Aesthetics

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All art preserves mysteries which aesthetic philosophers tackle in vain. ~ Anthony Burgess

Aesthetics (also æsthetics or esthetics), is a branch of philosophy dealing with the essence, meanings and purposes of art, beauty, and taste, and the creation and appreciation of various forms of beauty in art, culture and nature.

Alphabetized by author or source:
A · B · C · D · E · F · G · H · I · J · K · L · M · N · O · P · Q · R · S · T · U · V · W · X · Y · Z · Anon · External links

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  • The story of English literature, viewed aesthetically, is one thing; the story of English writers is quite another. The price of contributing to the greatest literature the world has ever seen is often struggle and penury: art is still too often its own reward.
    • Anthony Burgess, in English Literature : A Survey for Students (1958, revised 1974).

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Edward Dmytryk: Most important of all, the film's dramatic requirements should always take precedence over the mere aesthetics of editing.
  • That said, we don't approach these improvements as only a surface aesthetic. The producers and we think that these men are helped with their inner needs when they pay attention to their externals.

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R. Buckminster Fuller:Let architects sing of aesthetics that bring Rich clients in hordes to their knees; Just give me a home, in a great circle dome Where stresses and strains are at ease.
No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literacy or artistic expression. ~ Richard Feynman

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Art must be grasped in terms of creators and producers, not recipients. ~ Martin Heidegger
  • This is precisely what is decisive in Nietzsche’s conception of art, that he sees it in its essential entirety in terms of the artist; this he does consciously and in explicit opposition to that conception of art which represents it in terms of those who “enjoy” and “experience” it. That is a guiding principle of Nietzsche’s teaching on art: art must be grasped in terms of creators and producers, not recipients. Nietzsche expresses it unequivocally in the following words (WM, 811): “Our aesthetics heretofore has been a woman’s aesthetics, inasmuch as only the recipients of art have formulated their experiences of ‘what is beautiful.’ In all philosophy to date the artist is missing.” Philosophy of art means “aesthetics” for Nietzsche too — but masculine aesthetics, not feminine aesthetics. The question of art is the question of the artist as the productive, creative one; his experiences of what is beautiful must provide the standard.

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The great work of art is the complete banality, and the fault with most banalities is that they are not banal enough. ~ Asger Jorn
The goal changes from the general to the individual from need to wish, from ethics to aesthetics. ~ Asger Jorn
To make the material speak to man in the name of man, this is the aim and reality of art. ~ Asger Jorn
  • The great work of art is the complete banality, and the fault with most banalities is that they are not banal enough. Banality here is not infinite in its depth and consequence, but rests on a foundation of spirituality and aesthetics.
  • There can be no question of selecting in any direction, but of a penetrating the whole cosmic law of rhythms, forces and material that are the real world, from the ugliest to the most beautiful, everything that has character and expression, from the crudest and most brutal to the gentlest and most delicate; everything that speaks to us in its capacity as life. From this it follows that one must know all in order to be able to express all. It is the abolition of the aesthetic principle. We are not disillusioned because we have no illusions; we have never had any. What we have and what is our strength, is our joy in life; our interest in life, in all its amoral aspects. That is also the basis of our contemporary art. We do not even know the laws of aesthetics. That old idea of selection according to the beauty-principle Beautiful — Ugly, like to ethical Noble — Sinful, is dead for us, for whom the beautiful is also ugly and everything ugly is endowed with beauty. Behind the comedy and the tragedy we find only life's dramas uniting both; not in noble heroes and false villains, but people.
    • Asger Jorn, in Intimate Banalities (1941)
    • Variant translations:
    • What we possess and what gives us strength is our joy in life, our interest in life in all its amoral facets. This is also the foundation for today's art. We do not even know the aesthetic laws.
    • We are not disillusioned because we have no illusions; we have never had any. What we have, and what constitutes our strength, is our joy in life, in all of its moral and amoral manifestations.
  • In contrast to Breton we believe that — behind the false ethical and aesthetic, indeed metaphysical understandings which are out of contact with the vital interest of "man" — we find the real, the materialistic ethics and aesthetics. One includes our needs, the other is an expression of our sensual desires. It is exactly in order to liberate the true ethics and the true aesthetics that we make use of "automatism."
  • The law of aesthetics is the same as the law for our desire… Need says: "You must eat." Aesthetics says: "You can do it in a thousand different ways." Ethics: "You need a woman." Aesthetics: "Which woman do you want?" Thus the purpose of art is first and foremost ethical than aesthetic — even when the wish becomes need. The goal changes from the general to the individual from need to wish, from ethics to aesthetics.
  • This is what aesthetics, development and progress depend upon: that we go out on thin ice.
    • Asger Jorn, on the task of modern artists (1959), as quoted in Asger Jorn (2002) by Arken Museum of Modern Art, p. 169.
  • We have defined art as the life form and aesthetic art as the life renewal: the stimulating, animating, agitating, inspiring, inspirational, fermenting, fascinating fanaticising, explosive and outrageous: the renewal of the unknown.
    • Asger Jorn, in a statement of 1963, as quoted in Asger Jorn (2002) by Arken Museum of Modern Art, p. 52.
  • If you add something to a painting, never let it be for aesthetic reasons. Only let it be for reasons of expression.
    • Asger Jorn, in a statement to his friend Pierre Alechinsky, between 1965-1970, as quoted in Asger Jorn (2002) by Arken Museum of Modern Art, p. 115.
  • To make the material speak to man in the name of man, this is the aim and reality of art.
    • Asger Jorn, in a statement of 1971, as quoted in Asger Jorn (2002) by Arken Museum of Modern Art, p. 145.

