When I was younger, my mother said I was like a sponge; I always wanted to expand, to grow, and to soak up everything I possibly could. Curiosity is still one of my most dominant characteristics, and I am passionately curious about many things. It seems that, for me, curiosity and reading go hand in hand. When I find a topic I am interested in, I read and read and read until I feel I have a sense of understanding – or a deep understanding – of that particular topic.
I knew I wanted to study written communication in college because I loved reading so much. When I was a student at Chipola College earning my A.A. degree in Communications, my favorite classes were English and American Literature. It was heaven for me to read, to analyze, and to interpret poetry, short stories, plays, and books. When it came time for me to select a major and to apply to a university, I only applied to one program at one school. Fortunately, I was accepted to study English at the University of Florida, and my days (and nights) were spent pouring over how and why texts were beautiful and wonderful. In graduate school, I continued this study, and I focused on criticism, evaluation, and interpretation of literature as I pursued my M.A. in English at UNF. Understanding the aesthetics of literature has been in my blood since I was very, very young, but I studied it in college for about six years.
As a working adult, I realized I want to understand aesthetics on a more general level. As a public speaking and presentation instructor, I seek to define and analyze what makes a beautiful, memorable speech. As a visual presentation designer, I learn graphic design concepts to figure out how and why one slide resonates with an audience while another will not. Appreciating the beauty and function of written communication lead me to want to learn more about the beauty and function of verbal/nonverbal and visual communication. And this desire to learn more lead me to Anne Sheppard’s Aesthetics: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art.
I studied literature theory in college and in grad school, and I love and understand the aesthetics of a work of written communication. Though Aesthetics is written with a primary focus on literature, I learned a lot about aesthetics in general, and this was my goal. I wanted to know how the aesthetics of literature related to the aesthetics of other things: music, a slideshow, a Facebook page.
I love the universal ideas of aesthetics that Sheppard clearly explains. I’ve always had a difficult time processing theory because of the clunky language; Sheppard’s book was an easy read for me. Her ideas were well organized and included many, many examples to support those ideas. Because most of the examples were works of literature that I’d read and studied before, I found that I understood the book very quickly. However, Aesthetics is written so that anyone – regardless of education or background in this area – can effortlessly understand the ideas. I would highly recommend it for anyone without a basic knowledge or formal education, but I would also recommend it for those with a specific knowledge of one particular type of art – such as literature. It is, after all, “An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art” and does read as an introduction.
“Anne Sheppard divides her work into two parts: In the first, she summarizes the major theories defining art and beauty; in the second, she explores the nature of aesthetic evaluation and appreciation” (Source). The two sections are structured well. The book starts with why and answers the question, “Why bother about art?” She then spends four chapters on each of the four major theories of beauty: imitation; expression; form; and beauty/aesthetic appreciation. What I loved most was the second half, the in-depth look at the evaluating and appreciating aesthetics: Chapter 6 on “Criticism, Interpretation, and Evaluation,” Chapter 7 on “Intentions and Expectations,” Chapter 8 on “Meaning and Truth,” and Chapter 9 on “Art and Morals.”
I learned so much about the universal theories of aesthetics that apply to any medium, and though it was written in 1987, the book holds true and can apply to the technologies of 2012. Since I study and teach my students about new media and communicating in the 21st century, I was happy that these concepts will apply to my class, Professional Communication and Presentation. With one more read, I will be able to more clearly formulate a plan to teach students these concepts in an engaging way.
What have you been reading lately? Is Sheppard’s Aesthetics on your reading list?