Everyday Aesthetics

The word aesthetics was first used in the 18th century when the German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten used the term to refer to the theory of beauty: the principles governing the nature and appreciation of beauty. When art became a commercial enterprise and linked to the rise of a nouveau riche class across Europe, the buying of art inevitably led to a discussion of how people acquire and exercise taste. Baumgarten developed aesthetics to mean the study of good and bad taste, and linked good taste with aesthetics. He wrote “the aim of aesthetics is the perfection of sensible cognition, that is, beauty, while its imperfection, that is, ugliness, is to be avoided” . This focus on beauty continued in the Romantic era in the 19th century with its emphasis on emotion and individualism in art, literature and music, and the glorification of beauty in nature.

During the first half of the twentieth century a renewed interest in nature and the environment gave rise to a philosophy concerning everyday aesthetics. Almost all writers on everyday aesthetics derive inspiration from John Dewey’s Art as Experience, first published in 1934. In particular, his discussion of “having an experience” demonstrates that aesthetic experience is possible in every aspect of people’s daily lives.

Many everyday situations such as shopping, exercise and home decoration incorporate aesthetic elements. The traditional view of aesthetics as “reflection and contemplation of objects is apparent in many consumer practices: shoppers look at products with an eye for style, exercises evaluate bodies and teenagers draw impressive pictures”.
As a result, consumers now consider aesthetics in their everyday practices. We are aesthetic subjects in that we respond with feelings and thoughts to objects and situations around us. Much of this is of a visual nature as we are surrounded by images in the media.

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