I contend that the concept of aesthetics lies at the very heart of the art educational enterprise, albeit significantly reconfigured. I begin by offering a highly potted, historical overview of aesthetics that while it supports Tavin’s view of aesthetics as a confused and confusing concept, demonstrates how important it remains. My intention is not to support aesthetics as part of a progressive socio-political agenda, as many art educators do, but because the word aesthetics is today used extensively beyond our specialized area of art education to conceptualize the sensuousness of contemporary cultural forms. A brief investigation of books and articles on today’s cultural forms indicates that, as Williams (1976) noted 30 years ago, apart from its specialized use in art and literature, “aesthetics is now in common use to refer to questions of visual appearance and effect ” (p. 28). This usage is freed from Modernist associations of formalism and transcendence; rather, it echoes the original Greek origins of aesthetics as aisthesis, which meant sense data in general. For the Greeks, aisthesis was a very general concept meant to distinguish between what could be seen and what could only be imagined (Eagleton, 1990). This very broad meaning of aesthetics as sensation is implied in the opposite idea of anesthetic, the deprivation of sensation.
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