Aesthetics of aesthetics
- Nanditha Prabhu, Chennai
e-mail: prabhu.nandu@gmail.com

April 27, 2011

What is "Aesthetics?" Any dictionary today will give us a definite definition for this term, which we tend to use very casually, very frequently.

I was attending one of my arts management lectures and suddenly our professor aimed a question at us: "What does the term aesthetics means to you?" she asked.

The semiotics behind the term "aesthetics" conjured up various images of a well arranged home, a well dressed person, a beautiful soothing ambience and a lot more....As we were trying to put these images to words, aesthetics seemed more like an abstract concept. Like beauty which lies in the eyes of the beholder, aesthetics also seemed like an idea which could be defined by each individual according to his or her own taste.

The origin of the term aesthetics could be traced back to the Greek word "aisthetikos" pertaining to the sense of perception. Now the sense of perception need not be limited to the sense of sight alone, it could be to all the five senses and perhaps also to the sixth sense which perceives things with a freedom beyond all concepts. While "aesthetic," as it was initially used, related to all perceivable phenomena, only during the 18th century did it come to be used as "aesthetic" by the famous German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who emphasised beauty as a defining component of any art. Gradually, "aesthetic" transformed into "aesthetics" of today which could be related to appreciation of any art. Today all of us include the word "aesthetics" in our day today vocabulary so casually.

Aesthetics in itself today is a branch of study delving into the philosophy of art. Due to globalisation and urbanisation, cultural exchange has led to the confluence of eastern and western thoughts, when we easily adopt and adapt to western ideas and ideals....let's not forget to pause for a while and try to revisit our aesthetics... our "Indian aesthetics." While western aesthetics is dominated by symmetry, volume and depth, Indian art's "rasavikalpa" should not be erased though, it cannot be judged in terms of western ideals. While we adopt and adapt to inputs from all over the globe, let us awaken our Indian sensibilities and be adept in our chosen field.

Many of the Sanskrit terms are not conducive to translation into English and we many times feel handicapped in expressing our precise thoughts and meanings. Similarly, "rasa" which is the purpose of any art according to the Indian thought cannot be translated into its equivalent in English while many a times we find it being equated to aesthetics. While evoking of rasa is a long and meditative process, an age old Vedic mantra, which is the flavour and essence of any Indian art, aesthetics, is a recent addition to our art vocabulary, a superficial symbol trying to define abstract ideas.


Nanditha Prabhu is a Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam dancer, trained under her mother Kalamandalam Suganthi and Padma Subrahmanyam respectively. She runs her dance school Mythri Art Academy in Chennai'