So...what is this...aesthetic thing?
1. relating to the philosophy of aesthetics; concerned with notions such as the beautiful and the ugly.
2. relating to the science of aesthetics; concerned with the study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty.
3. having a sense of the beautiful; characterized by a love of beauty.
4. relating to, involving, or concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectuality.
5. the philosophical theory or set of principles governing the idea of beauty at a given time and place:
the clean lines, bare surfaces, and sense of space that bespeak the machine-age aesthetic; the Cubist aesthetic.
6. Archaic. the study of the nature of sensation.
Greek aisthētikós, equivalent to aisthēt(ḗs)
Greek aisthētḗs one who perceives
Okay. A definition, if not the definition. What I find interesting is the great weight is in adjective form; the word beauty (or beautiful) being prevalent. This is a modernization which has come to be since I was a kid. The definition more closely akin to what artists actually deal with (rather than art critics, or so-called art appreciators) is way at the bottom, naturally. Number 6., the archaic one -
the study of the nature of sensation.
Perhaps it's that line of other definitions which precede #6 nowadays that is the subject of this discussion. The definition of the term seems to have slid toward something more in the vernacular sense of the word, than how it was used in discussions by artists many decades ago. Perhaps seen as a word signifying the recognition of beauty, the word has come to be viewed as rather purposeless or, redundant.
The concept of sensation, and the stimulation of sensation through art by the artist, be it poetry, dance, literature, architecture, or painting - the idea of the aggregate of the work of an era in all these areas contributing to the aesthetic of a culture would be the area of concern for this examination. (Authors contribute mightily to this aggregate, and often times in history the collective body of work is termed an era.)
The aesthetic of an era would then be the total of all elements forming any stimulation of the five senses, in combination with all the other elements taken as a whole - the music, the clothes, (today) automobile styles, popular colors to paint rooms (even) would all combine to create the aesthetic within which the people of that time lived. It would also include unsightly power poles and the array of wires strung pole to pole; billboards lining thoroughfares, industrial smokestacks and their accompanying odors, traffic noise - all these combine to form the aesthetic.
What is more, all of these are under the control of humanity as to their presence within their environs, and the nature and quality of their presence. So, it would seem, this aesthetic is created by the activity of human intelligence whether directed, or not, and whatever combination of sensations on the five senses result is the aesthetic regardless of any concept of beauty, truth, ugliness, what have you.
This aggregate of influences upon the overall frame of mind of people within a society was recognized by artists, though slowly at first, at the turn of the 20th Century as the deleterious effects of industrialization began to show themselves as fixed in the landscape. The idea that people were of more positive disposition walking through a meadow of spring flowers than they were standing on the floor of a huge factory, and that difference showing itself in the psychological characteristics prevalent in a society began to be apparent.
The very idea of dystopia, which Orwell enshrined, had until then not existed. It wasn't until the prevailing aesthetic created the deleterious effect that artists especially began to try to draw people's attention to it. "Hey. Do we really want to go this way?" During this time, which is why I call into question those definitions of the word, beauty as a quality in art went to the wayside. Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle when George Orwell was three years old. As with 1984, there is nothing beautiful in The Jungle. What bothered people about that book was precisely the aesthetic involved. "Who would want to live this way?"
The connection between the psychological well-being and environment as the main thrust of artistic communication was reaching a zenith in the late twenties, early thirties about the time something else happened - the rise of fascism. Very little of the work from that era remains, especially from places such as Spain, and Germany. Berlin had quite innovative live theater productions being performed in bistros, or cabarets, which were forcefully shut down, their creators were either imprisoned, or fled. Not only did the fascists burn books, they also burned films, photography, and paintings. The war which ensued took on a life of its own, and by the end the Cold War and all it encompassed this attempt to call people's attention to the principals and concepts of the aesthetic was but a faint whisper.
"Art is the lie that reveals the truth." -Pablo Ruiz Picasso-
Look at the world you're in. What is its aesthetic? Does being in it put you in what you'd call a good frame of mind? Or, do you find yourself trying to filter it out just to hang onto a positive outlook? Look at the aesthetic of the abject poverty in which the majority of the world's population finds itself. What psychological reaction would a rational thinker expect there? As writers whatever we do contributes and creates a part of this aesthetic. Interesting, no?
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