Where does our aesthetic sense come from?


The pair of adjectives aesthetic / aisthetiscHindicates a twofold meaning that the history of the noun aestheticsreflects. Throughout the history of aesthetics since the slow naturalization of this term in the 18th century, there is an oscillation between on the one hand the meaning of Greek aisthesis as sensual perception / sensual knowledge whose philosophy is aesthetics, on the other hand the definition of aesthetics as the philosophy of art. Like two different colored threads, the two meanings are intertwined with historically different accents. Sometimes one seems to dominate, sometimes the other, but even in phases of clear demarcation they remain connected to one another (cf. Barck et al. 2010: 308-400). Not coincidentally, of course, because despite historical change, what has been and will be called “art” over the centuries has in common that it requires aesthetics in production and reception. This is not limited to the stimuli and performance of the sensory organs, but includes the ability to imagine what is absent. Therefore, written literature also belongs to the field of aesthesis: the readers do not stop at the sensually perceptible characters, they recognize in them an invisible world as the creation of the imagination.

While in the early discussion of the term “aesthetics” the Greek word meaning “aisthesis” was transferred to the new German words “Ästhetik” and “Ästhetisch”, the adjective “aesthetic” gained a rather diffuse definition, especially in the second half of the 20th century Life of its own. Colloquially often equated with beautiful, aesthetically in the current humanities and cultural studies discourses means a broad field of meaning of various natural, everyday and life experiences and forms, whereby it is always coupled with a reflection on the object as well as on the subject of experience. In the 1980s, the linguistic recourse to aesthesis made this broad term an emphatic one that emphasized the senses of the body aestheticdifferentiated and doubled at the same time, so that today three adjectives that are close to one another are used in the term field: “aesthetic / aesthetic / artistic” (see Vanessa-Isabelle Reinwand “Artistic Education - Aesthetic Education - Cultural Education”).

At the end of this differentiation of terms, the definition of “art” is still pending. But which human creations can be assigned to it, whether it is a seal of quality or a category of thing, as an object of dignity protruding from the stream of time or as something that changes with it, its diversity never goes smoothly into the philosophical definitions. An impure residue remains - a sign of their abundance.

Historical review 1: Sensual knowledge, art and play

In his lectures (1750-1758), the philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten describes aesthetics as “the theory of the liberal arts, as lower epistemology, as the art of beautiful thinking and as the art of thinking analogous to reason” and as “the science of sensual knowledge” ( Baumgarten 1988: § 1: 3). His work is not a theory of the senses or the sensuality of the body. Baumgarten is involved in the aesthetic discourses of his epoch, which revolve around the essence of beauty and the sensations that beauty evokes. Baumgarten sets the goal of aesthetics as “the perfection (perfecting) of sensual knowledge as such. But that means beauty ”(Baumgarten 1988: § 14:11). The beautiful is realized in the arts; the focus of his interest is poetry and rhetoric. Under the heading “The natural aesthetics” (ibid: 17) he sets out the dispositions with which those who think beautifully must be endowed, as well as those “who also carry what has been beautifully thought among people” (§ 37:23 ): the sharp sensation (§ 30: 18/19); "The natural ability to imagine something" (§ 31:19); penetrating insight (§ 32: 19f.); "The natural ability to recognize something and memory" (§ 33:21); the ability to “relate the images of the imagination to one another” and to circumcise them (§ 34:21). In addition to other skills, Baumgarten also emphasizes the "use of understanding and reason".

The natural aesthetic talent requires practice, which prepares the field for a spontaneous childlike desire to practice: “Furthermore, the beautiful natural talent is also practiced - and it obviously already practices itself, even if he does not know what he is doing - when a boy, for example chats and tells when he plays, especially when he invents games and proves to be a little game master, when he concentrates seriously on the games with his comrades, breaks a sweat and is busy with all sorts of things: when he sees, hears, reads things that he is able to recognize beautifully [...] ”(§ 55:35).

Baumgarten understands these and similar exercises for adults as improvisations "which the mind produces by itself on its own" (§ 55: 36f.); they must then be joined by the “trained art teaching”, which exercises the rules and their leeway in the individual arts primarily through reading the ancient authors. Baumgarten's doctrine of the “lower cognitive faculties” is therefore more extensive than a theory of sensuality. A few years after Baumgarten's lectures on aesthetics, Johann Gottfried Herder drew up such an emphatic design. In his essay on plastic (1768-70), in which he upgrades the sense of touch, which is traditionally classified as low, he, like Baumgarten, brings the reader into the “child's playroom” and creates a developmental psychological sketch:

“See how the little experienced person grasps, grasps, takes, weighs, feels, measures with hands and feet in order to get the difficult, first and most necessary concepts of bodies, shapes, size, space, distance and the like faithfully and safely everywhere . They cannot give him words or teachings; but experience, trial, samples. In a few moments he learns more and everything more vividly, truer, stronger than it would teach him to gawk and explain words in ten thousand years. Here, by constantly connecting face and feeling, examining one by one, expanding, lifting, strengthening - he forms his first judgment ”(Herder 1853: 26).

