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Aesthetic – How this one word has changed our world

aethetic-beauty-blog-post

I’ve always loved the word aesthetic. To me, it has always meant the rules and guidelines of modern beauty. I use it often as a web designer and artist but only recently discovered the great debate and cultural movements that have pivoted on this one word. It’s a fascinating word. The story behind the evolution of the word shows that we as humans, rethink our core values and belief system about the meanings of things as a community. You won't believe what this word has been through, take a look!

If you look at language and translation history down the rungs of the ladder of time, you'll notice much of the Greek languages meanings have actually changed as it was debated by philosophers. In the 1800’s philosophers like Plato, Friedrich Nietzsche and Immanuel Kant changed the words meaning to mean something very different during these heated debates over the meanings of things. Imagine being the decider of what we, as humans, mean by the things we say and the vernacular we use?

I recently saw an interesting infographic depicting the Greek word being re-interpreted by Germans and then the interpretation became a great controversy. The term ‘aesthetic’ now has come to be used to designate, among other things, to be a kind of judgment, a kind of attitude, a kind of experience, and a kind of value. This value is how I use the word in art or and design in my day to day design job. It is the intrinsic value I put on a subject. Does it fulfill not only its meaning but does it convey the entirety of the story that subject is telling? I love the subjects that have a lot to say. Let's explore the controversy and the evolution of what we have decided is "beauty."

The "Concept Of Taste" was a movement in the lexicon of philosophy that simply asked, "what is beauty and who decides, if at all?" If your ego says, “this is beautiful because it serves me and my strings of unique beliefs” then it is false beauty. Aesthetic, in this realm, means only what is seen and not necessarily beautiful. The 18th century suddenly decided that their sense of beauty is only their perspective therefore may not be moral and correct. According to Kant in this global realization of pleasure and desire, “a pleasure is interested is not to say that it is self-interested in the Hobbesian sense, but rather that it stands in a certain relation to the faculty of desire. The pleasure involved in judging an action to be morally good is interested because such a judgment issues in a desire to bring the action into existence, i.e., to perform it. To judge an action to be morally good is to become aware that one has a duty to perform the action, and to become so aware is to gain a desire to perform it. By contrast, the pleasure involved in judging an object to be beautiful is disinterested because such a judgment issues in no desire to do anything in particular. If we can be said to have a duty with regard to beautiful things, it appears to be exhausted in our judging them aesthetically to be beautiful.” I believe that Kant is saying here that the judgment of taste is not practical but rather “merely contemplative” (Kant 1790, 95).

If your ego says, “this is beautiful because it serves me and my strings of unique beliefs” then it is false beauty.

So that’s the ego. Then there was the shift of objects and the object of aesthetics but it gets hairy (what was called the attitudes of aesthetics has been opposed so greatly it’s been dismissed). What’s truly important is where this movement went, where it is now and how things like the founding of jazz music, discoveries of science and how it is all intertwined has changed the world forever. Just as the monkeys in Asia and Africa, thousands of miles from eachother somehow all discovered new ways of opening bananas and fruits at the exact moments that other monkeys on islands at sea and continents far away made the same discoveries, so have we too been connected in tidal moral shifts and changes. Sometimes these tidal shift in evolution are not easily explained, rather they propose a subconcious collective conciousness. So too was the evolution of how we gauge beauty as a people.

Cha-cha-cha-cha-changes!

Turn and face the strange changes... Indeed.

So similarly, humankind went through a tidal shift in 2020 with movements of the times (BLM, our country divided, MeeToo and so on), so they did with this singular word aesthetic in the 1800’s. It was on the lips of world from town to town! The eighteenth-century debate between rationalists and "theorists of taste" (or "sentimentalists," as they’re called now) was primarily a debate over the "immediacy thesis", i.e., over whether we judge objects to be beautiful by applying principles of beauty to them or not.

My family remembers at three years of age I said I wanted to be an artist and an inventor. My earliest memories as a two and three year old was of knowing that one day I would get very good art art in some way and I couldn't wait to get better! As soon as I could read I read about the fascinating inventions of Leonardo DaVinci and was just knocked out of my chair. I wanted to be just like him and fly off a roof into a bail of hay, trying to fly with something I invented! I made a sculpture of him doing it for a school project and got an A+. One of the only academics I thrived at was art, where I was tested as an artistic savant. I wouldn’t thrive again in academia until conservatory 20 years later.

Somehow, I always knew that I, more than most, knew what was beautiful. I studied its' parameters, guidelines and boundaries. I became not just a creator of art, but also a master of objective analysis and critique. How does this relate to me as a contemporary artist? It means beauty is being refined and sharpened down to an absolute. Lines, while we don't want to admit it, are being drawn. Not by what serves me best but what the collective perceives. Somethings are obviously good and some aren’t as good. It’s now acceptable for the standards to change and evolve with the times and we know that we will know more, later.

Big business has picked up on this too. Old logos used to be function over form. Now they are more and more form over function. This age old adage is highly debated with architects and designers of all kinds  world round. The Nike check that means to just do it, just get up and tackle it so it shall be done. That message, that meaning, is a powerful story. It means a great deal to all of history, not just when it was copywriter as a slogan but for thousands of years to human beings throughout history, we can relate to the story of highly motivated action and achievement. Especially the underdogs like you and I. Social construct beauty, like that portrayed in emaceated Barbie dolls, has shaped what it is to BE beautiful in a modern age too. A story that is still unraveling everyday, for better or for worse.

what-is-beauty

Beauty is truth and truth is beauty.

So today, what can I say to the philosophers that realized these truths only recently in our history? I would say to them and to you, the reader, we’re talking about you. The artists, designers and architects are trying to tell your story. Whether intentionally or not, they are following guidelines that began their evolutionary adventure  thousands of years ago and continue inscriptions to this day and beyond.

We’re you’re talking about the day after you get knocked down. They’ll ask you, “are you going to take some time off to recuperate?” You’ll answer, “I’ll see you tomorrow." To see the beauty today means to be the beauty you want to see. The word Aesthetic now takes on a new role in society. It means to guide the artists work to beauty. The appreciation of beauty is not only aesthetic, but it is the joy of observation, the thrill of the chase, as they say. It is of no coincidence that modern society, for the first time, uses stories of triumph and fortitude to guide us morally to true beauty and inspiration. As an artist I awake each day and re-start the great trek to artistic mecca, navigating new creative problems to achieve a pure, singular towering monolithic tribute to beauty. And at the end of each day I look at my contribution to it. Each artist yearning (often to the extent of self-torment) to be a part of this continuing, in the name of this one great word.

- JML

To see Joshua’s latest creative exploration, please check out this link to his upcoming magazine publications.

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