What is beauty? There is no absolute truth when it comes to beauty because it is a perception, a subjective opinion that we make of something. So what makes something beautiful to one person and ugly to another? ‘Judgments of beauty’ is a topic that has been philosophised about for many years.
In the 18th century there were two contradicting views on aesthetics, the first being that the judgment of beauty is non cognitive, and is an expression based on emotions and feelings. This view was supported by philosophers such as Hume and Hutcheson. The other view was a more rationalistic one in which the judgment of beauty was a cognitive response to the objective properties of something.
Kant aposed both these theories and claimed that one’s judgment of beauty is influenced by our aesthetic experience of it as well as our intellectual response to it. The intellectual response, however, was one of disinterest and free from concept. This allows pure beauty to pleasure the mind and hold its attention without the need and desire for the object, for it is not the object itself that is being contemplated. He stated that a judgment of beauty has a universality to it therefore being a judgement that is universaly agreed upon.
I agree with Kant’s sentiments that when we judge something to be beautiful it is due to our aesthetic experience of it as well as an intellectual response. I do however, disagree that beauty can only be judged free of concept. I think that the understanding and appreciation of an object in its entirety enhances our perception of the object’s beauty. I aslo disagree on the universality of such a judgment. I think one’s judgment is influenced so much so by factors such as their experiences, upbringing, culture, beliefs and values that it is unlikely for there to be such a universal judgment of beauty.
I’ve been thinking about jewellery in the context of its relationship between the artist, the wearer and the viewer.
How often when we make a piece of jewellery do we think so much about the wearer, and actually forget about the viewer. Is the viewer not just as important? The wearer naturally has more of a connection with the piece of jewellery than the person looking at it, but when the piece is viewed on the wearer, is it not put into a completely new context? This context of the wearer could actually enhance the piece considerably!
So as an artist, is our piece ever viewed in the way we intend it to be if the perception and aesthetic judgement of it is constantly changing? I dont think so, and I think that is what is so beautiful about being a creator; you are the beginning of a snowball effect of people tuning in to a connection inside them, and what starts as one piece with a specific meaning or intention, ends up gathering more and more significance and meaning as it is exposed.
If aesthetic judgment is so subjective, then how do we as artists, try and create a specific aesthetic within our work? I suppose we first need to become aware of how and why we personally perceive and make judgments of things, and what influences these decisions. I think it all starts in understanding what our own perceptions are…
In a nut shell, aesthetics are values that are linked to the sensory-emotional systems, also called ‘judgments of sentiment’ and ‘taste’. It is the different ways in which we see and perceive the world. Aesthetic judgment is very often contradictory because it draws upon both intellect and instinct. When we judge something or form an opinion on it, it is often a judgment of what that thing means or symbolizes for us.
A person may have a very hostile instinct to this picture and find no appeal in its vicious thorns because of an experience they had involving a thorn piercing them and producing a lot of pain. Another person who has been brought up in an environment where they are always out doors and love nature could find this picture beautiful; an endearing depiction of nature protecting its beauty. Another person could see a very spiritual connotation to the image, relating it to their belief and the crown of thorns Jesus wore. A photographer would look at the composition, a teacher would find a way to relate it to a lesson to be taught….Every eye sees differently, and one could even argue if it’s even the eye that sees…or is it the soul, the heart, the mind?
Aesthetic judgment is influenced by many factors apart from one’s senses, emotions and intellect. Culture, values and the upbringing of a person plays a strong part in their judgment. One’s training and instinct, as well as their desires and subconscious behavior all relates to the the way in which they perceive something.
I think that it is important for us as artists, and people to have at least a vague understanding of aesthetics and the ways in which we make aesthetic judgments.
When writing about my work recently, I almost frivolously used the word aesthetic, and only once I went back and unpacked what lies behind the etymology of the word, did I really have a sense of understanding, and it has made me aware of and question how and why I see things the way I do. As an artist as well, I have become a lot more aware of how differently people can perceive my work.
After recently displaying these earrings, a friend told me that they really connected with the concept of the miss-matched earrings, using the same pattern but one being cut out and the other embossed really emphasized the concept of how a person has many facets and sides to them and a person can never be a perfect reflection of what they want to be.
Another lady, on the other hand, was actually buying the earrings and asked if I realized that I had forgotten to cut the pattern out of the one earring.
Both of these reasonings seemed perfectly understandable to the person making the judgment because of the context which they created in their minds. Their reasoning and connection to these earrings were completely different because of their separate influences in life.