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Visual Aesthetics

Unifying Philosophy of Art

I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down.

-Jack Kerouac


The intention behind content is the relevance found when examining art. Human beings are fascinated by the relatable. Even if I never know the derivation of a piece, I am captivated if I can place myself in its story. This is why I studied philosophy.

I am interested in the unification of human thought. I’m not trained in identifying the movement of visual art pieces, but I enjoy giving art a philosophical context. I love contemplating the philosophical intention behind literary content, and this can apply to visual art as well.

Plato’s artistic thought reflects ideas of realism, because he believed art to be the imitation of nature.  He saw the power of art on reality believing, “If we enjoy the fictional imitations we experience, we may have an increased disposition to act in a similar fashion in daily living,” (Barrett 20). Art does not exist in a vacuum, and I believe it naïve to believe such an idea.

Plato was astute in his observations of realism, and I believe this idea can be found in many forms. Even if visual art does not reflect nature in form, the idea behind the content derived from the nature of a human being. There are countless modern examples this imitation, including body image issues in young girls deriving from advertisement. I believe Plato’s perspective on realism is relatable to all categorizations of art.

The ideas of expressionism are an extension of realism. Philosopher John Dewey believed, “The individual as part of a community uses symbols, expression, and communication to direct experience toward intrinsically fulfilling ends that give human existence value and meaning,” (Barrett 63). This expressionist idea reiterates Plato, because art still derives from human thought in reality. However, it makes room for art that may not imitate natural form. The intention behind content of a realist and expressionist piece can be the same, however.

Formalism reflects human attempt to attribute logic to the universe. David Hume attempted to stipulate how art criticism can be, “…empirical, factually based, and rational,” (Barrett 109). He believed humans must “…engage with the object, trying to identify it’s meaning and establish its value,” (Barrett 109). To me, this is merely a categorization used to appeal to human rationalization. It does not change the way art is produced, but it alters the way art is perceived. Realist and expressionist art can be looked at through a formalist lens, but it does not take away from the unifying thought possibly tying together all art.

Lastly, I believe post-modernism, like many “post” theories, encompasses a wide assortment of categories. I have an affinity for Nietzsche’s philosophy, as I do not tend to look at art through a formalist lens. Nietzsche “…advocates seeing and interpreting, he embraces ambiguity, and he engages in hidden depths of works of art,” (Barrett 148). To me, this is the beauty of poetry. It’s most often driven by ambiguity, allowing individuals to form subjective attachment to the piece. Post-modernism attempts to categorize a style, but art is too broad for such a categorization.

It is hard for one individual to place human-made art categorizations on works of others. Rather, I am interested in the intent behind content. It is easy to analyze what makes art categorically different from one another, but I find it more interesting to find man’s unifying thought behind works of expression.


About lindseyhuston

I'm a strategic thinker with an eye for design. A recent graduate of Wofford College, my liberal arts background in Philosophy and English provided me with extensive writing and analytical skills. I’m adding to my skill set at Elon University learning as an MA in Interactive Media student. Teachable, driven, with an affinity towards networking, I hope to utilize my skills in a career in advertising and interactive design.


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