The Principles Of Aesthetics Informative Summary


This book delves into the philosophy of aesthetics, aiming to make the appreciation of art an intellectual pursuit. De Witt H. Parker argues that understanding art necessitates defining its unique characteristics and relationship to human nature. He employs a two-pronged approach: objective observation and analysis of art, and a critical examination of our own aesthetic intentions. He argues that art, unlike science, expresses complete, emotionally-toned experiences in a free and autonomous manner.

The intrinsic value of art, Parker asserts, lies in its ability to provide sympathetic insight into experience through expression. Art objectifies and clarifies our chaotic inner lives, allowing us to contemplate and master them. Moreover, art facilitates communication and preservation of experiences, making them accessible to others and enduring over time. This ability to make us see and feel life in its fullness, organized and delightful, constitutes the core of art’s unique value.

Key Findings:

  • Art is free expression, distinct from automatic or practical expressions. It focuses on experience as a whole, imbued with feelings and values, unlike the objective focus of science.
  • Aesthetic value is unique and personal, derived from the act of expression itself. It facilitates intuition – a sympathetic and clear vision of experience.
  • Art universalizes values, allowing for shared understanding and appreciation of experiences across time and cultures.
  • The sensuous medium in art is not merely a vehicle for communication but a source of pleasure and expression. Its charm serves to enhance the objectivity and appeal of the art.
  • Aesthetic unity is vital for the appreciation of art and is achieved through various structures like harmony, balance, and evolution.
  • Art can express evil just as effectively as good, providing insight into its nature and offering catharsis through the tragic, pathetic, and comic.
  • Genuine aesthetic judgment requires a clear understanding of art’s purpose and must be free from non-aesthetic biases like moralism or scientific literalism.


  • Readers will understand the essential nature of art as free expression. They will learn to distinguish art from other forms of expression like automatic, practical, and scientific expressions by understanding its focus on complete experiences with feelings and values.
  • Readers will gain insight into the unique value of art derived from expression. They will explore the concept of intuition as a sympathetic and clear vision of experience, achieved through art’s ability to objectify and clarify our inner lives.
  • Readers will appreciate the universality of art and its role in preserving and communicating experiences. They will recognize how art transcends individual experience to create a shared understanding of life across time and cultures.
  • Readers will learn to appreciate the sensuous medium of art as an integral aspect of the aesthetic experience. They will understand how the charm of color, line, sound, or rhythm enhances the objectivity and appeal of art, serving to further the artistic purpose.
  • Readers will recognize the importance of aesthetic unity in art. They will explore various structural principles like harmony, balance, and evolution that contribute to the coherence and enjoyment of art.
  • Readers will develop an understanding of how art effectively expresses both good and evil. They will learn about the tragic, pathetic, and comic as aesthetic modes that provide insight into the nature of evil and offer a cathartic experience.
  • Readers will develop a critical understanding of aesthetic judgment and the need to overcome non-aesthetic biases. They will learn to distinguish genuine aesthetic judgments from those influenced by external factors like moralism or scientific literalism, allowing for a more objective and enriching appreciation of art.

Historical Context:

The book was published in 2004, during a period marked by a continued blurring of boundaries between different art forms and an increasing emphasis on subjective interpretations. The author addresses the dominance of contemporary scientific and moralistic perspectives, emphasizing the need for a distinct and autonomous understanding of art. He also acknowledges the changing dynamics of artistic production and consumption in a market-driven economy, speculating on the potential of art in a more egalitarian society.