It is only one step from the first tentative understanding of the smallest child to the creative activity that turns the playroom into a model for the emergence of sculpture: "I could show that sculpture could only have emerged everywhere as it emerges with our children, in whose hands make their own wax, bread, clay […] ”(Herder 1853: 93).

By including children's play as an elementary expression of aesthetic activity in the discourse on beauty and art, they enhance it and thus lay the groundwork for the importance that Friedrich Schiller ascribes to play (even if he does not speak of children's play himself). In his work “On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters” (1795) he equates “aesthetic faculties” with the play instinct, the object of which is the “living figure”, “a term that encompasses all aesthetic properties of appearances and in a word, what is called beauty in the broadest sense, serves as a designation ”(Schiller 1959b: 614). For Schiller, play as an aesthetic phenomenon and as a metaphor for the aesthetic is the decisive third between the agonal forces sensuality and reason, which releases people from the fetters of the two forces and frees them to "make what they want out of themselves" (Schiller 1959b: 635). In this phase of the development of aesthetics as a philosophical discipline, the three authors named here essentially combine their different conceptions of the aesthetic and its relationship to sensuality and the arts with play.

Historical Review 2: Philosophy of Art and Psychological Aesthetics

By the end of the 18th century, Baumgarten's term "aesthetics" had largely caught on. Immanuel Kant's “Critique of Judgment” (1790) was and is still referred to as his aesthetics. Kant shifts beauty into the eyes and ears of the beholder or listener and uses subjective taste to emphasize the sensual foundation of the aesthetic judgment. A few years later, on the other hand, the younger generation around Friedrich Hölderlin, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Friedrich Schlegel and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel determined art (in the emphatic sense of the word, which encompasses all the arts) as an object of aesthetics. In the opening of his lectures on aesthetics (from 1820-29), Hegel emphasizes that the term "more precisely describes the science of sense, of feeling", and differentiates his aesthetics from this as the "philosophy of fine art" (Hegel 1965: 13) . Although he concedes that art is "certainly for the sensual apprehension", but that it is "as sensual at the same time essential for the mind, the mind should be affected by it and find some satisfaction in it" (Hegel 1965: 45). He sums up the relationship between the sensual and the spirit in art in terms of appearance:

“That is why the sensual in the work of art is raised to mere appearance in comparison with the immediate existence of natural things, and the work of art stands in the middle between the immediate sensuality and the ideal thought. It is not yet a pure thought, but in spite of its sensuality it is no longer a mere material existence, such as stones, plants and organic life, but the sensual in the work of art is itself an ideal, which, however, as not the ideal of the thought, at the same time as a thing is still externally present ”(Hegel 1965: 48).

Appearance is not to be understood here as a deception: "Because appearance itself is essential to the being, the truth would not be if it did not appear and appear [...]" (Hegel 1965: 19).

Hegel's aesthetics, which continued well into the second half of the 20th century, influenced Theodor W. Adorno's aesthetics, which were also committed to art. However, already in the last third of the 19th century, sensory perception moved more into focus again - this time on the part of psychology, which had meanwhile developed into an independent science. As an unusually original thinker, the Leipzig physicist and natural philosopher Gustav Theodor Fechner developed an empirical aesthetic “from below” in his “Preschool of Aesthetics”. He examines “experiences about what pleases and displeases” and derives “terms and laws” from this, “which have a place in aesthetics” (Fechner 1876: 1). With Fechner begins the history of experimental psychology and psychological aesthetics, which in the 20th century brought about Gestalt psychology, which was influential in the visual arts, design and art education of the modern age. For decades, the senses and sensory perception remained the focus of psychological, philosophical and anthropological thinking, which always includes art and the arts and examines them in the context of the elementary relationships between body and mind, perception and cognition, sensation and knowledge. (See, among others, Straus 1935; Plessner 1923, 1970; Merleau-Ponty 1945; Schmitz 1964-1980).

Pedagogy and didactics of aesthesis

Baumgarten and Herder's references to the development of the senses in children and to their spontaneous aesthetic self-formation in play were condensed by the romantic generation with their interest in children and childhood into a myth of the creative child that is still influential today. Pedagogical thinking was directed towards the development and promotion of play and childlike sensuality, which contradicted their traditionally rigid domination and suppression. It was not until the neo-romantic youth and reform movement around 1900 that these ideas were translated into broad-based pedagogical concepts that were implemented in experimental educational institutions and, in the 1920s, also in regular schools. The traditional drawing lessons are through Art education detached; comparable models develop music, theater and literary education. Unlike Maria Montessori, whose sensory exercises were supposed to pave the way to scientific intelligence, German reform pedagogy understood aesthetic / aesthetic education as an antagonist or at least as a compensation for one-sided intellectual-abstract teaching. The emotional, sensual and creative energies of the child should be perceived and encouraged where they appear: in play, in free written expression, in drawings, in handicrafts and crafts, in viewing works of art, in dance and in intensive listening to music. During the years of the National Socialist regime, the already non-uniform movement broke up. Despite the post-1945 survival of the reform, its influence waned in the 1950s and 1960s. It was only under the impression of the “68s” youth and emancipation movement that a new reform movement emerged in the 1980s, which was no longer based only on German reform history, but also on other European and American models.

