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In Defining ‘Aesthetics’ for Non-Western Studies: The Case of Mesopotamia, Winter (2002) argues that the Western view of “aesthetics” has hindered the way that ancient works of art are interpreted and understood. More specifically, Winter (2002) argued that the Mesopotamian culture must be examined before defining what was considered to be aesthetical during the time of its creation. While the Mesopotamian languages did not include a word for “aesthetics” or “art”, nor did texts be existent that explained any artistic theories, Winter’s thesis stated that this did not mean it did not exist in Mesopotamian society, but “aesthetics” were just viewed differently than how it is in modern Western cultures.
One major argument for Winter’s thesis is the fact that the term “aesthetics” was not constructed until 1735 by A.G. Baumgarten (Winter, 2002). After the creation of the term “aesthetics”, the word began to become more defined; over time, “aesthetics” began to encompass certain aspects of only the fine arts, such as painting, sculpture, architecture, etc.(Winter, 2002). Moreover, aesthetics began to be another term for “beauty”, which shaped the way art way looked at and appreciated (Winter, 2002). This being said, aesthetics grew to become a definition used only to describe certain things that were created in a manner that utilized beauty. However, this understanding and definition of aesthetics was nonexistent in the Mesopotamian time period; how could “aesthetics” and “art” be explained in text if no term was assigned for such a concept? Winter explained that although there was no written word for it, a sense of aesthetics in Mesopotamian art was expressed in a variety of other ways.
One way that Winter (2002) described being able to determine the aesthetics of Mesopotamian art is to consider the culture, context, and other surrounding variables. The culture of Mesopotamia must be examined when considering the “aesthetic” value of art pieces, which entails examining art differently than we do in modern Western culture. For example, the emotional response that specific artworks provoke can provide insight to their value and importance during the Mesopotamian time period. Likewise, the environment a piece of art was created for can explain a lot about its significance; art used in temples and “divine” places suggest great importance and worthiness. Because the Mesopotamian pre-modern culture was vastly different than today’s, it is essential to consider all aspects of how their culture operated and existed.
All in all, I believe that Winter (2002) was successful with her argument. Cultural norms range greatly depending on where (and when) the culture resides. Winter argued that the Western way of viewing art must be avoiding when examining Mesopotamian art works, because the understanding of “aesthetics” was not the same as it is now. By taking a new perspective on pre-modern items, such as artwork, we can begin to understand them more accurately and have a better sense of significance.
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