Themes of Esthetics

Let's start the discussion of Esthetics. It's one of the least understood and accepted branches of Objectivism. As with all the branches, it might be helpful to discuss some of the major themes of Objectivists Esthetics. But before we do that, let's just do a quick recap of what esthetics is all about.

Esthetics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the concepts, purpose, and standards of evaluation of art. It asks why man needs art, and what function it provides. By determining the need, it provides a means to define and evaluate art, and relate it to our own lives.

The first theme of esthetics is understanding man's need for art. This is a crucial part of esthetics. If art has no purpose, it can't be defined or evaluated. If there is a purpose, it sets the standards for all further discussions. Without a relationship to man's life, art would have no objective value to man. Without a purpose, anything and everything could be called art, and the term would become meaningless.

The second theme of esthetics is objectivity. That theme runs through every branch of Objectivism, but it's worth noting in particular here. Art is often viewed as a subjective field of knowledge or value, making communication about it impossible. Due to the very personal nature of people's reactions to art, it's a sensitive area that people often don't want to think about in terms of objectivity. But knowledge must be in objective terms, or it doesn't count as real understanding.

Reactions to art are emotional and can be very powerful. Our reactions don't tell us whether the art is good or bad, or even why we're reacting to it the way we do. Our reactions alone cannot be used as a method of judging the art itself. Esthetics deals with the connection between art and our emotions. The third theme is understanding this relationship.

A final theme of esthetics is that the form of the art impacts the message of it. Art is not a homogenous set of tools. Each form of art has limitations and strengths, and we need to identify what they are, and why they exist. The point here is that art works in a specific way, and satisfies a specific purpose, so we should be able to see how the different forms of art vary.

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