This reform movement, like the first one to a large extent from teachers, met together with the “aesthetic turn in aesthetics” (Barck 2006: 4), which Wolfgang Welsch made with the recourse to the ancient meaning of the word Aesthesismarked (Welsch 1987). The signal was taken up all the more readily by the reform-oriented pedagogues when, since the 1968s, some had turned away from art, which was despised as a rotten bourgeois relic, and reinterpreted “aesthetic” as the class-militant counter-term; From now on, the lessons should shape the aesthetic preferences of the students. The aesthesis concept seemed to open a way beyond “high” art. Supported by reformist vigor, early school and primary school pedagogues in particular developed models for promoting perception: sensory exercises were integrated into the classroom, tactile boxes were built, games for the blind were designed, and petting activities were introduced. The class struggle position gradually receded in favor of the ecological one. The considerations and practical suggestions from Hugo Kükelhaus sparked fascination. The charismatic craftsman and artist, philosopher and educator, who was born in 1900, proposed carefully worked wood and elementary forms and functions as early stimuli for awareness-raising with his baby toys, the “Griffin Allbedeut”, which he developed from 1939 onwards (cf. Münch 1995) Especially with his "fields of experience for the development of the senses" (Kükelhaus / zur Lippe 1982) he emphasizes the importance of (day) light changes, colors, natural materials and games of balance. He stages a variety of surface stimuli for feet and hands, experiences with self-triggered acoustic phenomena such as resonance and echo. Kükelhaus, like many of his generation a committed Goethe reader, was close to Rudolf Steiner's pedagogy without being an anthroposophist.

Another source of inspiration for aesthetic pedagogy was and is the Italian Reggio pedagogy, a reform pedagogical and constructivist-based early education conception with a democratic and humanistic orientation, which, like the romantic childhood myth, presupposes the "rich child" and the perception and promotion of his or her creative energies and artistic forms of expression the focus (cf. Göhlich 1988, Dreier 1993). From an educational perspective, the aestheticPosition theoretically founded and supported by the pedagogical (body-oriented) phenomenology (cf. inter alia Lippitz 1981), by Jürgen Seewald's understanding approach to psychomotor skills (1992), by Klaus Mollenhauer and his students (1996) as well as by Christoph Wulf's pedagogical anthropology (among others Wulf 1994; Liebau / Zirfas 2008; Rittelmeyer 2002).

What can and should aesthetic To learn? (see also Mattenklott 2007). Some educational tasks are summarized here: The learners experience their own body and senses as the energy potential of knowledge, enjoyment and communication with other living beings; the intensified and reflected self-perception increases attention to the physicality of the other (see Doris Schuhmacher-Chilla “Body - physicality”). Linguistic and extra-linguistic forms of expression are developed for physical and sensory experiences. Body and emotional issues and their social and aesthetic cultures are reflected on and shaped (e.g. the meal).Materials and things from the analog world are explored, collected, ordered, combined with one another and changed in their stubbornness and in their historical and symbolic dimensions. Works of art and artistic manifestations are discovered as a rich field of bodily sensory experiences, challenge the mind and inspire one's own artistic activity. Eventually, Hegels will Sham of art can be experienced as the essential, sensually perceptible garment of an abundance of meanings that only appear in it.

Outlook: Aesthetic - aesthetic - artistic learning today

Body- and sensory-oriented pedagogy remained topical throughout the 1990s, but has lost since the PISA tests were established by the OECD from the year 2000 on its radiance. It can neither come up with evidence-based research results, nor can it be evaluated with standardized tests. She draws her justifications from humanities traditions, which are finding less and less support in Europe's economized educational landscape. In programs such as “Moving Elementary School”, some of the content and methods of aesthetic learning are retained, but the connection to the aesthetic and the world of the arts is dissolving in favor of health education, which is easier to convey economically. Despite the priority given by school pedagogy and empirical educational science to the so-called core competencies in mathematical, scientific and linguistic learning, a diverse culture of school and extracurricular art-related initiatives has developed in recent years. Pop music, “high” classical music and the avant-garde tradition around John Cage act peacefully side by side and just as successfully as new dance and cooperation with visual artists from all directions, including the virtual worlds of digital photography, film and games. This culture of aesthetic / aesthetic / artistic learning includes bodily sensory experience as well as playful exercise and one's own artistic productivity, including the (self) reflection inherent in the aesthetic and the increase in knowledge that accompanies every artistic activity. It fulfills a whole range of educational and therapeutic tasks, from the experience of self-efficacy to dialogue with the unfamiliar and the unfamiliar. It is to be demanded that these activities are not only tolerated as leisure education alongside the "core subjects", but are recognized as equal, as an elementary prerequisite and indispensable contribution to the education of emancipated individuals. The fact that their vital services cannot be tested in tests should not be enough to marginalize them.