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Encyclopedia of Aesthetics: 4-volume Set edited by Michael Kelly (Oxford University Press) many encyclopedias no matter how extensive or learned the articles, often leave the curious reader with a sense of flatness, to which there is no depth, no questions left unanswered. The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics however has avoided this pitfall.  The articles are extensive, well-written and leave of this reader with a sense of engagement, even practical knowledge, so that I might listen to a piece of music with more perception, enjoy a painting in new ways, and even be so delighted as to hunt down some of the titles listed in the bibliographies at the end of the articles.  This encyclopedia could and should enjoy a wide readership because it more than provides the scope of aesthetics today; it also invites readers into the participation and recognition of beauty.


Excerpt:  Aesthetics is uniquely situated to serve as a meeting place for numerous academic disciplines and cultural traditions. While it is a single branch of philosophy con­cerned with art, aesthetics is also a part of other disciplines—such as art history, literary theory, law, sociology—that reflect equally, if differently, about art in its natural and cultural contexts. At the same time, aesthetics is an eighteenth-century European devel­opment that has not been duplicated anywhere else. Of course, all other cultures around the world have their own "art," and most also have traditions of reflecting philosophically about it. To the extent that they have developed such reflection, whatever they have chosen to call it, these cultures are engaged in a practice related to Western aesthetics. So aesthetics is, in academic terms, both singular and general, and, in cultural terms, both local and global. To capture these multiple dimensions, the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics has been created using a definition of aesthetics as "critical reflection on art, culture, and nature."

The purpose of this encyclopedia is to contribute to a discursive public sphere in which people representing the disciplines and traditions engaged in aesthetics will be able to articulate their perspectives on the field, thereby fostering dialogue and, where possible, constructing common ground without imposing consensus. To this end, the encyclopedia, which is the first English-language reference work on this scale devoted to aesthetics, of­fers a combination of historical reference material and critical discussions of contempo­rary aesthetics intended for general readers and experts alike.


The term aesthetics is derived from the ancient Greek word aisthesis (also spelled aesthe­sis), which means perception or sensation. In its original usage, the word was related to perceptual or sensory knowledge, usually in contrast to conceptual or rational knowledge, but had little or no specific relevance to art. The initial lack of connection between aes­thetics and art reflects the fact that, at the time, there was no word for what Westerners now regard as art; the Greek word for art, techne, is closer to the English word craft. Of course, the philosophy of art existed in Plato and Aristotle's age, just as there was Greek "art." Nevertheless, aesthetics did not become connected to art until the eighteenth cen­tury. Developments within art and philosophy—as well as within other disciplines con­cerned with art—account for the eventual link between aesthetics and art that is the his­torical subject of this encyclopedia.

From the classical era to the Middle Ages, reflection on art developed through the work of philosophers such as Augustine, Plotinus, Aquinas, and others. During the Renais­sance, when art flourished in unparalleled ways, such reflection also experienced a revival as many classical aesthetic ideas were rediscovered and developed in new directions. What was most common during these periods, however, were treatises about individual arts, such as painting, music, or poetry, rather than any theory about art in general. There was also considerable discussion about whether it was possible to distinguish art from craft. Finally, when people wrote about the arts, they typically did so without philosophically analyzing the principles of criticism they were implicitly invoking. In short, aesthetics proper had not yet emerged.

All of this changed in the eighteenth century, mostly in France, Germany, and Great Britain. There was a historical coincidence between a new-found tendency on the part of writers to generalize about the arts and a heightened concern in philosophy for sensory knowledge independent of logical knowledge. The distinction of types of knowledge, inspired in part by the birth of modern science based on empiricism, introduced aesthetics into philosophy; but, following the lead of Alexander Baumgarten, aesthetics still had little to do with art. This was a strange development indeed in the inaugural century of aes­thetics: those beginning to generalize about art did not use the term aesthetics, while those practicing aesthetics were not principally interested in art. It was not until Immanuel Kant's Critique of judgment (1790) that these two tendencies were systematically united, setting the agenda for aesthetics ever since.

