The most common meaning of “aesthetics” today associates it with beauty. We use this term to refer to principles and techniques to make something beautiful, and to our experiences of that beauty. It comes from the ancient Greek aisthetikos, which meant “esthetic, sensitive, sentient, pertaining to sense perception”; that word was derived from aisthanesthai, meaning “I perceive, feel, sense.”

Many human cultures developed explicit principles and rules to be used in order to achieve beauty. Such principles may concern proportion, symmetry, harmony, composition, use of colors, narrative organization, and so on. In between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries in the West, many philosophers developed theories of aesthetic experience, while art academies were teaching artists the practical principles to make beautiful artworks. In the twentieth century, such prescriptive aesthetic systems became less important, but some principles remain widely used (such as Euclid’s golden ratio). Modernist photographers, artists, and architects …

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