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The Word “Aesthetic” In Design

I’ve always loved the word aesthetic. 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, don’t we.

If you look at language and translation history down rungs of the ladder of time and notice much of the Greek languages meaning 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. I 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 even how I use it in art or as a web agency owner. 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.

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 said, “this is beautiful because it serves me and my strings of unique beliefs” then it is false beauty. The 18th century suddenly decided that their sense of beauty is only their perspective therefore may not be moral and correct. Stanford University quotes According to Kant in this global realization of pleasure and desire. I somewhat disagree with this but you decide. He founded that “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.” That is what Kant means when he says that the judgment of taste is not practical but rather “merely contemplative” (Kant 1790, 95).

So that’s the ego. Then there was the shift of objects and the object of aesthetics but it gets hairy and 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, how things like the founding of jazz music recently and the discoveries of science and how it is all intertwined. Just as the monkeys in Asia and Africa all discovered new ways of opening bananas and fruits and communicating all changed at the exact moments 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.


Turn and face the strange changes. Indeed...

So just like humankind went through a tidal shift in 2020 with movements of the times, so they did with this singular word aesthetic in the 1800’s. It changed the world, however the world of beauty and art as a secondary subject. Art, however became primary to artists and ergo designers, storytellers, architects, developers, creators and inventors. It is incredible the impact this word has had on who I am and what my colleagues do. How we perceive reality and all that is around us! 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. Even as a small child, I knew I wanted to be an artist. My family remembers at three years of age I said I wanted to be an artist and an inventor. I read about the fascinating inventions of Leonardo DaVinci at 7 years of age and was just knocked out of my chair. I wanted t be just like him and fly off a roof into a bail of hay, trying to fly! I made a sculpture of him doing it for a school project and got an A+. One of the only academic s I thrived at. I wouldn’t thrive again in academia until conservatory 20 years later How does this relate to me as a contemporary artist? It means beauty is being refined and sharpened down to an absolute. 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 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. So today, what can I say to the philosophers that realized these truths only recently in our history? I would say to you, the reader, we’re talking about you.

We’re you’re talking about the day after you get knocked down t your coaches and family, they’ll ask you, “are you going to take some time off to recuperate?” You’ll answer, “I’ll see you tomorrow”.

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