I am totally new to philosophy (actually studying engineering) but the philosophy of aesthetics fascinates me. Which books should I start reading to study about the way socio-economic factors influence the concept of beauty? I heard that Kant is one of the first to write about it, is it beginner friendly? Edit: Thank you all guys for the responses, I will try to read as many books that you have recommended me as I can

  • first book i read was about aesthetic detachment in japanese art. what is your favourite art? how much of an engineer are you? etc
    – user46524
    Jun 20, 2020 at 0:23
  • Start here: SEP, The Concept of the Aesthetic. It gives a historical introduction (including Kant), overview of main themes and many references to further reading.
    – Conifold
    Jun 20, 2020 at 7:22
  • This is a very important essay from the American side of the pond, sharecom.ca/greenberg/kitsch.html Greenberg was a huge influence on the American Art scene up until the early 1980s. 1939 until the early 80’s and the great “switch” to the New Criterion Art Journal. This history of art theory in America is a good thing to have in your pocket.
    – Gordon
    Jun 20, 2020 at 16:40
  • Another good book (taking off from the socio-economic angle) is “The Necessity of Art” by Ernst Fischer. archive.org/details/necessityofartma0000fisc
    – Gordon
    Jun 20, 2020 at 17:16
  • This YouTube video may interest you. Regarding Film, which of course was the major new art form of the last century. “Todd Haynes From Fassbinder to Sirk and back” m.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZTrOQL23XY
    – Gordon
    Jun 20, 2020 at 17:31

4 Answers 4


One very good and non-technical introductory anthology of essays on the subject, edited by the novelist (See Foucault's Pendulum and Name of the Rose, both of which which I highly recommend) public intellectual and semioticist, is Umberto Eco's 2004 The History of Beauty https://www.amazon.com/History-Beauty-Umberto-Eco/dp/0847835308. Here's a little blurb about the book:

Umberto Eco’s groundbreaking and much-acclaimed first illustrated book has been a critical success since its first publication in 2004. What is beauty? Umberto Eco, among Italy’s finest and most important contemporary thinkers, explores the nature, the meaning, and the very history of the idea of beauty in Western culture. The profound and subtle text is lavishly illustrated with abundant examples of sublime painting and sculpture and lengthy quotations from writers and philosophers.


Since you say you are "totally new to philosophy," I recommend you books that aim specifically at such a readership and present the key ideas and basic concepts clearly in a systematic manner. Otherwise, you may get the illusion that you have read and learnt a lot, while failing to grasp fundamentals.

One such good book I myself have read is Philosophy of Art:A Contemporary Introduction by Noël Carroll published in the Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy series (I recommend this series for other subjects as well.) The following is from the book description:

Philosophy of Art is a textbook for undergraduate students interested in the topic of philosophical aesthetics.

It introduces the techniques of analytic philosophy as well as key topics such as the representational theory of art, formalism, neo-formalism, aesthetic theories of art, neo-Wittgensteinism, the Institutional Theory of Art. as well as historical approaches to the nature of art.

Throughout, abstract philosophical theories are illustrated by examples of both traditional and contemporary art including frequent reference to the avant-garde in this way enriching the readers understanding of art theory as well as the appreciation of art.


A good book to go to would be Routledge Handbook of Aesthetics. It covers various topics, written by the top scholars, and at the end of each section, they give a very good reference list for further reading.


I'm going to go with a comment

a part of Western bourgeois society has produced something unheard of heretofore: -- avant-garde culture. A superior consciousness of history -- more precisely, the appearance of a new kind of criticism of society, an historical criticism -- made this possible. This criticism has not confronted our present society with timeless utopias, but has soberly examined in the terms of history and of cause and effect the antecedents, justifications and functions of the forms that lie at the heart of every society.

Greenberg goes on to discuss kitsch art, art for those who

are hungry nevertheless for the diversion that only culture of some sort can provide... the bad, up-to-date old


He explains that avant garde art "imitates" imitation, and kitsch imitates the "effects" of art. I'd gloss that as e.g., poetry that expresses the processes of writing poetry, rather than poetry's values. I suppose you could think of the former as something closer to the puzzled notes of engineers, as opposed to their expressions of success or failure.

I would suggest reading about mimesis and imitation, you should be able to do that without much philosophical help -- perhaps Plato. It's a start.

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