Empirical aesthetics is associated with two research questions: How the mind generally assigns value to sensory stimuli and how it responds specifically to art objects. Researchers have debated whether these phenomena share enough to warrant being collapsed into a single field. To ask how these particular questions came to be associated with aesthetics, we conducted Google Ngram analyses over a corpus of books spanning two centuries. Analyses trace the frequency of “big questions” about art and beauty, and how the term aesthetic appears relative to other concepts. Results indicate the 19th century was dominated by notions of beauty and an aesthetic sense. Questions about art and aesthetic experience become more frequent during the 20th century. Results are interpreted with respect to associated affective and evaluative concepts, art movements, and scientific debates. Understanding how aesthetics is used over time can cast light on the ways current work is being conceived and pursued.
Bibliographical noteEpub ahead of print. Published online: February 13, 2020.
- Aesthetic sense
- Aesthetic experience
- Google Ngram