely represents an experience that is the product of an elevated class habitus and scholarly leisure as opposed to other possible and equally valid “aesthetic” experiences which lay outside Kant’s narrow definition.

History of aesthetics

Any aesthetic doctrines that guided the production and interpretation of prehistoric art are mostly unknown. The civilizations that expressed themselves in ancient art, including Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, Greece, China, the Etruscans, Rome, India, the Celtic peoples, and the Maya, each developed a unique and characteristic style in its art.
Ancient Greek aesthetics

Greece had the most influence on the development of aesthetics in the West. This period of Greek art saw a veneration of the human physical form and the development of corresponding skills to show musculature, poise, beauty and anatomically correct proportions. Furthermore, in many Western and Eastern cultures alike, traits such as body hair are rarely depicted in art that addresses physical beauty.[citation needed] Greek philosophers initially felt that aesthetically appealing objects were beautiful in and of themselves. Plato believed that for us to have a perception of beauty there must be a transcendent form for beauty in which beautiful objects partake and which causes them to be beautiful also. He felt that beautiful objects incorporated proportion, harmony, and unity among their parts. Similarly, in the Metaphysics, Aristotle found that the universal elements of beauty were order, symmetry, and definiteness. An example of ancient aesthetics in Greece through poetry is Plato’s quote: “For the authors of those great poems which we admire, do not attain to excellence through the rules of any art; but they utter their beautiful melodies of verse in a state of inspiration, and, as it were, possessed by a spirit not their own.”[92]
Indian aesthetics

Indian art evolved with an emphasis on inducing special spiritual or philosophical states in the audience, or with representing them symbolically. According to Kapila Vatsyayan, “Classical Indian architecture, sculpture, painting, literature (k?vya), music, and dancing evolved their own rules conditioned by their respective media, but they shared with one another not only the underlying spiritual beliefs of the Indian religio-philosophic mind, but also the procedures by which the relationships of the symbol and the spiritual states were worked out in detail.”

In the Pan Indian philosophic thought the term ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ is another name for the concept of the Supreme. ‘Sat’ is the truth value, ‘Shiv’ is the good value & ‘Sundaram’ is the beauty value. Man through his ‘Srabana’ or education, ‘Manana’ or experience and conceptualization and ‘Sadhana’ or practice, through different stages of life (Ashramas) comes to form and realize the idea of these three values to develop a value system. This Value-system helps develop two basic ideas 1) that of ‘Daksha’ or the adept/expert and 2) of Mahana/Parama or the Absolute and thus to judge anything in this universe in the light of these two measures, known as ‘Adarsha’. A person who has mastered great amounts of knowledge of the grammars, rules, & language of an art-form are adepts (Daksha), whereas those who have worked through the whole system and journeyed ahead of these to become a law unto themselves is called a Mahana. Individuals idea of ‘Daksha’ and ‘Mahana’ is relative to the development of the concept of ‘Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram.’ For example, Tagore’s idea of these two concepts should be above any common man’s and many perceive Tagore as a ‘Mahana’ Artist in the realm of literature. This concept of Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram, a kind of Value Theory is the cornerstone of Indian Aesthetics.

Of particular concern to Indian drama and literature are the term ‘Bhava’ or the state of mind and rasa referring generally to the emotional flavors/essence crafted into the work by the writer and relished by a ‘sensitive spectator’ or sah?daya. Poets like K?lid?sa were attentive to rasa, which blossomed into a fully developed aesthetic system. Even in contemporary India the term rasa denoting “flavor” or “essence” is used colloquially to describe the aesthetic experiences in films; “m?sala mix” describes popular Hindi cinema films which serve a so-called balanced emotional meal for the masses, savored as rasa by these spectators.

Rasa theory blossoms beginning with the Sanskrit text N?tyash?stra (n?tya meaning “drama” and sh?stra meaning “science of”), a work attributed to Bharata Muni where the Gods declare that drama is the ‘Fifth Veda’ because it is suitable for the degenerate age as the best form of religious instruction. While the date of composition varies wildly among scholars, ranging from the era of Plato and Aristotle to the seventh century CE. The N?tyash?stra presents the aesthetic concepts of rasas and their associated bh?vas in Chapters Six and Seven respectively, which appear to be independent of the work as a whole. Eight rasas and associated bh?vas are named and their enjoyment is likened to savoring a meal: rasa is the enjoyment of flavors that arise from the proper preparation of ingredients and the quality of ingredients. What rasa actually is, in a theoretical sense, is not discussed and given the N?tyash?stra’s pithy wording it is unlikely the exact understanding of the original author(s) will be known.

