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Aesthetics

"Over the past few centuries, the term aesthetics
has come to mean a discourse focusing on the
critique of dominant conceptions of taste and
beauty in the arts. This context for inquiry has led
to the demoralization of an extremely important
field of study. Such a limited conception of the field
of aesthetics oversimplifies the complex role that
our senses play in the formation of our individual
and collective identities. "
- Jackson, 1999, p. 314.


Jackson (1999) defined aesthetics as the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of human sensory experiences - both the classical definition and the basis for contemporary usage. Aesthetics is a discipline dating back to ancient times, considered a viable branch of philosophy, namely the philosophy of art, as well as a descriptive adjective that labels art or any object or event as pleasant to experience.

Aesthetics and art have risen and fallen in importance throughout the ages. During certain periods of history, aesthetics were seen as essential, while at other times it was seen as a mere embellishment - as unimportant. Carroll observed, "Metaphorically speaking, art humanizes the world for us - it presents things to us in a humanly approachable way. It enables us to explore the world of feeling, its contours and its possibilities." (1999, p. 104). He went further to describe art as a means for engendering aesthetic experiences. Lyas (1997) echoed Carroll's views and went further to bemoan the careless treatment of aesthetics in modern education and the media. He described aesthetics as marginalized, as viewed as an optional extra despite the fact that "we know that our encounters with art and nature go not merely wide but also deep, and moreover, go as deep as anything in our lives can go" (Lyas, 1997, p.2).

Contemporary theorists often apply classic and modern aesthetic theory to new media art and imagery. Appreciation of visual design presented via new media programs incorporate the essence of aesthetic experiences through exposure to so-called aesthetic properties and formal functional relationships with content (Carroll, 1999). Aesthetic experience entails the meaning intended by the artist who created a design or art piece and the receptive meaning gleaned by the viewer. Form and content of an image or artwork interrelate to provide meaning for both creator and audience. Personal meaning of art is developed in a unique way but always enters the human mind through perceptive pathways.

Fisher (1997) wrote about the visual as well as the haptic perceptual sense used to engage with and experience art forms. "I am interested in clarifying how the haptic sense works with the visual sense in aesthetic experience, as well as in understanding how both are implicated in each other. While the visual gives trajectories - sightlines - between the viewer and the surfaces of art, the haptic defines the affective charge - the felt dimensionality - of a spatial content" (p. 5). Fisher further clarified that the haptic sense is comprised of the tactile, kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses which functions by contiguity, contact and resonance. Once thought of as a proximal sense, elicited only when the body's surface sensors feel something touching it, Fisher describes it as a distal sense as well. She muses that the haptic sense perceives objects more distant than the boundaries of the skin's surface. It is affective in nature, a "plane of feeling distinct from actual physical contact" (p.6). According to Fisher, both the visual and haptic senses contribute significantly to aesthetic experience. With the advent of new media technologies, aesthetic experience can incorporate stimuli that appeal and engage both of these senses as well as auditory input.

Gregory (1979) adds a thoughtful argument that the visual experience is based on the functioning of a part of the brain that has it's own logic and preferences, which we are just beginning to understand. He contemplates on why certain images and objects appear beautiful while others are distasteful. He points out that perception is an active process of using information to suggest and test hypotheses, which clearly involves learning. Jackson argued that contemporary artwork, graphic design and the deluge of imagery common to our society demand renewed interest in the fields of aesthetics and perception.

"New media technologies are redefining the role of aesthetics in the next century. Within this context, emerging forms of art, such as new media, require aesthetic articulation just as painting and architecture do. The field of contemporary aesthetics is enjoying a revival of interest in light of contemporary discourses in art theory, cultural studies and critical theory (among other areas of inquiry). Aesthetics focuses on how ideas are formed, shared and contested through the senses. However, new media present new challenges for negotiating meaning through sensory input by providing new types of experiences and forms of art production and consumption." (Jackson, 1999, p. 314).

Berger wrote of applied aesthetics that entails the process of creating images to suit the effect we want to make. To do this, the artist or designer needs to know their audience and keep them in mind during the creative process. Applied aesthetics answers questions that relate to utility and intention:

"1. How do we obtain certain desired effects using the basic visual elements we have at our command?

2. How do we best exploit the powers (and deal with the limitations) of whatever medium we are working with?" (Berger, 1989, p. 23).





References

Berger, A. A. (1989). Seeing is believing: An introduction to visual communication. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing.

Carroll, N. (1999). Philosophy of art: A contemporary introduction. New York: Routledge.

Fisher, J. (1997). Relational sense: Towards a haptic aesthetics. Parachute, 87, July - September, p. 4 - 11.

Gregory, R. L. (1979). Eye and brain: The psychology of seeing. 4th ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jackson, T. (1999). Taste and the aesthetics of simulation: Art, technology, and the future.Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society, 28 (4), p. 314.

Lyas, C. (1997). Aesthetics. London, UK: University College London.




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