Text by Rick McVicar
Inquiries into how art impacts humanity has been a part of Western culture since the ancient Greeks.
For instance, both Plato and Aristotle wrote about the meaning of art. Entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describe how Plato denigrated art, especially poetry, while Aristotle found art to be virtuous. The Plato entry was published June 19, 2012 while the Aristotle entry was posted on Dec. 3, 2021.
For Plato, “Art, mostly as represented by poetry, is closer to a greatest danger than any other phenomenon Plato speaks of, while beauty is a greatest good,” the encyclopedia states.
Plato is known for his concept of ideal Forms found in pure reality. Objects on earth imitate those Forms. Beauty is one such Form and is related to goodness. Beauty is occasionally found by Plato to be imitated by paintings and music, but never by poetry.
In opposition, Aristotle found intrinsic value in art, drama and poetry. The value of the arts does not depend on any type of association with anything else. Further, the experience of beauty is only felt by humans and not by any other creature.
Aristotle went on to write about how memory plays a role in interpreting and critiquing art.
“Having experience or knowledge of music or any kind of art allows one to be a good judge of music or any kind of art,” the encyclopedia states.
While the study of the arts' meaningfulness has been around for several centuries, a name for it was not determined until 1735. That word, “aesthetics,” was first used by Alexander Baumgarten, according to the Oxford Bibliographies, “History of Aesthetics,” Oct. 25, 2012. Baumgarten associated the study of art with the study of beauty.
After Baumgarten’s work on the subject, aesthetics became a scientific endeavor as well as a philosophical pursuit.
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