  1. Aesthetic expression is autonomous and free. It is valued for itself and not merely as a means to an end, unlike practical expressions.
  2. Art expresses concrete experiences, encompassing emotions and values. This distinguishes it from science, which focuses on objective description and analysis.
  3. Artistic truth lies in sympathetic vision, not in correspondence to external reality. The artist seeks to convey the experience of things, not merely facts about them.
  4. Intuition is a key outcome of artistic expression, both for the artist and the spectator. It involves a clear and ordered understanding of experience, along with its inherent values.
  5. Art universalizes values, allowing for shared understanding across cultures and time. By expressing himself, the artist creates a form for sharing similar experiences.
  6. The sensuous medium of art is not merely a vehicle for communication but is expressive in itself. The sounds of words in poetry, the colors of a painting, the lines of a sculpture – all contribute to the overall mood and meaning of the work.
  7. Aesthetic unity is essential to the experience of art and is achieved through various structural forms. These include harmony, balance, and evolution, each contributing to the coherence and enjoyment of the work.
  8. Art can express evil just as effectively as good. The artist can make even morally reprehensible objects aesthetically acceptable through skillful representation.
  9. Tragedy in art involves a manful struggle against necessary and inevitable opposition. It evokes admiration for the hero’s courage and a recognition of the essential disharmony of existence.
  10. Pathos in art portrays sheer evil without any compensating development of character. It evokes pity and leads to an idealization of the lost good.
  11. The comic in art depends on incongruity between an object and an accepted standard. It evokes laughter through a sense of superiority or through a playful release from tension.
  12. Genuine aesthetic judgment relies on a clear understanding of art’s purpose and must be free from non-aesthetic biases. This involves recognizing art’s autonomy and judging it solely on its ability to provide sympathetic vision.
  13. Taste is an experimental and evolving phenomenon, shaped by individual and social experiences. The standard of taste is not absolute but changes over time and across cultures.
  14. Pseudo-aesthetic judgments hinder true appreciation of art. These are based on external factors like personal predilection, social conformity, or moralistic and scientific biases.
  15. Music expresses emotions without representing their causes or objects. It evokes feelings through the direct impact of sound and rhythm, allowing for a highly personal and intimate experience.
  16. Poetry employs both musical expressiveness and meaningful content to convey emotionally toned thoughts. Its rhythmic and sonic elements serve to enhance and refine the experience of language.
  17. Prose literature aims to express the fullness and minuteness of life through a more transparent medium. It sacrifices the strict musicality of verse to achieve greater freedom and accuracy in representing human experience.
  18. Painting utilizes color and line, both as direct expressions of feeling and as means of representing objects. Its subject matter is the visible world, portrayed in a way that conveys not only its appearance but also its emotional and symbolic significance.
  19. Sculpture primarily expresses beauty through the three-dimensional form of the human body. It relies on the realism of its medium to convey both the sensuous charm and the inner life of its subject.
  20. Architecture expresses beauty primarily through the interplay of forces inherent in its forms. It combines aesthetic principles with practical considerations to create functional structures that are also objects of contemplation and delight.


  1. Aesthetic Experience: The experience of beauty, involving a sense of pleasure, contemplation, and emotional engagement with the object.
  2. Expression: The act of putting forth purpose, feeling, or thought into a sensuous medium.
  3. Intuition: The sympathetic and clear vision of experience achieved through artistic expression.
  4. Sympathetic Vision: The ability to understand and feel at one with the experience expressed in a work of art.
  5. Einfulhung: A German term meaning “feeling into,” describing the process of projecting emotions onto an object, particularly in art.
  6. Dominance: The principle of aesthetic structure that emphasizes certain elements as focal points within a work of art.
  7. Equilibrium: The principle of aesthetic structure that ensures no element within a work of art is neglected, even if subordinate.
  8. Tragic: An aesthetic mode that portrays the manful struggle of a personality against inevitable opposition, evoking admiration for courage and a recognition of life’s essential disharmony.
  9. Pathos: An aesthetic mode that portrays sheer evil without any compensating development of character, evoking pity and leading to an idealization of the lost good.
  10. Comic: An aesthetic mode that depends on incongruity between an object and an accepted standard, evoking laughter through a sense of superiority or a playful release from tension.


  1. Rembrandt’s “Man with the Gold Helmet” evokes sentiments of respect and veneration, going beyond mere delight in color and line.
  2. The soft, flowing lines of Correggio’s “Venus and Mars” directly express the voluptuous happiness of the subject, independent of their representational function.
  3. Wordsworth’s “The Lost Love” demonstrates how the emotional significance of individual words can be heightened through their context within the poem.
  4. Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” exemplifies the effective use of imagery in poetry to convey the emotional depth of an experience.
  5. Gautier’s “Les Colombes” illustrates the limitations of imagist poetry in competing with the visual arts.
  6. Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” reveals the power of portrait painting to capture the inner life of the subject.
  7. Michelangelo’s “David” embodies the ideals of heroic classical sculpture, expressing dignity and power through the form of the human body.
  8. Rodin’s “The Thinker” exemplifies the capacity of sculpture to portray the individualized psychic life through subtle modeling of the face and body.
  9. The Greek Doric temple exemplifies the balance between upward and downward forces, achieving an aesthetic equilibrium through its architectural form.
  10. The Gothic cathedral expresses the victory of the vertical tendency, symbolizing aspiration and spiritual elevation through its soaring arches and spires.


De Witt H. Parker’s “The Principles of Aesthetics” offers a compelling exploration of the nature and purpose of art. The book emphasizes the importance of understanding art as free expression, distinct from science and morality. It highlights the unique value of art in providing sympathetic insight into experience through expression, allowing for a clearer and more meaningful understanding of life. Through detailed analysis of various art forms, Parker demonstrates how the charm of the sensuous medium, the principles of aesthetic unity, and the ability to express both good and evil contribute to the richness and depth of the aesthetic experience. Ultimately, the book champions the need for a more discerning and autonomous appreciation of art, free from non-aesthetic biases, to fully embrace its unique cultural and personal significance.

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