Although this union was unquestionably an important step in the early and subse­quent history of aesthetics, overemphasis on it tends to obscure an equally important di­mension of this history, which is central to the rationale for the encyclopedia. Although it is true that aesthetics emerged in the eighteenth century within philosophy, this would not have been possible without developments in art and cultural criticism that had been evolving since at least the Renaissance. Critics—whether philosophers, poets, or writers—began writing about art in general rather than just about the individual arts. Some compared the different arts, as was the case in the "Ut pictura poesis" ("as a paint­ing, so a poem") tradition, whereas others argued that each art form could be properly understood only on individual terms: painting is independent of poetry, which is inde­pendent of music, and so on. In its first century, aesthetics was thus marked by a funda­mental philosophical disagreement about whether generalizing about art was an ad­vancement in the understanding of the arts. It is this disagreement, rather than just the tendency toward generalizations, that separated Western aesthetics in the eighteenth cen­tury from its prior history as well as from other cultural traditions.

In that same period, the individual arts in Europe were becoming more accessible to the public than they had ever been before, for they were no longer so closely tied to reli­gion and politics once the church and monarchy ceased being the exclusive patrons of the arts. There was, in short, a secularization and democratization of the arts and culture in the eighteenth century that contributed to the formation of a cultural public sphere. Crit­icism was the term most widely used to characterize discussions about the arts and cul­ture; in fact, the term critique, which Kant transformed in his Critique of Pure Reason, be­gan in part as the German translation of the English word criticism. This transformation marks the birth of aesthetics as a part of philosophy, but it also highlights the fact that philosophical aesthetics emerged out of a broader cultural context.

From its inception until the present, aesthetics has continued to be distinguished by both its philosophical and cultural roles, even though some theorists have at times at-tempted to restrict aesthetics to just one of its roles. Moreover, the fact that aesthetics has always had these dual roles has made the present encyclopedia both possible and neces­sary: possible, because the entries here could not have been written unless there were peo­ple in various disciplines outside of philosophy writing philosophically about art, culture, and nature; and necessary, because aesthetics remains incomplete if its cultural role is not developed. The goal of the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics is to trace the genealogy of aesthetics in such a way as to integrate these two roles.

The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics has been created, and may now be received, in a skeptical environment. It is important to address this skepticism here because it is based on a mis­conception of aesthetics that the encyclopedia aims to correct in an effort to revitalize the field.

Many people concerned with art and culture today seem to want to distance them-selves from aesthetics. Ask students or general readers what aesthetics is, and most will say that it has something to do with beauty (an impression reinforced by the colloquial use of aesthetic to mean "beautiful") and that it is a thing of the past. Artists, as a group, rarely express any more interest in aesthetics than Barnett Newman did when he remarked that aesthetics is for artists what ornithology is for birds. Art historians and anthropologists typically do not identify with aesthetics either, unless their research involves art created in periods when aesthetics was still considered relevant. Finally, others involved with con-temporary art—critics, legal theorists, sociologists—also do not generally see themselves as concerned with aesthetics, since they regard it as part of philosophy rather than of their own fields.

Why do these diverse groups of people distance themselves from aesthetics, even though they all are involved with art and culture? What they typically object to is the idea that art can be understood according to a set of universal principles about its immutable properties; the term aesthetics suggests this idea to them. It is seen as a branch of philoso­phy that effectively died once modern art began to challenge the classical view of art as the imitation, often in the guise of beauty, of the universal qualities of nature or reality. So aesthetics is thereby relegated to the history of art and philosophy prior to modernism.

Ask contemporary aestheticians what they do, however, and they are likely to respond that aesthetics is the philosophical analysis of the beliefs, concepts, and theories implicit in the creation, experience, interpretation, or critique of art. It would be unusual for them to include beauty as one of their major research topics; they talk more often about the prob­lems of meaning or representation in connection with works of art. Moreover, most aestheticians—both analytic (Anglo-American) and continental (European, exclusive of Great Britain) alike—would agree that there are no universal properties of art and that art can be defined, if at all, only in historical (if still philosophical) terms. In fact, both analytic and continental aesthetics in the last fifty years have been dominated by anti-essentialism: the view either that art has no essence or that it is impossible for us to ascertain what its essence is. This means that nearly all contemporary aestheticians are equally critical of the idea of aesthetics that is rejected by nonphilosophers.