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  • A’s papers contain a number of attempts to formulate an aesthetic philosophy of life. A single, coherent, aesthetic view of life can scarcely be carried out. B’s papers contain an ethical view of life. As I let this thought sink into my soul, it became clear to me that I might make use of it in choosing a title. The one I have selected precisely expresses this. The reader cannot lose very much because of this title, for while reading the book he may perfectly well forget the title. Then, when he has read the book, he may perhaps reflect upon the title. This will free him from all finite questions as to whether A was really convinced of his error and repented, whether B conquered, or if it perhaps ended by B going over to A’s opinion. In this respect these papers have no ending.
  • People flock about the poet and say to him: do sing again; Which means, would that new sufferings tormented your soul, and: would that your lips stayed fashioned as before, for your cries would only terrify us, but your music is delightful. And the critics join them, saying: well done, thus must it be according to the laws of aesthetics. Why, to be sure, a critic resembles a poet as one pea another, the only difference being that he has no anguish in his heart and no music on his lips. Behold, therefore would I rather be a swineherd on Amager, and be understood by the swine than a poet, and misunderstood by men.

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  • My conception of phantasy, as a genuine art-form, is an extension rather than a negation of reality. Ordinary tales about a castle ghost or old-fashioned werewolf are merely so much junk. The true function of phantasy is to give the imagination a ground for limitless expansion, and to satisfy aesthetically the sincere and burning curiosity and sense of awe which a sensitive minority of mankind feel toward the alluring and provocative abysses of unplumbed space and unguessed entity which press in upon the known world from unknown infinities and in unknown relationships of time, space, matter, force, dimensionality, and consciousness. This curiosity and sense of awe, I believe, are quite basic among the sensitive minority in question; and I see no reason to think that they will decline in the future — for as you point out, the frontier of the unknown can never do more than scratch the surface of eternally unknowable infinity. But the truly sensitive will never be more than a minority, because most persons — even those of the keenest possible intellect and aesthetic ability — simply have not the psychological equipment or adjustment to feel that way. I have taken pains to sound various persons as to their capacity to feel profoundly regarding the cosmos and the disturbing and fascinating quality of the extra-terrestrial and perpetually unknown; and my results reveal a surprisingly small quota.
    • H. P. Lovecraft, in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith (17 October 1930), quoted in Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters edited by S.T. Joshi, p. 213.