The theory of the rasas develops significantly with the Kashmiri aesthetician Ãndandavardhana’s classic on poetics, the Dhvany?loka which introduces the ninth rasa, sh?nta-rasa as a specifically religious feeling of peace (??nta) which arises from its bh?va, weariness of the pleasures of the world. The primary purpose of this text is to refine the literary concept dhvani or poetic suggestion, by arguing for the existence of the rasa-dhvani, primarily in forms of Sanskrit including a word, sentence or whole work “suggests” a real-world emotional state or bh?va, but thanks to aesthetic distance, the sensitive spectator relishes the rasa, the aesthetic flavor of tragedy, heroism or romance.

The 9th–10th century master of the religious system known as “the nondual Shaivism of Kashmir” (or “Kashmir Shaivism”) and aesthetician, Abhinavagupta brought rasa theory to its pinnacle in his separate commentaries on the Dhvany?loka, the Dhvany?loka-locana (translated by Ingalls, Masson and Patwardhan, 1992) and the Abhinavabharati, his commentary on the N?tyash?stra, portions of which are translated by Gnoli and Masson and Patwardhan. Abhinavagupta offers for the first time a technical definition of rasa which is the universal bliss of the Self or Atman colored by the emotional tone of a drama. Sh?nta-rasa functions as an equal member of the set of rasas but is simultaneously distinct being the most clear form of aesthetic bliss. Abhinavagupta likens it to the string of a jeweled necklace; while it may not be the most appealing for most people, it is the string that gives form to the necklace, allowing the jewels of the other eight rasas to be relished. Relishing the rasas and particularly sh?nta-rasa is hinted as being as-good-as but never-equal-to the bliss of Self-realization experienced by yogis.
Chinese aesthetics

Chinese art has a long history of varied styles and emphases. Confucius emphasized the role of the arts and humanities (especially music and poetry) in broadening human nature and aiding li (etiquette, the rites) in bringing us back to what is essential about humanity. His opponent Mozi, however, argued that music and fine arts were classist and wasteful, benefiting the rich over the poor.

By the 4th century AD artists had started debating in writing over the proper goals of art as well. Gu Kaizhi has left three surviving books on the theory of painting. Several later artists or scholars both created art and wrote about the creation of it. Religious and philosophical influences on art were common (and diverse) but never universal.
African aesthetics
The Great Mosque’s signature trio of minarets overlooks the central market of Djenné. Unique Malian aesthetic

African art has existed in many forms and styles, with relatively little influence from outside Africa. Most of it followed traditional forms; the aesthetic norms were handed down orally as well as textually. Sculpture and performance art are prominent, and abstract and partially abstracted forms are valued, and were valued long before influence from the Western tradition began in earnest. The Nok culture is testimony to this. The mosque of Timbuktu shows that specific areas of Africa developed unique aesthetics.
Arab aesthetics

Arab art for the last 1400 years has taken place under the context of Islam and is sometimes referred to as Islamic art, although many Arab artists throughout time have not been Muslim. The term “Islamic” refers not only to the religion, but to any form of art created by people in an Islamic culture or in an Islamic context, whether the artist is Islamic or not. Not all Muslims are in agreement on the use of art in religious observance, the proper place of art in society, or the relation between secular art and the demands placed on the secular world to conform to religious precepts. Islamic art frequently adopts secular elements and elements that are frowned upon, if not forbidden, by some Islamic theologians.[93] Although the often cited opposition in Islam to the depiction of human and animal forms holds true for religious art and architecture, in the secular sphere, such representations have flourished in nearly all Islamic cultures.

