Aesthetics involves an area of philosophy which deals with art. There was a
time when aesthetics could have been simply defined as "the philosophy of
the beautiful," however, philosophers came to realize that art was not
always concerned with beauty and working beyond issues of form (elements,
principles, etc...), the content of a work often depended upon the life and
times of the artist, as well as, that which had come before the particular
body of work being examined. Aesthetic issues were expanded and have
included a string of ongoing theories concerning art, the role of an artist
in society, cultural influences upon artists and art making, etc. etc. etc.
Aesthetics has come to be thought of as the study of the visual, literal,
and expressive qualities of a work of art and the study of the viewer's
response to that art. As a branch of philosophy we could say that it is
concerned with the qualities of art that create aesthetic responses. It is
concerned with the unique nature of art.
Art criticism is a different process involving the skill of judging a work
of art. There are many theories concerning the correct process one should
use to judge a work of art. Most of them include such steps as description,
analysis, interpretation and then judgment.
Description - When confronting an art object, one must look closely and take
a sort of mental inventory of the subject matter, the various objects and
parts of the work. You are to slow down and try to notice as much as you
can. Try to see things about the work which you might have missed if you
had not taken the time to look closely.
Analysis - After the initial long look at the work, your next step is to
continue to look at the work closely but begin to notice the elements and
principles and their role in the creation of the composition. Back in the
60s we used to speak of the work as being and organic or living unit with
each part supporting the whole, the unit. It is in the analysis phase that
one begins to discover those formal compositional qualities in the work.
Interpretation - Now you are ready to try to discover what is really
happening in the work. You can try to figure out what the artist is trying
to say. You are looking for content or meaning in the creation. This is
probably the most difficult step in the process of criticism.
Judgment - At last, you are in a position to try to judge if the work was
successful or if the artist failed in her (or his) task. At this point you
can offer an opinion, you can state that you either like or dislike the
work. You need to be honest with yourself and try to come to some kind of
conclusion about the work in your own mind.
The problem with all of this is that there are many theories behind the
process of judging art. For example, was the objective to imitate something
in the real world? Was that important to the work? What role were the
elements and principles supposed to play? Was the artist supposed to create
something of beauty? Was there supposed to be a formal organization to the
work? Was the work supposed to have been an expression of an emotion? Was
the art object supposed to have been a functional object as well as a work
Then if you really want to get into the middle of the thing, you can begin
to try to decide if there are unchanging rules concernig the value of art
which can be applied to all art through all ages, or do we need to try to
considere the changing values and accept everything as valid simply because
the artist has the a right to be expressively creative without concern for
tradition and past standards of quality? Do we need to try to find a middle
ground where there are standards but there must also be some freedom to
explore and invent new methods of visual communicaiton? Such is the world of
art criticism. ugh!
Hope this helps,
Robert Fromme <rfromme> or <rfromme>