Moreover, not only is it a misconception to identify contemporary aesthetics with the universalist idea of aesthetics, the history of aesthetics is replete with critiques of that same idea and alternatives to it. These critiques were evident even in the eighteenth century. For example, although there was considerable discussion of beauty at that time, aesthetics emerged only once beauty lost its status as an objective or transcendental property, which it virtually had since Plato. Modern philosophers argued that beauty is not a property of objects (e.g., works of art) experienced or judged as beautiful; rather, it is a relational property between subjects and objects. So aesthetics began, in part, with the following problem: How is it possible to speak with any objectivity about matters of taste if beauty is subjective? The question of the universality of taste arose in this same context. Whereas some philosophers argued that taste is universal despite being subjective, others were doubtful that universality was possible again after the subjective turn in our understand­ing of beauty. This debate was not resolved at the time, nor has it been since. This means, however, that the conventional view of aesthetics held by its critics (and some of its sup-porters) is as imprecise relative to the history of aesthetics as it is to its present state. So the skepticism about aesthetics is best addressed by reevaluating the meaning and history of aesthetics; such reevaluation is what this encyclopedia offers.

There is also a prevailing skepticism today about encyclopedias that should be dis­cussed here as well. One of the marks of our present age, which is typically characterized as postmodern, is a skepticism toward any claims about philosophical systems or histori­cal grand narratives (i.e., ones that emphasize the unity and ultimate goal of historical de­velopment). Many people today believe that, in principle, such systems are incomplete and all historical narratives impose a false unity while they exclude certain cultures' per­spectives. In the interest of pluralism, we are encouraged to abandon any and all systems and narratives. The publication of an encyclopedia, especially one that gives philosophy a central role, may seem to violate these postmodern injunctions, though only if it is thought to venture a narrative or system of aesthetics. Because of this attitude, it was even sug­gested that we exclude the word encyclopedia from the title of this work.

Our response to this skepticism was to incorporate the contemporary doubts about the encyclopedia into its very structure. This has been achieved in various ways, principally by including the following among the entries themselves: (1) critiques of aesthetics; (2) discussions of postmodernism; (3) composite (multi-article) entries so topics could be analyzed from several perspectives; and (4) representations of virtually all the disciplines involved with art and culture, even though people in these fields may not see themselves as being engaged in aesthetics. In none of these cases was any effort made to shape a system or a grand narrative of aesthetics. Efforts were made to be comprehensive, however, though here comprehensive means as complete a representation as possible of all the com­peting ideas about aesthetics.


The encyclopedia includes more than six hundred essays, alphabetically arranged, on ap­proximately four hundred individuals, concepts, periods, theories, issues, and movements in the history of aesthetics. The entries range from the most ancient aesthetic traditions around the world to the Greco-Roman era, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the En­lightenment, Romanticism, Modernism, and Postmodernism, up to the present. The cen­tral historical focus, however, is the genealogy of Western aesthetics from its inception in the early eighteenth century in Europe to the present. How was the Western understand­ing of art and culture transformed during that period? How has it developed since then? What is its present status? Specifically, how have key aesthetic concepts and issues—such as appropriation, autonomy, beauty, genius, iconology, ideology, metaphor, originality, semiotics, sexuality, taste, and truth—evolved?

The entries in the encyclopedia have been written by more than five hundred philoso­phers, art historians, literary theorists, psychologists, feminist theorists, legal theorists, so­ciologists, anthropologists, and others who reflect critically on art, culture, and nature. The range of contributors is important because of the interdisciplinary nature of aesthet­ics, both now and throughout its history. For example, one cannot understand Romanti­cism and appreciate its aesthetic significance without studying what it means in philo­sophical and literary terms as well as how it manifested itself differently in the visual arts and in music. There are numerous topics of such conceptual or historical complexity in the encyclopedia that can be fully understood only if they are approached through multi­ple disciplines.

The goal, however, is not to impose or legitimate any single discipline's way of under-standing aesthetics. Philosophy, for example, certainly occupies a central position in the encyclopedia; its important task is to clarify the terms, principles, concepts, and theories employed by the disciplines (including philosophy) engaged in aesthetics. But philosophy is also just one of many disciplines, evidenced by the fact that a majority of the encyclo­pedia entries were written by nonphilosophers. Moreover, the purpose of the work is not to resolve the differences among the various disciplines; rather, it is to provide, as a good encyclopedia should, a comprehensive catalog of what these differences are, how they originated, what the disciplines may have in common, and what is at stake in the conflict­ing views contributors espouse. Our aim has been to provide as much reliable information as we could assemble so that readers can make informed decisions about how best to un­derstand "Beauty," the "Origins of Aesthetics," "Popular Culture," the "Comparative Aesthetics" of the African and Western traditions, "Kant," or any of the other topics in­cluded in the encyclopedia.

