Just what IS an aesthetic experience? Perhaps this is the wrong question to ask, as many people are unfamiliar with the term (except as applied to having your nails done by an aesthetician). In fact, most people are afraid of the word “aesthetic”. It has a weird spelling, and sounds very highbrow. However, it’s a rather powerful and convenient word to describe a hugely important part of being human.
Perhaps, it’s best to start away from the “A” word, and rather ask the question: What moves you? When you see a movie, a painting, hear a song, or dance, what really does something to you inside? What makes you feel something different – perhaps powerful, perhaps emotional, or perhaps just makes you think “…cool!”. These types of feelings and responses are AESTHETIC experiences. My argument is that they are the primary purpose for all human art making and are fundamental in making us human. Aesthetic experiences are also a cornerstone to all of human culture – ranging from religion, to clothing, to food, to architecture and industrial design. Almost EVERYTHING in the human world can generate an aesthetic experience. So too, can the natural world (which can raise religious questions about the existence of God, and the origin of the universe, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog). The question for me has always been…
WHY and HOW do the arts move us?
The research for my doctoral dissertation was on just this topic. The answer to this question (without going into the details of the research itself) is in eleven parts. These are what I found to be eleven different types of aesthetic experience. There are probably many, many more types. However, these are the ones that I was able to specifically pinpoint during my limited research project. All of the different types can (and do) combine together to make a more “powerful” experience. In fact, I suggest that the more types that are involved in an experience with the arts, the more powerful and deep the experience becomes. However, although these different types layer and interact to create a unified experience, it’s useful to look at them separately. Click on each type below to learn more about each type.
Empathic (also referred to as Critical)