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A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. ~ George MacDonald‎
One difference between God's work and man's is, that, while God's work cannot mean more than he meant, man's must mean more than he meant. ~ George MacDonald‎
My tales may not be roses, but I will not boil them. ~ George MacDonald‎
  • A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, on the other hand, is so far from being a work of art that it needs THIS IS A HORSE written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it do not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much.
  • A fairytale, a sonata, a gathering storm, a limitless night, seizes you and sweeps you away: do you begin at once to wrestle with it and ask whence its power over you, whither it is carrying you? The law of each is in the mind of its composer; that law makes one man feel this way, another man feel that way. To one the sonata is a world of odour and beauty, to another of soothing only and sweetness. To one, the cloudy rendezvous is a wild dance, with a terror at its heart; to another, a majestic march of heavenly hosts, with Truth in their centre pointing their course, but as yet restraining her voice. The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended.
    I will go farther. The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is — not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself. The best Nature does for us is to work in us such moods in which thoughts of high import arise. Does any aspect of Nature wake but one thought? Does she ever suggest only one definite thing? Does she make any two men in the same place at the same moment think the same thing? Is she therefore a failure, because she is not definite? Is it nothing that she rouses the something deeper than the understanding — the power that underlies thoughts? Does she not set feeling, and so thinking at work? Would it be better that she did this after one fashion and not after many fashions? Nature is mood-engendering, thought-provoking: such ought the sonata, such ought the fairytale to be.
  • "But a man may then imagine in your work what he pleases, what you never meant!"
     Not what he pleases, but what he can. If he be not a true man, he will draw evil out of the best; we need not mind how he treats any work of art! If he be a true man, he will imagine true things: what matter whether I meant them or not? They are there none the less that I cannot claim putting them there! One difference between God's work and man's is, that, while God's work cannot mean more than he meant, man's must mean more than he meant. For in everything that God has made, there is layer upon layer of ascending significance; also he expresses the same thought in higher and higher kinds of that thought: it is God's things, his embodied thoughts, which alone a man has to use, modified and adapted to his own purposes, for the expression of his thoughts; therefore he cannot help his words and figures falling into such combinations in the mind of another as he had himself not foreseen, so many are the thoughts allied to every other thought, so many are the relations involved in every figure, so many the facts hinted in every symbol. A man may well himself discover truth in what he wrote; for he was dealing all the time with things that came from thoughts beyond his own.
  •  "But surely you would explain your idea to one who asked you?"
    I say again, if I cannot draw a horse, I will not write THIS IS A HORSE under what I foolishly meant for one. Any key to a work of imagination would be nearly, if not quite, as absurd. The tale is there, not to hide, but to show: if it show nothing at your window, do not open your door to it; leave it out in the cold. To ask me to explain, is to say, "Roses! Boil them, or we won't have them!" My tales may not be roses, but I will not boil them.
    So long as I think my dog can bark, I will not sit up to bark for him.
  • If there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it. Let fairytale of mine go for a firefly that now flashes, now is dark, but may flash again. Caught in a hand which does not love its kind, it will turn to an insignificant, ugly thing, that can neither flash nor fly.
    The best way with music, I imagine, is not to bring the forces of our intellect to bear upon it, but to be still and let it work on that part of us for whose it exists. We spoil countless precious things by intellectual greed. He who will be a man, and will not be a child, must — he cannot help himself — become a little man, that is, a dwarf. He will, however, need no consolation, for he is sure to think himself a very large creature indeed.
    If any strain of my "broken music" make a child's eyes flash, or his mother's grow for a moment dim, my labour will not have been in vain.

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Friedrich Nietzsche: For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable; intoxication. Intoxication must first have heightened the excitability of the entire machine: no art results before that happens.

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  • Scientific understanding is often beautiful, a profoundly aesthetic experience which gives pleasure not unlike the reading of a great poem.

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Paul Rand: Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions; there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated.

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The universe was made on purpose, the circle said. … In the fabric of space and in the nature of matter, as in a great work of art, there is, written small, the artist’s signature. ~ Carl Sagan
  • The universe was made on purpose, the circle said. In whatever galaxy you happen to find yourself, you take the circumference of a circle, divide it by its diameter, measure closely enough, and uncover a miracle — another circle, drawn kilometers downstream of the decimal point. There would be richer messages farther in. It doesn't matter what you look like, or what you're made of, or where you come from. As long as you live in this universe, and have a modest talent for mathematics, sooner or later you'll find it. It's already here. It's inside everything. You don't have to leave your planet to find it. In the fabric of space and in the nature of matter, as in a great work of art, there is, written small, the artist’s signature. Standing over humans, gods, and demons, subsuming Caretakers and Tunnel builders, there is an intelligence that antedates the universe.

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  • The taste of the more recent accessions to the leisure class proper and of the middle and lower classes still requires a pecuniary beauty to supplement the aesthetic beauty, even in those objects which are primarily admired for the beauty that belongs to them as natural growths.
  • In aesthetic theory it might be extremely difficult, if not quite impracticable, to draw a line between the canon of classicism, or regard for the archaic, and the canon of beauty.

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The World and Life are one. … Ethics and Aesthetics are one. ~ Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • Importance of animal aesthetics and its understanding to human aesthetics has been largely ignored, despite its significance to Darwin.... Darwin suggested the aesthetic possibilities of odors, songs, “antics”, especially ornaments of [such as] the most brilliant tints, combs and wattles, beautiful plumes, elongated feathers, top-knots and so forth.
    • Wolfgang Welsch quoted in “Darwin and Theories of Aesthetics and Cultural History”, p. 11.

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External links[edit]

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