Art is commonly recognized as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). When applied to an aesthetic value, “art” cannot be as easily contained to this definition; the idea of what constitutes as art or not is largely left up to the viewer’s interpretation. The viewer determines what expectations are created, where the work stands in relation to the physical world – its ontology, and the emotional response provoked by the work.
Throughout this Intro to Aesthetics course, we discussed these ideas in detail and have concluded what the requirements to create an aesthetic work of art are – none. Plato, one of the first renowned philosophers dating back to 422 B. C. , gives a detailed analogy describing art in Allegory of the Cave. In this article, Socrates is said to tell Glaucon about prisoners in a cave, chained and immobile and only able to view shadows of people working behind a screen. This cave represents the physical world, while the shadows represent physical objects and the fire producing the shadows represents the physical sun.
However, when the prisoners in the story look at the actual sun, which is meant to represent the idea of good, they are blinded by it. This is equivalent to in the real world where humans are forced to dilute beauty through imitation, because they are too blinded by the true beauty that is the actuality of events. This is why Plato believes that true beauty and art lie in the unadulterated idea of a subject, rather than the execution of it in the material world. Plato goes deeper into his opposition, possibly so far as to say his hatred, of reproduction in his article Against Imitation.
He places a lot of stress on how pure ideas are the only true reality in the material world. The physical world only exists as an imitation of these ideas and forms, which are always “perfect. ” The example of a carpenter materializing the idea of a bed through wood, then a painter turning the vision of that bed into a painting is used in this article. This is to exploit the uselessness of a bed painting, when the original mental conception of a bed had intent, and its material portrayal had a function.
Once physically replicated, the object becomes lesser and proceeds to lose aesthetic value for every degree of replication it endures. In Plato’s opinion, the physical world is not as real or as beautiful as the ideological world for this notion. On the other hand, Kant, in his article Judgment about the Beautiful, embraces imitation and a human’s representation of reality. Kant addresses, “A beauty of nature is a beautiful thing; beauty of art is a beautiful representation of a thing” (Kant, 410).
This is the opposite spectrum of Plato’s perspective, as Kant sees all stages of an idea; from the conception, to the natural formation, to the replica, as beautiful. In fact, he sees imitation as even more commendable, rather than less, due to the idea being filtered by a human mind, therefore humanizing and materializing it. In a similar vein as Kant’s, Peg Zeglin Brand discusses the role society plays on the conception of artistic ideas in Feminism in Context. He focuses on how criticism and theory behind a piece add context and expectation to it.
Contextual value is a big factor in one’s expectations of and emotional reaction to a work. For example, someone from a wealthy background may perceive one meaning from a work, while one from a lower-class, poverty-stricken background may draw conclusions from a different perspective. Roles in society, cultural values, and the like are all interchangeable variables that apply to this theory. It can be concluded that there is no set code for aesthetics of art, but rather a set of principles and questions that are left to each audience member’s personal interpretation and discretion to answer.
A viewer may be predispositioned, like Plato, to prefer poetry and literature, as they are pure ideas being suspended in eternity by words. Or they may enjoy, like Kant, a seemingly boring sight, such as a landscape, reproduced through the magnificent lens that is the human mind. There is no way to decide what art is, aside from the creator’s judgment. Instead, each viewer is individually equipped to produce an emotional response, or lack thereof, on a case-by-case basis per piece of art.