At every moment of its history, aesthetics has been related in complementary and crit­ical ways to the art of its time. So there is considerable discussion in the encyclopedia of major art periods (e.g., the Renaissance), movements (Modernism), and issues (perspec­tive) in the history of art. Such discussions range from Greco-Roman, Baroque, or Im­pressionist art to the most contemporary art forms, such as conceptual, installation, or performance art. The focus in these entries is both historical and theoretical so readers will understand what is unique about each art-historical issue and how it has influenced aesthetic theory.

While the aesthetic history and art periodization utilized here are largely Western, com­parisons are made throughout the encyclopedia with non-Western art forms and their dis­tinct aesthetic traditions. Such comparisons are made in two ways: (1) by having overview essays on each of these traditions (e.g., Chinese, Indian, Islamic, Latin American) and, where possible, (2) by integrating non-Western perspectives into discussions of central aesthetic concepts, principles, and issues (e.g., Japanese appreciation of nature). The first measure helps readers to understand these other traditions, which in some cases have greatly influenced their Western counterparts or have been shaped by them. The second measure is important so that non-Western ideas of aesthetics are not isolated from their Western counterparts. The two practices combined serve, in effect, to historicize the tra­dition of Western aesthetics by demonstrating that it is, after all, just one of many tradi­tions.

The emphasis in the entries on key figures (e.g., Plato, Kant, Heidegger) is theoretical rather than biographical. The contributors explain the subjects' ideas about aesthetics, while clarifying the historical and conceptual contexts for these ideas. References to clarify these contexts are provided in the bibliographies, along with biographical titles, where pos­sible. In addition to the lengthy entries on major thinkers, there are short (five-hundred-word) entries on some significant but lesser-known figures (e.g., Charles Batteux and Moses Mendelssohn). The aim here is to paint a comprehensive picture of the historical background of modern and contemporary aesthetics.

Coverage of many central individuals and concepts in aesthetics and most major art forms (e.g., architecture, dance, photography) has been arranged in composite entries, that is, several separate articles arranged under one headword. The rationale for this type of entry is to give voice to: (1) extensive histories of a specific topic (e.g., beauty or land­scape) too broad to be handled by one contributor; (2) independent philosophical views of a single central issue (e.g., metaphor or autonomy); (3) individual perspectives on a topic (e.g., historicism) that is important in each of several disciplines (e.g., aesthetics, art

history, literary theory); (4) several accounts of an activity (e.g., criticism) that is prac­ticed differently in the particular arts (e.g., music, art, dance); (5) individuals (e.g., Kant) who are central in the history of aesthetics because of their influential accounts of key aes­thetic concepts; and (6) other cases where there are significantly diverse aspects or ac-counts of a single aesthetic issue.

Each composite entry combines conceptual and historical overviews with in-depth analyses of particular issues or ideas. For example, the entry on Immanuel Kant begins with an overview essay explaining who Kant was, what he wrote, and what he wrote par­ticularly on aesthetics. This is followed by essays on Kant's concepts of beauty, the sub-lime, and nature; a brief history of Kantian aesthetics; essays on Kant's reception in art history, on the hermeneutic reading of Kant, and on the feminist critique of Kant; and, fi­nally, an essay on the connection between Kant and Marcel Duchamp in terms of the concept of judgment. The combined essays offer a wide range of interpretations to the general reader and allow those possessing more advanced understanding to pursue the finer points of aesthetics. The contributors of articles in these entries were not asked to discuss each others' work directly; rather, they were invited to articulate their own posi­tions on the selected issues as clearly and forcefully as possible, knowing that other points of view would be similarly represented in the same entry. (Such representation of diverse perspectives on key issues in aesthetics is what I have referred to as a discursive public sphere.)


Topics were chosen according to the following general criteria: (1) philosophical or criti­cal significance in the histories of aesthetics, art, or fields related to aesthetics or art; (2) relevance to contemporary aesthetics; and (3) historical or contemporary importance in non-Western cultures. In the entries devoted to particular cultural traditions (e.g., Islamic, Latin American), the contributors were asked to address the following questions: What difference do their sovereign cultural histories make to their conceptions of aesthetics in comparison to their Western counterparts? Do they have unique ways of thinking about aesthetics as well as original art? Does their critical reflection on art and culture provide evidence of a universal aesthetic or, on the contrary, does it confirm the radical histori­cist's claim that aesthetics, like art, is fundamentally different in each culture?

