We have examples of pre-historic art, but they are rare, and the context of their production and use is not very clear, so we can little more than guess at the aesthetic doctrines that guided their production and interpretation.
Ancient art was largely, but not entirely, based on the seven great ancient civilizations: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, Persia, India and China. Each of these centers of early civilization developed a unique and characteristic style in its art. Greece had the most influence on the development of aesthetics in the West. This period of Greek art saw a veneration of the human physical form and the development of corresponding skills to show musculature, poise, beauty and anatomically correct proportions. Furthermore, in many Western and Eastern cultures alike, traits such as body hair are rarely depicted in art that addresses physical beauty. More in contrast with this Greek-Western aesthetic taste is the genre of grotesque.
Greek philosophers initially felt that aesthetically appealing objects were beautiful in and of themselves. Plato felt that beautiful objects incorporated proportion, harmony, and unity among their parts. Similarly, in the Metaphysics, Aristotle found that the universal elements of beauty were order, symmetry, and definiteness.
Islamic art is not, properly speaking, an art pertaining to religion only. The term "Islamic" refers not only to the religion, but to any form of art created in an Islamic culture or in an Islamic context. It would also be a mistake to assume that all Muslims are in agreement on the use of art in religious observance, the proper place of art in society, or the relation between secular art and the demands placed on the secular world to conform to religious precepts. Islamic art frequently adopts secular elements and elements that are frowned upon, if not forbidden, by some Islamic theologians.
According to Islam, human works of art are inherently flawed compared to the work of God; thus, it is believed by many that to attempt to depict in a realistic form any animal or person is insolence to God. This tendency has had the effect of narrowing the field of artistic possibility to such forms of art as Arabesque, mosaic, Islamic calligraphy, and Islamic architecture, as well as more generally any form of abstraction that can claim the status of non-representational art.
The limited possibilities have been explored by artists as an outlet to artistic expression, and has been cultivated to become a positive style and tradition, emphasizing the decorative function of art, or its religious functions via non-representational forms such as Geometric patterns, floral patterns, and arabesques.
Human or animal depiction is generally forbidden altogether in Islamic cultures because it is said to lead to sculptural pieces which then leads to worship of that sculpture or "idol". Human portrayals can be found in early Islamic cultures with varying degrees of acceptance by religious authorities. Human representation for the purpose of worship that is uniformly considered idolatry as forbidden in Sharia law. There are many depictions of Nabi Muhammad, Islam's prophet, in historical Islamic art.
The calligraphic arts grew out of an effort to devote oneself to the study of the Quran. By patiently transcribing each word of the text, the writer was made to contemplate the meaning of it. As time passed, these calligraphic works began to be prized as works of art, growing increasingly elaborate in the illumination and stylizing of the text. These illuminations were applied to other works besides the Quran, and it became a respected art form in and of itself.
Indian art evolved with an emphasis on inducing special spiritual or philosophical states in the audience, or with representing them symbolically. According to Kapila Vatsyayan, "Classical Indian architecture, sculpture, painting, literature (kāvya), music, and dancing evolved their own rules conditioned by their respective media, but they shared with one another not only the underlying spiritual beliefs of the Indian religio-philosophic mind, but also the procedures by which the relationships of the symbol and the spiritual states were worked out in detail."
In the Pan Indian philosophic thought the term 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram' is another name for the concept of the Supreme. 'Sat' is the truth value, 'Shiv' is the good value & 'Sundaram' is the beauty value. Man through his 'Srabana' or education, 'Manana' or experience and conceptualization and 'Sadhana' or practice, through different stages of life (Asramas) comes to form and realize the idea of these three values to develop a value system. This Value-system helps us to develop two basic ideas 1) that of 'Daksha' or the adept/expert and 2) of Mahana/Parama or the Absolute and thus to judge anything in this universe in the light of these two measures, known as 'Adarsha'. A person who has mastered great amounts of knowledge of the grammars, rules, & language of an art-form are adepts (Daksha), where as those who have worked through the whole system and journeyed ahead of these to become a law unto themself is called a Mahana. Individuals idea of 'Daksha' and 'Mahana' is relative to one's development of the concept of 'Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram.' For example, Tagore's idea of these two concepts should be way above any common man's and many perceive Tagore as a 'Mahana' Artist in the realm of literature. This concept of Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram, a kind of Value Theory is the cornerstone of Indian Aesthetics.
