Aesthetic Theory


  1. The branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the comic, etc., as applicable to the fine arts, with a view to establishing the meaning and validity of critical judgments concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgments.
  1. The study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty.


‘Aesthetics’ as a word has come to be used as a designation for a variety of values, experiences and attitudes as well as objects and judgements.It is mainly used for the critical understanding of art, culture and nature.


Formalism is used within the philosophy of art, the idea that something or a ‘work of art’ is judged based upon the aspect and the ‘rules of that form – the way it is made and its visual elements. Developed within Britain by critic and painter Roger Fry, a painting would be formalistically judged based upon it’s qualities and use of colour, composition, form, line etc. Rather than its previous association with representation.


A belief that art should serve a purpose to have the power to make a ‘change’ in society. The ancient Greeks had no word for art, therefore the most equivalent was the nature of craft, this way objects always served a purpose. Which asks the question can the purpose of an object give aesthetic pleasure?

The Guerrilla Girls are anonymous radical feminists, below their poster was a fight against the MOMA’s exhibition “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture”, which claimed to survey the eras most prominent artists from around the world, none of who were women.

Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989 Guerrilla Girls null Purchased 2003

Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? (Guerrilla Girls, 1989)

Situationism is similar, however is the more direct way of Instrumentalism, acting out e.g. protesting the message or purpose.

Realism & Truth

The idea of this theory is to the understanding of art, people and reality, and that reality has a structure that is of absolute beauty. The concept was developed by Eli Siegel.

Natural ⇨ Beauty ⇨ Realistic ⇨ ‘Good’

A good example is hyperrealism/-reality, where a new social reality is created from models and other materials. It has implications from the idea that it is ‘too much’, everything lyes on the surface without fault or mystery, too perfect to be ‘real’.

In art, it is used to describe high-fidelity realism, which erases the boundaries between reality and art.

Social realism is associated with conveying the idea of the way the World and society is today. It isn’t necessarily ‘real’ but it discusses ideas occurring within real-life.


This theory refers to the art of which is the artist and his inner feelings and/or ideas. It is the most emotional theory, as it concerns the mind and how one is understanding feeling. It asks the question if you can judge based upon an opinion or uncontrollable emotion? Is the judgement quantifiable to the work?


The idea that the meaning and outcome of a work defined purely by the artist’s original intent. This leaves little for others to to understand and interpret by, for this reason the term is often called ‘intentional fallacy‘ – where the belief that the intended meaning of the author is not the only or most significant meaning.

An example of this its the Manifesto of Futurism, which launched the movement Futurism, it spoke of rejecting the past and looking forward to the future, embracing speed, the age of machine, pollution and city environments.