Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Second Day Noodle: Aesthetics. Art. Therapy.

Francis Bacon
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

oil and pastel on cardboard
 94 x 74 cm (each)

For today's Second Day Noodle I'm going to wade into the treacherous waters of aesthetics. I say treacherous waters because I'm afraid that in writing some thoughts about aesthetics, I'll be opening a can of worms. What is aesthetic? What is beauty? What is art? What does it matter? But,...here we go anyway. All of the images in this post represent what I personally find to be aesthetically pleasing.

Hannah Ward
Pen, Colored Pencil
15" x 22"

aesthetics: 1.the branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the comic,etc., as applicable to the fine arts, with a view to establishing the meaning and validity of critical judgments concerning works of artand the principles underlying or justifying such judgments.
2. the study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty. 

My questions on aesthetics rise from my experience in two graduate programs, as an MFA candidate at CU Boulder, and as an MS candidate at Mount Mary University. In one of my classes at CU Boulder we spent the semester investigating beauty and how it pertains to our own studio work. Many years later and this question about beauty still sticks with me. What is beauty? Who has the right to define beauty? Is it completely subjective or does it have some objectivity? Now, in my current art therapy graduate studies, questions are raised again about aesthetics, beauty, truth, and really what roles all of these play in the art therapy experience. If it is the process of making art that is therapeutic, does it matter what the finished product looks like? (For more on art therapy, process, and product see my notes on Edith Kramer)

Kiel Johnson
Find a Way In
graphite and acrylic on panel
18" x 23''

Right here and now, without going into in depth research, I want to say that it does matter. It doesn't matter if the art therapist finds a client's art piece aesthetically pleasing. Aesthetics matter as viewed by the client. Let me explain my thoughts behind this.

Linda Lopez
Lift to Hide
Ink and gouache on paper

To begin with, when I say aesthetically pleasing, I'm not talking about rainbows, flowers, mountains, sunrises, and all other things we generally lump into the "beautiful" category. The philosophical inquiry into aesthetics actually looks at "creation, interpretation, and ultimate appreciation of works of art" (Martin, 2003). It takes into account the individual sensations of the viewers, and how the encounter with the object is influenced by not only how the person's senses take in and react to the object, but also how culture influences the interpretation of that object.

Wendy Houghton

Process matters, but so does product. For the therapeutic qualities in art to come to fruition, process and product are not two separate things, but are rather two sides of the same coin.  

One of the therapeutic qualities in art is the full investment of oneself into the act of engaging in something outside of oneself. For myself at least, the goal of making something aesthetically pleasing is part of that full investment. When I make a work, and have the aim of making it aesthetically pleasing, my goal is to make something that captivates and holds the attention of the viewer, and renders to the viewer, at the very least, a small fragment of the thoughts and feelings I invested into the piece while creating it. 

Loretta Lux

 "Art is not, as the meta-physicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man's emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity." (Tolstoy, 1899)

I'd love to read any thoughts my readers have on aesthetics, art therapy, or the article in general.


1. aesthetics. 2014. In Dictionary.com. Retrieved March 11, 2014, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/aesthetics?s=t

2. Martin, L. (2003). Aesthetics. Unpublished raw data, Theories of Media, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, Retrieved from http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/aesthetics.htm

3. Tolstoy , L. (1899). What is art. New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls.

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