Of particular concern to Indian drama and literature are the term 'Bhava' or the state of mind and rasa referring generally to the emotional flavors/essence crafted into the work by the writer and relished by a 'sensitive spectator' or sahṛdaya or one with positive taste and mind. Poets like Kālidāsa were attentive to rasa, which blossomed into a fully developed aesthetic system. Even in contemporary India the term rasa denoting "flavor" or "essence" is used colloquially to describe the aesthetic experiences in films; "māsala mix" describes popular Hindi cinema films which serve a so called balanced emotional meal for the masses, savored as rasa by these spectators.
Rasa theory blossoms beginning with the Sanskrit text Nātyashāstra (nātya meaning "drama" and shāstra meaning "science of"), a work attributed to Bharata Muni where the Gods declare that drama is the 'Fifth Veda' because it is suitable for the degenerate age as the best form of religious instruction. While the date of composition varies wildly among scholars, ranging from the era of Plato and Aristotle to the seventh century CE. The Nātyashāstra presents the aesthetic concepts of rasas and their associated bhāvas in Chapters Six and Seven respectively, which appear to be independent of the work as a whole. Eight rasas and associated bhāvas are named and their enjoyment is likened to savoring a meal: rasa is the enjoyment of flavors that arise from the proper preparation of ingredients and the quality of ingredients. What rasa actually is, in a theoretical sense, is not discussed and given the Nātyashāstra's pithy wording it is unlikely the exact understanding of the original author(s) will be known.
The theory of the rasas develops significantly with the Kashmiri aesthetician Ãndandavardhana's classic on poetics, the Dhvanyāloka which introduces the ninth rasa, shānta-rasa as a specifically religious feeling of peace (śānta) which arises from its bhāva, weariness of the pleasures of the world. The primary purpose of this text is to refine the literary concept dhvani or poetic suggestion, by arguing for the existence of rasa-dhvani, primarily in forms of Sanskrit including a word, sentence or whole work "suggests" a real-world emotional state or bhāva, but thanks to aesthetic distance, the sensitive spectator relishes the rasa, the aesthetic flavor of tragedy, heroism or romance.
The 9th - 10th century master of the religious system known as "the nondual Shaivism of Kashmir" (or "Kashmir Shaivism") and aesthetician, Abhinavagupta brought rasa theory to its pinnacle in his separate commentaries on the Dhvanyāloka, the Dhvanyāloka-locana (translated by Ingalls, Masson and Patwardhan, 1992) and the Abhinavabharati, his commentary on the Nātyashāstra, portions of which are translated by Gnoli and Masson and Patwardhan. Abhinavagupta offers for the first time a technical definition of rasa which is the universal bliss of the Self or Atman colored by the emotional tone of a drama. Shānta-rasa functions as an equal member of the set of rasas but is simultaneously distinct being the most clear form of aesthetic bliss. Abhinavagupta likens it to the string of a jeweled necklace; while it may not be the most appealing for most people, it is the string that gives form to the necklace, allowing the jewels of the other eight rasas to be relished. Relishing the rasas and particularly shānta-rasa is hinted as being as-good-as but never-equal-to the bliss of Self-realization experienced by yogis.
Chinese art has a long history of varied styles and emphases. In ancient times philosophers were already arguing about aesthetics. Confucius emphasized the role of the arts and humanities (especially music and poetry) in broadening human nature and aiding “li” (etiquette, the rites) in bringing us back to what is essential about humanity. His opponent Mozi, however, argued that music and fine arts were classist and wasteful, benefiting the rich but not the common people.
By the 4th century A.D., artists were debating in writing over the proper goals of art as well. Gu Kaizhi has 3 surviving books on this theory of painting, for example, and it's not uncommon to find later artist/scholars who both create art and write about the creating of art. Religious and philosophical influence on art was common (and diverse) but never universal; it is easy to find art that largely ignores philosophy and religion in almost every Chinese time period.