The topics of the composite entries were selected (1) because of their significance in the history of aesthetics, or (2) because of ongoing debates among experts in the relevant specialties who represent diverse disciplinary, philosophical, or cultural perspectives. The aim of this structure is to achieve with these entries the comprehensiveness one expects from encyclopedia entries, but also to make the rich variety of ideas about individual aes­thetic topics more accessible to one another.

With these criteria in mind, the encyclopedia has aimed to have historical depth and representative breadth to encompass (1) the key centuries (eighteenth to twentieth) and countries (Germany, France, Great Britain, United States) in the history of Western aes­thetics; (2) the different disciplinary perspectives (e.g., philosophy, art history, law, sociol­ogy) on the key topics; (3) the various cultures (e.g., African, Indian, Latin American) that have a history of thinking critically on their "art" and culture without necessarily calling such thinking "aesthetics"; (4) many of the arts, traditional and new, that have had a defin­ing impact on aesthetics; (5) various historical and contemporary critiques of aesthetics (e.g., Romanticism, hermeneutics, anti-essentialism, feminism); and (6) the few disciplines that have emerged, in part, as the result of critiques of aesthetics (e.g., cultural studies).

There are undoubtedly some missing topics, and there are several reasons for this. In some instances we planned an entry but either could not find a suitable contributor or the contributor was not able to respond in a timely fashion; we considered some addi­tional entries but decided in the end that they were not appropriate, given the overall goals of the encyclopedia; finally, despite all our efforts to be inclusive and thorough, we regrettably have overlooked certain possible entries. Every encyclopedia has its limita­tions when it comes to the list of entries; for, as critics are likely to point out, the catego­rization of entries in an encyclopedia is arbitrary. But the choices and ordering of categories can be intelligible and reasonable nonetheless. We have tried to be compre­hensive without being systematic, and we have stated the criteria for the selection of entries as clearly as possible so that readers will know how and why we have made the choices embodied in the encyclopedia. Readers are asked to remember that the encyclo­pedia is intended as the beginning rather than the end of critical discussion about the genealogy and contemporary practice of aesthetics within philosophy and related disciplines.


Entries are alphabetically arranged, strictly letter by letter. In order to explain the struc­ture and content of the composite entries, each of them begins with an editorial headnote. Brief headnotes are also occasionally present in cases where the entry comprises a single essay (e.g., "Gaze," "Theory, History of") to clarify the topic or offer a rationale for its in­clusion for the general reader.

In order to maximize the interconnections among the entries and to guide the reader to related discussion, numerous cross-references have been included throughout the work. These are located within individual articles (mostly at the end of the discussion) as well as in the headnotes to the composite entries. In addition, within the alphabetical order of headwords, there are numerous "blind entries" that provide cross-references to the arti­cles where the subject is discussed. Blind entries are used for alternate spellings and syn­onyms (e.g., "Ekphrasis. See Ecphrasis"; "Cinema. See Film") as well as in cases where in-stead of an independent entry devoted to a subject, there is a significant discussion within another article ("Boas, Franz. See Anthropology and Aesthetics") or, for broad topics (e.g., painting), spread among several articles. The comprehensive index at the end of vol­ume 4 provides additional connections among the topics and disciplines for readers inter­ested in further research.

The illustration program is modest if it is compared to art reference works, but gener­ous if compared to reference works in philosophy, which typically have few or no images. We have tried to strike a balance between these extremes. While we could not possibly of­fer a complete representation of the history of art because this is an encyclopedia of aes­thetics, we wanted to make it clear that aesthetics is intimately related to the history of art. At the same time, it is important that we have some imagery so that it does not seem that words are taking the place of art. The relationship between aesthetics and art is a very sen­sitive issue within aesthetics, as it assuredly is for those who criticize aesthetics for being iconoclastic. The presence of some images here makes it clear that this relationship is open-ended: aesthetic theory is always responding to art rather than supplanting it. The illustrations are also intended to reflect a wide spectrum of different art traditions and cul­tures (e.g., African, Pre-Columbian, Indian), as well as the historical depth (e.g., Greek, Modern), stylistic breadth (e.g., Gothic, Surrealist), and diversity of art mediums (e.g., sculpture, film) within art.

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