All five senses provide the perceptual data to activate an aesthetic response, but for the visual arts we are primarily concerned with sight. How much of our response is cultural or learned, and how much is 'natural' or innate is still a contentious issue (reactions to seeing snakes, rats or spiders vary from one person to another, but also one culture to another).
Historians and anthropologists have primarily been concerned with the social formation of visual predilections. Although there is a widespread tendency to link aesthetics with positive concepts, such as beauty, it is obvious that ugliness, for example, must also be implicated - if only through opposition. However 'unbeautiful' is not the same thing as ugly, in other words negative aesthetic concepts involve more than absence of the positive: antithesis has to be constructed. There is also the apparent paradox that ugliness in some contexts is thought to be appropriate, and gives positive gratification because it is apt - for example in representing evil demons.
Art functions in part by means of aesthetics, and serves as an 'agent' in the formation of representational preferences. These can be formed with references to visual tradition, or by alluding to various 'ideals' of proportion , or through patterning. Positively perceived cultural and social practices, such as body decoration (Scarification, Hair Style), can promote a similar reaction when used in representational art.T. Heslop | Dec 2001