An aesthetic can be born from pain. An aesthetic can be born from beauty. I suppose an aesthetic can also be born from cotton candy. Or all of the above.
I often use the word aesthetic. I think about my aesthetic a lot. When I encounter a new artist, I search in their work for the language of their aesthetic as if listening to their heartbeats, and once I can feel it, I join them in conversation.
But aesthetic can be an imprecise word because it means something different to many people. Often the word aesthetic is seen as focused on determining the beauty of an object, and an aesthete is seen as someone who is removed from real life, immersed in art, perhaps even decadently so. I think our aesthetic is our lens upon the world, though. Our aesthetic holds an existential position.
Here’s how I defined it in my book The Art of Brevity.
The Greek term aisthesis means sensual perception, so an aesthetic is rooted in the feeling of experience. An aesthetic offers an entry point into our relationships with people, objects, events, environments, the past, the present, the future, and even the political structures in which we are all enmeshed. An aesthetic might seem distant from a belief system or a faith, yet an aesthetic forms the foundation for how a story or belief is expressed. An aesthetic is a conversation. Our aesthetic determines how we experience life and how we express it.”
I mention this because I recently encountered a way to re-think and expand my own aesthetic.
When I took creative writing classes years ago, the prevailing aesthetic instruction was to minimize politics in your stories and to stay away from anything that might be considered activist in nature.
I think this was for two main reasons:
- Writers were supposed to minimize didacticism in stories because art wasn’t supposed to overtly teach or go anywhere near propaganda; and
- There was an emphasis on psychological realism in characterization, which had more to do with the inner workings of a character’s mind and their emotional life than their place in a world that was acting upon them with its power structures.