African art existed in many forms and styles, and with fairly little influence from outside Africa. Most of it followed traditional forms and the aesthetic norms were handed down orally as well as written. Sculpture and performance art are prominent, and abstract and partially abstracted forms are valued, and were valued long before influence from the Western tradition began in earnest. The Nok culture is testimony to this. The mosque of Timbuktu shows that specific areas of Africa developed unique aesthetics.
Western medieval aesthetics
Surviving medieval art is primarily religious in focus and funded largely by the State, Roman Catholic or Orthodox church, powerful ecclesiastical individuals, or wealthy secular patrons. These art pieces often served a liturgical function, whether as chalices or even as church buildings themselves. Objects of fine art from this period were frequently made from rare and valuable materials, such as gold and lapis, the cost of which commonly exceeded the wages of the artist.
Medieval aesthetics in the realm of philosophy built upon Classical thought, continuing the practice of Plotinus by employing theological terminology in its explications. St. Bonaventure’s “Retracing the Arts to Theology”, a primary example of this method, discusses the skills of the artisan as gifts given by God for the purpose of disclosing God to mankind, which purpose is achieved through four lights: the light of skill in mechanical arts which discloses the world of artifacts; which light is guided by the light of sense perception which discloses the world of natural forms; which light, consequently, is guided by the light of philosophy which discloses the world of intellectual truth; finally, this light is guided by the light of divine wisdom which discloses the world of saving truth.
Saint Thomas Aquinas's aesthetic is probably the most famous and influential theory among medieval authors, having been the subject of much scrutiny in the wake of the neo-Scholastic revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and even having received the approbation of the celebrated Modernist writer, James Joyce. Thomas, like many other medievals, never gives a systematic account of beauty itself, but several scholars have conventionally arranged his thought—though not always with uniform conclusions—using relevant observations spanning the entire corpus of his work. While Aquinas's theory follows generally the model of Aristotle, he develops a singular aesthetics which incorporates elements unique to his thought. Umberto Eco's The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas identifies the three main characteristics of beauty in Aquinas's philosophy: integritas sive perfectio, consonantia sive debita proportio, and claritas sive splendor formae. While Aristotle likewise identifies the first two characteristics, St. Thomas conceives of the third as an appropriation from principles developed by neo-Platonic and Augustinian thinkers.
Lorsch Gospels 778–820. Charlemagne's Court School.
With the shift from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, art likewise changed its focus, as much in its content as in its mode of expression.
From the late 17th to the early 20th century Western aesthetics underwent a slow revolution into what is often called modernism. German and British thinkers emphasised beauty as the key component of art and of the aesthetic experience, and saw art as necessarily aiming at absolute beauty.
For Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten aesthetics is the science of the sense experiences, a younger sister of logic, and beauty is thus the most perfect kind of knowledge that sense experience can have. For Immanuel Kant the aesthetic experience of beauty is a judgment of a subjective but similar human truth, since all people should agree that “this rose is beautiful” if it in fact is. However, beauty cannot be reduced to any more basic set of features. For Friedrich Schiller aesthetic appreciation of beauty is the most perfect reconciliation of the sensual and rational parts of human nature.
For Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, the philosophy of art is the "organon" of philosophy concerning the relation between man and nature. So aesthetics began now to be the name for the philosophy of art. Friedrich von Schlegel, August Wilhelm Schlegel, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel have also given lectures on aesthetics as philosophy of art after 1800.
For Hegel all culture is a matter of "absolute spirit" coming to be manifest to itself, stage by stage, changing to a perfection that only philosophy can approach. Art is the first stage in which the absolute spirit is manifest immediately to sense-perception, and is thus an objective rather than subjective revelation of beauty.
For Arthur Schopenhauer aesthetic contemplation of beauty is the most free that the pure intellect can be from the dictates of will; here we contemplate perfection of form without any kind of worldly agenda, and thus any intrusion of utility or politics would ruin the point of the beauty. It is thus for Schopenhauer one way to fight the suffering.
The British were largely divided into intuitionist and analytic camps. The intuitionists believed that aesthetic experience was disclosed by a single mental faculty of some kind. For Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury this was identical to the moral sense, beauty just is the sensory version of moral goodness. For Ludwig Wittgenstein aesthetics consisted in the description of a whole culture which is a linguistic impossibility. That which constitutes aesthetics lies out side the realm of the language game.
