Aesthetics is the study of art and beauty; it was an important issue for 18th- and 19th-century philosophers such as Kant and Hegel. Classical philosophers like Plato and Aristotle also theorized about art and painting in particular. Plato disregarded painters (as well as sculptors) in his philosophical system; he maintained that painting cannot depict the truth—it is a copy of reality (a shadow of the world of ideas) and is nothing but a craft, similar to shoemaking or iron casting. By the time of Leonardo, painting had become a closer representation of the truth than painting was in Ancient Greece. Leonardo da Vinci, on the contrary, said that "Italian: La Pittura è cosa mentale" ("English: painting is a thing of the mind"). Kant distinguished between Beauty and the Sublime, in terms that clearly gave priority to the former. Although he did not refer to painting in particular, this concept was taken up by painters such as J.M.W. Turner and Caspar David Friedrich.
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Hegel recognized the failure of attaining a universal concept of beauty and, in his aesthetic essay, wrote that painting is one of the three "romantic" arts, along with Poetry and Music, for its symbolic, highly intellectual purpose. Painters who have written theoretical works on painting include Kandinsky and Paul Klee. In his essay, Kandinsky maintains that painting has a spiritual value, and he attaches primary colors to essential feelings or concepts, something that Goethe and other writers had already tried to do.
Color, made up of hue, saturation, and value, dispersed over a surface is the essence of painting, just as pitch and rhythm are the essence of music. Color is highly subjective, but has observable psychological effects, although these can differ from one culture to the next. Black is associated with mourning in the West, but in the East, white is. Some painters, theoreticians, writers and scientists, including Goethe, Kandinsky, and Newton, have written their own color theory.