There are a number of good introductory texts to aesthetics and the philosophy of art that could give you an overview. What works best for you would depend on your background and interests. More recent works have the advantage of covering more recent controversies. However, sometimes the older ones are better written or contain material that is still of interest. In addition to introductory texts I list several guidebooks and companions: they are all pretty similar to each other. The entries are usually well written. However, like all encyclopedia articles, these can be a bit tepid compared to the kinds of articles that really change the nature of the field. Those articles are typically found in anthologies often used as textbooks. I include several of those anthologies here too. The anthologies either cover the whole of the history of aesthetics/philosophy of art or roughly the last fifty years. If you want deep rich reading I recommend reading one of the former kind. However if you are interested in hot topics in contemporary professional philosophy I recommend the latter. These anthologies are either in analytic aesthetics, continental aesthetics, or both. I also include some other anthologies that are typically used in introductory level aesthetics classes and which often cover a wider range of opinion, for example Asian as well as Western perspectives. With many of these books you can save money by buying a used copy of an earlier edition or getting from the library. I will revise this blog entry from time to time. I will not be including many rare or obviously out-of-date introductory texts and anthologies: the ones I will include are usually readily available through online bookstores. For the sake of speed I have not given full bibliographical information, but you can easily use the information I give to find out more.
Cahn ed. Aesthetics: A Comprehensive Anthology. 2007 An
anthology that covers both historical figures and contemporary debates.
Noel Carroll. Philosophy of Art 1999 Well-written by one of the most important contemporary analytic aestheticians.
Clive Cazeaux ed.. The Continental Aesthetics Reader. Routledge. 2011. Includes such figures as Kant, Sartre, Benjamin Lyotard, Kristeva, Bachelard, Marcuse, Barthes and Irigaray.
David Cooper ed. A Companion to Aesthetics. Blackwell. 1995 A mini-encyclopedia of aesthetics.
Davies. Philosophy of Art. Wiley-Blackwell. 2006. An introductory overview by an important
contemporary philosopher of art in the analytic tradition. He has also
more recently written a book on art and evolution.
Dickie ed. Aesthetics: An Anthology. St. Martins Press. 1989. This
is an old one but covers both classic selections and leading articles of the late part of the 20th century.
Dickie. Introduction to Aesthetics. Oxford. 1997. This text goes
back to the 1970s. I haven't read this most recent edition. Dickie is
quite famous in analytic aesthetics for his institutional theory of
art. Well written.
Eldridge. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art. 2003. Eldridge's perspective combines pragmatism and romanticism (as
strange as that may sound). There are some deep thoughts here.
Susan Feagin and Patrick Maynard. ed. Aesthetics. Oxford U. Press, 1998. A good anthology for teaching an aesthetics class.
Gaut ed. Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. Routledge. 2013 This is a
good way to learn about aesthetics and philosophy of art. Ditto for
the other companion books.
David Goldblatt and Lee Brown. Aesthetics: A Reader in the Philosophy of Art. Pearson. 2010. I use this anthology frequently in my Introduction to Aesthetics class.
Theodore Gracyk. Philosophy of Art: An Introduction. Polity. 2011. I recently taught this one and made comments on it on this blog Just search "Gracyk" in the search area on the right.
Kierney ed. Continental Aesthetics Reader. Wiley Blackwell. 2001.
One of two such anthologies that focuses on the continental tradition,
e.d. Nietzsche, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty.
Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Art. Wiley Blackwell. 2005.
This is an anthology the sets up debating positions of analytic philosophers. Good for advanced students.
Carolyn Korsmeyer. Aesthetics: The Big Questions. Wiley-Blackwell, 1998. Good anthology useful for introduction to aesthetics classes.
Cynthia Freeland. But is it Art? An Introduction to Art Theory. Oxford. 2002. colorful and relatively light --- takes into account recent trends in art, well-illustrated. This is a great book for the beginner who is also an artist. I comment on it in this blog.
Lamarque ed. Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic
Tradition. Wiley Blackwell. 2003. This anthology covers the key articles and book chapters
that have sparked debate in analytic aesthetics.
Levinson ed. The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Oxford University
Press. 2005. This is similar to the other companions: a short
encyclopedia. Very thorough.
Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley ed. Arguing About Art. Routledge. 2007. Sets up competing articles on various fun issues in aesthetics. My Philosophy of Art class enjoyed discussing whether food is art, forgeries, horror, sentimental art, and so forth.
Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley ed. The Philosophy of Art: Reading Ancient and Modern. McGraw-Hill. 1994. This is a a useful anthology of readings/selections.
Roger Scruton. Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011. This introduction to aesthetics is by a leading British analytic thinker.
Stecker Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. 2010. analytic, very
precise and argumentative, clear, a bit dry, but Stecker is a major
Roger Warburton. The Art Question. Routledge. 2002. This is a very short introduction to aesthetics: well done.