—Benedetto Croce, "Aesthetics," Encyclopedia Britannica (1929).
The questions of esthetics are unchanging—the definition of art (as distinct from non-art or sub-art), the function of art, the types of art, the genesis of art, the effects of art, the relation of art to society and history, the criteria of critical evaluation, the processes of perception, and the generic characteristics of superior work. As esthetic thinking deals with properties common and yet peculiar to all things called "art," the philosophy of art, in contrast to "criticism," offers statements which are relevant to more than one art, if not fundamental to the arts in general—the presuppositions being, first, that the various arts are more interrelated than not and, second, that common artistic assumptions are more significant than differences in content and materials. Esthetics is, by definition, primarily concerned with "fine art," if not with only the very best art; and although the philosophy of art customarily depends upon the established hierarchies of critical reputation for its choice of individual examples, esthetics provides more foundation for critical practice than the latter offers the former. Concomitant esthetic concerns include the nature of badness and/ or vulgarity in art, and the question of whether art is, or should be, primarily the imitation of nature, the expression of self, or wholly the creation of imagination; for these are issues that are most definitively considered with references to all of the arts.
Esthetics is more self-reflective than criticism, as well as more dispassionate about particular art forms or works; for it evinces not only a breadth of interest that is ideally all-encompassing but also an objective distance from individual artists, certain styles, internecine disputes and fluctuating hierarchies of reputation.