Monday, October 14, 2013

An aesthetic sense?

Isaac Levitan (Russian, 1860-1900), Over Eternal Peace, 1894. Image from Wikipedia
Do we have an aesthetic sense? I mean, in the same way as the senses of sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell. There are other senses in addition to the famous five such as position sense; and I have blogged about a sense of balance which I believe exists.Certain animals have a built-in sense of direction which helps them to navigate; and plant root cells contain particles that enable them to sense gravity and to grow downwards. So ... I’ve been wondering: is there in our make-up a built-in aesthetic sense that leads us to make judgments about whether a thing is beautiful or ugly or somewhere in between?

I believe it’s a valid question because it seems likely from observation that we do have such a sense. If so, where did it come from, how did it evolve? Would it mean that species other than humans also have some sort of aesthetic sense?

I remember a dog we had once, a German Shepherd. She was a stately and ladylike dog, "fair-haired in her gracious manner". She would come when called, never gave any trouble. When she was about four years old we moved to the house where we are now. Behind the house there’s a strip of garden, and then a steep hill which is high enough such that at the top you can see right out to sea. This dog went up there one day and didn’t want to come down. She sat down in the grasses in her stately way and refused to come when called. It happened many times. I’ve often wondered ... what did she like so much about the top of the hill? ... could it have been the view from up there ... the space, the far horizon?

Aesthetics is an issue of philosophy. However, even in art college the philosophical topics under discussion are more usually politics or advertising or linguistics rather than aesthetics as such. As an artist I find the topic of aesthetics interesting in its own right and I'd like to understand it better.

It so happens that today I'm beginning an 8-week philosophy course (online). I'm hoping it will help me to think about questions like this in a more structured way.

To be continued. 


Anonymous said...

A very interesting question Mary. Is it connected with just knowing when everything is 'right' , fitting with that 'balance'. Maybe it's connected with the golden mean and proportions.

Best of luck with the philosophy course and look forward to more posts from you on that.

The bike shed said...

Aesthetics is a fascinating topic - enjoy your course