Blog: OC Part XI Words Continued

Christine Alfery

Posted on March 01 2021

Blog: OC Part XI  Words Continued

Featured image: Going to My Happy Place

Aesthetics – just what is aesthetics? I had to teach my art students how to think about aesthetics. When I learned about aesthetics, which is part of my foundation, there was a huge debate surrounding the word and the word “beautiful” which was associated with the word “aesthetics.”. The word, beauty as well as aesthetics, carries a lot of baggage with it. Below is one citation I found online in “The Phrase Finder” about the word beauty;


Shakespeare expressed a similar sentiment in Love's Labours Lost, 1588:
Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter'd by base sale of chapmen's tongues

Benjamin Franklin, in Poor Richard's Almanack, 1741, wrote:
Beauty, like supreme dominion
Is but supported by opinion
>David Hume's Essays, Moral and Political, 1742, include:
"Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them."

Margaret Hungerford coined 'beauty is in the eye
of the beholder' - taking her lead from 16th century authors like Shakespeare.

The person who is widely credited with coining the saying in its current form is Margaret Wolfe Hungerford (née Hamilton), who wrote many books, often under the pseudonym of 'The Duchess'.

In Molly Bawn, 1878, there's the line "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", which is the earliest citation that I can find in print.

I found that there were many curriculums. The nice thing about art curriculums from back when I was teaching, was that the art teachers were frequently allowed to develop their own curriculum because “art” wasn’t as important as the other subjects. Art, for the most part, provided a break for the teachers. My favorite was the one developed by the Getty Foundation. In a nutshell, aesthetics is the “ah” moment. Getty recommended putting a glass of water in front of your students, give them some blue paint watered down and have them add it to the water.

It never failed. As the students were pouring the blue paint into the clear water there was always a universal “ah” moment in the room. There was silence as they all watched the blue paint flow wonderfully through the clear water. Each student was lost in their own revery of the moment. This is an aesthetic moment – unique, individualized and personally subjective.

There are other moments like these that have become part of object culture. My favorite example is the lava lamp, but then there are also the flames in a fire or candle. The song of birds, the sound of the wind. The difference between the lava lamp, and the others, the one is part of object culture and the others are not.

For me, the aesthetic moment is exactly like the blue paint flowing through the water every time, no exception. It is a subjective moment and it is part of the foundation that can be found in the word “art.” Subjective moments can be part of object culture. That is they can be controlled, governed and marketable and they can be personal and unique for every individual.

The trick is to figure out for yourself – which one is which. And then you will know which is real and which is not. The same holds true for art. Once you realize which one is real, as in the velveteen Rabbit, then you will know which one is real, authentic, true and honest.

The words true and honest are words that have ethical trappings, just like the word art, especially when you link them to philosophical ethics. But, for the most part, it’s easy once you first experience something to realize whether it is part of object culture or not. The ethical qualities of objects that are part of object culture generally encourage fun, wealth, beauty and status and are all group oriented. They are part of collective thinking, not individual aesthetic genuine ethical thinking. They are not part of stereotypical expectations. Rather, they are all about the “ah” moment.

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