For Oscar Wilde the contemplation of beauty for beauty's sake was not only the foundation for much of his literary career but was quoted as saying "Aestheticism is a search after the signs of the beautiful. It is the science of the beautiful through which men seek the correlation of the arts. It is, to speak more exactly, the search after the secret of life.".
Wilde famously toured the United States in 1882. He travelled across the United States spreading the idea of Aesthetics in a speech called "The English Renaissance." In his speech he proposed that Beauty and Aesthetics was not "not languid but energetic. By beautifying the outward aspects of life, one would beautify the inner ones." The English Renaissance was, he said, "like the Italian Renaissance before it,a sort of rebirth of the spirit of man".For Francis Hutcheson beauty is disclosed by an inner mental sense, but is a subjective fact rather than an objective one. Analytic theorists like Henry Home, Lord Kames, William Hogarth, and Edmund Burke hoped to reduce beauty to some list of attributes. Hogarth, for example, thinks that beauty consists of (1) fitness of the parts to some design; (2) variety in as many ways as possible; (3) uniformity, regularity or symmetry, which is only beautiful when it helps to preserve the character of fitness; (4) simplicity or distinctness, which gives pleasure not in itself, but through its enabling the eye to enjoy variety with ease; (5) intricacy, which provides employment for our active energies, leading the eye on "a wanton kind of chase"; and (6) quantity or magnitude, which draws our attention and produces admiration and awe. Later analytic aestheticians strove to link beauty to some scientific theory of psychology (such as James Mill) or biology (such as Herbert Spencer).
Post-modern aesthetics and psychoanalysis
Early twentieth century artists, poets and composers challenged existing notions of beauty, broadening the scope of art and aesthetics. In 1941, Eli Siegel, American philosopher and poet, founded Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy that reality itself is aesthetic, and that "The world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites."
Various attempts have been made to define Post-modern aesthetics. The challenge to the assumption that beauty was central to art and aesthetics, thought to be original, is actually continuous with older aesthetic theory; Aristotle was the first in the Western tradition to classify "beauty" into types as in his theory of drama, and Kant made a distinction between beauty and the sublime. What was new was a refusal to credit the higher status of certain types, where the taxonomy implied a preference for tragedy and the sublime to comedy and the Rococo.
Croce suggested that “expression” is central in the way that beauty was once thought to be central. George Dickie suggested that the sociological institutions of the art world were the glue binding art and sensibility into unities. Marshall McLuhan suggested that art always functions as a "counter-environment" designed to make visible what is usually invisible about a society.[page needed] Theodor Adorno felt that aesthetics could not proceed without confronting the role of the culture industry in the commodification of art and aesthetic experience. Hal Foster (art critic) attempted to portray the reaction against beauty and Modernist art in The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Arthur Danto has described this reaction as "kalliphobia" (after the Greek word for beauty - 'kalos').André Malraux explains that the notion of beauty was connected to a particular conception of art that arose with the Renaissance and was still dominant in the eighteenth century (but was supplanted later). The discipline of aesthetics, which originated in the eighteenth century, mistook this transient state of affairs for a revelation of the permanent nature of art.Brian Massumi suggests to reconsider beauty following the aesthetical thought in the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari.
Daniel Berlyne created the field of experimental aesthetics in the 1970s, for which he is still the most cited individual decades after his death.
Pneumaist aestheticism is a theory of art and a highly experimental approach to art negating historical preconceptions of the aesthetic.
Jean-François Lyotard re-invokes the Kantian distinction between taste and the sublime. Sublime painting, unlike kitsch realism, "...will enable us to see only by making it impossible to see; it will please only by causing pain."
Sigmund Freud inaugurated aesthetical thinking in Psychoanalysis mainly via the "Uncanny" as aesthetical affect.Following Freud and Merleau-Ponty,Jacques Lacan theorized aesthetics in terms of sublimation and the Thing .
The visual arts are art forms that create works which are primarily visual in nature, such as ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, printmaking, modern visual arts (photography, video, and filmmaking), design and crafts. These definitions should not be taken too strictly as many artistic disciplines (performing arts, conceptual art, textile arts) involve aspects of the visual arts as well as arts of other types. Also included within the visual arts are the applied arts such as industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, interior design and decorative art.