The Islamic resistance to the representation of living beings ultimately stems from the belief that the creation of living forms is unique to God, and it is for this reason that the role of images and image makers has been controversial. The strongest statements on the subject of figural depiction are made in the Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet), where painters are challenged to “breathe life” into their creations and threatened with punishment on the Day of Judgment. The Qur’an is less specific but condemns idolatry and uses the Arabic term musawwir (“maker of forms,” or artist) as an epithet for God. Partially as a result of this religious sentiment, figures in painting were often stylized and, in some cases, the destruction of figurative artworks occurred. Iconoclasm was previously known in the Byzantine period and aniconicism was a feature of the Judaic world, thus placing the Islamic objection to figurative representations within a larger context. As ornament, however, figures were largely devoid of any larger significance and perhaps therefore posed less challenge.[94]

This tendency affected the narrowing field of artistic possibility to such forms of art as Arabesque, mosaic, Islamic calligraphy, and Islamic architecture, as well as any form of abstraction that can claim the status of non-representational art.

Limited possibilities have been explored by artists as an outlet to artistic expression, and has been cultivated to become a positive style and tradition, emphasizing the decorative function of art, or its religious functions via non-representational forms such as Geometric patterns, floral patterns, and arabesques.

Human portrayals can be found in early Islamic cultures with varying degrees of acceptance by religious authorities. Human representation for the purpose of worship is uniformly considered idolatry as forbidden in Sharia law.[95][96]

The calligraphic arts grew out of an effort to devote oneself to the study of the Quran. By patiently transcribing each word of the text, the writer was made to contemplate the meaning of it. As time passed, these calligraphic works began to be prized as works of art, growing increasingly elaborate in the illumination and stylizing of the text. These illuminations were applied to other works besides the Quran, and it became a respected art form in and of itself.

Arabic is written from right to left, like other Semitic scripts, and consists of 17 characters, which, with the addition of dots placed above or below certain of them, provide the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet. Short vowels are not included in the alphabet, being indicated by signs placed above or below the consonant or long vowel that they follow. Certain characters may be joined to their neighbors, others to the preceding one only, and others to the succeeding one only. The written letters undergo a slight external change according to their position within a word. When they stand alone or occur at the end of a word, they ordinarily terminate in a bold stroke; when they appear in the middle of a word, they are ordinarily joined to the letter following by a small, upward curved stroke. With the exception of six letters, which can be joined only to the preceding ones, the initial and medial letters are much abbreviated, while the final form consists of the initial form with a triumphant flourish. The essential part of the characters, however, remains unchanged.[97]
Western medieval aesthetics
Lorsch Gospels 778–820. Charlemagne’s Court School.

Surviving medieval art is primarily religious in focus and funded largely by the State, Roman Catholic or Orthodox church, powerful ecclesiastical individuals, or wealthy secular patrons. These art pieces often served a liturgical function, whether as chalices or even as church buildings themselves. Objects of fine art from this period were frequently made from rare and valuable materials, such as gold and lapis, the cost of which commonly exceeded the wages of the artist.

Medieval aesthetics in the realm of philosophy built upon Classical thought, continuing the practice of Plotinus by employing theological terminology in its explications. St. Bonaventure’s “Retracing the Arts to Theology”, a primary example of this method, discusses the skills of the artisan as gifts given by God for the purpose of disclosing God to mankind, which purpose is achieved through four lights: the light of skill in mechanical arts which discloses the world of artifacts; which light is guided by the light of sense perception which discloses the world of natural forms; which light, consequently, is guided by the light of philosophy which discloses the world of intellectual truth; finally, this light is guided by the light of divine wisdom which discloses the world of saving truth.

Saint Thomas Aquinas’s aesthetic is probably the most famous and influential theory among medieval authors, having been the subject of much scrutiny in the wake of the neo-Scholastic revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and even having received the approbation of the celebrated Modernist writer, James Joyce. Thomas, like many other medievals, never gives a systematic account of beauty itself, but several scholars have conventionally arranged his thought—though not always with uniform conclusions—using relevant observations spanning the entire corpus of his work. While Aquinas’s theory follows generally the model of Aristotle, he develops a singular aesthetics which incorporates elements unique to his thought. Umberto Eco’s The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas identifies the three main characteristics of beauty in Aquinas’s philosophy: integritas sive perfectio, consonantia sive debita proportio, and claritas sive splendor formae. While Aristotle likewise identifies the first two characteristics, St. Thomas conceives of the third as an appropriation from principles developed by neo-Platonic and Augustinian thinkers. With the shift from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, art likewise changed its focus, as much in its content as in its mode of expression.
See also

20th-century Western painting
Art movement
Art periods
Formal analysis
List of aestheticians
List of artistic media
List of art movements
Western art history
Mannerism
Mise en scène
Style (visual arts)

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